Archive for April 22, 2013

Righteous Living

When a person’s life-style is pleasing to the Lord they are said to be righteous.  We might even say they do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do.  The Apostle Paul said such a person was led by the Spirit, and not by the flesh, Ephesians 5:16-18.  He also claimed that our obedience to Christ resulted in righteousness, Romans 6:16.  In order to live a truly righteous life-style then we must be conformed to the authority of Christ.  Our text for this message is taken from Matthew 1:18-25.  In this passage a clear example is given of a righteous life-style.  Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, has gone down in history as a man who lived life according to God’s standards.  Let’s read together this account as it’s recorded in Matthew 1:18-25.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows.  When His Mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.  And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.  But when he had considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.’  Now all this took place that what was spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, ‘Behold The Virgin Shall Be With Child, And Shall Bear A Son, And They Shall Call His Name Immanuel,’ which translated means, God With Us.  And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son, and he called His name Jesus.

This passage reveals at least 3 character qualities which can be found in a rightesou person:

Number one: Love and Mercy

Number two: A Willingness to Change Directions at God’s Command

Number three: Obedience

We’ll see Joseph demonstrate these qualities even though it wasn’t popular.  Joseph chose to live life to the fullest, he chose to live a life totally surrendered to the Lord.  His story begins with him being betrothed to Mary.  In those days a betrothal was much like an engagement in our day except that a betrothal carried a stronger sense of commitment.  When a couple became betrothed, it involved a ceremony in the presence of guests and witnesses.  This event included  a celebration, a feast, and the exchanging of vows where the couple swore their devotion to each other.  In addition, the woman was required to swear that she was a virgin and would remain so until they were officially married.  A ring was then placed on the bride’s finger as a symbol of her oath of fidelity.  This ceremony was a strong tradition in those days, much like a marriage ceremony in our modern times.  Therefore, a high value was place upon this event and the exchanging of vows.  This custom served to demonstrate the couple’s intentions by making it public that they’ve been promised to each other.

In light of the serious nature of this event verse 18 says before they came together Mary was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. The text doesn’t say that she told Joseph she was pregnant, it says she was found in this condition.  I believe she was afraid to tell him the truth, after all, who would believe such a story?  I believe he finally recognized that his bride was pregnant, and he knew one thing for sure, he wasn’t the father.

As he questioned Mary as to how she became pregnant, that’s when she worked up the nerve to share her unbelievable story with him.  We can only imagine the various emotions he must have experienced as he tried to process this unbelievable explanation which she offered.  Not to mention the assaults from the enemy that must have passed through his mind.  From rage to the gut-wrenching pain of betrayal.  From wanting to know who this other man was, to realizing it would be best if he didn’t know at all.

Once he worked through some of the pain and considered most of the possibilities he’d come to the conclusion in verse 19 that he would put Mary away secretly or that he would divorce her.  We must understand, that at this point he was well within his legal right not only to divorce her, but to have her stoned publicly, Deuteronomy 22:23-24.

His attitude towards Mary in this situation is one reason why Joseph is known as a righteous man.  He could have followed the letter of the law, had her stoned, and been finished with her.  However, he chose to put her away secretly.  Even though he was hurting himself, he wanted to protect Mary’s life, and spare her of any public humiliation.  With this selfless act he demonstrated that 1st character quality of a righteous man, the love and mercy of the Lord.

I wonder how most of us would have to stay angry and try to get even, but it takes a real man or woman of God to show mercy when we feel we’ve been treated wrongly.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus addressed this issue by saying we should love each other as He loved us, and that all men would recognize us as belonging to Him by this love.  Jesus loved us so much he died for us, and while we may not be required to die for each other we are required to love each other (Romans 13:8-10).

Why would a lost and dying world want to be a part of God’s kingdom when they see no difference in our behavior than their own?  We’re obligated to love each other as Christ loved us.  Joseph exemplified the love of God and was known as a righteous man.

Although Mary had done nothing wrong, Joseph didn’t know that and his feelings were just as real as if she had betrayed him.  His plan appeared to be reasonable because he was demonstrating the love of God.  However, verse 20 begins with him considering his plan.  It doesn’t say he prayed for direction, or sought wise counsel, no, he simply thinks through what course of action he should take.

Sometimes our seemingly good ideas are not God’s ideas, therefore we should pray for guidance before making decisions.  What if Joseph had followed through on his plan to divorce Mary?  How would that have changed God’s plan of bringing the Savior into the world?  Of course we don’t know the answer to this question, however it should cause us to realize the importance of praying for guidance before making decisions we may have to live with for quite some time.

As verse 20 continues, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream to give him specific instructions from the Lord.  Notice that the angel called him by name and even knew his family history, as he said, “Joseph, son of David.”  I believe he was in such a fragile state of mind and heart that he needed to be shaken to his core in order to get his attention. He knew instantly that this angel was from the Lord because he knew things about him that only God would know.  As a result he was enabled to listen and believe all that was revealed to him.

The first order of business the angel had to settle was, “Joseph, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”  The most crippling weapon the enemy uses against the body of Christ is fear.  If he can cause us to walk in fear we’ll never accomplish what God wants to do in and through our lives.  Proverbs 29:25b says the fear of man brings a snare.  A snare is a tool used for hunting animals.  When an animal becomes trapped in a snare they rarely become free unless they chew off that part of their body that has become trapped, however most often they die as a result of this type of trap.

The same way the hunter uses the snare to capture his prey, Satan uses fear to capture our hearts and minds in an effort to render us useless in God’s plan for our lives.  Therefore, we cannot allow ourselves to be controlled by this emotion.  We must realize that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).

It’s important to understand that fear is the opposite of faith, so we have to stand against fear and walk in faith.  Paul said we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  In other words, we’re not moved by what we see, feel, or touch, we’re moved only by what the word tells us, for that is our standard for living the Christian life.

In Joseph’s situation, he was likely to be subjected to ridicule and abuse by those in his community that didn’t know or understand the significance of the child Mary was carrying in her womb.  His decision could have affected his livelihood and reputation in the community.  That’s why I believe the angel’s instructions were so strong.  Joseph needed the assurance and confidence that he could fulfill this command.  A person can endure much more if they have the sound assurance that they are walking in the Lord’s will for their lives.

In verse 21, the angel continues his message to Joseph with specific details concerning the child conceived in Mary’s womb.  First, he’s told the gender of the child, “she will bear a son.”  Second, he’s given the child’s name, “you shall call his name Jesus.”  Third, he’s told the mission this child will carry out, “he will save his people from their sins.”

It’s interesting that the name given to Mary’s child lined up with his mission in life.  The name Jesus means, “Jehovah is salvation,” or, “Jehovah is Savior.” It was Jesus who would save His people from their sins. He would be the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world.  As if this wasn’t enough the angel goes on to reveal to Joseph in verse 22 that the birth of Jesus would be the fulfillment of prophecy.

Can you imagine the excitement he must have experienced with the thought of being used by God to help raise Jesus the Messiah?  For a Jewish man especially,  this is a great honor. After all, he’d been taught all of his life that the Messiah would one day come to save them and now, here he is, being chosen by God to be married to the mother of Jesus.  However, if he had not been the man of great integrity that he was, he would surely have missed out on the blessing of being used by God in this way.

It’s important for us as well to live lives of integrity if we want to be used by God. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the Earth that He may strongly support those whose hearts are His.  If we want to be used by God it’s important that our lives are pleasing to the Lord.  The Lord will honor those who honor Him by putting Him first in every area of their lives.  What an honor it was for Joseph to be known as a righteous man.  God trusted him to do the right thing just because it was the right thing to do, not because he was looking for or expecting any payment from God.

Joseph was a man who loved and honored God with his whole being and it was apparent to everyone who knew him.  We too can and should be known as righteous people.  God wants to use us, but He can’t use a vessel that’s polluted with sin and the mess of the world.  It’s time for the body of Christ to stand up and be men and women that bring glory to the name of Jesus.

As Joseph arose from his sleep in verse 24 he had a different attitude.  Remember in verse 19 he planned to divorce Mary, but now in verse 24 it says he took Mary as his wife.  This change of attitude expresses the second characteristic of a righteous man, which is the willingness to change his direction at God’s command.  Sometimes it can be difficult to change our direction once our minds are made up.  However, we need to realize that our lives are not our own.  Once we’ve surrendered our lives to Christ for salvation, we belong to him completely.

If we desire to be used by God we can’t half-step into the Christian life.  Notice in verse 25 that Joseph not only took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth.  In addition to this, her son was given the name of Jesus as instructed by the angel.  Joseph’s obedience demonstrates the last characteristic taught by this passage.  A righteous person is willing to obey the Lord’s command.

Obedience is crucial in the Christian life.  Jesus said in John 14:15, “if you love me you will keep my commandment.”  We may not have all the facts or understand everything being asked of us, however, we need to simply trust in the word of the Lord knowing that He’s in control an will work it out for us.  It’s when we face the seemingly impossible situations in life, while trusting in the Lord every step of the way, that we’ll not only see God move in miraculous ways, but our level of trust and intimacy in Christ will grow to new heights.

Perhaps every once in a while we should test ourselves just to be sure we’re living right.  The three characteristics of a righteous man that have been taught in this passage may be a good place to start.  In summary they are:

Number one: Love and Mercy

Number two: A Willingness to Change Directions at God’s Command

Number three: Obedience

If we want to live a righteous life, be pleasing to the Lord, and used for his glory it’s imperative that we don’t take God’s word for granted.  We can do this by practicing the three character qualities taught in this passage.  Therefore, it’s important that we incorporate these qualities in our every day activities.  Then one day, it will also be said of us, “that man,” or, that woman, “is a righteous person.  They do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do.”