Carol Service - Matthew 1:1-17
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
There is the story of an American family who hired a professional biographer to write their family history. However, the family was somewhat worried about the black sheep of the family, a certain ‘Uncle George’ who had been executed for murder by the electric chair. ‘No problem’ said the biographer, ‘what I will say is that Uncle George occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution. He was attached to his position by the strongest ties and his death came as a real shock.’!
When we turn to the first biography of Jesus in the New Testament, written by a man called Matthew, we see that it begins with a family history, a family tree in fact. I have had it printed out for you in the service sheet so you can take a look at it. In this family tree three times Jesus is referred to as ‘Christ.’ Now this is not his surname- like mine is Melvin Tinker, so he is Jesus Christ. No, it is a word which means ‘King’, so we can read it as ‘King Jesus’. So this is a royal family tree we are talking about, the kind that people will soon be drawing up for William and Kate. Now while a person writing a biography today might relegate someone’s family tree to an appendix at the back of the book, Matthew places Jesus hereditary history right at the beginning in full glorious Technicolor for all to see. But you have to ask: why? What is so important about this family tree? Well, there are quite a number of things, but there is one thing in particular about it that I want to share with you tonight, which I would imagine will both shock you and at the same time, hopefully encourage you.
You see, woven into this genealogy we have reference to five women, which have been highlighted for you. Now you may not think that odd but I can tell you that the first readers of this book would have thought it very weird indeed for two reasons.
First, because women were usually not included at all in royal family trees, they were not thought to be that important. So that they are mentioned at all would have raised a few eyebrows for people reading this for the very first time. Could God possibly be interested in women as well as men? Some people apparently thought not and God intends to disabuse them of that idea. God is passionately interested in everybody.
But secondly, all the women mentioned would have been regarded as spiritually tainted in some way, morally dubious, the kind of people you would rather forget about and have hushed up. In other words, these were thought to be shady ladies. So let me briefly tell you about each one of them. First there is Tamar who mentioned in verse 3. This is one of the most sordid stories in the Old Testament found in the first book of the Bible Genesis 38. In fact it is a story you might expect to find in the ‘New of the World’ rather than the Bible. Her father- in- law was a man called Judah and he abused his daughter –in- law appallingly. And he did it in this way: one day he decided to cruise the red light district of town looking for the obvious and he saw Tamar but mistook her for a prostitute. Having had sex with her he fathered the twin boys Perez and Terah also mentioned in v3. Can you imagine how you would feel if that was something that had happened in your family? Any self-respecting Jewish family, in a shame culture like this would want that air brushed out of the family history altogether. But here it is in black and white for the whole world to see. The second woman is Rahab spoken of in v5. She also was a prostitute, the one who protected the Jewish spies in Jericho. And so to have a well known prostitute in the royal family line would also have been a source of acute embarrassment, normally something to be swept under the carpet. But it was even worse than that, she was a Canaanite, a pagan worshipper - the lowest of the low as far as the Jews were concerned, for it the Canaanite’s practice to sacrifice babies by burning them alive. And yet here she is specifically mentioned as an ancestor of Jesus. The third woman is Ruth. She also wasn’t a pure Jew, she was what was called a Moabite, part of the sworn enemies of Israel. And the Moabites were the offspring of father Abraham’s nephew Lot when he committed incest with his two daughters- another sordid low point in Bible history. But Ruth was King David’s grandmother. The fourth mother you will notice in verse 6 is not even mentioned by name. In fact the shear awfulness of her standing is highlighted by saying, ‘David was the father of Solomon whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.’ The reader of the OT would be reminded of another dipping into the moral cess pit. This is Bathsheba. She was already married to Uriah the Hittite when King David, himself being married, committed adultery with her and to cover his tracks had Uriah killed. It is like Eastenders isn’t it? It just seems to get worse and worse. So these women are not exactly models for the Mother’s Union. In fact they are the sort of skeletons we would rather have locked in the closet only to then throw away the key! There were plenty of good women in this line, but they are not even given a passing mention. Instead it is the shady, the disreputable, the suspect and the spiritually impure and needy who have nothing commendable to offer to God who are deliberately mentioned in such a way as to grab our attention and, to be frank- shock us.
But I did say there were five women mentioned but I have only spoken of four. The fifth woman is, of course, Mary. And that some people might think that there is something dodgy about her is hinted at by the way v 16 is phrased, we read, ‘Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.’ Notice what is happening- Jesus maternity is affirmed- he clearly has a legitimate mother- Mary, but his paternity is left with a big question mark. In other words there is a hint that Jesus’ conception was out of wedlock and Joseph was not the real father. Later on, some Jewish opponents of the Christian faith even put about the rumour that Jesus was the result of adulterous liaison between Mary and a Roman soldier by the name of ‘Pantera’, after all, that was much easier to believe than some cock and bull story about a Virgin Birth. Well, the point is this: Jesus by virtue of his heritage has always been associated with women of dubious moral character-so where there is a basis for it; Matthew holds up his hands and comes clean, placing in bold type such women in the genealogy. But that is not the case at this point in the story with Mary. A miracle really did happen. Taking an egg of Mary, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, a divine embryo was implanted in her womb. Jesus was 100% divine and 100% human even when there was only one cell in the uterus of his teenage mother. So we are talking God as a foetus; the creator of life being created. We can even think of it like this: God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother. God had come to earth. That is why Christians worship Jesus. As someone put it Jesus is God in High Definition.
You see, Mary, though far from perfect, was nonetheless a good woman-and the great thing is that Jesus came to rescue good people like his own mother as well as the more morally dubious women like Bathsheba. He wants as many people as possible to come into that personal relationship with him which leads to eternal life. He came to save everyone and anyone who has the humility to come to him, but that is the pre-condition. Getting to heaven is not a forgone conclusion- it is only open to those who are open to coming to Jesus, personally and totally- saying ‘Yes Lord’ I believe you are God. I need to get personally connected to you. I want to hand over my life to you.’ Now, it may well be that you are here this evening and to be frank there is something so painfully shameful in your past or even your present which you are trying to keep secret, the very thought of which makes you die a thousand deaths inside. And so you think that God could not possibly be interested in someone like you. Then I would simply ask you on the basis of this list to think again. He is deeply interested in you so much that the baby who lay in that crib was later to grow into the man who was nailed to a cross in order to break down the barrier we have erected between ourselves and God by our turning our backs on him and trying to run and so ruin our lives without him. That kind of behaviour has to be judged, and Jesus personally shouldered that guilt of ours and paid for it on that cross. So no matter how bad, no matter how sordid, no matter how messed up your life or indeed, no matter how good you might think you are -Jesus will take you as your are in order to make you into the person he wants you to be. Now do you believe that? Do you want to believe that? Because that is the Gospel. That is what makes this Good News- having the slate wiped clean and being offered a fresh start of knowing God personally in Jesus.
Here are some words of a client said to her counsellor after she had become a real Christian- a committed worshipper of Jesus: ‘Before I came here, I was involved in a life of promiscuous fun and games and in a real sense I felt good. Since I have decided to truly commit myself to Christ, I’ve found that life has become a struggle. The worldly life was easier and happier than the Christian life. But I wouldn’t go back for anything. I’ve tasted reality. Painful though it sometimes is, I want more. It’s what life is really all about. For the first time in my life I feel truly alive, I’m together. It hurts like blazes but it’s worth it, because now I am a person.’
Let me ask you this question: do you wanted to find your name embedded in Jesus spiritual family tree, by becoming one of his children? If so then why not say this little prayer with me as we bow our heads and talk to God.
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