Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Matthew 1:1-17, The Genealogy

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of the genealogy at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew? It's there to teach many things, but one of the things it teaches is God’s grace.

"Grace" is one of the most amazing attributes of God in all of the Bible. The idea that God would have anything to do with poor sinners who deserve His judgment is hard to believe. But, in this genealogy, we see clearly God’s heart of grace shown toward great sinners. We can see God's grace manifest throughout this list of names.

Abraham is listed in Matt 1:2. Do you remember the story of Abraham? God called Abraham to be the father of a great nation and promised to bless all the nations through him. He called Abraham out of idolatry and mercifully promised him salvation. But Abraham was not nearly so faithful to God as God was to Abraham. Even though he was a man of great faith, Abraham lied twice about his wife, Sarah. Out of fear for his life and lack of trust in God, he told two different pagan kings that she was his sister (Gen 12:11-19; 20:1-18). The kings then sought to have Sarah for themselves, though she was Abraham’s wife. Abraham’s lie brought shame upon Sarah, Abraham, and upon God. But, God was gracious to Abraham and did not turn away from him, but made Abraham the father of God’s chosen people, Israel. He made Abraham’s name great and made Israel a great nation, from whom the Messiah would come.

David (Matt 1:6) sinned terribly by committing adultery with Bathsheba and then compounded the sin by having her husband, Uriah, killed so that he could marry her. So, David, who is known throughout the Scriptures as a man of faith, was an adulterer and a murderer. On top of that, David was also classic example of a horrible father. He didn’t discipline his children, but let them do as they pleased. One of them, Absalom, even tried to take the throne from him by armed rebellion. And yet, God made David the father of the royal line from whom the Messiah would descend. God was full of grace and mercy toward David, even though David was a great sinner.

Any Jew reading this genealogy would wonder why Rahab is in this list (Matt 1:5). First of all, she was a woman. This genealogy includes five women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Matthew might have simply stopped after listing her husband, Salmon, but he doesn’t. These women are listed because Christ came to be the Savior, not just of men, but of women as well. In biblical times, women were not well regarded, but here we see God’s grace toward women. The Bible says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female (Gal 3:28). All are spiritual equals before God. Secondly, Rahab was a Gentile by birth, rather than a Jew. The fact that she is in this genealogy shows that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, not only of the Jews but also of Gentiles. The fact that this genealogy includes women and Gentiles demonstrates the "wideness" of God's grace.

Rahab is also notorious for her sins, which are recorded in the Old Testament. You remember that Joshua sent spies into the land of Canaan to find out what they were up against. While they were at Jericho, these spies hid in the house of Rahab, who was a prostitute by profession. She was an adulteress. When the city police came looking for the Israelite spies, Rahab hid them on her roof, and then lied to the police about where they were. So, Rahab was very clearly a sinner. Yet, God was gracious to Rahab. When the walls of Jericho fell, her house, which was next to the wall, remained standing, and she and all of her family were saved. That’s grace. God then brought Rahab into His kingdom, and gave her an Israelite husband, and put her into the ancestral line of Jesus Christ. So, God's grace is not only "wide," but it's also "deep" because it saves even the worst of sinners.

So how can we benefit from understanding God’s graciousness toward sinners? We learn from God’s grace that He uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. You may think of yourself as disqualified from serving well in God’s kingdom for some reason or another.

Maybe you think that you can’t be a good servant of God because you think you lack the pedigree that you need to serve effectively in God’s kingdom. But remember Ruth, who was a Moabite woman. She wasn’t even an Israelite, and certainly didn’t have what anyone would consider “qualifications” to serve in God’s kingdom, and yet the Lord put her in the line of Christ and used her to be one of the ancestors of our Lord.

Maybe you never finished school, and don’t have the educational qualifications that some people have. That cannot and should not stop you from serving in God’s kingdom. The Lord has a place for you, and if you are a believer, then you are qualified to do what God has called you to do.

Maybe you think that because you didn’t grow up in the church and don’t have the same Christian family heritage as others that you aren’t as qualified to serve in God’s kingdom, and to be used of God, as those who grew up in Christian homes. But that’s a lie from Satan. The Lord delights in using all of His people, regardless of family background. And, the fact that you don’t come from a Christian home may actually qualify you to minister to some kinds of people, since those raised in Christian homes may not know how to relate to certain kinds of people.

Maybe you think that because of your past, you cannot be a good servant in God’s kingdom. But remember Rahab, who had a very sinful past. She lived as a prostitute for much of her life. But, God forgave her and received her into His kingdom, and He even used her for His glory and for the good of His people.

Maybe you have sins in your past, and you remember them very well. Sometimes you may wish that you could forget them, but you can’t. There may even be times when the sins of your past come to mind while you are at church, and Satan uses those past sins to torment you, to tell you that you’re too sinful to be used of God, that you could never bring glory to God like other people can. But, you, beloved, are a trophy of God’s grace. God is in the business of redeeming and changing sinners. Your faith in Christ and His overcoming sin in your life can be a great help and encouragement to other believers. Your past does not disqualify you from being used of God right now.

One of the things we see in this genealogy is that God took the believers in this genealogy and used them in spite of their sins. Our sins cannot thwart God’s ultimate purpose of grace. Job 42:2 says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” None of the sins of these people stopped Christ from coming or thwarted God’s redemptive design. There were wicked kings who set themselves in opposition to God. There were unfaithful followers. But, Christ came and brought redemption anyway. This tells us something about the loving and gracious character of our God. Sins cannot stop God’s gracious purpose.

Isn’t this encouraging? You may look back at your life and think about past sinful mistakes. You may still be living with some of the consequences of those sins. But, you can be encouraged that if you are in Christ, your sins cannot thwart God’s purpose of grace.

Here is a Christian man who has a problem with sinful anger and it shows up in his life. He works hard for his family, and tries to give them what they need to live in this world. One day, he and his wife decide to take the whole family on a vacation to get a break from the daily grind. And so, they get in the car and head off to Disney World. They aren’t 30 minutes down the road until the kids start fighting and bickering in the back seat. And the man loses his temper and becomes sinfully angry. He screams and yells at his children, not out of a love for them and a desire to discipline them for their good, but because they are making his vacation miserable. His anger flows from the selfishness of his own heart, and his desire for a restful vacation. After some time to think about what he had done, he pulls the car over, gets into the back seat with his children, and he confesses his sin to his children and sincerely and lovingly asks for their forgiveness, explaining that his sins are the reason he needs Christ to save him. In that moment, his children got to see a living example of the gospel of grace in the face of their father. The father’s sins, which were absolutely wrong, were used as an opportunity to sincerely and lovingly show the gospel to his children.

Because of God’s grace, God used this man to be an example of Christ to his children, in spite of his sin. So many fathers and mothers become discouraged and think, “How could God use me when I’m so inconsistent?” But, because this man was a man of faith, even his sins could not stand in the way of a consistent, faithful testimony of grace.

We can learn from this that the sins of believers are an opportunity to apply the gospel of grace, and to turn from sin and toward faithful loving obedience to Christ. If we do this, then our sins do not stand in the way of God’s grace, but are a testimony to it. So, do you struggle with sins in your life? So did every believer listed in this genealogy. Some of them struggled with horrible sins. But, God uses Christians to advance the gospel of His kingdom in spite of their sins. So, don’t let the fact that you are a sinner be a stumbling block to serving the Lord, trusting in Christ, and being used in to advance His kingdom.

There is another thing we can learn from God’s graciousness toward sinners. Just as God is kind, patient, and gracious with sinners, we should be kind, patient, and gracious toward sinners as well. Maybe there is someone who has offended you or someone you know. The most natural human reaction is to distance yourself from that person and turn away from them. But Christ didn’t turn away from you, and He has forgiven you, and blessed you; so, won’t you love those who have wronged you and treat them with kindness even though they don’t deserve it? Make it your aim to make others feel loved and appreciated when they are around you. Look for ways to encourage them and serve them. In this way you can reflect the grace of God, which is so evident in this genealogy.

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