Sermon: The Genealogy of the Messiah

How many days until Christmas? Anybody counting? That is a long time to wait. If you were cool like the Dutch, you could celebrate Sinterklaas this coming Tuesday and open your presents then. It is probably different depending on where you are in life, but as a kid Christmas seemed to take forever to get here. A month or a couple weeks always seemed like forever. As an adult, I may be even more impatient. I get agitated if it takes more than a couple seconds for a YouTube video to buffer. I get annoyed when my two-day shipping on Amazon takes four to get to my house. Patience is a virtue in short supply in our world and particularly this time of year. We want and we want it now.

But Advent is a time of waiting. It is a season where no matter how much we buy, how festive we get, or how hard we work, Christmas does not come any sooner. We must wait, just as Israel waited. But thankfully not quite as long. In our passage today, we will be listening to the beginning of the gospel according to Matthew. It is a beginning that includes a lot of waiting, but in that waiting, we will hopefully be able to see the very Gospel we have been waiting for. Matthew, chapter 1, beginning in verse 1. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

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 all 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 Nashon,

Nashon 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,

Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah,

and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and all his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

After the exile,

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,

Abihud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Elihud,

Elihud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob,

and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

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.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Every family has that one person who keeps ‘the family book.’ Some families, like the Meesters, have a literal book with genealogies and stories of the family. Our family has at least four different books and I don’t know them very well. Other families are more informal, but there is still usually someone who keeps a memory of all the stories of what it means to be part of this family. Those genealogies and family stories tell us a bit about who we are and where we come from. It helps root our identities in a story bigger than our own.

The book of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus. In these three sets of fourteen generations, we are not encountering just a series of names. Instead, the story of Jesus, God himself come in the flesh, is being rooted in the larger story of God’s work in the world. F. Dale Bruner points out that in this genealogy, we are being taught the character of God and his mission in the world.  Each of these three sections teaches us something different about God. First, his mercy. Then, his judgment. Lastly, his faithfulness. Let us dive deep into the genealogy of Jesus in order to see the gospel more clearly.

God’s Mercy

The first third of the genealogy of Jesus, from Abraham through David, reveals God’s mercy by who it includes. Matthew includes four women to show the width and depth of the mercy of God. 

At the time of Jesus, Jewish ancestry and inheritance was traced through your father, adopted or biological. It was what is known as a patrilineal society. That is why we see Abraham the father of Isaac, the father of Jacob, the father of Judah, and so on. So you can imagine that women were not regularly included in a genealogy. When women were mentioned, it was usually to emphasize the purity of one’s ancestry and the dignity of your family. In a genealogy, you wanted to be able to trace your ancestry back to emphasize the importance of the people you came from. 

A couple years ago, I was at General Synod and the candidates for Vice President were giving their speeches before we were to vote. You get two minutes to explain why people should vote for you as the Vice President for the next General Synod. One of the candidates got up and spent more than his two minutes simply detailing his genealogy. He traced his family back to the strong dutch stock of the old country. He named his father, grandfather, great-grandfather telling everyone about the strength of his Dutch Reformed heritage. He didn’t win. But that is what you would expect from a genealogy. It should shore up your place for the position you are claiming. This is particularly true of a genealogy of someone claiming to be the Messiah, the promised one of Abraham and David.

Instead, in Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew includes Tamar. Tamar was a Canaanite, not an Israelite. In Genesis 38, we learn that she had been married to two of Judah’s sons, both of whom died as a result of God’s judgment. Fearing for the life of his third son, Judah refuses to let Tamar marry him. So Tamar dresses up like a prostitute, meets with Judah, sleeps with him, gets pregnant, and then reveals the whole charade to the community to shame Judah into marrying and protecting her and her child. It’s Genesis 38, read it some time. But Tamar is named in the genealogy of Jesus.

Matthew also includes Rahab. She was a Jerichoite, not an Israel. She was a prostitute who sheltered the spies of Israel when they went to check out Jericho. For her kindness, she and her family were spared in the destruction of Jericho. Rahab is in the genealogy of Jesus.

Matthew also includes Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite and a widow. She was taken under the protection of Boaz and married him. Moabites were not to enter the sanctuary of the LORD for ten generations, but Ruth the Moabite is listed as the great-grandmother of David.

Finally, Matthew includes Bathsheba. Well, he includes ‘Uriah’s wife,’ whom we know to be Bathsheba. Bathsheba was, by marriage, a Hittite and the victim of David’s adulterous seduction and widowed by his murderous cover-up. It is almost as if Matthew is so ashamed of this episode that he cannot bring himself to say her name. But Bathsheba is in the genealogy of Jesus.

The inclusion of these four women in the genealogy of Jesus is shockingly gracious. Each of these four women were ethnic outsiders. They were foreigners, aliens, vulnerable, and easily marginalized, but the story of the Messiah’s coming includes them. They belong to the family of Jesus. Three of them were widows – weak and vulnerable in a society where one’s attachment to a husband or father was your only source of provision and protection. The inclusion of these women shows already in the Old Testament how wide the mercy of God is. Already, the family of Jesus includes Gentiles.

God promised through Abraham that all the nations would be blessed. Jesus came as the Messiah not just for Israel, but for all the nations. We see this already in his genealogy. The outsiders are included. God’s mercy is for all the nations. The coming of the Messiah for the inclusion of the Gentiles is foreshadowed in Jesus’ family tree.

God’s mercy is also deep. This inclusion of these women is not only about ethnic and religious outsiders, but moral outsiders as well. Each of them were sinners. The men are no better. In two of the stories, Judah and Tamar and David and Bathsheba, the men are clearly the villians according to the Bible. Yet, they are all including in the story of the coming of Jesus Christ.

God’s mercy is deep enough to forgive sinners and wide enough to include outsiders. So hear the good news: Jesus came into this world to bring mercy to Judah and Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Boaz, David and Bathsheba, you and me. No one is too far outside that they cannot come in. No sin is too deep that cannot be forgiven. This is the wide and deep mercy of God.

God’s Judgment

The second third of the genealogy of Jesus, from David to the exile to Babylon, reveals God’s judgment by what it changes and what it removes. If David is the peak of Israel’s kingship – David, the man after God’s own heart – then the exile was the darkest valley. This part of the genealogy ends in judgment, but how Matthew handles it also reveals God’s judgment upon the people of God for both unfaithfulness to him and a lack of mercy toward others.

The judgment of God in this section is easier to see when we know the story really well. I am guessing that some of us had to memorize the list of presidents in school. In a similar way, many Israelites knew the list of the names of the kings of Judah. So when Matthew removes several names, they would notice. Between Jehoram and Uzziah, Matthew removes three kings and between Josiah and Jeconiah he cuts out Jehoiakim. It could be that Matthew is trying to pare down the list to get 14 names for the sake of symmetry, but there might be more going on. Just as the inclusion of the four women in the first section reveals God’s mercy toward sinners and outsiders, his radical inclusion of those we would not expect to find listed in the people of God, in the same way, the removal of those we might expect reveals God’s judgment. Those who expected to be insiders and yet continued to walk in darkness can find their names not written in the book. God not only forgives, he also demands. We cannot have Christ as our Savior if we refuse to acknowledge him as our Lord. To do so is to invite God’s judgment.

Matthew’s two other changes say the same thing. However, these changes are hard to see in the NIV translation. I believe Matthew changed the spelling of two names on purpose, but the the people translating the NIV assumed it was an honest mistake and translated it away. So when I recited Abijah was the father of Asa, most of the best manuscripts actually say ‘Asaph.’ Historically, Asa was the son of Abijah and the king after him, so the NIV translated it as Asa. Where I recited that Manasseh was the father of Amon, most of the best manuscripts say ‘Amos.’ Same situation. It is one letter different for each, but not an easy mistake to make. It would be like spelling Nixon and Jackson wrong on a list of presidents.

Instead, I think the changes were intentional. Asa was a king, but Asaph is one of the primary writers of the psalms after David. Through the period of the kings, the people repeatedly walked away from exclusive worship of God and it was the psalmists, Asaph and his inheritors, who called the people back to the LORD. Occasionally, they listened, but often they did not. The inclusion of Asaph in the genealogy is a reminder of that continual call of God to return to worship, to return to praising him alone, to turn from idols and serve the living God. Israel’s refusal to listen to the likes of Asaph was one of the reasons God brought about the exile.

Amos, on the other hand, was a prophet of God. He was most well known for criticizing Israel for its treatment of the poor. In the time of Amos, people had all the right worship services, but they trampled the poor in order to build fine houses for themselves. They crushed the weak to provide safety and success for themselves. Amos promised judgment, a removal from the land, exile.

God’s mercy is wide and deep, but so is his call to discipleship. The God who forgives and claims sinners and outsiders, also claims every square inch of our lives and demands that we treat the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien with mercy and compassion.

The gospel Jesus ushered into the world includes incredible forgiveness and incredible demands. It is rich with mercy and judgment. Both are part of the gospel and both need to be heard in order to respond faithfully.

God’s Faithfulness

The last third of the genealogy of Jesus, from the exile to Joseph, reveals God’s faithfulness by bringing the Messiah out of obscurity. After the exile, the line of David was a joke. One major power after another had control of the land of Israel and there was no king on the throne. After Zerubbabel, most of the people named in this section are found nowhere else in Scripture. The line of David was weak, the people of Abraham oppressed, and there seemed little that could be done. Yet, God was faithful. Out of this obscure corner of an obscure family, God brought redemption. It is only God’s faithfulness that can bring us through to the end.

God is faithful. The end of this genealogy is the miracle of the Messiah. Through his abundant mercy and searing judgment, God remains faithful. The promises are fulfilled. There is, finally, a seed of Abraham that will bless all the nations. There is Jesus Christ, the Savior of all the world. There is, finally, a king who will sit on David’s throne forever. There is Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Matthew ends by highlighting the symmetry of God’s work in bringing forth Jesus the Messiah. Fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. The symmetry tells of the sovereignty of God. All along, God has been the Lord of history. For over 42 generations, the people waited and wondered and hoped. At times it seemed like all was lost, but it was never outside of God’s control. The journey up to David, down to the exile, and in humility to the Messiah, all of it was part of God’s sovereign plan to bring about the redemption of the world. As James Baldwin said, “God never seems to come when you want him, but when he gets there he’s always right on time.”

I do not know what you are waiting for this advent season. Perhaps you are feeling on the outside and long to be welcomed in. Friend, the mercy of God is wide enough and deep enough for you. Enter in faith this advent season and walk in the light of the Lord. Perhaps the gentle nudges of the Spirit have become rough and forceful as you look at your life and witness before God. Enter in faith this advent season and walk in the light of the Lord. Perhaps you are waiting again, as you have for a long time, for God to answer your prayers, to release you from your struggles, or to bring you peace. Enter in faith this advent season and walk in the light of the Lord.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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