Selected highlights from this sermon.
The lineage of Jesus is filled with people who had checkered pasts. He too will include us in His family even if we have a background of dysfunction. Jesus was related to prostitutes and people involved in incestuous relationships. Yet He came as the perfect Jewish King, the son of Abraham and David.
With His genealogy and His teaching, Jesus broke down barriers between Gentiles and Jews, men and women. In Him, anyone can find a family among His people.
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Dysfunctional families are everywhere. If you think that you know a family that isn’t dysfunctional you probably don’t know the family very well. Brokenness exists across the landscape. Sometimes in the most unlikely places we find it. Take, for example, in our families with a 40% divorce rate, twenty million children tonight will go to bed with only one parent in the home – probably the mother. And you think of the devastation. In fact, recent surveys and psychological studies say that a child might be able to accept the death of a parent more easily than a divorce, where mommy and daddy hate now each other, and can’t stand each other. Imagine the devastation.
Single parenting, of course, is there, and single mothers abound, and there are all of these children born out of wedlock to single mothers. Rebecca and I know someone who is greatly abused by her father, and she now has three children by three different fathers. Let me ask you a question. How can children like that grow up with a sense of wellbeing and acceptance and nurturing? Can God be in the midst of such devastation and pain?
The question on the table today is simply this. Does God bless only those who are wanted children, only those who are really blessed and have the benefit of a father and a mother who are loving and caring? Does God only bless people like that, or does the grace of God encompass the brokenness of the world? That’s the question that’s on the table.
Today’s message is directed to all of us but there are some of you who are listening and it is particularly for you. And if you think that the message isn’t exactly for you, it is for somebody whom you know, and that’s why this message is so important.
You know that at Christmas time we have parties. As a matter of fact, the elders had a get-together last night and one of the elders and his wife had to leave early because they had another get-together somewhere else. And some people struggle, especially if they have children, with whether or not they should even expose their children to their relatives because sometimes (well, yeah, you know you are laughing) there are those who are very - what shall we say? - bad role models to put it mildly. I had other words chosen but I simply settled for bad role models. They are people whose morals, and language and so forth are very unhelpful. Again, I am being very diplomatic here.
Now the question I want to ask you is this. What if Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph decided to have a family picnic, shall we say, or a family get-together, and they decided to invite all of the relatives, all of the ancestors of Jesus. Who would show? Let us suppose that these ancestors were raised from the dead and they show up in Jesus Christ’s genealogy, in his history, in his background. They are there. What kind of a party might it turn out to be?
Well we are going to find out whom Jesus Christ was related to in the flesh. Who was Jesus Christ related to? And the passage, of course, is Matthew 1 where we have the genealogy of Jesus, and we’ll find out who his relatives really were. We begin in Matthew 1 with somewhat of a surprise because it says, “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Abraham lived centuries before David. Why does David appear first? Well, the reason is because God wanted to say right from the get go that Matthew wanted us to understand that Jesus Christ was a legitimate king because it was to David, you see, that the prophecies were given that he would have a son who would rule forever over a territory that God had given him. And Jesus, Matthew is going to argue, is the fulfillment of that prophecy, and therefore, right from the beginning he wanted to have us understand that Jesus was the son of David. He’s going to fulfill the covenant that God made with David in Second Samuel 7.
So we find there in the text that David comes first. Jesus is obviously related to the Jews. He is the son of David. He is the son of Abraham. Abraham is the man to whom God gave the covenant, the beginning of the covenantal people and God said, “Abraham, I am going to make you a great nation, and I am going to bless you, and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” And the coming of Jesus is really a fulfillment of that prophecy, even though there are some prophecies that God made to Abraham that haven’t yet been fulfilled, and some of us believe they will still be literally here on earth.
So you have Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Jesus is related obviously to the Jews. I remember when Pastor Roy Schwarz was here at the church. He was on staff. He was a Messianic Jew. He said that when he was growing up in Judaism he didn’t know that Jesus was a Jew. He said that he always thought that Jesus was a Christian, and so the question was how could Jesus possibly be a Jew? But Jesus, of course, was very Jewish, not only in his background, not only in his ancestry, but very Jewish in the customs and the tenets of the Old Testament that he meticulously obeyed, though he gave them a deeper meaning in the midst of a society that was bound in legalism.
So at this get-together there would be many Jewish people obviously because Jesus was a Jew. He has Jewish relatives in his background. But now we get to a surprise, and Matthew really does surprise us, and we don’t fully appreciate the surprise as westerners. But now suddenly Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus not only had Jewish relatives, but he had Gentile relatives too, and so that’s a bit of surprise. But what really surprises us is that women are included in this genealogy.
Now you can look through the genealogies of the Old Testament and you’ll discover to my knowledge that not a single woman is ever listed because, tragic though it may be, women were considered to be the possession of the man, and so they were not listed in genealogies. It always went from man to man to man, and the women were not a part of it and so Matthew surprises us by including four women. But in addition to that he shocks us by the women that he chose to put into this genealogy. Matthew is not trying to make the point that every time you mention a woman she is a woman who has a questionable character, as most of these women do. I think he deliberately chose these women because what Matthew wants us to understand is that God’s boundaries are much broader than we may consider them to be.
David Hume, the famous skeptic, said that he thought that it was immoral for God to limit salvation to one people, and to give it only to the Jews and through the Jews. Well of course, David Hume, that involves a lot of philosophical and theological issues if you want a complete answer, but part of the answer today to David Hume is found here in the text. God is saying, “I do broaden salvation, and it doesn’t only include the right kinds of people. It includes women, most of whom have a very seamy reputation.”
With that, let’s look at whom Matthew included. First of all you will notice that he includes a woman by the name of Tamar. I’m actually in verse 3. “And Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar.” Boy, what a story there is there. It’s in Genesis 38. Very briefly Tamar is a woman who marries a son of Judah. Now get this clear; Judah is her father-in-law. This son turns out to be evil, and God kills him basically. She then does what is supposed to happen. She is to have a relationship with his brother, and that doesn’t work out either, and God is angry with both brothers, and Judah says, “I’ll give you my third son if you just wait around for him to grow up.” Well, he grew up and Judah didn’t keep his promise so Tamar played the part of a prostitute and actually disguised herself, keeping herself totally veiled, and Judah fell for it, and had a relationship with her. Three months later she shows up and she’s pregnant and Judah is very angry. He says, “She should (in effect) be burned,” and then she says, “Well, I happen to have the staff (his cane) of the man who is responsible for my pregnancy,” because during the interchange that was kind of given as a pledge. And Judah now realized that he is the father of this child because of the relationship he had with his daughter-in-law. Actually she had twins and both of them are listed here. It was Perez and Zerah by Tamar. If you made a movie of her life it would be at least an “R.” She was the kind of a woman with this kind of a reputation, and that’s the way in which the family conducted itself. What a story!
So first of all you have Tamar who is listed and all that went on in that dysfunctional family. Then secondly, as if he isn’t finished yet, you’ll notice that Matthew goes on and he lists Rahab. This is now in verse 5. “Salmon, the father of Boaz, by Rahab.” Yeah, that’s the woman. Remember the Heidi Fleis of Jericho? She was there and the spies go into the city of Jericho and they want to spy out the land, and they don’t know where to spend the night and somebody says, “There’s an inn over there run by a woman by the name of Rahab.” And they go and they spend the night there and there’s no evidence that they took any advantage of her in terms of the favors that she was giving to the people of the city. But in the encounter they discovered something - that she feared the true God. She said, “You know I heard of the miracles that God did on your behalf and I was afraid (in effect) because I want to believe in God,” and then she let them down in a basket over the wall, and when the Secret Service of Jericho came, and tried to find these spies, she actually misled them, and told them to go the wrong way. And so she helped the spies and lo and behold she was saved when Jericho fell. Remember that story? And she married into the Jewish line and there she is – Rahab. She is listed as one of the members of Jesus Christ’s genealogy. She would show up at the gathering that Jesus and his family would have, and she’s mentioned twice in the New Testament.
In the big chapter in Hebrews – the eleventh chapter – where all of the Hebrews and the heroes of faith are listed, there’s Rahab along with Joshua and Sampson and all of the other greats, and then she’s also mentioned in the book of James - a prostitute. She’d be at the party that Jesus was throwing.
Well, we continue to move on and now we have Ruth, and this happens to be in verse 5. You’ll notice the story of Ruth who is actually related to David, as we’ll see in just a moment. Now we have to understand who the Moabites are. I know that these are terrible stories of immorality, impurity and incest, so what really happened was Lot was leaving Sodom and Gomorrah. His wife turned back and she became a pillar of salt. I have a friend who says that his wife was driving the car and she turned back and hit a light post, but in the case of Lot’s wife, she turned back and turned into a pillar of salt.
There’s Lot now with his two daughters. They make him drunk over a period of time. They don’t have any husbands. They don’t see any possibility of continuing on with their family line, and so Lot has a relationship with his own daughters, and one of the children that is born is known as Moab, and the other is Ammon. And that’s why you have the Ammonites and you have the Moabites. They were a race that was really begun with an incestuous relationship, and you know what kind of a curse that can be on a clan, or a community or families.
What happened was there was a famine in Bethlehem and Naomi goes into the land of Moab – she and her husband and her two sons. Her husband dies. The two sons marry Moabite women. They are not supposed to. The law was very clear in Deuteronomy 7 that you should not intermarry with the people of the land because you might end up worshipping their Gods. But they do it anyway. They were marriages that should never have taken place. And then later on the sons die and there are two daughters-in-law that Naomi has and as they are on their way back to Bethlehem, Naomi tries to convince both of them to stay. Ruth will go with her and Ruth will believe in her God. She said, “Where thou goest I will go. Where thou diest there will I die and be buried, and thy God shall be my God.” What an amazing story of faith on the part of Ruth.
Well, Ruth comes back to Bethlehem. She, of course, marries Boaz, and she is the grandmother of David. As a matter of fact, Ruth ends up with a baby by the name of Obed. Obed is the father of Jesse. Jesse becomes the father of David. So there is a Moabitess in the family line of Jesus Christ.
And then we come to another story and that is of Bathsheba. Now Bathsheba’s name isn’t mentioned. The thing about the Bible that is so amazing is that it does not gloss over any sin. You know when you write a biography of somebody today you really try to spin it to make it look a little better than it is. You hate to tell it exactly like it is, and so here you have an instance in which the biography is so accurate. Matthew doesn’t want us to forget the fact that Bathsheba actually belonged to Uriah, and you know that whole horrid story there.
It says that David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah – the story of Bathsheba and David – and Bathsheba becomes David’s wife after adultery and murder to cover it up. Is that a marriage that should have happened? Absolutely not! And yet, look at who they have. Solomon! The Lord says, “I am going to love Solomon for David’s sake. I’m going to put my blessing upon Solomon’s life, and Solomon, even though he ended up with a whole host of women, built a great temple. And Solomon also became a wise man and most of one of our books of the Bible was written by him, and we call it the book of Proverbs. And we talk about the legend of Solomon and the wisdom of Solomon.
“Solomon, you’re not even supposed to be here. There was no way in the world that this was a good marriage that should have happened. But there you are.” And what happens is God’s grace comes along and God says, “Solomon, you are also going to be in the genealogy of Jesus.”
The great writer, Jerome (the Bible translator) looked at these women and said, “Everyone (and here he means everyone in the whole genealogy) here is a sinner.” This is a chapter about grace. They could not have saved themselves. A more contemporary writer by the name of Hendrickson says, “Through such a channel of iniquity the Savior, according to his human nature, was willing to pass from the glories of heaven to the incarnation and the crucifixion.” Jesus is related to all of these people. Legally, of course, he came through the line of Joseph, and because Jesus was virgin born it is in the book of Luke that we actually have Mary’s genealogy, but Jesus Christ has all of these people as his relatives – all of them in the background of his existence.
Now, I find it very interesting that if Jesus were to have such a get-together as we’ve been talking about – Joseph, Mary and Jesus… You say, “Well at least there would be one non-dysfunctional family in the crowd.” Well, yes, but even that family wasn’t perfect. You know in John 7 the Bible says that Jesus was on his way to a feast and his own brother said to him, “Why don’t you go there and do some miracles so that your own disciples see and hear you do those things publicly,” and it says, “And neither did his brothers believe on him.” Can you imagine that? Growing up with Jesus and you don’t believe that he’s the Messiah?
You say, “Well, that really sounds strange.” Well, maybe it’s not too strange. Let me ask you a question. Would you believe that your oldest brother was the Messiah if he claimed to be? (laughter) I know for sure I wouldn’t have believed that my older brother was the Messiah if he claimed to be that. Well you say, “Jesus was different.” Of course he was different.
We can always imagine what it was like in that home. You know, “Judah, did you steal the cookie?” “No.” “James, did you do it?” “No, I think Jesus did it.” No, no, not Jesus! Right? (laughter) Well, you ask, “Did they eventually believe?” They eventually believed. In Acts 1 it says that in the day of Pentecost when the 120 were there in the upper room Mary was there with the brothers of Jesus. They eventually believed and James, of course, the brother of Jesus, ended up writing a book in the New Testament but it took awhile. My point is simply that it’s in the midst of such brokenness that God’s will and God’s purpose is completed.
I think that there are three walls that Jesus Christ broke. You know there is a story about a Catholic priest in the land of Europe and there were some American soldiers who had a comrade who had been killed, and they were looking for a place to bury him. And they went to a cemetery and the Catholic priest said, “No, it is only Catholics that can buried here. If your comrade was a Protestant he can’t be buried within the cemetery.” So they buried him just outside the cemetery fence, and there he was. A couple days later they come along to put some flowers on his grave and remember him they couldn’t find the grave. They kept going up and down and were confident they were in the right place. They spoke to the priest and he said, “You know I couldn’t sleep after what I told you, so what I did was I had the fence moved over to include your comrade in the midst of the cemetery precincts.”
What I see happening in this chapter is that Jesus is moving the fence and Matthew wants us to understand that. And there are really three walls that have been broken down, three different fences that have been moved, if you want to put it that way, and let me give them to you. There’s a commentary by a man by the name of Barkley and he lists these and I want to expound on them. First of all, the barrier between Jew and Gentile is broken down, isn’t it? You have all of these Gentiles that are in the lineage of Jesus reminding us of the truth that will become clear in the New Testament. In Jesus Christ there is no Jew or Greek but we are one in Christ, and so all those distinctions that were so important in Old Testament times no longer apply because we are one in Christ. And I think that Matthew wanted us to understand that right from the beginning and that’s why he included these others in the genealogy of Jesus, so that we would remember that the grace of God does not confine itself to any nationality, any race, or any kind of distinctions that we might be very quick to make here on earth. So the first barrier that was removed was that between Jews and Gentiles.
There’s a second barrier obviously that was removed and that is between male and female. You have Judah most assuredly but there’s Tamar too. You have Jesse but you also have Ruth. You have Boaz but you also have Rahab listed. You have David but you also have Bathsheba. And what God is going to make very clear in the New Testament is that in Jesus Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female. Now it’s true that in the New Testament you still have different roles regarding the functions of men and women within the Church and so forth, but in terms of the rights, honors and privileges that belong to Jesus Christ and to those who are in him, there is no distinction. Our sisters have full responsibility yes, but full access to God, full access to all the blessings that we could ever possibly have because there is no distinction between male and female so far as their relationship with God is concerned.
And where would we even be as a church if we didn’t have women who are so committed and so devoted and so focused because of their love for Jesus Christ, and all of the ministries that are motivated by volunteers that are women? Let us always recognize, men, that our sisters in Jesus Christ have full worth, full privilege, and full honor in the presence of Jesus Christ. (applause) There is no distinction between male and female.
And then there’s another barrier that I think was broken down and that is the distinction, of course, between saint and sinner. Now I have to be very careful here. I don’t want to give the impression that everybody who is listed here in the genealogy ended up being a saved person. As a matter of fact, Jesus made it very clear to the Jews of his day. He said, “You think that you have Abraham to your father.” They were depending upon their genealogy and Jesus said, “That will not help you. In fact, God is even able of the stones,” he says, “to raise up children unto Abraham.” So don’t every think that because you have the right pedigree somehow you have some kind of a corner or access to God. Not at all! But if you look here you discover that there are some people who undoubtedly were saints whom, as far as their life style was concerned, were sinners – at least before they believed. I’m thinking, for example, about Rahab. She wouldn’t be mentioned twice in the New Testament if she weren’t a redeemed person. I’m thinking of Ruth, for example, clearly believing in the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament.
In the Old Testament times how much did Ruth and Rahab understand about the coming of Jesus? They didn’t understand a great deal at all, but in Old Testament times your responsibility was based on whether or not you believed in Jehovah, the God of the Jews, and it would be credited to you for righteousness. People in Old Testament times were saved on credit, just like you might go to a store and you might use your credit card and say, “Well, I’m going to take this item home, and I’m going to pay for it later.” In the very same way the Old Testament saints were saved as well. They were saved because of Christ’s death. Their responsibility was to believe in Jehovah and that belief was credited to them for righteousness, and later Jesus would die and take their sins as the book of Romans makes very clear.
So in the midst of this you have certainly a prostitute who is a believer. You have a Moabitess with all that that entails as a believer. Almost certainly I am sure Bathsheba was a believer. And so in the midst of this brokenness you see grace - grace for the pains and the sins of life.
I think also that there is something else that Jesus emphasized. He said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but I call sinners to repentance.” And what Jesus is really saying there is, “If you’re here today and you think that you don’t need his forgiveness and you don’t need his grace, then you really don’t receive that grace because grace does not come through closed doors.” If you want to receive God’s grace, you must open your heart to that grace. You cannot close your mind and heart. If you are sitting there today with your arms folded, so to speak, and saying, “Well, what he’s saying may be interesting, but it doesn’t apply to me because I don’t need God’s grace,” the grace of God – the kind that we are talking about – is not available to you. It is available but you must receive that grace, and when you do, you who struggle with a great deal of dysfunction within your families and your relationships, you must recognize now that you become a part of another family, a wonderful family.
There’s a passage of Scripture I’ve often contemplated and I want to read it to you because I want you to understand that this is in God’s word. This is in Mark 3. Listen! Jesus is speaking and it says, “His mother and his brothers came standing outside. They sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside seeking you,’ and he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ and looking about at those who sat around him he said, ‘Here is my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother, sister and mother.’” Wow! You do the will of God and you join his family.
And I might say that that’s why here at the Moody Church we have TMC communities, we have small groups, we have many, many different opportunities for people to connect, first of all, because it’s biblical, and second because some of you who come from very difficult families are beginning to discover (and it’s wonderful to hear testimonies along this line) that this becomes your family. The people of God become your family because who is it that belongs to Jesus except those who do his will and they join the heavenly family?
And then there’s a passage of Scripture in the book of Hebrews that is very difficult for us to get our mind around. The Bible says that we are Christ’s brothers and he is not ashamed to call us his brother. And I can imagine that if we showed up at Jesus Christ’s event he would go around and he would not be ashamed that I am his brother, that you are his brother, that you are his sister, that you are his mother, so to speak. He invites all of us into the family of God, and assures us of the fact that we are fully welcome.
Now the question is this. Even though Jesus is not ashamed of us, might it be that we are ashamed of him? What a tragedy! What a tragedy if you go to work tomorrow and you are ashamed of Jesus when in point of fact the Bible says he is not ashamed of you.
In the brokenness of the world, there is grace to all who accept it. Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.
Many of you may remember the story of Ethel Waters. Ethel Waters was a gospel singer known particularly because she sang at the Billy Graham Crusades frequently, especially in the fifties and sixties, and she used to love to sing that song, His Eye Is on the Sparrow. Ethel Waters’ story is that a fourteen-year-old girl was raped and Ethel was conceived and born. I remember hearing her say, “You know every child needs a lap to sit on but I didn’t have a lap to sit on.” What a tragedy to have a child who really doesn’t have a lap to sit on. What a tragedy to grow up in a family where nobody ever takes delight in you, where you are a continual burden and a bother. That was her experience. But because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, she used to sing (you remember?) “I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. And his eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.” And God’s eye was on that sparrow on her life.
And God’s eye is on us if we are willing to embrace grace. If we close our hearts to it we’ll not receive it, but there is grace for every need. There’s more grace in God’s heart than sin in your past.
Let’s pray together.
Father, we want to thank you today that in this story, in this genealogy we find that Jesus was willing to identify with the past, with ancestors that in many respects were so dysfunctional and so hopeless. And we thank you today, Father, that this is in your word that we might know that there is hope for us. And for that family going through times of difficulty, for those unwanted children, help them to know that they will be received and loved and welcomed in the family of God if they open their hearts to grace. We adore Christ today. We gladly come and adore him because he is our Savior. He is our God and he is our king. In his name we pray, Amen.
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