Announce change in benediction.
Announce Aletheia Sunday 14th at 6:30 starting with Apostles Creed
Pray for rain – repent for squandering water, repent for our way of life which is causing climate change. Repent for destroying the earth.
Matthew 1: 1 – 11
Romans 11: 17 – 24
A friend of mine recently joined a Bible study group recently which had started from scratch, and nobody who joined the group had any prior relationship to the other people in the group. I suspect most of us have been in a similar situation a few times in our lives when we are thrown into a group of people we don’t know. In a Bible study or a similar setting, the leader will usually ask, “Please introduce yourself to the group, and tell us a little about yourself.”
When you have to do that, what is the first thing which usually jumps to your mind?
Does it sound something like, “Hi, I am Carol, and I am a school teacher”?
Or “Hi, I am Danie; I am married with three children”
or I am a widower, or I am divorced?
Sometimes it’s, “Hello, I am Andrew, Avril’s son.”
Usually in a group like that, someone says, “Hi I am Mike and I haven’t been a Christian for very long.”
When we first introduce ourselves, we usually want to tell people the most important piece of information they may need to know in order to understand us.
When I was a child, the death of my father defined everything about my life. We struggled financially, and when I was placed in a situation of introducing myself to strangers, I would look around at the other kids clothes, and my introduction would usually be, “Hi, I am Michael, my dad passed away when I was 8”. That event defined who I was.
When we first introduce ourselves, we try to create the kind of impression which will help us the most in our dealings with the people we are meeting. Our first introduction creates the lens we want other people to see us through.
So when we read Matthew, Matthew’s opening line to us is that Jesus is the son of David, the Son of Abraham. Imagine the impact that statement had on Matthew’s readers.
Matthew says Jesus is the son of Abraham. In Genesis 12 God said to Abraham, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Usually we think that is all the descendents of Abraham, But in Galatians 3 Paul corrects our thinking when he says, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.
The word offspring is singular, so Matthew is saying in his first line that Jesus and Jesus alone is the rightful heir to Abraham. Let me just make that clearer. The New Testament does not see Isaac as the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, God’s promise is fulfilled in Jesus.
In 2 Samuel, God spoke to David through the prophet Nathan, and said, “12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring (SINGULAR) to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son.”
Matthew is arguing that Jesus, not Solomon, is that promised son of David whose throne will be established forever.
In Matthew’s opening line, I think he is saying, “Jesus is the whole reason why Israel has existed.” I think Matthew is saying, “Israel isn’t the centre of God’s purposes, Jesus is”.
Mathew uses the next 16 verses to back up his opening statement. But when we read the Bible, from verse 2 to verse 17, most of us go to sleep. This genealogy doesn’t mean too much to us, maybe because we don’t know a lot of the people Matthew is speaking about, or we don’t know their stories.
But if Matthew puts it right up front in his introduction of Jesus, it’s because Matthew wants to create an image in our minds of just who Jesus is, and it must have meant something to the people he was introducing Jesus to.
On the 12th of January 2010, Haiti, which is already the poorest country in the Northern Hemisphere, suffered a devastating earthquake which marked 7 on the Richter scale. Estimates are that over 200 000 Haitians lost their lives in the last month because of the earthquake. A friend of mine from school is on the South African rescue team and he was saying that this is by far the worst natural disaster he has ever seen.
Apart from the buildings that have been destroyed, in all the confusion, families have been torn apart too. Many children have been orphaned and charity organizations are setting up makeshift orphanages for these children. The president of Haiti has placed a moratorium on children leaving the country, because these children are incredibly vulnerable to child trafficking.
It seems in Haiti that because of the poverty, many parents give their children away in the hope that they will find a better life. Most of these children will never see their parents again. Some parents told reporters that they had to choose which child to send away. Some parents sent 3 or 4 children to be adopted, in the hope that they would have a better life in America.
Nine days ago, 10 Americans from Idaho were arrested for trying to take 33 children between the age of 2 and 12 out of Haiti without any papers. They did not even have passports for the children. Many of these children were not orphans. They had actually met with the parents of some of these children and negotiated taking them away from their homes. On the bus, one girl had been crying, begging to be returned to her mother.
Imagine if these children had actually been removed from Haiti without any record of who they are, who their parents are, which family they belong to.
How would they introduce themselves to a crowd? Would their opening line be, “I don’t know who I am”?
If we play that forward by seventy years, and imagine either these children, or their children or grandchildren coming back to Haiti. Maybe they would want to lay claim to some property which belonged to their family, but they couldn’t because they have no papers.
If we can grasp those children’s predicament, maybe we can understand what it must have been like for the Jews to be carried off to Babylon for the Exile.
Six hundred years before Jesus was born, the Babylonians demolished Jerusalem, and took thousands of Jews to Babylon. They were separated from family and the world they knew.
Seventy years later, when they were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, they had to try to prove that their ancestors had lived there. Receiving your family land back was dependant on being able to prove your genealogy. They didn’t have passports, so they had to tell the officials who their parents and their grandparents were, and they would try to trace them through any records they could find.
But for Israel it was even more important, because in Israel your ancestry decided which official role you could play in the life of the new Jerusalem. In Ezra chapter two we read of thousands of people who were given positions as priests, Levites, and singers, and temple servants, because of they could prove their ancestry. But we also read in verse 59
59 The following came up from the towns of Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon and Immer, but they could not show that their families were descended from Israel:
60 The descendants of Delaiah, Tobiah and Nekoda 652
61 And from among the priests: The descendants of Hobaiah, Hakkoz and Barzillai (a man who had married a daughter of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name).
62 These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.
In Israel, children were groomed from birth to fulfil their calling. Being a priest wasn’t something decided one day. Children grew up in an environment which prepared them to serve God.
Matthew is making a claim, that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of Israel, but that claim needs to be substantiated, and so he backs it up with a genealogy. Matthew has to prove that Jesus is a son of the line of kings.
In the last line of the genealogy Matthew breaks the pattern, and rather than saying, “And Joseph was the father of Jesus”, he says, “and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”
So why would Matthew give us this whole ancestry of Joseph, just to tell us that Jesus wasn’t Joseph’s son?
Matthew tells us Joseph’s ancestry, because even though Jesus is not Joseph’s biological son, He is still Jesus’ legal son. And as Joseph’s legal son, Jesus was under the care and discipline of Joseph, and had all the rights to inherit from Joseph, even inheriting the throne of Israel. Jesus is who his opening line says He is, the son of David and Abraham.
But as Matthew closes up holes, new problems emerge. If Joseph is the husband of Mary, but not the biological father of Jesus, how should we see Mary? Is Jesus not the product of some sexual indiscretion which would disqualify Him from being Israel’s messiah?
I think for that reason, Matthew mentions 4 other women, and they are all women with peculiar stories. What fascinated me is none of these women were naturally in line to be an ancestor of Jesus, but along the way they were grafted into Jesus’ family tree, and they brought new life.
The first woman Matthew mentions is Tamar, the daughter-in-law stroke wife of Judah. Do you remember the story?
Judah had 3 sons, and Tamar was married to the oldest one, Er, but he died at an early age. So Judah followed Jewish law and arranged for his second son Onan to marry Tamar. But Onan acted wickedly and so he too died at an early age. Judah should have arranged for the marriage of his third son, Shelah, but he was afraid and so he made excuses why they couldn’t marry. Judah put Tamar’s life on hold.
One day Tamar heard that Judah was planning a trip. So she dressed up like a prostitute and went to wait at the side of the road for him. When Judah saw her, he walked over to her and asked her to sleep with him. He didn’t have any money on him, and so he left his seal and his staff with Tamar.
A few months later, it was discovered that Tamar was pregnant and so she was dragged in front of Judah who was threatening to have her burnt to death. But when Tamar presented Judah with his seal and his staff, he declared, “She is more righteous than I am”.
The story goes that Judah never slept with Tamar again, but from that one encounter the course of history was changed forever.
Tamar had twins, and one of those sons went on to be an ancestor of King David. The strange circumstances under which Perez was conceived, did not prevent God choosing David to be king.
The second woman mentioned is Rahab from Jericho. Joshua sent two spies to see what the defenses were like in Jericho, and rather than spying out the land, they decided to visit a brothel which was run from Rahab’s house.
We know the story. When the king of Jericho wanted the spies handed over, Rahab hid them and sent them away. Even though Rahab was a prostitute, she was more righteous that the Hebrew spies she saved. The result was that Rahab and her whole family were saved on the day the Israelites destroyed Jericho.
If you asked Rahab, she would never in a million years have told you she planned to be the wife of a Jewish man, but her life changed when two spies came to her house.
Rahab went on to marry Salmon, and her son was Boaz, the hero of the book of Ruth. We can only say the hand of God was moving unseen behind the curtain.
The next lady we meet is Ruth, the wife of Boaz, David’s grandmother. Ruth was also not Jewish, she was a Moabitess. On the surface that seems OK, but apart from not being Jewish, the Moabites were a nation with their roots in incest.
After Lot’s wife had turned to a pillar of salt, Lot went to live in a cave with his two daughters because he was afraid. His daughters realised that stuck in a cave they were never going to meet husbands, and they would never have children. And so they got Lot drunk and slept with their father, and the oldest sister’s first son was Moab, the father of the Moabites.
Just hearing the story is yucky. But by some amazing God incidences, Ruth became married to a Jew. After her husband died, Ruth said to Naomi, her mother in law, “I will follow your God” and God stepped in and turned the situation around for Ruth, and through that God blessed Boaz.
Ruth’s ancestry did not deter the Israelites from rallying behind her great grandson David as their king.
The fourth woman mentioned is Bathsheba, and rather than being the sweet romance novel we would expect, she came to the palace through rape, the child conceived in the rape died shortly after his birth. Yet she conceived again, and her son Solomon became king after David.
When Matthew mentions Bathsheba, he does not want us to forget the path she was dragged along to the palace or her husband who was murdered or her child who died. Matthew lists Bathsheba as “The wife of Uriah the Hittite”. Matthew wants us to remember the Bathsheba was an unlikely candidate to be the mother of one of Israel’s most successful kings. And yet almost as compensation for the tragedy Bathsheba experienced, her son who was the most unlikely, became the king.
Through this genealogy, Matthew has shown that in the past, children in the line of Israel’s kings have been conceived under some very unusual circumstances.
Matthew shows us the ancestry of Jesus’ legal father, but he doesn’t stop there. In verse 21 Matthew tells us about Jesus’ biological father. In a dream Joseph was told that the child Mary was carrying was fathered by the Holy Spirit.
Even though Joseph became Jesus’ legal father, God was His biological Father.
In Matthew 3, when Jesus was baptised, there was a voice from heaven which said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
All this leads me to a question though. Why did God go to all the effort to establish Israel, if Israel’s sole purpose was to create the environment into which the Messiah could be born?
The answer, I think, is that our environment has far more influence on who we are than we realise.
In Jesus’ ancestry, there were rogues and righteous people. There were good people and there were some really bad people. I have no doubt that Jesus’ ancestors had a huge influence on the way he saw the world.
I read a book the other day called “Outliers”. At one point the author speaks about two different types of parenting. He calls the one type of parenting, “concerted cultivation”. He speaks of parents who go out of their way to invest in their children. They take their children to extra mural activities, they make time to speak to their children about the things that happen in their day.
He gave an example of one young boy who was going to the doctor. Now most parents would just say to their child, “Make sure you behave at the doctors”. But this mom said to her son, “You are going to see the doctor, are there any questions you would like to ask him?” She encouraged her son to speak to the doctor.
Malcolm Gladwell calls the other kind of parenting “Accomplishment of Natural Growth”. He says some parents just leave their children to develop without parental involvement. When they show an interest in something, they are left to their own initiative to develop that interest, and so more often than not nothing happens.
Research has shown that the way children are parented is one of the largest contributing factors to whether they are successful in life.
By growing up in a Jewish home, Jesus would have been taught about the past two thousand years of Israel’s experiences of their God.
Enculturation makes a world of difference.
Research was done into why airplanes piloted by Koreans were far more prone to crashing than any other pilots in the world. The result wasn’t because if intelligence or mechanical failure, it came from the pilots culture and the way they were brought up.
Some other research was done into ice-hockey players, and what led to their success. The long and the short of it was that it had little to do with raw talent. What really made the difference was how the amount of coaching and the quality of coaching they received, multiplied by the number of years they received it.
That got me thinking about faith issues. When you were growing up, were there people in your life who applied “Concerted Cultivation” to help you to know God in a personal relationship? Or were you left to “Accomplishment of Natural Growth”?
Paul wrote to Timothy, “5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”
Paul understood that Timothy, who was probably in his early twenties when he became a significant church leader, was where he was because of two generations of being cultivated in a Christian environment.
What happens when we apply “Concerted Cultivation” to our children in teaching them to know God in a personal relationship? It seems that is what happened to Timothy, his mother and his grandmother sat with him and introduced him to God.
Maybe you can think for a moment about your genealogy, your parents, your grandparents. Maybe you even knew your great grandparents.
If I were to draw a genealogy of the people who formed me in life, apart from my parents and grandparents, there are a also number of non-family members who came into my life along the way. Maybe they are like the Tamar’s and the Rahab’s and the Ruth’s who God sent to knock my life back on track.
If you look back across your life, can you identify the people who significantly contributed to your life? Maybe people who lit a fire in you for God?
Can you identify ancestors in your family who taught you faith?
I remember one day as a child sitting with my grandmother and for some reason she just started talking to me about some doctrines of the Christian faith. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t a formal lesson. Who in their right mind would initiate a theological conversation with an eleven year old? My grandmother sat and taught me pre-millennial dispensationalism when I was 11 years old. Even though today I don’t hold to that theology, back then it was one of those God-incidences which just happen, and it was like a spark that was lit in my spirit.
In Romans 11 Paul uses the image of wild olive trees and cultivated olive trees. Paul says that we have been cut off from our family trees, and we have been grafted onto God’s family tree, to which Jesus is the root.
Jesus said I am the Vine, you are the branches. If we understand that image, if we have been grafted onto the Cultivated Olive Tree, then our children are born as new shoots already connected to the same tree. When we come to faith, our children’s and our grandchildren’s family tree changes.
A friend of mine is a social worker who handled adoptions. But she stopped because often children were going to be adopted by Muslim families, and she said she couldn’t get her head around the fact that she was grafted a child onto a tree which determine their eternal destiny.
But Paul also warns in Romans 11 that branches can be pruned off. Paul tells us that we need to realise that we can’t rest on our laurels.
As I reflected on it this week, I thought that maybe our children can’t look back like Jesus could, to see good generations and bad generations, to see the miraculous work of God in their lives, because maybe like the Haitians, we are so spiritually poor that we give our children up to anyone who will have them. We give them to their school teachers. We give them to their sports coaches. We abandon them to their friends. Our children become atheists or agnostics, because we fail to connect them to God.
Maybe like those returning from Exile in Ezra, maybe our children struggle to find their place in the Christian family because there is no record that can be found.
I was really challenged this week, “Do my children know how I came to faith?” Have I sat down with Dylan and Lauren and shared with them how I met Jesus. Have I told them of the God interventions in my life, and in the lives of our parents?
I think the greatest encouragement for me is the realisation of the fact that Jesus’ human ancestry is not perfect. Jesus, like most of us, had some truly ungodly, even wicked people in his genealogy.
But ultimately as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, Jesus was the result of a promise by God.
As much as Jesus was the legal son of David, and He was influenced by his ancestry, Matthew is clear that Jesus is the Son of God.
We too have earthly, legal parents who have had an influence on us, God’s offer to us is that we can be adopted into His family. We can be grafted onto God’s family tree, and that promise is for us and children and our grandchildren.
I want to end where I started this morning. Imagine you are meeting a new group of people for the first time, and when you introduce yourself you will be expected to say something about yourself.
As someone grafted onto the Tree of Life, what would you say?