Faithlife Sermons

When the Right Thing to do is not The Right Thing to do

The Hope of Christmas  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Genuine justice needs mercy.

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Introduction
Series: The Hope of Christmas
The account of Christ’s birth serves to help us confidently believe and live in the Gospel.
Illustration: Officer Matt Lima and a family caught shoplifting.
Officer Lima demonstrated compassion and mercy.
Thomas Aquinas (Italian philosopher-theologian) wrote: “Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.
Abraham Lincoln: “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”
As we look at the hope the Christmas story affords today, we are going to address two seemingly two opposing themes: justice and mercy.
Today’s Message: When the Right Thing to do is not the Right Thing to do.
Text: Matthew 1:18-19.
Matthew 1:18–19 ESV
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

The Law is the Law

The purpose of the Law: The law serves many purposes. Four principal ones are
establishing standards,
maintaining order,
resolving disputes,
and protecting liberties and rights.
According the Scripture, there are three functions for the Law of God:
Its first function is to be a mirror reflecting to us both the perfect righteousness of God and our own sinfulness and shortcomings.
A second function, the "civil use," is to restrain evil.
Its third function is to guide the regenerate into the good works that God has planned for them
The custom of engagement.
To the Jewish people in that day, betrothal (engagement) was equivalent to marriage—except that the man and woman did not live together.
They were called “husband and wife,” and, at the end of the engagement period (about a year), the marriage was consummated.
If a betrothed woman became pregnant, it was considered adultery

Breaking the Law Demands Justice

Mary was with child (pregnant) during this engagement period.
Under conventional observations, Mary broke the law.
Deuteronomy 22:20–21 (NLT)
20 “But suppose the man’s accusations are true, and he can show that she was not a virgin.
21 The woman must be taken to the door of her father’s home, and there the men of the town must stone her to death, for she has committed a disgraceful crime in Israel by being promiscuous while living in her parents’ home. In this way, you will purge this evil from among you.
Under the law, therefore, Mary could have been brought before the community to be executed.
Matthew 1:19 ESV
19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
Joseph was faced with a difficult decision.
What should he do?

Perspective Informs Decisions

Joseph was identified as a “just man.”
He was law-abiding.
He was faced with two possible choices:
A public trial that would have involved the community—humiliation—divorce—and possible stoning.
A private divorce, just requiring two witnesses.
But the implication of the passage indicates that his justice with measured with mercy.
He viewed that it was right of him to severe the covenant relationship with a divorce (done quietly), as permitted in the book of Deuteronomy.
Matthew 1:20–23 ESV
20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Now Joseph has God’s perspective of reality!
When God interrupts the conventional, expect the supernatural—and respond in faith!

The Right thing is Following the Holy Spirit

Matthew 1:24–25 ESV
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Joseph responded to the word of God with obedience.
Joseph’s obedience was shaped by His love for God.
Joseph’s obedience was immediate:
He took Mary as his wife.
He refrained from intimate relations with His wife until after she gave birth.
He named God’s Son “Jesus.” From the Old Testament name of Joshua—meaning Jehovah is salvation.
Conclusion
Joseph demonstrated both Justice and Mercy.
Without justice, society cannot stand.
Without mercy, sinful society become a totalitarian experience.
From the Christian’s perspective, although justice is important, mercy is essential.
Jesus: Parable of the Good Samaritan
A lawyer asked Jesus (attempting to trap Him): What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus asked what the law said:
Luke 10:27–28 (ESV)
27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Then the lawyer asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?
A Jewish man traveling to Jericho is beaten and robbed—left for dead.
A priest, a Levite ignored the man.
A Samaritan (enemy of the Jew) stopped and ministered to the man.
Jesus asked the question: “Which of these three , do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
The man answered:
Luke 10:37 (ESV)
37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Altar Call
Seeker: Jesus came to save you from your sins. He is the Good Neighbor.
Christian: See mercy—flavor your desire for Justice with mercy!
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