December 13, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 20:15 in the audio file.
Or, Far as the Curse Is Found
Series: Advent 2020 #3
Christians do not believe reasonable things, at least as the world defines reasonable, and often even what religious people call reasonable. Jesus Christ, God’s Son in flesh and blood, is not reasonable. His existence is a scandal.
Many Jews anticipated the promised Messiah, but they stumbled over Jesus’ claim to be that divine King and they killed Him for it. The fact of His crucifixion caused other Jews to stumble over Jesus, because their Messiah couldn’t be a crucified Messiah. Jesus was a rock of offense (1 Peter 2:8; 1 Corinthians 1:23). Not only Jews, but also many Gentiles had their own religious expectations and considered the word of the cross foolish (1 Corinthians 1:23). What kind of “god” was this?
The scandal and offense and foolishness began not with Jerusalem but Bethlehem. The Word lifted up (John 8:28; 12:32-33) started with the Word come down, the Word become flesh.
The doctrine of Jesus’ divinity taking on humanity is called the hypostatic union. As our historic catechisms confess, Jesus is “true God from true God” and “became truly human” (Nicene Creed, AD 325).
> one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ (Definition of Chalcedon, AD 451)
In the first few centuries this was simply unbelievable. Some argued that Jesus wasn’t really a man but just seemed to be one (Docetism), or that Jesus wasn’t really God (Arianism), or that there were two separate persons in Jesus (Nestorianism), or that after the incarnation there was only the one nature (Eutyches). The hypostatic union was too much of a scandal for many to handle.
Christmas has been causing idealogical and worldview arguments since it started. The incarnation of God (the second Person of three Persons in the Trinity, equally God but not the Father or the Spirit) is staggering enough. As Athanasius pointed out in his book On the Incarnation, the Son was still holding the universe together while His limbs were being knit together in His mother’s womb.
But the divine-human union of Jesus’ nature is not the scandal that Matthew started with. As we’ve seen the past two Sundays of Advent sermons, the first seventeen verses of the New Testament point to God’s promises fulfilled over generations of waiting. The fulfillment came in the coming of the Christ; my boss is not just a Jewish carpenter. The King was born! As we come for a third focus on the genealogy we see that Jesus’ family tree is a royal mess.
The “book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” (verse 1), the “account of the origin” (NIV fn), the “record” (NASB) could very well be called the original Christmas naughty list. The birth of Christ is filled with inconveniences for Jesus’ immediate family, Joseph traveling with his pregnant fiancé where there were mask mandates in the inn, and no room (Luke 2:1-7). But Jesus’ extended family is filled with immoralities.
It’s not just the bit players either. The headliner names, Abraham and David, were not mere mythical figures in Jewish history, they were mortal and sinful men. Abraham, who is the father of the Jews, was not a Jew himself. Abram was from Ur, chosen by God to become the father of many nations, including the nation of Israel. Though Abraham believed God, he also disobeyed God, as Genesis records that twice he lied about Sarah being only his sister to cover his butt. David was also chosen by God and anointed as King of Israel, a “friend of God.” Also, while being king, David disobeyed God by taking a census (2 Samuel 24:1-17) that led to death by pestilence for 70,000 of his citizens. These are Jesus’ relatives.
We don’t have records about all of these fathers, but there are some other big, well-known names. Isaac lied about Rebekah, Jacob lied and stole his brother’s birthright and played favorites with his wives and sons. Later on, Solomon took many wives for himself and did most of what the Lord told kings not to do. Rehoboam oppressed the people. As I said last week, Jeconiah was such a wicked man that the Lord promised that no son of his would ever sit on the throne (Jeremiah 22:30).
Someone could argue that this is an unfair selection, a needless amount of attention on the sins of these men. After all, Matthew moves through the list without pointing out every dirty deed. That is true, sort of, except for two things that make the third point for our advent consideration. Waiting on God’s promises, for a King who would rule like the light of dawn, points us to the grace in the promises and grace from the King. The genealogy is a message of waiting, a message of the King, a message of grace.
God called Abram from paganism. God called David as the youngest of eight and, at the time, the ruddy runt. Neither Abram or David deserved God’s attention or His promises, let alone God’s forgiveness after their sins.
Matthew is selective, not just selecting through Joseph’s line (rather than Mary’s as in Luke 3) through David (for sake of the royal lineage) and from Abraham (unlike Luke who works backwards all the way back to Adam). Matthew has also selected three sets of 14, with apparently a few steps edited along the way compared to other genealogies.
But what Matthew does include that makes the grace the inescapable point of the genealogy are five women, and the majority are women of ill repute. Jewish genealogies rarely included mother’s at all; Luke’s does not mention one, not even Mary. Matthew has five, but not Sarah or Rebekah or Rachel, but prostitutes and pagans. Four times Matthew says “[Name] the father of [name] by [woman],” and the fifth woman gets her own construction. This is a list full of grace.
“Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar.” If you were a scribe charged to write the royal record you just would not do it this way. All we really need to know is that Judah was the father of Perez and Perez the father of Hezron. Zerah is superfluous for the genealogy; no son of his is mentioned. And by Tamar brings back all sorts of sordid memories.
Tamar had been married to two of Judah’s sons, Er and Onan, who were so “wicked in the sight of the LORD” that the LORD put them to death (Genesis 38:7, 10). Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. But her husbands died, and Judah refused to give her the next brother, Shelah, for sake of the levirate marriage. So Tamar dressed up as a prostitute, deceived her father-in-law, took his signet and cord and staff as a pledge on a goat which was the price of sex. When it was told to Judah that Tamar was pregnant, he prepared to have her killed for the immorality (verse 24), until she presented his staff and proved that Judah was the father (verse 26). Judah said, “She is more righteous than I,” but I’m not sure that “righteous” is the word we would use to summarize the affair.
“Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab.” There’s nothing that stands out about Rahab being in the genealogy other than that she’s also a woman, and a Canaanite, and a prostitute by trade.
“The prostitute” is the inspired epitaph given to her in the book of Joshua (see 2:1 and 6:25). Hers is the story of receiving and hiding and lying about the two spies sent out by Joshua. She had heard that the LORD had delivered Israel in the Red Sea and was giving Israel the land. She saw the panic among her neighbors, they were melting away (Joshua 2:9).
> Our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on earth beneath. (Joshua 2:11)
She believed the LORD more than many of the Israelites did.
Yet she and her father’s house were outsiders. They received great grace in order not to be destroyed with Jericho, but to be invited in to live in Israel (6:25). She herself, with her sinful past, was taken by Salmon as a wife. She didn’t belong, and yet here she is.
“Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth.” She has an entire book of the Bible in her name. It is a great, short, true story, a rom-cov (romantic covenant). We rightly appreciate her loyalty to her mother-in-law, her willingness to work in the fields, her submission to do what she was told, her humility in seeking the help (and redemption) of Boaz. When she said, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16), we love her conversion and commitment.
But she was still not a Jew. What’s more, she was a Moabite, and Moabites were one of the most bitter and hated enemies of Israel.
> No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, non of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever (Deuteronomy 23:3).
Those in the line of Moab were vicious toward the Israelites. Yet Ruth not only came along with Naomi and “came to Bethlehem” (Ruth 1:22), she was the great-grandmother to David the king and part of the Divine King’s line.
“David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” There is no polite way to read this part of the genealogy. I have said that David is perhaps the key to the list. He is mentioned at the beginning and the end, he is mentioned twice in middle, he is the ancestor of Joseph (legally) and Mary (physically). Even the fact that the generations are counted in fourteens seems to point to David by way of numbering his name according to Hebrew gematria. He is “David the king.” And there is no way to read the second part of verse 6 without thinking about David the killer.
Bathsheba does not even get named, and Matthew didn’t make a mistake. Bathsheba is referenced, with a Greek article; “David begat the Solomon from the (her) of Uriah.” Matthew could have written her name, but naming Uriah means we have another non-Israelite, a Hittite. Thought Bathsheba herself was a Jew, she married a non-Jew.
This would have been a big enough problem if Uriah had died of some other cause; it would be weird that David married this man’s widow. But David made her a widow, and that was after making her an adulterer. These sins of David were not pre-conversion, as we might wish. David was anointed as the king, he had it all, which is part of Nathan’s prophetic story (2 Samuel 12:1ff). It was gross sin. It led to systemic problems in his household and in the nation. And this is the cream of the kingly crop from which Jesus came?
There is no other emphasis here than grace.
“Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” We ought not take for granted that Mary is named in the genealogy; as I said already, Luke does not name her. Though she is a vital part of the Christmas story, and we’d assume worth mentioning, Luke simply says, Jesus “being the son (was was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli” (Luke 3:23).
Luke has nothing against Mary. Luke records much more of Mary’s part in the story than Matthew, including her response of belief to the angel and her response of praise to the Lord, called her Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55. Mary knew the Scriptures, she understood her part in the great scheme of generational promises, especially to Abraham (Luke 1:55). She knew that she was #blessed (Luke 1:48).
She also knew that she was a virgin (Luke 1:34). It seems likely that she was a pregnant, unwed teenage girl. Part of the reason she “went with haste into the hill country” (Luke 1:39) has to be because of the shame and humiliation that would have been cast on her, though she did not actually deserve it. One of the criticisms thrown on Jesus was that he was born illegitimately (see John 8:41), and Mary was the obvious target. Joseph was “unwilling to put her to shame” (Matthew 1:19), but he might have been the only one.
Though Mary wasn’t a “great” sinner, she was not sinless. She was shown mercy and grace.
This is a naughty list up to the end. It is the original doom-scrolling; “Oh no, not him too!” There are women, there are immoral women, there are wicked kings, there are Gentiles, they are all of them sinners.
Perhaps this angle on the genealogy is the angle we would prefer to gloss over; the part of the Christmas tree we turn toward the wall. Yet Matthew doesn’t tuck these ladies away in an unused decoration box, he gives these ladies prime placement. This is a list that would make “religious” people flush. Matthew lays down a stumbling block right out of the gospel gate.
The reason is because Jesus, the King, is the King of grace. It is not just majestic glory that is revealed when the King of kings was born, but merciful glory far as the curse is found.
Are you a sinner? The incarnation, celebrated as Christmas, is for you. Do you have significant sin in your past? Christmas is for you. Do you have sinful, distasteful, tough relatives in your family tree or coming over to your table? Christmas is for you, and them. Do you need grace? Christmas is for you.
Are you stumbling? Look to the end of the list! Look to Jesus.
If the mask mandate (anachronistic joke) that kicked Joseph and Mary to the lowly stable with ox and ass isn’t enough to temper your visions of a perfect Christmas and Hallmark holiday, then consider the genealogy. Cutting paper too short for the package you’re wrapping, or finding out that the perfect gift is out of stock is the least of our problems that there is grace for.
Jesus did not come to make Christmas great again, Jesus came because things were and are not great. He came not to honorable men, or to make us honorable in the eyes of the world, but to make us jealousable by His grace.
Christmas is less than fourteen days away. As you get closer and closer, the temptation is to be more and more frustrated, dealing with an increased number of bad attitudes, and I don’t just mean you own. But remember, Christmas means that men are not basically good. Christmas means that sinners are in the grand scheme of things. Men are broken, the world is broken, your picture-perfect tree and table and family time is as unrealistic as Pelagianism. But the God of all grace sent His Son. This Word made flesh has His Father’s glory, full of grace and truth. Celebrate gracefully.
> And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10–11, ESV)