Sunday’s Sermon — Matthew 1:2-11, The Scandalous Grace of God

15 Dec

Have you ever noticed how untrue to life many Christmas songs are? How many of you have roasted chestnuts on an open fire? Has grandma ever really gotten run over by a reindeer? Christmas songs, except for the one about grandma, usually paint a nostalgic, sappy picture that only emphasizes the good. But we all know Christmas is not like that. There are lots of frustrations and hurts in every Christmas. There is the hustle and bustle of activity for some. The feeling that after all the parties and events what you really need is a vacation from your vacation. For those in the retail industry, there is a hustle and bustle of a different kind, as demanding customers and crazy hours make for a Christmas that doesn’t make visions of sugarplums dance in your heads. For some, Christmas is a time of immense loneliness and pain. Loved ones who have passed away, family relations that are strained, these are the issues that are on the minds of many people during this time of year. And even for children, they don’t always get what they want or if they do get what they want it is not always what they hoped it would be. I think it is important for us to acknowledge the reality that Christmas is a wonderful holiday but that Christmas, like everything, has its ups and downs.

Matthew, in writing his genealogy in chapter 1, shows us that in the background of Jesus there were lots of ups and downs too. Matthew writes mainly to Christians of a Jewish background and to other Jews who might be interested in learning about Jesus. He wants to establish right from the start Jesus’ credentials as Messiah. So the first thing he holds out to his readers is Jesus’ family line. We find that Jesus meets both the requirements needed to be the Messiah. But we also find so much more. This genealogy is amazing. Last week, we saw in Matthew 1:1 a simple phrase that summarizes the focus of Matthew’s whole gospel. Does anybody remember it? “One Story, One Savior, One King, for All Nations.” There is so much truth in that one verse and today we are going to see that there is a great truth in the next few verses as well. Let’s read verses 2-11 as we look for the truth God has for us here . . .

 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

This genealogy is organized into three sets of fourteen generations, as verse 17 tells us. The first set runs from Abraham, the beginning of the nation of Israel, to David, the great king. The second set runs from David to the exile to Babylon, a tragic event in Israel’s history. And the third set runs from the exile to the coming of Jesus. The third set is much different from the first two because we know very little about the names mentioned in the third set, and I believe they teach us something different than the first two sets of names. I am taking the first two sets of names together because I believe they teach us the same truth: that the God of grace has worked in unusual and unexpected ways to bring His Son into the world.

Luke traces his genealogy of Jesus back to Adam but Matthew starts with Abraham. And we said last week that Matthew is showing us through the family line of Jesus His connection with Abraham and David, which establishes Jesus’ credentials to be the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament. Matthew’s purpose then in giving this record is to show us that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the nation of Israel. Matthew is anticipating the objection of many in his day and even today, “How could it be that this child of a lowly family born in an obscure place and in morally questionable circumstances be the Messiah, the great King of the Jews?” And what Matthew is going to answer through the genealogy is that this is exactly the kind of family the Messiah has come from, so don’t hold it against Jesus because He didn’t come with trumpet blasts and robes wearing a golden diaper in a golden crib surrounded by servants. God has been working out His saving plan in unusual ways all along.

God’s ways are unusual. Any of us who have really read our Bibles know this. We know the story of Abraham. God chose this old man to be the beginning of His nation and at 99 years old Abraham fathered Isaac. We see God’s unusual ways in Jacob, who deceived his brother and got both his birthright and blessing, fulfilling what God had promised when they were still in the womb, the older will serve the younger. We see God’s unusual ways of working through King David, the youngest son of the sons of Jesse, the unexpected king. And on and on we could go through this list of kings, some were godly, some were wicked, but all were part of the royal line of Jesus the Messiah.

But the real place we see this truth of God’s unusual ways worked out in this genealogy is through the way Matthew highlighted women in his story. It’s not that highlighting women in a genealogy was unheard of (it was rare but some women are highlighted in Old Testament genealogies) it is the women that Matthew chose to highlight that are so remarkable. He doesn’t highlight Sarah or Rebekah or Leah or other great women of the Bible. He highlights four women with checkered pasts and with great faith. Through these women who all found blessing in unusual and morally questionable circumstances, Matthew is showing us that what God has been doing all along, He is now doing with Jesus.

In the case of Tamar, she seemed to be a cursed woman, nothing went right for her. She was married to the son of Judah, but Judah’s son died. But Judah had two other sons, and it was expected in that day for the next oldest brother to take the widow Tamar as his wife to carry on the family line of his brother. But the second brother died as well, having been judged by God for being unwilling to carry on his brother’s family line through Tamar. Now Judah had one more son but he was reluctant to have him marry Tamar because he believed she was cursed. Tamar recognized Judah’s reluctance so she disguised herself as a prostitute and Judah went to her. Judah had nothing to pay her with so she gave her his staff and signet ring until he could come back with payment. So Tamar said OK and slept with Judah and became pregnant. It was found out that she was pregnant and Judah wanted to have her put to death for adultery but then she produced the staff and signet ring and Judah was forced to admit his double standard and his sin. She had twins, and Perez ended up being in the family line of the Messiah. God’s unusual, even scandalous ways, are on full display.

Then there is Rahab, the prostitute who protected Israel’s spies as they entered the Promised Land and prepared to attack Jericho. In spite of her occupation, she had come to fear the Lord and ended up turning away from prostitution and joining the Israelites and eventually having a child who would be in the family line of the Messiah. Again, unusual, scandalous, but of God.

Third there is Ruth, the Moabite who, having lost her husband to death came back to Israel with her mother-in-law Naomi, pledging her support and love to Naomi. Ruth was a godly woman, yet still there is a hint of scandal with her. First, there is the fact that she is a Moabite. The Moabites came into existence because of Lot’s daughters. Lot’s daughters, after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, saw no hope for themselves of every marrying again and having children, so they got their father Lot drunk and lay with him and each became pregnant by him. And one of the children born from that incestuous union was named Moab, and Ruth was a Moabite. So Ruth would have had this stigma attached to her name. In addition, having lost a husband some might think her cursed and then even her marriage to the older Boaz may have raised suspicions among some about her character. Yet there she is, in the family line of Messiah, great-grandmother to King David.

And finally there is the “wife of Uriah,” known to us as Bathsheba. She too is a woman whose character would have been questioned. She participated in adultery with David and became pregnant and David had her husband Uriah killed. After that David married her. Their first child died but then she gave birth to the great King Solomon. Again, God’s unusual ways, His scandalous grace on full display.

The other side of the coin is that these women were not only involved in morally questionable things, they were also each women of great faith. Tamar took great risks to carry on her family name and stood against a culture that would be against her to call to account her father-in-law Judah. Rahab housed the spies who were coming to check out Jericho, protecting them from the authorities. Ruth came to Israel with her mother-in-law as her caretaker and submitted her life to the Lord and trusted him to provide all she needed. And Bathsheba, when her son Solomon was grown, was instrumental in getting him into the position of king in fulfillment of God’s promise. So each of these women were women whose lives were shrouded in shame or even scandal and yet each was a woman of great faith who had a child who carried on God’s plan of salvation. Now who does that sound like? Yes, Mary. Matthew is setting us up through the genealogy for what is going to happen with Mary. She, while still unmarried, is going to be with child by the Holy Spirit. We know this is true, but what about the people that lived around her, her friends, neighbors and family. Would they have believed it? No, she would have been scandalized in the eyes of those around her. What about the skeptical Jew reading or hearing Matthew’s gospel? Would they have believed Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit? No, there is evidence from outside Scripture that a story circulated that Mary became pregnant through a Roman soldier. And we see in the gospels several times when Jesus’ origins are questioned. He is accused of being an illegitimate child. So Matthew’s genealogy provides a defense of the virgin birth and of Mary. His Christian readers could be comforted that Mary, though participating in an event that is unparalleled in history, the virgin birth, is nevertheless a lot like others in the family line that have gone before her: seemingly covered by scandal but actually living a life of great faith that God is working through for His glory and for moving forward His plan for the world.

God often works in ways that are strange to us. This is true not only in His plan of salvation but also in the shape of our daily lives. Our lives rarely unfold in a seamless, easy way. If we really read our Bibles we see this over and over. There are very few characters whose stories don’t go through many twists and turns of hardship and victory, failure and blessing. But I am afraid all too often we have bought the idea that our lives should be comfortable and smooth. We have let advertisers convince us that if we use this toothpaste or that shampoo that we will be irresistible. We have bought the lie that we can find happiness at the buffet or the fast food counter. We have believed that happiness is found in a shiny new car with a big bow on top. We have swallowed the idea that we should always succeed, that onward and upward is the only way to go. We have even imported this idea into our Christianity. And we have believed that when good things don’t happen for us, we are flawed, less than, even cursed by God. And I want to say to you that bad things or lack of good things does not mean you are cursed by God, it means you are human. We need to stop living in the fantasy land of false expectations. Many churches make their whole message one of false expectations. Come here, this is a happy place. Look at all the smiles. Look at all the plastic people. We need to resist that because it is neither true to the Bible nor reality. The Bible message is that of Paul, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” We enter into the muck and mire of life and we hurt and grieve and cry, but all along we know that God is working in and through and under everything we are doing to advance His purposes. So we are neither blind optimists nor dark pessimists. Christians are to be true realists, understanding that God is working in all things for His glory and our eternal joy. And this is the place of faith. We must trust that God is working in this way even if we never see the end of grief, even if the pain does not go away, even if the circumstances never change. The story of each of the women in the genealogy had a happy ending and our story will have a happy ending too, but sometimes it takes a lifetime to get there. I just want you to see this morning that God is at work, often in situations where it looks like He is not at work.

The grace of God is so evident in this passage. We didn’t talk about the fact that all four of the women in the genealogy have some kind of connection to Gentiles: Tamar lived among Canaanites, Rahab and Ruth were Gentiles and Bathsheba was married to Uriah the Hittite. Yet all of them are in Jesus’ genealogy. God so loved the world. The grace of God is also evident in the fact that so many in this genealogy were great sinners. From sneaky Jacob to Judah to David’s great sin to Solomon’s wives to wicked kings like Manasseh, many of the people in this genealogy were deeply sinful. And of course every one of them is a sinner in need of saving. And it is through this line that Jesus’ rights as Messiah-King are established. When the angel speaks to Joseph in chapter 1, verse 21, the angel says Jesus, “will save His people from their sins.” This genealogy establishes the fact that His people were a sinful people in need of saving. And yet Jesus is not ashamed to say, “This is my family line.” He is not ashamed to leave the glories of heaven to enter into this messy, sinful world. He is facing sin head on from the very beginning. He enters the sinful world and brings redemption through His sinless life, His atoning death and His victorious resurrection. And now He reigns, ascended and with the Father, constantly pleading His blood on behalf of His people.

So on we stumble, alternating between despair and arrogance, one moment so proud of our progress and the next crushed under the weight of our inability. We glory in the beauty of the world: sunsets and stars, oceans and mountains, the beauty of love and friendship. Yet we groan at the brokenness of the world: disease and death, the horror of racism and terrorism, the awful ways we treat one another.

And Jesus enters this beautiful and broken world as a tiny baby. He joins the limping march of humanity in all its tarnished splendor. And the plan of God promised as far back as the Garden of Eden and carried all through the Old Testament, is fulfilled. The hope of the world has come. In a most unusual way. This is the way God works.

And this is the way we face life. We don’t pretend there is no evil, we don’t act like bad things never happen, we don’t think no harm will come to us if we only do all the right things. And we hurt when we feel pain and we feel compassion for others who are in pain. Our souls groan in this fallen world. This is the way we face life. All you’ve got to do to know that is read the Psalms.

And yet. And yet. The brokenness of the world is not the final word because the Word became flesh. And because Jesus has come, there is strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. All your sins are forgiven through faith in the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Peace, purity and loving power are all yours through Jesus, who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to be with His people and to guide them and strengthen them. Through daily trust in Jesus, even in this broken world, you can live a life of joy and usefulness. And one day, the brokenness will be over. Jesus is coming again to renew all things. So we have the great future hope of reigning with Christ in a world where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Where the cries of our hearts are not cries of anguish over our pain and trials and tragedies but are cries of joy as we shout, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power and wisdom and riches and strength glory and honor and blessing.”

As Christians we face a beautiful, broken world in the full assurance that God sees it all, knows it all and works in it all for His glory and the eternal blessing of His people. And this scandalous grace, this unusual working, is at the very heart of the message we proclaim at Christmas. Let’s Pray.

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