Missio Advent: Joseph’s Humble Example – Righteousness and Kindness in Godly Balance

During Advent, Missio is concurrently running two series.  On Mondays and Wednesdays Cameron Barham, lead pastor of Christ Community Church in Kennesaw, GA provides Advent devotions from the Gospel of Matthew.  On Fridays, Drew Masterson of The Washington Institute provides a series of reflections on four films for Advent.

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And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
Matthew 1:19-25

Can you fathom the shattered heart that Joseph suffered at the news that his young wife-to-be was pregnant outside the boundaries of their relationship? Can you imagine being told by Mary that the baby was the result of an immaculate conception and not the painful result of an adulterous betrayal?[1] What would you have considered as an appropriate response (or fitting revenge)? I suspect that this not so good news would be a devastating blow to most, if not all, of us. I also suspect that Mary’s explanation would be met with incredulity and feeling of even greater insult…resulting in a desire to return a wounding stroke. In sharp contrast to how I suspect most, if not all, of us would respond, Joseph grants us in both his initial and ultimate responses a flesh and blood picture of a man with righteousness and kindness in godly balance.

Matthew describes Joseph as being both “a just man and unwilling to put her to shame” in 1:19. This tells us that Joseph is a righteous man who cares for God’s law and glory. He knows that he cannot ignore Mary’s “adultery”, nor can he allow his own reputation to be called into question unjustly. Something has to be done. He will have to divorce her, completing the fracturing of the covenant between them. The description also reveals that Joseph is kind and cares for the common good of Mary though (he thinks) she has betrayed him. According to the law, he has every right to shame her and expose her transgression publicly, yet, in his kindness, he chooses not to exact his right.[2] He still loves and cares for her though she seems to have betrayed him.

Ligon Duncan III suggests that this is precisely why God chose Joseph to serve as the earthly father of Jesus. He writes, “The character of Joseph, the man God chose for his Son to have for an earthly father, is not only interesting, it is also instructive to us. There are many who are righteous, but who are not kind. There are many who are kind, but who are not righteous. Joseph, however, loved God and his law, and that love of God touched his heart, causing him to be a kind man. When God chose a human father for his Son, he chose a man who would be righteous and kind, qualities that reflect God the Father himself.”[3] Joseph, the son of David, proves to be an exemplary man after God’s own heart. His desire for righteousness and justice does not make him cruel; it tenders him granting him the freedom of greater kindness even in the face of great betrayal (as far as he knows).

Joseph’s character remains consistent when the angel of the Lord reveals to him the truth of the virgin conception through the creative act of the Holy Spirit. Without questioning, he obeys the command of the angel by taking Mary as his wife and crowning the baby with the name above all names. We don’t know if he had to deal with questions concerning Mary’s pregnancy and its timing (though it certainly seems he must have), but he was clearly willing to bear the risk. He also laid aside his own fleshly desires and marital rights for the season of the pregnancy in honor of the child in her womb. What an amazing example of righteousness and kindness in godly balance!

As you consider Joseph’s example this Advent season, meditate on which way you lean: do you emphasize what’s right and meter out justice in black and white terms, or are you more inclined to forgive and forget, granting grace indiscriminately? Which of these do you think best displays the glory of God and is reflective of His character and attributes? The answer is neither by themselves but both in Spirit-filled balance. Keep in mind how difficult it is to rightly assess one’s self. We tend to see ourselves as we would like to be as opposed to who we are in reality. Frederick Buechner’s words are a helpful guide here: “Generally speaking, if you want to know who you really are as distinct from who you like to think you are, keep an eye on where your feet take you.”[4] May our feet take us to the places where we are humbled and shaped into the image of a godly balance of righteousness and kindness!


Cameron Barham is the Lead Pastor of Christ Community Church in Kennesaw, GA.

Images: FreeImages.com/Maria Herrera, safarimag



[1] Though the text does not contain Mary’s explanation, we can surmise that there was some sort of exchange between them concerning the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

[2] According to Old Testament law, Mary could have been put to death for adultery; however, the Romans did not allow the Israelites to practice capital punishment for such offenses. See R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 51.

[3] J. Ligon Duncan III from “Jesus’ Virgin Birth: According to Scripture,” Sermon 12 January 1997 quoted in Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas ed. by Nancie Guthrie (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), 51.

[4] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973), 27.

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