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Sermon blog: Who do you think you are Jesus?

November 26, 2015

  
Matthew 1:1-17

Occasionally as a preacher you think it’s time to do something brave.

Others might prefer to say foolish.

A few years back I decided to preach on Psalm 119. The longest Psalm. Indeed the longest chapter in the Bible. All 176 verses long.

Actually I split it over 2 weeks and just concentrated on 16 verses, but the challenge was there to talk about something which is rarely preached on.

This morning could be regarded as equally brave. Or foolish. To preach on the genealogy of Jesus.

Genealogies are often considered to be amongst the most boring parts of the Bible.

Lists of names. Just there to fill up space.

What we really want is just to get into the action.

But Matthew is keen to set everything in context at the start of his gospel. It is important for him that people are aware of Jesus’ family line.

The first 17 verses of Matthew’s gospel are laying down a foundation, preparing us for the events of the birth of Jesus.

Today in the church calendar is the first Sunday in advent. The beginning of a period of time when we prepare ourselves for the moment in history when God became a man.

Christmas is coming!

So it seems appropriate to look at these verses this morning.

And I am going to dare to suggest that what we have read together is no dry list of names.

It has much to teach us and encourage us.

Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus. Some of us have been preparing for many aspects of the Christmas season for months. Some of us haven’t even started.

But of course the central theme of Christmas is the birth of the Christ child. Something we all need to be ready for. Someone we all need to meet.

And actually whatever anyone says, genealogies are a matter of great fascination nowadays. The number of people trying to trace their family trees seems to be ever on the rise, with more and more records being made available to carry out their research.

I started having a look at mine and then was fortunate to discover that a distant relative in Australia had done the job already, so I got a copy of his history of my mother’s family.

This interest has led to a TV programme “Who do you think you are” The featured celebrities take very seriously what they find. Even when they are learning about people who lived 100 years or more ago, they will take great pride in finding someone who achieved something great or noble, but will weep when they hear of tragedy or be embarrassed to discover a criminal in their family.

Even in my family tree there were some questionable things going on.

Nearly always there are skeletons in the cupboard.

So this morning we are going to take a look at this list of names.

Obviously we don’t have time to think about all the names that appear, but I am going to take a selection and hopefully see what lessons we can learn.

We will be surprised at the people God uses, the events that God uses to bring about his purposes, and the people who would even try to oppose God who cannot escape being in the picture.

Firstly there is another point that should probably be covered. There are two genealogies of Jesus contained in the gospels. There is another list in Luke.

And many people will take satisfaction in telling you that they are not the same.

Those who try to tell us that the Bible is full of contradictions will latch on to this.

The list of names immediately above Joseph is different. In our reading this morning Joseph is the son of Jacob.

In Luke he is the son of Heli and the names going back over a number of generations are different.

The most popular explanation that Bible scholars have for this is that the genealogy in Matthew traces the line of Joseph, believed to be the father of Jesus, while the genealogy in Luke traces the line of his mother Mary.

This is further confused because Jewish people would not have included women in their genealogies. So Joseph is described in that list too as son of Heli (probably meaning son-in-law).

Scholars will argue that the different lists do not conflict, but complement each other.

So this morning we’ll concentrate on what Matthew shows us.

Matthew’s list starts with Abraham. The great father of the Jewish faith. Jesus’ credentials are going to be impressive. Traced back to the man who heard the call of God, to leave his home, to follow God, with no idea of where God was taking him.

It’s actually though an unpromising start.

Abraham and Isaac are the first two in the list.

Abraham is married to Sarah.

Isaac’s wife is Rebekah.

Apart from being the names of my 2 daughters these two women ancestors of Jesus had something else in common.

Neither of them could have children. This genealogy should never have started!

Abraham and Sarah tried to take the solution into their own hands. Sarah was too old anyway.

But God was not to be defeated. He stepped in miraculously and Sarah had Isaac in her old age. Isaac and Rebekah in turn had the joy of being delivered of a troublesome pair of twins.

Jacob and Esau.

Actually it was Esau and Jacob.

Esau was born fractionally before his twin. And thus Esau had all the rights of a first born son.

But Esau sold those rights to his brother who then tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing due the first born.

Jacob gets into the list of Jesus’ ancestors by trickery. But he’s there. The man who would become known as Israel.

The trickery continues and Jacob, who has worked 7 years to earn the right to marry Rachael, is given her sister Leah instead. It is Leah who gives birth to Judah.

There are an awful lot of what-ifs even in that first few generations. We all have them in our families. If we’re honest it’s a wonder any of us are here at all. Everything seems to be so chancy.

I for example have been reminded more than once that if my older sister’s twin had lived I would never have been born. Sobering thought!

Whilst the line of Jesus is traced entirely through men, Matthew takes the step of including a handful of women. Maybe just as reminders, or to put things further into context.

All women in the list come with a surprise element.

The second in the list probably takes the prize. A rather fishy Israelite called Salmon has a wife called Rahab.

Is this the Rahab we read about elsewhere?

Many scholars will tell us yes it is. We read about Rahab in Joshua chapter 2. She is a lady from Jericho who helps the spies escape. As a result she and her family are the only people of Jericho who are spared and live among the Israelites. And marry.

Of course what we also know about Rahab though is that she was a prostitute. When the name Rahab is mentioned in the Bible it is never a complimentary description of a person or nation. Yet in Hebrews 11 the writer describes Rahab as being one of the heroes of the faith, who witness to us and encourage us on in the race of life.

Even in Hebrews though she is described as Rahab the Harlot. If she was a changed woman, which it seems she was, then surely there is no need to mention it. But maybe the writer is keen to underline that Jesus can use the most unlikely of people. Today in Plymouth, Rahab is a charity which ministers to the prostitutes in our city.

Boaz has a son called Obed. His mother is Ruth. Another foreigner. A Moabitess. She shouldn’t be in this story either.

After losing her husband she turns up in Israel with her mother in law Naomi. She determines to stay with Naomi and to follow her God. She marries a relative of Naomi’s, Boaz, and even that isn’t straight forward as there is another relative who has the right of first refusal.

Strange things are going on.

Boaz’s great grandson is none other than the great King David himself. Again Matthew showing further evidence of the impeccable credentials of Jesus, one who has been prophesied to be from the house of David.

Jesse had a number of sons of course. As the prophet Samuel looked to anoint a king to replace the unfaithful Saul, he had 7 of Jesse’s sons paraded before him. And they all looked the part. He could have gone for any one of them.

But God’s plan is for son number 8, the one who was looking after the sheep. God chose him and continued his line through him.

In most unlikely fashion!

And here Matthew mentions another woman. Though he doesn’t call her by name. Uriah’s wife.

Or at least she had been, until David abused his position to have adultery with Bathsheba and organise the murder of her husband Uriah.

When David took her as his wife, this was a relationship that should never have been in any way shape or form. David had other wives and other children, yet it was Solomon who was chosen to be king to succeed David, and to continue the family line that would one day lead to Jesus.

The names as we continue on become less well known. A whole list of kings is given up to the time of the exile in Babylon.

King Ahaz for example is an ancestor of Jesus. We are told that he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He practiced child sacrifice and idol worship. He is by no means alone in the kings of Judah and Israel in his wickedness.

Josiah on the other hand is the last good king.

He becomes king at the age of 8. No doubt he had his advisors, but it seems that while he was still young he sought God. It was during his reign that the book of God’s law was rediscovered and the people of Judah renewed their covenant with God. He is described as someone who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to his right or his left.

He was single minded.

There were priests in the family line too, such as Zerubbabel.

We can only scrape the surface.

Through all these generations God worked out his plan to bring his Messiah into the world.

As we work through from generation to generation, Christmas is coming!

So what can we learn today?

1. God uses people in spite of their faults. If you are a perfect person here this morning then there’s not much good news for you in here. People who are described in the list of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 such as Abraham and Jacob, did indeed display great faith on occasions. But they also got things wrong very often. Sometimes they would trust God completely. Other times they would just try to sort things out their way. They were just like you and me. So we can be encouraged this morning, that even though you keep getting it wrong, God is still there for you.

2. God can forgive us our sins and restore us when we fall. Rahab was really not a candidate to be great in the house of God. And yet something changed in her, to work for God’s people and ultimately to become one of them. David was the king, the singer-songwriter, the prophet who was described as the man after God’s own heart. And yet he goes so terribly, terribly wrong. Can a man of God ever really sink so low? He can and he did. But as he repented of his actions, and faced the painful consequences, he found forgiveness and was restored in his relationship with God. If we think we are beyond God’s reach then look at Rahab, and know that that is not true. If as a Christian we feel we have messed up and gone off the rails, and that there can never be forgiveness for us then look at David.

3. God can overcome the obstacles in our lives to fulfil his plans. Look at Sarah and Rebekah. They needed a miracle each to get this family started. And God provided. Maybe for you there seems to be a barrier preventing you from living the life you want to live. Trust Jesus and he can step in to help you through.

4. God works in spite of what we do and what we plan. Look at the trickery of Jacob. The trickery of Laban who gave Jacob the wrong wife. In all that, God had a plan and worked through those people to bring about his purposes. Even when you appear to be working against God’s way you can find yourselves firmly in his sight. It was Joseph who said to his brothers including Judah, that what they had done in selling him had ultimately been used by God for good. The early Christians spoke of how all that the Jews had done to get rid of Jesus was actually all part of God’s plan. Little did they know that their wicked acts would end up having the opposite effect to what they imagined.

5. God can work in us whether we are Josiah or Abraham. 8 or 80. We are never too young to seek God and to serve him. We are never too old to seek God and to serve him.

6. God is a God for all people. In the Old Testament we are conscious of God’s special people Israel and yet Rahab and Ruth remind us that God’s love is not limited by boundaries. God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only son. Christianity is not a Jewish thing. It is not a British thing. Jesus was born in Bethlehem for all people.

7. God will work out his plans even when men are evil. There are many Ahaz’s in the world today. People who are in power who have a very twisted view of God or no time for him at all. People who will carry out unspeakable acts in the name of religion or in an attempt to obliterate a particular religion. Syria, the Islamic State, Paris, Mali. The list goes on. And yet is God still at work. Recently the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he had asked where God was in the atrocities that took place in Paris. He commented though that he had faith that God was alongside people in their suffering and pain. Often when man does his worst it brings out the best in others in bravery and sacrificial care.

At Christmas we are reminded that God is with us. And that makes all the difference for you, your family, your country and our world. If God can work out his plans over thousands of years he can certainly work out his plans for you.

 

 

 

 

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