Matthew 1:1-17


Sermon preached on December 24, 2017 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When I was a kid my dad got interested in doing his family tree. After he gathered some information from local relatives he made several trips to Halifax, the provincial capital, to search the provincial archives for the older records. When I was about 10 or so he took me on one of those trips with him. I can still remember sitting in the archives while he researched things. I didn't know this at the time but before he got to far, to my great, great grandfather, he ran into a problem he couldn't figure out. While we were in Halifax we were staying with my great aunt, my grandfather's sister. When my dad was finished for that day we went back to her place and he questioned her about it. He told me later that she was no help at all. She played dumb. Yet he suspected that she knew something she wasn't telling him. What he eventually figured out was that my great, great grandmother, when she was a young unmarried woman, got pregnant. She had the baby, which was a boy, and her parents raised the boy as their own. That boy was my great grandfather. At least that's how I think it goes. So it was something of a family scandal, and my great aunt, when my father asked her about it, didn't want to tell him about it. She tried to cover it up. She didn't want our family tree tainted by scandal.

What should I think about that? One of my ancestors did something unseemly, improper. I'm a little embarrassed about it. I wish it didn't happen that way. Some people have ancestors that they can be proud of. I met a young lady once whose last name was Crockett and I was told that she was a descendant of Davy Crockett. That's pretty cool. I have heard of people who are really proud of the fact that one of their ancestors came to America on the Mayflower. People like having illustrious ancestors.

But if you think about it you'll realize that we all have bad ancestors in our family line. All of us come from Adam and Eve, and we know they disobeyed God and that led to sin coming into the world. We're also all descended from Noah. And the Bible tells us that he once got very drunk and laid naked in his tent. His son Canaan saw him naked and dishonored his father. Noah cursed Canaan and his descendants for that. Many people today could be descended from Canaan, which is a great blot on their ancestry.

In Roman times family trees were sometimes used like we use resumes today. In a certain way ancestry defined who you were. It showed the people that you were connected to. Not to long ago I saw a video about some rural part of America, and in the video one of the first questions that an unknown person was asked was,

"Who was your father?"



or

"Who was your grandfather?"



If you didn't come from good stock, you might be tempted to lie about it. I read that Herod the Great purged his genealogy of some unsavory characters. (Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas, chapter 2) It's common to do that. It's so common that in one of his short stories Mark Twain made fun of it. He made up a family tree of the Twain family (which was obviously fictional as Twain was just his pen name). He begins by saying that his was a noble house that stretched a long way back into antiquity. One of the first people he mentions is an Arthour Twain, a solicitor of considerable note. He wrote,

"At about the age thirty he went to one of those fine old English places of resort called Newgate, to see about something, and never returned again. While there he died quite suddenly."



But Newgate wasn't an English resort. It was a notorious prison and execution center in London that was built around 1188. Twain goes on to mention many more shifty relatives and at one point says something good about one of them. He writes,

"This is a scathing rebuke to old dead Froissart's poor witticism that our family tree had but one limb to it, and that that one stuck out at right angles, and bore fruit winter and summer."



In other words, the family tree was a wooden gallows. Twain's story was quite amusing and presumably poked fun at people who claimed to have only illustrious ancestors, like people who came over on the Mayflower.

What was the ancestry of Jesus like? John Calvin writes,

"The Son of God might have kept his descent unspotted and pure from every reproach or mark of infamy."



Jesus was perfect but His genealogy here in Matthew doesn't reflect that. In fact, His genealogy is closer to Mark Twain's than to someone from the Mayflower. In the ancient world Jesus' ancestry wouldn't have received any praise from people who were interested in pure genealogies. In fact, it would have been put near the bottom of the pile. It was very unusual.

The first unusual thing about Jesus genealogy in Matthew is that it mentions 5 women. Now there's nothing wrong with that. I'm proud of my mother and her mother. I would be glad to have them mentioned in my genealogy. But in a patriarchal society and it was common practice to only include men in one's genealogy. The one in Luke's gospel is like that. It doesn't even mention Mary, Jesus' mother, but mentions Joseph, who wasn't even Jesus real father. So it was quite unusual for Matthew to mention this women.

The second unusual thing about the genealogy Matthew gives is that three of the women who are mentioned are Gentiles. The Israelites weren't permitted to take foreign wives. But here we see that two of the five women Matthew mentions were Canaanites. Another was a Moabite. According to the Old Testament these nations were unclean and they weren't allowed into the tabernacle or temple to worship. They were 'racial outsiders'.

The third unusual thing was that three of these women were, to put it mildly, were very bad characters, at least. Tim Keller writes, (Hidden Christmas)

"By naming these particular women Matthew deliberately recalls for readers some of the most sordid, nasty, and immoral incidents in the Bible."



That's shocking. But it's true. Consider the details. First, verse 3 includes Tamar. It says,

"Judah the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar,"

Tamar was married to Er, Judah's firstborn. But Er was wicked and the Lord put him to death. So Judah gave Tamar to his second born Onan. But Onan was also wicked in God's sight so God put him to death too. Judah then told Tamar to live as a widow until his third son Shelah was older, and that he would give her to him as a wife. But Judah was deceitful. He blamed Tamar for the deaths of his first two sons and he thought that if he gave his third son to Tamar, that his third son would die too. So he didn't give him to her. He was never going to do that. So after a long time Tamar found out that Judah was going to Timnah to shear sheep. She went there as well. She disguised herself and when Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute. He hired her and slept with her and got her pregnant. That incident in is Jesus' ancestry. Matthew included it and it fact she's the first woman he mentions in Jesus' ancestry. This was an act of incest as well as an act of prostitution. Both things are severely condemned in the Bible. Yet that's what we have. It's almost unbelievable.

It's the same with the second woman that is mentioned, Rahab. She's familiar to all of us from the book of Joshua. Joshua sent two spies into the promised land to look over Jericho. When they got to Jericho, they took refuge in a prostitute's house. But someone had recognized them as spies and reported them. They went to the prostitute Rahab's house looking for them. She lied to the investigators, telling them the spies had come to her but had already left. Rahab hid and protected the spies. Later she let the spies down by a rope through a window. She saved them. But she was a prostitute. But her actions saved her and her family as they were spared when Jericho was taken. It seems that she later married an Israelite, Salmon, and their child was Boaz, who married Ruth and was the great grandfather of King David. Again, that's almost unbelievable that a prostitute would be mentioned in Jesus' genealogy.

The next woman that is mentioned is also connected to great scandal. In verse 6 we read,

"David was the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been Uriah's wife,"

That refers to Bathsheba. Her name is not mentinod. Indeed, she only referred to as 'Uriah's wife'. You know the story. Uriah was one of David's 30 mighty men. He was a loyal soldier who was devoted to David. Yet while he was away fighting David's battle, one night David saw Bathsheba bathing on her roof, called for her, slept with her, got her pregnant. Then to protect Bathsheba, he had Uriah murdered. What a stain on David's reign. Yet, as a result of that, David took Bathsheba to be his wife. Later they had a son Solomon. He was in our Lord's ancestry, and so Bathsheba was mentioned. Bathsheba was one of our Lord's ancestors. Again, this is almost unbelievable.

Michael Wilkins examines Jesus' genealogy and says there is, (Matthew, NIV Application Commentary p. 61)

"no pattern of righteousness in the lineage of Jesus."



Douglas Sean O'Donnell adds, (Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth, Preaching the Word; ed. p. 37)

"Jesus comes from a bunch of sinners. I don't just mean Tamar and Rahab. Look at the list of wicked kings here—e.g., Rehoboam, Abijah, and Ahaz. Ahaz!"



The great question is: why did Matthew draw attention to these woman, those sordid, nasty, immoral incidents?

I believe one of the reasons was so that

Jesus' genealogy would clearly show that the good news of Jesus birth is for all people.

Jesus came to save sinners. He came to save sinners who have done very bad things. In His genealogy Jesus identified Himself, in a very close and intimate way, with great sinners, with people who had done despicable things. They are His ancestors! He came to save people like Judah, the one who sought out a prostitute. He came to save people like Tamar, someone who was treated very unjustly but who sought redress in a very immoral and sinful way. It shows that Jesus' love can reach down and save, not only a Canaanite woman, but a Canaanite prostitute, Rahab! Jesus' genealogy confirms the truth of 1 Timothy 1:15 which says,

"Here is a trustworthy saying
that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world
to save sinners—
of whom I am the worst."

Jesus came to save great sinners, people like David and Judah.

He came to save people like Noah who got drunk, people like Rahab who was immersed in sin.

This means if you're a great sinner Jesus is for you.

Tim Keller writes, (Hidden Christmas)

"Here, then, you have moral outsiders—adulterers, adulteresses, incestuous relationships, prostitutes. Indeed, we are reminded that even the prominent male ancestors—Judah and David—were moral failures. You also have cultural outsiders, racial outsiders, and gender outsiders. The Law of Moses excluded these people from the presence of God, and yet they are all publicly acknowledged as the ancestors of Jesus.What does it mean? First, it shows us that people who are excluded by culture, excluded by respectable society, and even excluded by the law of God can be brought in to Jesus' family. It doesn't matter your pedigree, it doesn't matter what you have done, it doesn't matter whether you have killed people. If you repent and believe in him, the grace of Jesus Christ can cover your sin and unite you with him. In ancient times there was a concept of 'ceremonial uncleanness.' If you wanted to stay holy, or respectable, or good, you had to avoid contact with the unholy. The unholiness was considered to be 'contagious,' as it were, and so you had to stay separate. But Jesus turns that around. His holiness and goodness cannot be contaminated by contact with us. Rather his holiness infects us by our contact with him. Come to him, regardless of who you are and what you have done, no matter how morally stained you are, and he can make you as pure as snow (Isaiah 1:18)."



Jesus' genealogy also shows that Jesus came to save outsiders, people of different races, people like Ruth, Rahab, Tamar.

Revelation 7:9 tells us that heaven is going to be inclusive of every race. John wrote,

"After this I looked and there
before me was a great multitude
that no one could count,
from every nation, tribe,
people and language,
standing before the throne
and in front of the Lamb.
They were wearing white robes
and were holding palm branches
in their hands.
And they cried out in a loud voice:
'Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.' "

(See also Revelation 5:9) Jesus came to save people from every tribe and nation. Psalm 67 testifies to this. The psalmist wrote, (verses 1–5)

"May God be gracious to us
and bless us and make
his face shine upon us,
that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad
and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples justly
and guide the nations of the earth.
May the peoples praise you,
O God;
may all the peoples praise you."

Jesus genealogy also shows

How far Jesus' stooped to save us.

This was part of Jesus's mission, emptying himself. John Calvin writes of the Tarmar incident.

“Judah begat Pharez and Zarah by Tamar. This was a prelude to that emptying of himself, of which Paul speaks, (Philippians 2:7.) … he came into the world to 'empty himself, and take upon him the form of a servants,'… to be 'a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people,' (Psalm 22:6;) and at length to undergo the accursed death of the cross. He therefore did not refuse to admit a stain into his genealogy, arising from incestuous intercourse which took place among his ancestors. Though Tamar was not impelled by lust to seek connection with her father-in-law, yet it was in an unlawful manner that she attempted to revenge the injury which she had received. Judah again intended to commit fornication, and unknowingly to himself, met with his daughter-in-law.”



That incident, like that of David and Bathsheba, like Rahab's occupation, stand out in Jesus' genealogy. He was not ashamed to be descended from them. By doing so He showed He loves even the worst sinners.

No matter what you've done in the past, if you repent and go to Jesus, He will accept you, wash away your sins, and give you new life.

Lastly,

Jesus' genealogy shows how glorious God's grace is, how it overcomes evil and brings good out of it.

Behind all these instances of sin in Jesus' genealogy we should understand that was a spiritual battle taking place. Since the creation of mankind Satan has been trying to destroy mankind, to take them away from God. He tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. When Adam fell into sin perhaps Satan thought that he had won, that mankind was lost. But God, in cursing Satan, gave the first promise of the Redeemer, the seed of the woman who would crush Satan. After that Satan's strategy turned to attempting to stop the Redeemer from being born. As Genesis progressed it became clear that the Redeemer would come through Abraham's seed. Later in Genesis it would be revealed the Messiah was going to come from Judah, but Satan didn't wait for that revelation to begin fighting against Jacob and his sons. In the stories of Joseph and Judah we should certainly see Satan's destructive activity fighting against God's promises. We should see Satan's activity also being behind David's sin with Bathsheba. I'm not suggesting this in any way to excuse Judah's or David's sin, but what the instances in the genealogies reveal is that God brought His purposes of good to pass in spite of horrible sin on the part of His chosen people. John Calvin says of the sin of Judah and Tamar,

"the astonishing goodness of God strove with the sin of both; so that, nevertheless, this adulterous seed came to possess the scepter."



Tim Keller says of Jacob and how he deceived his father and stole his brother's blessing. (Hidden Christmas)

"God is greater than our sin. He used all that sordidness, stupidity, and sin to bring about his promise."



God's grace is magnificent, glorious and astounding. That He should bring grace, bring His Son, out of such evil—is truly incredible. How we should trust Him, praise Him, rejoice in Him. Sinners—there is not just hope for you—there is Jesus, with such love—love for sinners!