Jesus Journey: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Christ

Day 3

Like Father Like Son

Read Matthew 1:18–25

The men and women are separate here. That’s part of keeping it holy, I’m told.

So my wife is on the other side of the fence as I wander alone through crowds of men at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the giant retaining wall that stands as the only visible remnant of Herod’s first-century Temple.

Jesus saw this very wall. And as he approached the Temple which then stood above it, he saw people much like the devout men I’m witnessing.

Just as they did in Christ’s day, these men wear phylacteries — small boxes containing Scripture — strapped to their foreheads to show their devotion. Many dress in centuries-old style: robes and prayer shawls with long tassels.

Foremost in their minds: Ritual purity. Strict observance of the law.

Their forerunners two thousand years ago expected the coming Messiah to be the purest of all, to restore perfection to Temple worship, to be the one man untouched by the impurity of the world.

And that’s what they got. But not at all the way they thought they’d get it. The strictly religious people were always surprised by Jesus, by the way he acted, the people he hung out with, the message he brought.

And the very first strict religious person to be surprised by the Messiah’s methods? Joseph.

Matthew calls him a “righteous man.” That phrase is a technical expression. In Hebrew it was a single word: Tsadiq.

This word meant Joseph was righteous according to the strictest interpretation of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Law of Moses).

Whatever Torah said, Joseph did. He was one of the men with the phylacteries and shawls and tassels, devoutly attending synagogue, attending to his prayers, reciting scripture.

He was pure. He was separate. He was tsadiq.

But, as John Ortberg puts it, Joseph was tsadiq with a problem. 3

Because, guess what the Torah says to do in his situation?

If a woman pledged to be married was found with child, and the child’s father is not her husband-to-be…

She should be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of the town shall stone her to death. Deuteronomy 22:21

The Gospel of Matthew’s phrase “public disgrace” is a soft euphemism for what awaited the pregnant Mary. But even though Joseph was one of the righteous, he finds he cannot lead the parade to his father-in-law’s house. And so he decides on plan B: a private divorce. Send Mary away. Get her out of town. End the engagement. But quietly.

This must have torn him apart, because already he would have been compromising his purity.

Then an angel appears. And tells him to do something else, something he would never have dreamt of doing before this.

“Take Mary home as your wife….” Matthew 1:20

This meant scandal. This meant rejection. This meant an end to his status as tsadiq.

Even though we know the child within Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit, the people around them only knew what their eyes told them was true: Mary was pregnant before she and Joseph ever lived together as a married couple.

And yet Joseph acted in bold mercy toward Mary.


I like to think that maybe, just maybe, when Jesus was leaping over the walls put up by his society to separate the religiously pure from the “sinners” — when he was forgiving the woman caught in adultery, talking to the Samaritan woman, teaching the “sinful” women — he wanted to be like his dad.

Like his heavenly Father, to be sure. But also like the man Joseph.

Joseph, who though ritually pure and devoutly observant, chose to obey God and live in scandalous grace –- rather than please the religious performers.

And maybe when Jesus taught that “your righteousness” — your tsadiq-ness“must surpass that of the Pharisees,” he was thinking of his earthly dad: obedience that went beyond the rules and into reality. Mercy that got messy. Grace that got gritty.


And then this righteous man hears an angel tell him the life mission of the child he will raise as his own:

“…give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

His name was his mission. The very word Jesus means “Jehovah saves.” But the angel adds an unexpected twist to the Messiah’s mission: “…from their sins.”

And suddenly the Messiah’s purpose is crystal clear. It’s not primarily to judge the people for sins, or teach the people what is sin, or turn the righteous against sin. It’s to save people from sin.

The people were expecting a Messiah to help them fix problems with their religion and their government. But from the very start, the angel reveals a plot twist: The Messiah’s mission is not to streamline a bureaucracy or overthrow a king. Those would have been mere patches on the problem, Band-Aids on a much deeper wound. His was a mission of transformation at the soul level.

Matthew adds this was all meant to fulfill a prophecy: “They will call him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’.”

Here he focuses on another theme of the prophecies about the Messiah that had been overlooked: The Messiah was not just to be the representative of God with us. He was God with us.

This is the motion, the direction, the movement of the gospel: God stooping down to meet us, not us trying to get up to God.

These few verses contain the genetic code for everything that follows. Every action of Christ, everything he taught about himself, all that’s about to unfold, it’s all in seed form right here.

And after Mary and Joseph, the next people to hear of the Messiah’s mission are the most outcast of all.


Think of one person you’re struggling to show grace to right now and write down one way to show them grace today.