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Dec 11, 2011

Preparing the Gift

Passage: Matthew 1:1-17

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Christmas 2011--The Ultimate Gift

Category: Holiday

Keywords: surprise, family tree, genealogy, grace


For millenia, God was preparing his greatest gift through the most unlikely genealogical line. This message looks at what God is trying to tell us through the family line by which Jesus, the Savior of the world, came to us.


Preparing the Gift

Advent 2011--The Ultimate Gift

Matthew 1:1-17


PRAY:  for Charlie and The Seaside today.  The Inlander is doing an interview and special feature article on them today…and the A Club book a show with the Knitting Factory over top of them.  J  do you think Satan is trying to mess with that ministry?  Do you think God is giving them an opportunity to model grace to a newspaper and business that don’t like Christians?  I think so…so let’s pray for them.


INTRO:  Surprises are just a part of Christmas, aren’t they?  I got an education this week about a whole series of Allstate adds that are on YouTube.  They are portrayed by the same villainous character in each add which depicts some accident or catastrophe that can befall you as a driver or homeowner.  They’ve even made one for the 12 days of Christmas.  Here’s hoping you won’t be singing any of these verses in the next month!

—Video “The 12 Days of Mayhem”, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCEgF1oSRDw

We’ll have more to say about surprises next week, too.  But for today, I’ve got a little surprise for the beginning of our Advent 2011 series this year. 

I’m starting it with a passage you may not have even been interested in before.  It’s not only one you read through really, really fast.  It is actually one you have probably completely skipped over if you’ve read Matthew’s Gospel lately.  Skip no longer!  By the end of this morning you will hopefully be deeply grateful that God included this passage in His Word for all of us to learn from. 


Matthew 1:1-- 1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:

Matthew actually puts this opening line as a sort of caption over the next 17 verses.   It literally reads “the book of beginning of Jesus.” Different English version may substitute “genealogy” or “ancestry” for “beginning”.  The meaning is the same.  Matthew means to start out by verifying for every reader that in terms of the humanity of Jesus, he was clearly in the family line of King David.  Throughout his Gospel, Matthew never wants us to forget that Jesus is the long-awaited and much prophesied-about royal king. 


ILL:  Our son, David, had an assignment over Thanksgiving for one of his history classes:  he was asked to video interview one of his relatives, sort of doing primary research by hearing from someone who had lived in a previous era and had first-hand memories.  (Just in case you’re thinking you wouldn’t qualify, you just had to be over 30 to be considered “historical”! J)

            Anyway, we took about an hour one evening to interview my 91 year old mother about her memories of the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, WWII, Presidents as far back as Herbert Hoover & FDR, transportation, technology and family.  It was fascinating. 

            Part of David’s assignment included researching his family tree.  I’ve always been told that my Grandmother’s family tree on my Dad’s side runs directly back to William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts.  So it was interesting to at least be able to see that we can trace that side of the family back to the 18th century and to relatives with the last name of Bradford who actually lived in Plymouth, MA.  It’s kind of special when you are able to trace your roots to someone famous, no?


But if you’re wanting to write a best-selling biography, I’m guessing that the opening page today would not start off with what looks like a laundry-list of ancient relatives, half of whose names you can’t even pronounce. 

Matthew 1 tends to sound like that to our ears.  But to the ears of Matthew’s Jewish audience, these names were anything but meaningless monologue of multi-syllabic sounds.  They were the names of people who felt more like relatives, people you had known by stories told to you by your parents and grandparents from the earliest memories you had as a child.  They were names that provoked some strong emotional reactions.  And not all of those emotions were positive. 

We’re not big in the U.S. about genealogies.  So it is a bit difficult for us to grasp, certainly at least on an emotional level, what it meant for someone to have a certain ancestral heritage.  Maybe what comes close to it today is when you meet someone whose family lineage is directly connected with a well-known corporation or wealthy family. 

If I invited you to a dinner party at our house and told you that we had a special guest, would you be more inclined to show up if I told you that…

  • We’d be discussing investing and Warren Buffet was going to be at our house?
  • Or…if the topic was “the future of computers” and Bill Gates would be dropping by?
  • We’d be talking football and Tom Brady, the 2010 NFL MVP would be at the table?

That’s what Matthew is doing in a culture where the names in your ancestral line were far more important than the name of the company you founded is to Americans.


You see, it’s not the name itself that matters; it’s the life, the importance and the meaning attached to that name.  So Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is going to show just how God went about preparing for the delivery of His Ultimate Gift, His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

 Unlike how I do my Christmas shopping at the last possible minute…sometimes even on Christmas Eve itself…God had been preparing His Ultimate Gift for decades, centuries and even millennia. Matthew’s genealogy goes 2 millennia back to Abraham.  But if you compare that with Luke’s genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3, he goes all the way back to “the beginning,” really…Adam, whose parentage stops with being, as Luke says, “the son of God.”


Matthew is about to show us that this Ultimate Gift God is giving us has been LONG in the making.  It was not an afterthought.  It was not a last-minute purchase…on sale item…or end-of-season clearance.  It is a gift that God has been shepherding through human history in some wild and wonderful ways.  It’s a king that comes from a royal line that is THE LONGEST, THE most important and THE most surprising of any royal line you’ve ever heard of.  And every one of us has the opportunity of joining that amazing royal line…or the freedom of rejecting it, as we will see.


Matthew is going to divide his genealogy into 3 groups or about 14 names each.  Vs. 17 ends this long list of names by saying, “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.”

            Why the big focus on 14?  And why this division?  Well, there are several small issues to clear up here.  First, we know that Matthew is not saying that there were exactly 3 x 14 = 42 generations between Abraham and Jesus.  Biblical scholars understand Matthew to be saying that “there are 14 generations in this account”.  Matthew leaves out several generations along the way according to the accounting in other places in the Bible.  But he is acknowledging here that he does that in order to reach a certain symmetry of three 14s.   

            Why is this such an important issue for Matthew?  We don’t know for certain, but there is a good possibility that Matthew is doing so to make it easier for those who would later have this book read to them to remember the family tree.  In literature it’s called a mnemonic, a list of things that are arranged in a certain way in order to facilitate easier memorization. 

            Another interesting reason could be that in Jewish culture the number 7 represented completeness. Grouping the genealogy into 3 groups or double sevens was a way for Matthew to say, “Jesus is the completion, the Messiah, the perfection of what God is doing for mankind.”

            Then there are others who believe that Matthew is focusing on the numeric value of David’s name since he is seeking to show that Jesus really is the fulfillment of the prophecies given to David that his throne would be an everlasting throne and kingdom.  The Hebrew numerical value of David’s name is 14 because the Hebrew consonants in David’s name (DVD) are 4 + 6 + 4 = 14.  (If I try that with my name I come up with 666! J  Not really.)

            However you slice and dice it, it is the particular people Matthew chooses to mention in this family tree that can and should leave us marveling at the grace and greatness of our Lord Jesus.  Let me show you why.


            While many of the people named in this genealogy could each warrant a sermon themselves, for today I’d just like us to get the big picture of what God is wanting to say to us through this genealogy. 


The first three names Matthew gives are people that every Jew could say they were related to—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

Abraham was called out of the paganism of Ur of the Chaldeans to follow God to the Canaanite region of the Middle East.  Abraham was truly a man of great faith in several areas of his life.   He believed God’s promise to make him the father of a great nation while remaining childless for 100+ years. When God finally answers, Abraham puts action to his faith by attempting to offer the very son, Isaac, through whom God had said the promise would be fulfilled.  Hebrews 11:19 informs us that he was able to do that because he used his reasoning ability spurred by his faith in God to come to reason that God could raise Isaac from the dead after he sacrificed him if need be.  That kind of faith is astounding even for all of us who already know God raises people from the dead because we have various accounts of Him doing just that in the Gospels and the N.T.  

Abraham is anything but the perfect saint, however.  He failed so many time…over the same issues.  Sounds like us, right?  He lied about his marriage relationship with his half-sister, Sarah, because he was afraid strong kings would kill him to get to his wife.  He stopped waiting for the son God had promised and took matters into his own hands.  Actually, he took his wife’s maid, Hagar, into his own hands and fathered a child by her rather than waiting for the supernatural answer to God’s promise. 

Just like us, no?  We tall half-truths to “save our own skins,” or at least we rationalize it that way.  We get tired of waiting for God to answer so we take matters into our own hands.  We do things we know we shouldn’t trying to make others who are important to us happy, like Abraham did with Sarah. 

And God still says, “I choose you to be in my family tree!”


Isaac falls into the same trap his father did of lying about his wife to save himself some trouble.  He plays favorites with his twin sons and causes nothing but heart ache for both boys. 

            His son Jacob was a real schemer.  He cheats his only brother out of his birthright, then cheats him out of his father Isaac’s blessing on Isaac’s deathbed.  He ends up being cheated by his own father-in-law after running away from his brother.  He marries 2 women, and plays favorites between them.  He has more children through 2 of those wives’ handmaidens.  He is such a failure in his parenting of his sons that 9 of them sell their younger brother Joseph into slavery in a foreign land and tell their father that he died at the paws and teeth of wild carnivores when they all knew he hadn’t. 


None of these patriarchs of Jesus’ human family would have qualified to be an elder or pastor in most churches today.  Just imagine the Trinity in heaven, knowing what a mess these men would make of Jesus’ family tree right off the bat, nonetheless keep working with them, keep blessing them, keep helping them forward in their faith. 


APP:  And we dare to think that what we have or haven’t done is making us unfit in God’s plans?  This is how Jesus’ family tree started… and it didn’t mess up God’s plans one bit.  God’s plans and power are SO much bigger than our puny failures and sins.  How about we stop believing the lie that our failures are permanent and our successes are temporary???


So let’s keep reading:  Matthew 1:2b-6

“…Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. 4 Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. 5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6 and Jesse begot David the king.  David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.”

And the fun begins!

 So at Jacob, the Jewish nation and family tree starts to branch, first in the 12 tribes of Israel.  Matthew traces what will eventually be King David’s family tree through some real interesting territory.  The first is Judah and his son Perez.  Perez was actually a twin.  But that wasn’t the most interesting part of the story.  You will find the book version in Genesis 38.  (They haven’t made the movie version yet, and if they did, it would definitely be “R” rated.) 

You see, Judah had 3 sons, all by his wife Shua who was a Canaanite.  In other words, he quickly goes after pagan beauty rather than promised family in choosing his own wife.  Together with Shua, he has 3 sons.  The first one, named Er, married a woman named Tamar. Because Er was an evil guy, God struck him dead.  Under the custom of levirate marriage which they followed in those days, Er’s next youngest brother was obligated to father at least one child with Tamar that would inherit his older brother’s property and keep that family line going.  Well, the next younger brother, Onan, had sexual relations with Tamar but, at the same time, engaged in a little “birth control” that kept her from getting pregnant.  That didn’t set well with God either and brother #2 ends up dead. 

So now Tamar is “the Black Widow of Palestine”.  So Judah promises to give her his 3rd son when he’s old enough to marry…but he doesn’t.  So Tamar hatches her own plan to get pregnant by one of the men in the family.  She obviously knew something about her father-in-law’s sexual escapades because what she does is dress up like a prostitute (when she’s supposed to be wearing a widows clothes), sit alongside a patch of road she knows her father-in-law is going to pass by and then plays the prostitute with her father-in-law without him knowing it is his own daughter-in-law he is pay for sex.  (See why it hasn’t been made into a movie…yet?) 

You can read the full story in Genesis 38.  It ends with Judah hearing that Tamar is pregnant and calling for her to be burned alive for her sin.  Only on the way to the burning, Tamar shows up with his signet and staff.  The signet was, in those days, sort of equivalent to your driver’s license, passport or credit card.  Made of stone, metal or ivory and etched with your own unique signature symbols, it was used to finalize contracts and transact business.  Judah had given it to Tamar that fateful day when he couldn’t come up with the warm, fuzzy cash of a sheep Tamar required for the sexual transaction.  So when she shows up at the burning-to-be with his ID, you can imagine how the mood of the mob changed rather abruptly not to mention Judah. 

Now isn’t that a nice little family story you would love to have passed down about your ancestors?  And all the while God the Son in heaven is thinking, “And this is my royal family line???”  And God the Father shouts a resounding “YES!”


Tamar is the first, in fact, of 4 women that Matthew will mention in this first part of the genealogy.  That in itself is highly irregular for ancient and Jewish genealogies.  So clearly Matthew…and the Holy Spirit…is trying to say something about the most important family line in human history.  And certainly the story must get better!  J


Vs. 5-- 5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab…

Really???  Rahab?  The Rahab who was the pagan prostitute of the now-defunct Jericho?  Yup, same woman. 

            First, when Matthew says that “so-and-so was the father of so-and-so” or “son-and-so begot so-and-so,” he is not necessarily meaning that they were the direct father of that person.  He freely skips over certain generations, as he does with Boaz here, in naming the family line. It can also mean something like “was the ancestor of” [D.A. Carson, Espositor’s Bible Commentary of Matthew, p. 65].  

In this case, Rahab was not the immediate mother of Boaz but probably his great-grandmother or more (just as Eve is not the mother of all living people—Gen. 3:20).  But that’s how biblical writers often shortened genealogies. 

            With Rahab we have an additional couple of issues of ill-repute thrown in.  First, her profession was a prostitute.  Her story in Joshua 2 & 5, while speaking of her concern for the welfare of her mother and father, her sisters and brothers and all their possessions, never mentions her having any children.

Prostitutes usually can’t be bothered with children, can they. At least many either abort their kids or abandon them.  Would someone with that kind of hardness of life and heart have been your first choice for matriarch anywhere along the line of the Messiah?  I’m thinking not so much.  But it was God’s!  And He wanted to make sure that every one of us and the church as a whole never forgets it.  So he includes Rahab in this line or the Great Redeemer, Jesus. 


Thirdly, not only is she a prostitute, not only has she probably killed or abandoned some of her children; she’s a total Gentile.  She’s part of a group of people God said had become so wicked that he required his people to wipe them out completely…save Rahab and her family. 

            When it comes to God’s family, He wants and has always wanted people from every tribe, nation and language to be part of his forever family.  Apparently out of this whole city, there was only one woman who had the faith to trust in God and his people in the face of very little evidence to back up her faith.  She wasn’t probably the smartest nor certainly was she the most moral.  But she had a heart that was open to what God was doing in her day in her land. 

            I can imagine God the Son saying to God the Father, “How about Rahab?  Let’s put her in my family tree.  Her presence will certainly show how much we love people and how much we’re ready to forgive if a person simply humbles themselves and seeks Me.” 


Vs. 5 also says, “…Boaz begot Obed by Ruth….”  Woman #3, right?  You’ll have to read the amazing and wonderful love story of Ruth found in the O.T. book by her name, Ruth.  The interesting thing about Ruth is that she was also a non-Jew.  She came from the land of Moab and was thus a Moabitess.  She’s probably the most virtuous of the 4 women mentioned here as she stuck like glue with her bitter, whinny mother-in-law, Naomi when Naomi’s two sons died and she had to return to Israel.  Rather than rejecting Naomi’s God because of all her moaning and moping, Ruth embraced both the God of Naomi, Jehovah, and her mother-in-law herself.  She did so knowing she would be treated as a 2nd-class citizen in Israel.  She would be looked down upon as a Gentile and marginalized as a widow. 

            She had NO idea that her simple faithfulness to her mother-in-law and her trust in the God she barely knew would place her in the family tree of God-taking-on-humanness.  But God really does make strangers family members.  He really does look at the heart far more than the passport or income stubs or family name.  And he really does want to draw everyone close to himself. 


Finally we come to David, sort of the fulcrum of this genealogy.  Again, there are obviously more people between Ruth and king David than 3 generations.  Time-span is not Matthew’s interest.  Blood-line is. 

            In vs. 6 Matthew says that “David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.”  That mother’s name was what?  Bathsheba!  Once again Jesus’ family line is dragged into the sordid and sad dysfunctions and sins of regular human beings just like us.  David, who had begun SO well, fell apart in the latter half of his life. 

  • Where he had been SO patient with God’s timetable about when he could actually stop running from King Saul and receive the crown, he was so demanding with getting what his eyes saw and his sexual appetite demanded.
  • Where he had been such a warrior in his early days, he let other men fight his battles and ended up losing even his battle for sexual purity in the comfort of his own home. 
  • Where he judged and condemned murderers and thieves in his realm, he became himself the thief of his neighbor’s wife and murderer of her husband, his faithful soldier and neighbor. 

David was “a man after God’s heart.”  But he was also a man with a very messed up heart in many important issues of his life. 


Yet God the Father and God the Son choose him from that lonely entry-level job of shepherding sheep in the wilderness to become the true anchor of the Jewish nation and Jesus’ genealogy.


And lest we think Bathsheba, the woman not mentioned by name in this passage, was not in some way complicit in David’s immorality, I have to ask myself, “What was this woman doing bathing naked so near the kings palace? 

  • She knew the lines of sight from her house to the palace. 
  • She knew the king used that area to stroll along.  What was she doing bathing within eyesight of the king? 
  • And why did she not confess to her husband her sin when David brought him home from the battle in an attempt to make it look like her husband was the father of her recent pregnancy? 
  • Why, seeing her husband’s amazing commitment to his Commander in Chief, David, and to the rest of the army of which he was a part, did she not speak up and tell the truth about why he was being brought back to Jerusalem?  Her silence may well have cost him his life!

Imagine her guilt.  Imagine her shame.  Imagine the conflict in her heart of loving the king and at the same time seeing how horribly that sin had cost her, him and the whole nation. 


If we had time, I would take us through a handful of the people mentioned in the rest of this genealogy.  Some of them were the worst of the worst of Israel’s bad kings.  Some of them offered their own children to the fiery altar of pagan gods they chose to serve after abandoning the One True God.  And some of them were the children of these horrible kings who actually became the moral and spiritual bright-lights of their nation’s history.  Refusing to walk in the evil ways of their fathers, they chose the pathways of spiritual revival and renewal. 


So let’s bring this home.

  1. God has always wanted people from every walk of life, every race, every outcast group, everywhere to join his forever family line. 

You may feel like an outsider to God’s family; He’d like to make you an insider. 

You may feel really out of place in church, among the people of God;  God wants you to feel completely at home, to make you some of the most amazing part of the family of God.

The family tree of God’s family all points to Jesus Christ and all flows from Jesus Christ.  He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world that Matthew is pointing to.  My question is, “Have you made him your Savior, your Messiah, your God by putting your faith in Him and handing over control of your life to Him?  (Invitation to repent, believe in Jesus and become a disciple/follower of Him.)  

  1. God’s heart has always been to take flawed and failed human beings and include them in his family.  Do you see yourself as one of those much flawed people?  God clearly still has great plans for every one of us.  We have no idea what role we might be playing in something great God will later reveal to all heaven and earth.  Don’t let your sense of failure or weakness or shame drive you to settle for anything less than being smack dab in the line of God’s working still today.  Tell Satan to stop lying to you about your failures and sin.  Invite God to reconnect you, imperfect as you may be, to the miraculous line of work he is doing in our world today.
  2. Are there some family sins or dysfunctional ancestors you seem to be following?  Our predecessors don’t have to determine our present.  Our ancestors don’t have to be an anchor that drags us down.  You may have grown up in the most ugly, sinful, dark environment imaginable.  This genealogy of Matthew clearly teaches you don’t have to stay there. 

Did you grow up in a very Christ-like, God-filled home?  Don’t think that is enough to keep you pointed in the right direction.  Every generation must make its choice.  We are each taking our place in or outside the ongoing lineage of Jesus. What is the memory you want to leave to successive generations and to the people of God?  If it is as a person fully devoted to God, no one can keep you from that just as no one can make you become that. 

Why not invite God to make your participation in His family tree one that greatly honors Him and leaves a legacy for generations to come?