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Summary: A sermon about Jesus' earthly father--Joseph.

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“Righteousness Based on Love, Not Law”

Matthew 1:18-25

What is the first image that pops into your mind when you hear the word “righteous”?

Do you think of some fire and brimstone preacher with beady eyes who points his finger at sinners and declares them guilty in the eyes of an angry god?

Or do you think of angels and harps and clouds?

Perhaps you think of righteous indignation—anger at injustice.

Maybe the first image to pop into your head is someone who comes off as self-righteous, thinking they are better than others as far as morals and character are concerned.

Or perhaps, you think of a good and virtuous person—someone like Mother Teresa or St. Francis.

Maybe you think of something mean, something cruel, something inflexible and unmoveable.

We don’t tend to use the word “righteous” very much these days.

At least, I don’t hear it in every day conversations.

It may be a kind of strange word to our ears.

In any event, Matthew says that Joseph was a “righteous man.”

There's a rich history behind this idea.

The Hebrew word for a righteous man would normally mean that Joseph was known for his uncompromising obedience to the Torah, the law of Moses.

This would mean that Joseph didn't eat unclean food.

He didn't mix with the wrong kinds of people.

He didn't keep his carpentry shop open on the Sabbath to make a few extra bucks.

He was a righteous man; that was his identity.

Everybody knew this about him.

Nobody invited Joseph over to have ham sandwiches with tax collectors and prostitutes.

He was what other people wanted to be.

Like a businessperson in our day wants to be a CEO, or like an athlete wants to be a pro, an Israelite wanted to be righteous.

Becoming righteous meant you were admired and looked up to.

You were somebody.

And that was Joseph.

But now Joseph is a righteous man with a problem.

The girl he has promised to marry is going to have a baby, and whoever the father is, Joseph knows it's not him.

Nazareth is a small town, and as a general rule, word gets around in a small town.

Everybody knows everybody else’s business in a small town.

The Torah has some clear instructions about what to do to somebody in Mary's condition.

According to Deuteronomy Chapter 22: If a woman pledged to be married is unfaithful "She shall be brought to the door of her father's house, and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.”

That’s pretty clear.

Joseph's reputation as a righteous man was on the line.

The other righteous men in his town would have told him this sin must be publicly exposed and punished.

But Joseph couldn't bring himself to do this.

And it’s because Joseph was a “righteous man.”

Wow.

I thought being “righteous” meant that you followed all the Old Testament Laws to the T!!!

I thought it meant you were perfect in that sense, inflexible in that sense…

…uncompromising.

Could it be that being righteous means something more than following the “letter of the Law.”

We read that “an angel of the Lord” is the one who told Joseph about Mary becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit…

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