Righteous (Matthew 1:19)

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Upon finding out of Mary’s pregnancy, we read this in Matthew 1:19; “Because   Joseph  her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” That tells us three things: That Mary’s husband’s name was Joseph, that he was a righteous man, and that he did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace, so he purposed to divorce her quietly.

As a name, “Joseph” is both of solid Hebrew stock and a shout out to the patriarch of long ago, so we can know that Mary’s chosen husband was one that was culturally appropriate. Whether that was her choice entirely, or one that was arranged by the families, is not given to us. What we can ascertain is that they as a couple were likely to fit in well with their society. They were a ‘normal’ couple. But then, the truly great almost always start off as ‘normal’. 

Of course, just how ‘normal’ Joseph was is a matter of subjectivity. The narrative of the Word of God details Joseph as a righteous man. That is striking, and makes him hardly average. For it is one thing to be righteous in your own eyes. It is  another altogether to be actually right in your character. More than both, very few are counted righteous in the pages of Scripture, yet it is into this last category that we find Joseph placed. That is a high honour by the hand of God, and certainly something that marks Joseph as far above average. Even more than that, the text tells us he was unbelievably kind. For he hears the news that his bride to be is pregnant, and his measured reaction is to avoid exposing her to disgrace! Is that how most of us would’ve reacted? In consideration of her, after she comes and tells us she is pregnant by God Himself?  

Some have suggested that it is well possible Joseph thought she had simply lost her mind, or was covering for a family member who had done something too horrible to speak of. But to conclude such would be to embark down the same faithless line of thought as Mary’s pregnancy had first suggested to the reader, and to ignore the text entirely, because the text of Scripture says that Joseph was a righteous man. He therefore would’ve been able to hear the Spirit’s silent witness to his Bride’s explanation for her sudden pregnancy. Not that it would’ve been easy news. But that she was not wrong, whatever had happened. So he determines to quietly divorce her (engagement being as legal marriage in their society). There will be no public shaming, no stoning for adultery and no demands for increased dowry. Joseph was a righteous man, and kind. 

On a human scale, this is a touching story of humility and grace. But it is more than that, it is one of those rare seasons when you know God is up to something. For to display Godly character in the face of the sorest of trials (and surely it is that, when the one you’ve already committed your whole life to shares such news with you) – is to live out what His Spirit has quietly said in the depths of your soul. That, of and by itself, is a rare thing. It ought to be normal, especially among God’s people. But we all know it is not. 

Realize then, that Joseph is now in a thin place, regardless of geography. He is close to God. His character and his choices have put him there.

Passive righteousness tells us that God does not need our good works. Active righteousness tells us that our neighbor does. The aim and direction of good works are horizontal, not vertical.

Tullian Tchividjian

APPLICATION: Intentionality

In light of all the kindness God has shown you, what small kindness can you do for someone else today? 

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