Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17
(Preached at FBC Nitro WV, 1/8/2012)
We are one week into the new year, and many of us may be struggling now with new year’s resolutions. The first day was fantastic as we started that new practice that we hoped would develop into a habit. It may have been exercise, it may have been dieting, it may have been something else that we needed to do but really hadn’t gotten to doing. With the new year however, and with a clean slate, we were ready to go and tackle the challenge. One week into the resolution, we are now experiencing the real challenge.
The newness has passed, and we wonder if we will be able to keep the pace that we have set for ourselves. One of the best new year’s resolutions we can make is to read through the Bible in a year. I’ve read through the Bible several times, and I understand Matt has challenged our youth to read through the Bible this year. There is no substitute for spending time in God’s Word.
When we read through the Bible, there are certain areas of it that are much more challenging to read than others. If we’ve started in the Old Testament, we find one such section in the latter part of Exodus and the entire book of Leviticus. What was once fast-paced action slows down into the details of the law God gave His people. Another challenging section is the apocalyptic literature of the latter half of Daniel and other certain places in the Old Testament in Revelation in the New Testament. The images are vivid, but understanding what they mean is tough.
Perhaps the most challenging section of all the Bible is what we could call “the boring begats.” In other words, the genealogies. The genealogies in the modern translations speak of one man being the father of another man, who was the father of another man, who was the father of another man, etc. In the more dated King James Version translation however, the word used to express fathering a son is “begat.” So one man would begat another man, who begat another man, who begat another man, and so forth. For many of us they may seem so dry and boring that we just skip them and move to the next section of Scripture. Heaven help us if we are doing a small group Bible study and it is our turn to read aloud and pronounce all those difficult names!
Despite how we may feel, God has put the genealogies in His word for a reason. God being the God He is, He can speak to us powerfully through any portion of His Word, including the boring begats. So in our passage this morning we find some life-changing truths, if we only take a bit of time to find them. There are three sections to this passage, that represent the three stages of Israel’s history. If we had to summarize what we find here in just a few words it would be God promises, we mess it up, Jesus redeems.
First of all, in the boring begats we see God’s promises. Verses 1-6 speak of the promises God gave His people from Abraham through King David. God promised Abraham in Genesis 12 that He would make his descendants into a great nation. By the time we get to King David, the descendants of Abraham had become a great nation. God kept his promise, He was faithful.
The God who kept His promises then keeps His promises now, for God doesn’t change. God promises to save you, to deliver you, to provide for you, to comfort you, to protect you, to empower you, and never to leave you. Psalm 100:5 says, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” He keeps His promises despite our shortcomings. As we go through this list, we are reminded of some seriously dysfunctional families. At first glance we may think the names mentioned in the Bible didn’t have any of the issues we have today in our lives. When we look at them in detail however, they had major issues. Abraham and Sarah have a son, Isaac. Isaac’s wife is Rebekah. Isaac and Rebekah start playing their twin sons against one another. Isaac’s clear favorite is Esau. Rebekah’s clear favorite is Jacob. Jacob in turn has a whole mess of children and favors Joseph over all the rest.
So there are parenting problems here, and there are some serious issues of deceit that we haven’t even mentioned yet. Abraham lied about his wife, Isaac lied about his wife, Jacob lies about pretty much everything. Then Jacob’s kids lie to him about what happened when Joseph suddenly disappeared. They told him Joseph had been killed by wild animals when actually they had sold him into slavery. So we have favoritism, lying and then we get to King David. His life can be seen as a total mess.
David takes another man’s wife and gets her pregnant. Her husband is faithfully serving in David’s army, so David has him moved to the front lines so he will be killed and so he can take the man’s wife as his own. The prophet Nathan then confronts him in what he had thought was the perfect sin and cover-up. By the way, your sin will always find you out. There is no such thing as secret sin. There is only sin that hasn’t come to light, yet – it will. Anyway, David has a son named Amnon who is attracted to his own sister, Tamar. Amnon rapes his sister, and David does nothing about it. Then David has another son Absalom who kills Amnon because of what he did to his sister Tamar then runs away to hide from his Dad. Later Absalom puts together an army and tries to overthrow his father. There are major issues in these Biblical families. The reason I mention them and go into such detail about their failings is that God was faithful to them despite what they did.
We are not alone in our struggles – these individuals and families in the Bible were swamped with issues. Despite their brokenness, their selfishness and their sinfulness, God was faithful to them and kept His promises. God was faithful to them despite their own failings, and God is faithful to you. In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This church building is not a hotel for saints, it is a hospital for sinners. We all are sinners. Our only hope is God’s faithfulness, for we have done nothing to deserve His favor. God promises, we mess it up, Jesus redeems.
Then in the boring begats we see our unfaithfulness. In verses 7-11 the nation of Israel begins a long period of decline. There are some bright spots along the way, but in essence from the time of King David to the time of the deportation into Babylon they are drifting more and more from their God. God still has an amazing way of using extraordinarily broken people to accomplish His purposes. We see it throughout this entire passage. God takes what society deems undesirable and uses it for His glory and the good of others. In this list there are five women mentioned. Women in Biblical times were seen as second-class citizens. They couldn’t give testimony in court because they didn’t have the standing that men had. Still, the names of women are here. Tamar is mentioned. This Tamar is another Tamar, long before David’s daughter. She is the daughter-in-law of Judah, Joseph’s brother. She dresses like a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law. She ends up conceiving a child from the whole incident – Tamar makes the list. Rahab is also mentioned. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho who allowed spies from Israel to stay in her house before the city fell – she makes the list. Then we find Ruth. Ruth is often seen as a fine example, but her background was checkered. She was a Moabite, and Moabites were seen as cursed because of incest and godlessness. Ruth makes the list. Uriah’s wife is here. Why is she called Uriah’s wife and not Bathsheba? Because God’s intent was for her to be with Uriah, not David. David invaded another man’s bedroom, another man’s marriage, and took another man’s wife. God takes marriage very seriously. The wife of Uriah makes the list. The fifth woman of course is Mary, who gave birth to Jesus.
The point here is that in our own lowliness, our own limitations and our own unfaithfulness, God can and does use us. He has a special place in His heart for the downcast and for the people often forgotten. Maybe you feel this morning there is no hope for you – there is always hope.
In this passage we see our own unfaithfulness, and how God weaves it into His purpose. God promises, we mess it up, Jesus redeems. God’s purpose doesn’t stop with our mess, it climaxes in the person of Jesus and what He accomplishes for us.
Then, in the boring begats, we see Jesus’ redemption. Verses 12-16 speak of the darkest period of Israel’s history. They also introduce the arrival of Jesus, who would redeem His people from all their sin. God promises, we mess it up, Jesus redeems. When we look at this list, we find that godliness isn’t inherited, it is a choice. My parents raised me in a Christian home and took me to church, but they couldn’t follow Christ for me – I had to do it on my own, it was a choice I had to make. As parents and as grandparents, we need to understand that each generation has to make a choice. We can’t control them, we can only seek to influence them, pray for them, then release them to follow Jesus as He calls them. In our passage we see that each generation has to choose. We find kings here who are more godly, then we find kings who are incredibly evil. King Ahaz sacrificed his own son to Baal and led the people astray to worship idols. Then his son Hezekiah came to the throne, and he was much more of a righteous king who sought to follow God. He led the people back to God and cleansed the land of idols. The point is that just because your Mom and Dad were Christian doesn’t mean you are Christian. You have to choose. Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean your kids will be Christians – they too have to choose.
Verses 17-18 don’t speak of the end for God’s people – they usher in the beginning. In Jesus we have a new start. In Jesus we find redemption. We find redemption from all the baggage of the past, from all the brokenness, unfaithfulness and sinfulness that plagues us. Jesus sets us free. Jesus transforms us and gives us a new beginning. Jesus takes what was once the boring begats and brings them to life. Jesus takes the fragments of who we are makes us whole.
1 Peter 1:18-19 says,“…you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” This redemption isn’t based on our goodness – it is based on God’s goodness in Jesus. It isn’t based on what we do, it is based on what Jesus has done for us. Your part is only to trust in what Jesus has accomplished already on the cross for you.
2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” In Jesus we become new. The idea here is not like a new phase of our lives or turning over a new leaf. It is a brand new beginning, it is a clean slate, it is a re-birth. Something happens at one point in our lives – we trust in Jesus as our redeemer. After that point, all things become new and continue to become new. The newness doesn’t stop when we trust in Jesus – it begins there, and continues until we reach eternity. God continues to make all things new for us in Christ. You are not confined by your past – you are free in Jesus. You are not confined by your parents – you are free in Jesus. You past and your parents do not determine who you are – Jesus determines who you are. What an exciting, powerful truth we find in the “boring” begats! It is just like God to take something many see as lifeless and meaningless and fill it with energy and purpose. If God can do it with a list of names in this Bible, He can do it with you.
I read about a sign this last week – it was a lost dog sign. I first thought of my daughter-in-law Amy, for she is incredibly passionate about rescuing lost animals, particularly dogs. Anyway, the sign offered a big cash reward for whoever might find the dog, and then gave the following description: “He’s only got three legs, he’s blind in the left eye, he’s missing a right ear. His tail has been broken off and he was neutered accidently by a chain link fence (ouch). He’s almost deaf. He answers to the name, ‘Lucky.’” That’s the idea of redemption. That dog isn’t lucky! He’s been through a mess of a life. He is Lucky however, in that he has an owner who loves him dearly, despite all his brokenness, and wants him back. Do you realize that you have a God who loves you dearly, despite all your brokenness, and wants you back? All you have to do is to trust in what Jesus has done for you to bring you back to Him.