This past Sunday, my dad taught from Matthew chapter 1. Matthew tells the history of the birth of Jesus Christ from the perspective of Joseph. (Luke, on the other hand tells the story from the perspective of Mary.) In Matthew 1:19, we came to see that Joseph exemplified those two complementary characteristics of God - righteousness and compassion. Joseph demonstrated righteousness by his respect for the law ("being a righteousness man") and his compassion by caring about Mary even when it seemed that she had been unfaithful to him ("not wanting to disgrace her"). These two phrases are joined with the word "and". While righteousness and compassion may seem contradictory to our eyes, they appear complementary in the word of God in Matthew 1:19 (at least in my English translations).
Joseph also had another characteristic that held the others together. He was humble. He did not act rashly, but patiently allowed some time to pass before acting on his decision. When he was commanded to take Mary as his wife, he obeyed. This was probably quite risky to his reputation, but he obeyed the word of God anyway (by faith rather than sight). He did not protest or complain. If this occasion is representative of his character, he lived like the man described in Micah 6:8, "He has showed you, O man, what is good... To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Joseph acted justly, loved mercy, and humbly obeyed God.
In the course of the sermon, dad also highlighted Nicodemus. I couldn't help but smile. For some reason, Nicodemus is dear to my heart. He first appears in John chapter 3. He was a religious teacher, a man concerned about religion. Nicodemus was also a man with a humble heart. He came to Jesus at night to talk with him one on one. Later in John's Gospel, in chapter 7, we see Nicodemus trying to encourage the other Pharisees to consider Jesus' testimony, even though doing so was no doubt risky to his reputation. In chapter 19, we see him helping a man from Arimathea to treat and bury the body of Jesus - an act which made him "ceremonially unclean" toward the end of the celebration of the Passover and the day before a high Sabbath. Nicodemus, like Joseph, sought righteousness, acted compassionately, and displayed that jewel of character - humility.
I can't help but wonder if Nicodemus was there when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in Matthew 23. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" Jesus said, repeatedly throughout the passage. Nicodemus was a Pharisee (and so was Paul, for that matter). If Nicodemus was there, did those words cut deeply in his heart, dividing soul and spirit? Unlike the other chief priests, scribes, and elders whose response to Jesus was the plotting of his death, Nicodemus kindly handled and buried the body of Christ. How fascinating that this act of "uncleanliness" speaks as a strong indication that Nicodemus' heart was probably "holy" by faith! God is good :)
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being hypocrites.
Outwardly, they were: wise, good, loving, respectful, sacrificial, clean, holy, saving
Really, they were: wise guides (to a dead end), good and generous (toward themselves), leading others (into deeper slavery), respecting (things seen and nothing spiritual), giving (only to feed their pride), beautiful (in their own eyes), looking (never at the inside), speaking (lies)
Looking at myself, I can see that I have these fleshy, sinful tendencies, too. In grade school, I used to always judge myself by looking at those around me and comparing myself to them. I still have a tendency to think highly of myself just because it feels comfortable to do. But Jesus calls me to live a life that is put in a new perspective - not from my eyes, but from God's eyes. He warns me not to think more highly of myself than I ought, and commands that I love others as myself.
What did Jesus tell Nicodemus? What words and teaching did Jesus give to that Pharisee who came with a curious, humble heart? Jesus taught him about the authority of Christ and the salvation that was freely available to any who would look up to Jesus and trust in Him. It was Nicodemus to whom Jesus spoke the often-quoted words of John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
It is not by our works, or a lonely life-long cultivation of ourselves that makes us fit to enter God's kingdom. It is only by faith in the perfect Man, the Son of God, and with a steady walk (by faith) with Him to heaven. By faith, we can be true to the law and become godly: wise guides (to heaven), good and generous (toward others), leading others (into freedom), respecting (and not neglecting spiritual things which are unseen), giving (for the benefit of others), beautiful (in God's eyes), looking (healthily at the inside and outside equally), speaking (truth).
God bless the humble man who seeks after His righteousness and mercy! :)
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God."