A Christmas Face Lift, Part 1

Matthew 1:1-17

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah
1 This is the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4 Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6 and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9 Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah[c] and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,
Abihud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
14 Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Elihud,
15 Elihud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but Marilyn and I are reality TV show junkies.  We have certain reality shows that we record on our DVR and that’s about all we ever watch together.  We gave up on sit-coms years ago because they just weren’t funny anymore primarily because they had become too filthy.  Now we’re much more content watching “Survivor,” “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” “Alaskan Bush People,” “American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent,” and other similar shows.

Though these types of shows fit into the category known as “Reality TV,” do they actually typify real life?  Hardly!  I mean, how many of you would voluntarily place yourself on a deserted island for a possible 39 days with a group of other people whom you’ve never met and who are going to lie, deceive, cheat, and do whatever it takes to get you off that island and out of the game so they can win $1 million, as happens on “Survivor”?  Or how many of you would actually go to live in the Alaskan bush where you would have to kill your own food, find and purify your own water, build your own shelter, and have to be constantly on the lookout for bears and other wildlife that would see you not only as an intruder on their turf, but also as a potential meal.  That’s not reality, is it?

If we’re going to talk reality, we might want to start with a young mother looking in the mirror late at night.  Her face is tired.  She notices a few wrinkles.  And she’s thinking, “Just 10 years ago, I was single.  I was slender.  I was energetic.  But now I’ve got 3 preschool age kids and a husband who is like an adult kid.  I’ve lost my figure.  And I’m tired all the time.”  That’s reality, isn’t it?

Or how about this one?  A father finds some marijuana or beer cans in his teenage son’s car.  And he goes ballistic.  He erupts like a volcano and says some things to his son he regrets later on, but he felt they needed to be said at the time.  And now father and son are both so angry with each other that they haven’t talked for a week and the atmosphere in the house is as cold as an icicle on a January morning.  That’s reality.

Or how about one more example?  A young man joins the reserves more out of financial motivation than political or patriotic, but here he is packing his bags to leave behind his family and friends and all that’s familiar to him so that he can go serve on the other side of the globe in a very dangerous and unpredictable area.  Again, that’s reality.  That’s where people live today.  That’s where you and I live.  And that’s where Jesus lived as well.  In fact, that’s the theme of Matthew chapter 1 where we’re going to be camping this morning and 2 weeks from today as we spend some time this Advent season undergoing what I’m calling “A Christmas Faith Lift.”

Now I don’t know how much you know about Matt. 1, but one thing I can guarantee you is that no editor today would ever allow an author to get away with what Matthew did here.  And that is to start a book with a listing of some 42 names that make up the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  Now be honest with me for a moment.  Have you ever started reading Matthew’s Gospel and thought to yourself, “I think I’ll just skip over all these names, most of which I can’t even pronounce anyway”?  Sometimes we call these names “the begats.”  So and so begat so and so.  And this person begat that person.  I’ll be the first to admit that it doesn’t make for very interesting reading, unless you do what we’re going to do today.  And that is pick it apart, try to make some sense out of it, and see how all these names relate to us today.  So let’s get started.

The first thing we discover in this genealogy is that God’s work begins with mercy.  Now before we go any further, let me explain that this genealogy of Christ is comprised of some 42 names which are divided into 3 sets of 14 names.  And when you study these 3 sets of names, you kind of get the impression that old Matthew the tax collector had organized them in such a way that he’s trying to make a particular point with each set.  And the first point he makes with the first 14 names is that God’s work begins with mercy.

Prepare yourself for the first meteor shower of names that Matthew lists for us in vv.2-6:“Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.”

The reason I wanted to read those names to you is because a close examination of them reveals 4 surprising names that normally wouldn’t show up in a Jewish genealogy because they are 4 female names.  Did you notice them?  Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and she who had been the wife of Uriah.  We know her name because we are given it in 2 Sam. 11.  Her name was Bathsheba.

Now it was one thing for Matthew to mention 4 women in his genealogy, but what’s really shocking is the women he mentions.  Though I don’t really have time to go into all these stories this morning, there was Tamar who played the harlot to trick her father-in-law, Judah, into having sex with her so that she could carry on the family name after her husband, Judah’s son, died.  Then there was Rahab who didn’t even have to pretend to be a harlot because she already was one.  Then there was Ruth who was a much more honorable woman than Tamar and Rahab, but she was a foreigner, an outsider to the Jewish race.  She was a Moabite.  Throughout the Old Testament, the Moabites had been perennial enemies of God’s people.  Then lastly, there was Bathsheba, whose name Matthew doesn’t even mention.  It’s almost like he gets embarrassed at this point and blushes.  And understandably so, for she was the Monica Lewinsky of David’s court.

So look at this list: Tamar who played the harlot, Rahab who was a harlot, Ruth who was a foreigner from an enemy nation, and Bathsheba, who would have graced the headlines of the National Enquirer had it existed back then.  My friends, behold the great-grandmothers of Jesus!  Come on, Matthew.  What’s going on here?  Why did you mention these women?  I mean, there were better ones to choose from.  But here we are, barely into his Gospel and Matthew is already stirring up scandal.  Why do we need to know that the family tree of Jesus was marked by so much bad fruit?

I believe there’s a good answer to that question.  I think we need to know this because if your life has ever been soiled by scandal or tainted by sin, whether personal or family, private or public, this part of Jesus’ genealogy lets you know that God still has a place for you in his family.  No matter what you’ve done, no matter how far you’ve fallen, no matter what kind of family you come from, he has abundant mercy for you that can not only turn your life around, but place you on the guest list of any of his family gatherings, not just as an outsider, but as a full-fledged son or daughter.

So God’s work begins with mercy.  Then the second set of 14 names tells us that God’s work is sometimes marked by judgment.  I’m not going to read all these names to you as they appear in vv. 7-11, but I will read to you the final verse of this section where it says: “Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).”  That is the only geographical reference in this genealogy.  No mention is made of Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Nazareth or any other city or town in Israel.  Only Babylon is cited, and not just as a geographical location, but Matthew includes the reminder that it was there that the Jews were exiled, taken into captivity.  Babylon for the first century Jew held the same place as Auschwitz or Dachau would for a modern day Jew.  It was a place of persecution, a place of shame, a place where horrible things happened to them.  The Bible describes them as being “carried away to Babylon.”  They didn’t go of their own free will.  Instead, it was all part of God’s judgment that he brought upon his people when they forgot him and rejected him.

This spiritual collapse began surprisingly with Solomon whom we normally think of as the wisest man who ever lived next to Christ himself.  But Solomon, like his father David, had a weakness when it came to women.  And during his reign he amassed a harem that included 700 wives and 300 concubines.  And you know what all those women did to him?  I Kings 11 says:“His wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been…So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”  Solomon sent Israel on a downward spiral that saw generation after generation, king after king, subject after subject, worshiping and serving a whole host of false gods in place of the one and only true God.

Now how does God respond when his people who know better ignore him, rebel against him, and forget him?  One word…he responds with judgment.  So Israel lost its land, its temple, its capital, its dignity, its identity when the Babylonians carried them away into captivity.  And my friends, you need to know that God still responds the same way today when his people ignore him, rebel against him, and forget him.  In Gal. 6:7-8 the Apostle Paul reminds us of this when he says: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.”  Please let that passage sink into your mind this morning.  Let it warn you that today’s sin becomes tomorrow’s chaos so that you’ll abandon that sin and lay it down at the foot of the cross where God will be more than happy to allow the blood of Jesus to purify you of that sin.

So God’s work begins with mercy.  It is marked by judgment when necessary.  And then lastly, God’s work always results in triumph.  Again, I’m not going to read you all the names that appear in this final set, but I will read you the last verse, v. 16, which says: “Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah.”  So we made it, didn’t we?  We made it.  Or I guess I should say God made it.  And that’s precisely Matthew’s point.  In spite of all the messes we’ve spoken of this morning, in spite of all the rotten fruit that appeared on Jesus’ family tree, God still managed to deliver to our world the One whom Scripture would call the apple of his eye – his perfect Son and our perfect Savior Jesus Christ.  So Jesus came, and guess what?  He’s coming again.  As mentioned before, that’s one of the purposes, one of the focuses of the Advent season, to get us thinking not just about his first coming as a tiny infant, but also about his second coming as our triumphant King.  And when he comes again, you know what he’s going to do?  I’ll let him tell you in John 14:3 where he says: “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  So his homecoming, as it were, will signal our home going.  And we will have the privilege then of enjoying and dwelling in his presence for all eternity.

So this morning we’ve seen the mercy of God, the judgment of God, and the triumph of God.  May I ask you, my friends, which of these do you need in your life right now?  Are you in need of his mercy because of some sin you’ve committed that is weighing heavily on you right now?  If so, confess that sin to God and claim Eph. 2:4 which describes God as being “rich in mercy.”  Or are you perhaps in need of God’s judgment today, his fatherly discipline?  Have you strayed from him and are you feeling his heavy hand on your shoulder?  If so, don’t resist it, but receive it and pay to heed it, for Heb. 12:6 tells us “the Lord disciplines those he loves.”  Or are you perhaps in need of victory in your life, victory over alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography; victory over problems that threaten to destroy your health, your career, your family, your marriage?  If so, then recognize that if God could get his Son delivered safely to this world in spite of all the obstacles and challenges that stood in his way, then surely he can bring you victory over your struggles as well.  So whether it’s mercy, judgment, or triumph that you’re needing right now, receive it from God as part of his personal Christmas faith lift for you.