By Pastor Glenn Pease
The Bible makes it clear beyond all dispute that there are two roles in the drama of life which women can play on a level of full equality with men. These two indisputable roles are, the role of sinner, and the role of saint. Women can be both as bad and as good as men. When we deal with the really big and crucial issues of life we find that the equality of the sexes is a self-evident fact.
There are multitudes of insignificant issues in which one sex may be superior to the other, but when you get to the major themes portrayed on the stage of life, such as the themes of sin and salvation, then you find equality.
The genealogy of Matthew clearly confirms this conviction. There is no equality of numbers, however, for in the family tree of our Lord's human heritage there are over 40 names of men, and only 4 women. Women are not equal in Scripture when it comes to the legal and social role of preserving family names. Even in our culture it is most often the man's name that is preserved, and so the family tree is built on the blood line of the male's.
In this family tree of Jesus Matthew was inspired to include 4 women. Just as a beautiful flower can be found in the most barren desert, so here we have a wilderness of dry names out of which blossoms 4 roses. God inspired 4 men to write 4 lives of Christ, and he inspired Matthew to record 4 women through whom the Christ of the Gospels entered the stage of history. These 4 women make beautiful music together because they reveal the good news of the Gospel by their very presence in this blood line to the Savior. They will one day be a part of that universal choir singing the new song of the Lamb, who redeemed men and women out of every nation, language, and tongue.
As we look at who these women were we can hear distinctly some aspects of the song of salvation sounding forth from their lives. The songs of this women's quartet dissolve all doubt about women's equality with men as sinners and saints. Let's listen to two of the songs which their lives sing to us.
I. THEIR SONG OF SOVEREIGNTY.
There has never been a quartet anywhere who has made the message of God's sovereignty over history more clear and beautiful. These women have stamped the message on the record of history that God can bring good out of evil, and harmony out of chaos. None of these women would have ever sung a decent note, or even added a particle of beauty to the world apart from the grace and sovereignty of God.
If ever there was a group of women able to demonstrate that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, this is it. Three out of the four of these women had such bad reputations that their names were stained for all time. Tamar was involved in an incestuous affair with her father-in-law. Rahab was a harlot, and Bathsheba was an adulteress. Ruth, the 4th in the quartet hits higher notes in her life, and the result is that her name is still popular, and used frequently by Christians. They all, however, are equally involved in the blood line of the Messiah. God has to use sinners in the blood line from the first to the second Adam. There was no alternative, for all are sinners, and all fall short of the glory of God. But there are distinctions even among sinners, and one wonders about why God chose women of such bad reputation to be represented in this line to the Redeemer.
Is it not obvious that God is saying to us all through this song of these women that He is sovereign? Let no woman, or no man, look at what sin has done to them, and say they are hopeless. God is saying through these women, you cannot fall so low that God cannot raise you up, and then use you for His glory.
The king can make the poorest peasant a prominent princess. God has done it in these lives, and they can sing the song of God's sovereignty; the song of the good news that sin does not have the final word, but God does when we yield our lives to Him. The Cinderella story is a reality, and not a fairy tale, in God's sovereign plan.
Women are equally under the sovereignty of God, and, therefore, they are equal in all that really matters. They can be forgiven, restored, and used of God to fulfill His purpose in history. So sings the women's quartet in the history of Christ. Their song makes clear the sovereignty of God's grace over His law. Law said that even the best of these four women could not enter the congregation of the Lord. Ruth was a Gentile and a Moabite, and Deut. 23:3 says, "No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord..." But here in Ruth we see this woman who is rejected by the law as part of God's plan to bring the Savior into the world. Rahab was also a Gentile, and she is in this family tree of the Messiah. God's grace to all men is being sung by this quartet, for they represent both Jews and Gentiles, and they sing of the universal nature of God's grace and plan of salvation.
Jesus the Son of God was not a pure Jew. He had the blood of Gentiles in His veins. The blood He shed for the sins of the world was representative blood, for it was both Jewish and Gentile blood. God's sovereign purpose was to bring the Jewish Messiah into the world by means of some Gentile women, and thus, make it clear that He was to be a universal Savior. If man would have invented a family tree for the Messiah, it would have been pure blood all the way, and uncontaminated by any Gentile, or by any notable sinner. But God's inspired tree has all that man would have left out, and, thereby, sounds forth loud and clear the song of sovereignty.
This song of sovereignty is a beautiful message. It is the Gospel. God can, and will, use any sinner in His plan. Matthew, who wrote this genealogy, was a publican. His friends were the hated publicans and harlots so often mentioned in Scripture. It must have been a thrill for Matthew to be able to record these women in the family tree of the Messiah. What a message of comfort and hope to all those who felt forsaken and cut off from Israel because of their sin, folly, and cooperation with the Gentiles. What a song of sovereignty! Next, let's look at-
II. THEIR SONG OF SECURITY.
This song of the women's quartet is one that should mean a great deal to the average woman. None of these four could have known they were being used of God to preserve the blood line of the Messiah. Each of them could only thank God for her deliverance from sin, and could have hardly dared to hope that He would do more. Just to be accepted into the family of God's people was grace abounding. To be a channel of His blessing to the whole world was more than they could hope or dream. Yet each of them, though unworthy, became a vital link in the plan of salvation which opened the door of eternal life to all of us.
Let no woman deprive herself of the comfort and security that can come from this song of the quartet. So many women lack a sense of security because they feel so inadequate, unworthy, and unfruitful. They are nobodies in the plan of God they feel, and so they are insecure. Such negative thoughts could be eliminated if they would listen to this quartet sing the song of security. Their lives sing it out loud and clear. Everyone of them made enormous blunders. All of them were just average women, with no great talent or leadership ability. All they had was faith in God, and the capacity to have babies. That is why they are in this family tree of the world's Redeemer. Web Garrison said, "A woman who doesn't get a second look from her neighbors may play an essential role in the on going divine purpose that involves the destiny of mankind.
Faith in God is all any woman needs to be used of God. God uses women of great talent and great leadership also, but He does so only because they respond in faith. Faith is that which all whom God uses have in common. Faith alone can give you the assurance and security you need to know that God will use you as a channel of His blessings. These women make it clear that faith can overcome all of the past, and enable one to start a new chain of influence. We may have a horrible heritage, but pass on an honorable heritage by faith. These women tell us that it is not only true that one rotten apple can spoil all in the barrel, but that it is also true that one good apple can start a whole new apple tree. Faith in God enables every woman to become the start of a new and beautiful tree of life. God can sometimes use the worst people to do the best things.
Women need to see that their greatest contribution to history and God's plan will be through their influence. Women should never exchange their supremacy of influence for any equality of power, for positive influence is the greatest power. None of these 4 became great and useful in God's plan because they possessed unique gifts. All of them are here simply because they were wives and mothers. None will question that women are superior in these two roles. Women ultimately succeed or fail, not in competition with men, but in fulfilling the roles they were designed to do well. Mrs. Elaine Stedman, wife of Ray Stedman, the well known pastor, wrote, "To love each person we meet, laying down our lives, our "rights," as He laid down His life, His rights-caring, reaching out, giving, listening, pouring the oil of His Spirit on troubled waters-this is God's plan for beautiful womanhood."
The struggle of women to gain equality has been and up and down battle all through the ages. If we look at the women back in patriarchal times, such as Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, we see them having a great deal of freedom and power in the home and society. As we move into the period of the conquest of Canaan there is a suppression of women's freedom due to the great immorality of the nations around Israel. Paul's negative attitudes toward women were really and outgrowth of the history of temple prostitution in the nations of the world. Paul had nothing against women, but he was convinced that the church must avoid the dangers that Israel fell into.
To this very day the struggle goes on in the church. Where standards of sexual purity are high, women gain freedom and equality. In the early church there were those called the Montanists. They had women bishops and prophets. Their moral standards were very high. In groups, however, where the pagan lust was stronger than Christian love, women had to be kept in the background. If they were not, the church became a scandal to the world because of immorality. Whatever the situation, every woman who loves Jesus as Lord can join these women in the genealogy of Jesus and rejoice that they can be used of God to fulfill His purposes in history.