Jewels cousin invited me to write a few devotionals for a high school class she teaches. This little Christmas devotion is the latest entry, the others are listed under the category “Faith in the Desert”. I pray the Lord is glorified and you are blessed and challenged by my thoughts. dave
Jesus Christ…A Savior from Sinners
Do you remember the first time somebody challenged you to start reading your Bible? Did you just whip it open and start chuggin’ away? Or perhaps you tried one of those read the Bible in a year programs? Maybe you aren’t too organized, so you started off by playing Bible roulette and ended up hitting some painful passage about body fluid regulations in the Old Testament. I bet that was inspiring. Well, we all have different stories regarding how we started reading the best book on earth, however, no matter how or where we started, today I want to focus on where God started…well, at least where He started in the New Testament.
Now my English skills rival those of an intelligent 3rd grader (my bride edits all these before Ms. O gets them) however, even with my limited ability, I can’t help but notice something obvious about the New Testament. Its beginning is painfully boring. Just think about it, if you were going to write a book about the most important man to ever walk the earth how would you start it? What if you knew that this guy had done amazing things; raising the dead, calming storms, walking on water—you know crazy stuff. I don’t know about you, but I’d probably pick a story with some firepower, something to grab the reader’s attention. But what does Matthew do, he starts with a genealogy. A what? Yeah, and it’s as painful as it sounds. So that begs a question—why? Why start the second half of the greatest book ever written with a literary tranquilizer?
Well if you grew up as a church kid you are probably fighting the urge to raise your hand because you know the answer. ‘Dave, Dave, Dave…Matthew was written to the Jews so if he was going to tell about the Messiah before they would listen to a word he said he had to establish Christ’s lineage all the way back to Abraham. Matthew had to show that the Messiah came through the line of David.’ You are right and it’s a good point. However, if you leave it at that you are gonna miss a much more powerful lesson that isn’t as obvious. We will get to that, but first let’s get a little historical so it will all make sense.
Back in the day, genealogies were typically only written by order of the rich or powerful. In fact, hiring a genealogier (yep, I got to make up a new word again) was expensive and it was no small task to record a family history, so they weren’t common. However, expensive as they were there were several benefits to paying someone to document your family tree. You see, if you are paying somebody to write your genealogy you get to pick who you leave out. You know what I’m talking about; we all have a crazy uncle or sketchy cousin we might want to forget to mention. Well these rulers and rich folks had family like that too. It’s true, history documents countless times where genealogies purposefully left out sons who screwed up or lost battles. Yet on the other hand the heirs who won territory or conquered kingdoms got lots of ink. In addition to that, another important historical fact we must grasp is that Christ’s lineage didn’t need to include any women. In fact, when documenting a patriarchal genealogy, which is what Matthew needed to do to establish the Davidic heritage of Christ, the only people the Jewish audience would expect or want to hear about are the males. Including any females would be exceptionally strange. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s right, but that’s how things were back then. Ok, enough with the history lesson, let’s take a look at the opening words to the New Testament.
Before we do this, everyone please stand up. I know these devotionals are read first thing in the morning and this is after all a genealogy so I don’t want you to fall asleep…I’m not kidding, hero—get up.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 1
Did you notice that literary craziness? No, I’m not talking about naming your kid Amminadab which sounds more like an insect that a son in my opinion. There is something else even stranger. Seriously, look at it at again. Did anything jump out at you? How about the fact there are four woman in the first six verses! Now some of you are thinking I’m sexist just for pointing this out, but this is completely nuts if you grasp the cultural context within this text was written. It’s really strange if we remember none of these women are even needed to prove Christ’s lineage. In fact, what is even crazier is that while there are lots of winners in this passage (just check out Judah for example) the women included aren’t exactly the role model type. For starters, three of the four aren’t even Jews and if that wasn’t bad enough just look at their stories. Before we do that though, let me remind you that this is how God choose to start His Gospels, the four books intended to demonstrate to the world the deity of Christ. Now I’m not trying to argue with God, but does this make any sense to you?
First off –Tamar, familiar with her story?… Two dead husbands, deception, prostitution, and incest—now that sounds fabulous, definitely want to bring her into the story. Not bad enough for you, then let’s move on to Rahab. Well, actually we don’t even need to go into her story because her nickname tells you all you need to know. Remember her nickname, Rahab the…yeah you got it.. Rahab the Harlot. Sounds like another person we would really want to go way out of our way to point out when building the case for Christ’s deity. Then there is Ruth, beside the fact she is a Moabite (which is actually a big deal) she did a lot right, even got a book of the bible written about her so we’ll lay off her, but let’s finish by looking at the last lady. Do you see her in there? Her name isn’t even mentioned. Instead, David’s sin is pointed out in bringing her name into the story line. You can almost here Matthew whispering this… And David was the father of Solomon… by the wife of Uriah”. Are you tracking with me? Bathesheba, the wife of Uriah, one of David’s Generals. If you remember the story, David saw her bathing, lusted after her, acted on his desire and had sex with her. She became great with child and eventually David ends up ordering Uriah be killed in order to cover the whole thing up. Awesome story, really putting His best forward in mentioning that tid bit. So what is going on? What in the world is Matthew doing? Or better yet, since Matthew was really just the pen, what is God trying to teach us?
It’s really not that complicated. In fact, the reason it isn’t obvious to us I think is simply because we can hardly believe the lesson is actually true. You see when Christ came into the world, it was purposeful. A perfect Savior, sent to die for broken sinners, in order to redeem us from our sin. We all know this, in fact you can’t get through this Christmas season without hearing something along those lines. Yet millions of us—even those of us who grew up in the church, don’t grasp this at a heart level….why? (Stay with me here, I know it feels like I’m wandering, but I’m not.) Obviously there are lots of reasons but one of the biggest I believe is simply because we know who we are. We know we are screwed up and that God isn’t. As a result, we feel like we should or must clean up our act before we can come to Jesus. Just think about it, how many times have you heard that implied in a friend’s confession of remorse or guilt? Or to make it more personal and practical, how much do you enjoy praying after you’ve sinned? We never want to go God on our bad days—we don’t feel like we can, we are too ashamed or prideful to come before him to seek forgiveness. But that, in fact, is exactly why he starts the first Gospel this way, we are just missing His point.
Why did God open the New Testament with a genealogy and go way out of his was to include a bunch of sinners and women of ill repute? Easy, because from the very start God wanted to show us that these sinners weren’t just part of the story…they were the point of the story. Matthew specifically started this way because he knew their story is actually our story. We all have fallen well short of God’s standard and back then, just like today, we feel as though we can only approach God based on our merit. And since we know ourselves, that basically means we end up feeling like we can never approach God. Matthew wants to tell them, and us, we are wrong. After all, Matthew of all people should know. If you remember, Matthew had a nick name too. Remember it? Matthew the…’tax collector’, that’s right. If anyone understood that we don’t come to God on our works, but rather on Christ’s, it was him. Matthew walked with Christ, he watched the way he loved the hurting and broken. He knew that we could never come to Christ unless it was based on Christ’s redeeming work. That’s the reason he included these broken lives in this genealogy. Christ didn’t just come for sinners, he chose to come from sinners and wash us clean.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 2 (Hebrews 10:19-22)
It’s His work that opens the door, not yours. This Christmas season, start at the beginning where God started, and know– not in your head, but rather in your heart, that you…yes you, are the very point of the Christmas story. We’ve all made mistakes, lied, lusted, covered our sins, and tried to hide it all. We’ve run from God because we couldn’t make it right, but instead of attempting to fix yourself, stop for a moment and listen to the truth He speaks. He came for you, died for you and rose so you could rise with him, but it’s not based on your merit but rather His cleansing blood. Simply put your standing before God is based on Christ and Christ alone. Stop running, close our eyes and quietly hear the angelic voices as if for the first time…
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.3 (Luke 2:10-11)
Can you hear them? Does your heart finally understand? God came for you, the redemptive work is done, you just need to accept and believe it’s true. Your story is the reason for His story. I’ll say that again, your story is the reason for the Christmas story. Your past doesn’t matter. This Christmas, receive the gift God longs give, a relationship with His son, Jesus Christ, the new born king.