A List!

Matthew 1:1-17

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

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,

Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa,

Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

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 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.

“A List!”


Our Gospel lesson this evening from Matthew 1 is a list … a long list.  It is the family tree of Christ.  Now, preaching from a list can be sermonic suicide and a guaranteed way to put people to sleep.  In Seminary, professors told the students, “Avoid lists.  Avoid them like the plague.  Whatever you do, never, ever preach on lists!

But this evening … forgetting all conventional sermonic wisdom … our text is a list.  This family tree from Matthew 1 reads much like a telephone book.  It’s name after name and the names are not easy to pronounce.  I’m sure some of our younger kids here with their smartphones are asking, “What in the world is a telephone book?”  Well, back in the dark ages, in the BC times … the before computer times … if you wanted to call someone, you’d actually have to look up their number in a book.  You couldn’t ask Google.  You couldn’t do a search on whitepages.com.  Our gospel reading from Matthew 1 looks like a big, fat, dull, dry telephone book!

You may be thinking … “Pastor, listen to your professors.  This sermon is going to put me to sleep.  If you are going to preach from a list, please wake me up when you’re done.  Why in the world would you chose to preach on a list?”  Well … here’s why … Matthew’s list tells us something very important about family life.

A few weeks ago we started an Advent sermon series called “Family Life.”  The last two weeks we were in Luke’s Gospel learning about King Herod, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist.  This evening’s family truth comes from Matthew’s Gospel.  And the family truth is this … lower your expectations.  That’s it.  Pretty simple, isn’t it?  That’s the goal … lower your family expectations.  Now don’t get me wrong … you have cute children.  Your husband can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Your wife can cook to the moon and back.  Your teenagers are polite, good athletes, and solid citizens.  But when it comes to family life it’s time, it’s high time, it’s past time to do what? … Lower your expectations.

Now what exactly do I mean by lower your expectations.  Well, all too often, we expect children, spouses, in-laws, cousins, aunts, and uncles … to be perfect.  And when they don’t measure up to our standards, we let them have it.  “After what you just did, I can’t believe you’re my son!”  “You’ll never get it right!  Will you?”  “Do I have to show you everything?”  And the final nail in the coffin, “You’re not the person I thought I married!”  In the midst of all this trauma and turmoil Matthew’s genealogy says … “Lower your family expectations.”  How does Matthew do it?  He does it with a list!  Let’s look at this list of Christ’s family members.

Verse 3 says, “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.”  Tamar is first mentioned in Genesis 38:6 which says, “Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.”  Er died, so Judah then gives Tamar to another son name Onan.  Onan died, so upon the birth of another son, Shelah, Judah instructs Tamar to wait until Shelah grows up.  At that time Shelah will become her husband.  Are you kidding me?  Judah is asking Tamar to wait at least twenty more years to get married!

This leads to one of the shortest business transactions in the Bible.  Tamar dresses up like a woman of the night, a prostitute.  Not knowing she is Tamar, Judah propositions her.  Tamar asks for payment.  Judah promises a young goat.  They sleep together.  Tamar conceives.  They both go their own way.  And this Tamar is in Christ’s family tree.

Tamar dressed like a woman of the night … that’s pretty bad.  But just hold on … Christ’s family tree gets even more scandalous.  In Joshua 2:1, we learn that Rahab, who is listed in verse 5 of Christ’s family tree, is a Canaanite and a woman of the night.

Rahab was a prostitute by trade.  That is how she earned a living.  But on top of that, being a Canaanite means that she is not one of God’s chosen people.  As a Canaanite, she worships the detestable gods of Baal and Asherah. And yet she is included in Jesus’ family tree.

But as bad as worshipping the false Canaanite gods is, it isn’t as bad as the Moabites.  The Moabites paid homages to a violent god named Chemosh.  Chemosh demanded child sacrifice.  And horror of all horrors, Matthew includes another person on his list.  Last part of verse five Matthew mentions Ruth.  Ruth was a Moabite.  Six times in the book of Ruth she receives this title.  Ruth once worshiped Chemosh who demanded you to sacrifice babies.

Next in line in the last half of verse six come Bathsheba who was an adulterous.  This is so unsettling that Matthew can’t even bring himself to writing her name.  Matthew simply calls her the “wife of Uriah.”  I’m sure you remember this story.  It was spring time and King David, instead of going off to war, takes a walk on the palace roof.  He sees a beautiful woman bathing and, in a roundabout way, learns her name, sends for her, takes her in, and the two sleep together.  Sometime later Bathsheba sends a two-word message to King David in 2 Samuel 11:5, “I’m pregnant.”  David orders her husband Uriah to return home from battle.  Little does Uriah know, his refusal to sleep with Bathsheba becomes his death sentence, because after multiple unsuccessful attempts of having Uriah sleep with his own wife to cover up David’s affair, David orders his general to make sure Uriah is killed in battle.

Tamar dresses up like a woman of the night.  Rahab is a woman of the night and a Canaanite, Ruth is a Moabite, and Bathsheba not only bathes openly, but later is instrumental in the death of one of David’s own sons.  That’s quite a list of family members.

So … do you guys give up, or are you thirsty for more (video clip).  Let’s look at some of the men on Matthew’s list.  They aren’t much better.  Solomon broke every commandment in the book.  He had seven-hundred wives and three-hundred mistresses (1 Kings 11:3).  Solomon worshiped a multitude of foreign gods and even enslaved people to build his palace and God’s temple.  Solomon’s son Rehoboam divided the kingdom into the north and south.  And then there is Manasseh.  Manasseh filled Jerusalem with blood.  2 Kings 21:16 says that Manasseh “shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end.”

The purpose of a biblical genealogy is to give solemn honor to the final descendant … in Matthew’s case, that is Jesus.  Why then, doesn’t Matthew involve the names of the three wonderful matriarchs of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel?  Why doesn’t Matthew work around the names like Solomon, Rehoboam, and Manasseh?

Well … it isn’t with glitter and Hollywood glitz that Matthew introduces us to Christ’s family.  There are no fireworks or fine pedigrees.  Rather there is a list of a bunch of ramshackle relatives.

What do you do with ramshackle relatives?  You let them have it right?  You hold a grudge, you stay bitter, you walk around with a chip on your shoulder right?  Maybe that is you and me … but that’s not Jesus.

Matthew says, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (1:21).  Jesus means the Lord saves.  Jesus saves his people.  But who are his people?  Tamar who deceived Judah, Rahab who sold herself to men, Ruth who grew up worshiping a violent and murderous god, Bathsheba who left Uriah for David, Solomon who began so good only to finish so bad.  Rehoboam who ripped a nation in two, or what about Manasseh?

The point of all this list?  Lower your expectations!  Take your list of unrealistic family expectations and tear it up.  Let go of your impossible demands, your absurd assumptions, your ungodly ultimatums and replace them.  Replace them with forgiveness; like the forgiveness Jesus won for you.

Jesus not only chooses ramshackle relatives.  Jesus also chooses fishermen instead of Pharisees, sinners instead of Sadducees, and harlots instead of Herodians to be his disciples.  Ultimately Jesus chooses thorns for his crown instead of silver and gold.  Jesus chooses spit and blood instead of sweetness and light.  His choices lead to torment and torture and darkness and death.

And this all led to the greatest shock of all. “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said’” (Matt 28:5-6).  Jesus is victorious over death and is making all things new … even you.

For many, Matthew 1:1-17 reads like a telephone book containing names no one cares about and have a hard time pronouncing.  For others its sermonic suicide and a certain sleeper.  But to those of us who know what it’s like to expect perfection in our families … Matthew’s list means letting go of false hopes and unrealistic expectations and replacing them with forgiveness, a clean slate, a new beginning.  That’s why Matthew’s list means, why for all of our families Matthew’s list means, everything!  Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.