[Sermon audio here.]
Theme: Jesus is the royal fulfillment of Scripture as our Savior from sin
The Bible cannot be read just like any book. We do not have the liberty to make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. Instead, Scripture has one unified message of salvation through Jesus Christ, which is revealed to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word is not accessible through human wisdom or effort. It requires spiritual discernment that only the Triune God can give us. Therefore, Scripture must be allowed to speak on its own terms.
One of the most common errors in the modern church is to treat Scripture like a filing system of disconnected stand-alone truths. The Bible is read as if it is a recipe book or reference manual consisting of facts and stories that have no real organic relationship to one another. But can we read passages in Scripture in isolation from the other parts of the unfolding of God’s saving acts in history, and truly understand them?
This idea of a fractured or disjointed reading of Scripture is thoroughly refuted in the opening chapter of the gospel of Matthew. Here Matthew provides us with insight into how God wants us to read both the Old and New Testaments. The Holy Spirit does this by giving us one of those seeming arbitrary genealogies that one finds in places in the Bible, like early in the book of Genesis. * In this genealogy or family history we learn that Jesus is the royal fulfillment of God’s acts in history as our Saviour from sin. By faith we too join the descendents of Abraham and David as children of God through the one born of a virgin; the Son of God; the Christ; the promised Messiah of the OT. *
Now, there are a few things that we need to know about genealogies before we consider some of the particulars of Matthew’s this morning. For one, genealogies from the ancient Jewish world were intended to highlight the pedigree or the quality of a given person. Their primary concern was not so much historical completeness and precision in the modern sense. This is why there are certain oddities about the genealogy of Jesus. For example, there are gaps in his line of ancestry at points. Also, some of the figures that are included in the list over others are strange, like the inclusion of four non-Jewish women who have a history of sexual indecency.
But these oddities actually serve Matthews purpose of telling in compressed form – and with some artistic flair – the greatest story of the most important man that ever lived; a story that invites us into its unfolding drama.
Jesus is the new beginning for the people of God
The genealogy of Jesus is introduced in Matthew 1:1 with words that take us back to the very first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. Matthew opens with the words: “The book of the genealogy” or the “genesis” “of Jesus Christ.” Like the opening of the first book of the Bible and the OT, the first book of the NT signals that God is about to do something new in the world.
In the OT book of Genesis we learn about God’s supernatural acts of creating human beings out of nothing. In the opening to the NT, Matthew, the evangelist, declares to the world the arrival of the supernatural in human history. Notice that Matthew does not use the title of “Jesus” only, but rather “Jesus Christ.” This is because the evangelist is concerned to go beyond Jesus’ human background and exalt his superhuman reputation as the Messiah. Yes, Jesus is a descendent of the kingly line of David, but he is more than any earthly king. Yes, he is the son of Abraham through whose loins the nation of Israel would come. But Jesus is so much more. As redeemer, he has earned forgiveness and eternal life for sinners from every, tongue, tribe and nation.
Jesus is the fulfillment of Abrahamic promise
In verses 2-6a, Matthew traces the ancestry of Jesus from Abraham to king David, which spanned about seven to eight hundred years. If you remember, the patriarch Abraham is a prominent figure in the history of God’s chosen people. We read about his life between the time of the flood – another new beginning for the world – and the formation of the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai under the leadership of Moses.
Abraham is most famous for the fact that God made his covenant grace with him in the early chapters of Genesis. In Genesis 12:2-3, Moses writes: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Later in Genesis 17:5ff, we read: “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be called Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you and throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your offspring after you.”
God’s covenant promise made to Abraham began to unfold with his son Isaac; then Jacob; then the twelve tribes of Judah; until “Jesse the father of David the king” (v6a).
One of the things I want you to understand about the selected people listed in the fourteen generations between Abraham and David is that they come from different ethnic backgrounds. They are not all Jews. It is also noteworthy that three of these foreigners listed are women with dubious records of sexual impropriety. There is the Canaanite, Tamar, who tricked her father-in-law Judah into an adulterous one-night stand because she wanted a child. Then there is the Canaanite prostitute, Rahab, and also the seducing Moabite, Ruth. While these women were considered heroines for their courageous service to God, they nevertheless, like the liar, Abraham, had significant moral blemishes.
The point is that since the time of Abraham God has extended his grace to people from all sorts of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. And his promise of salvation has never ultimately been revoked or derailed because of the disobedience of his people.
Jesus is fulfillment of the Davidic kingship
However, in getting back to the unfolding of Matthew’s genealogy, we see that once we come to the kingship of David, the family history of Jesus has narrowed to include for the most part only those of Jewish ethnicity who were known as the nation of Israel. In the second set of fourteen generations that we find in verses 6b through 11, Matthew recounts for us the ancestry of Jesus from king David through the deportation of Israel to Babylon, which spanned a period of about four hundred years.
This time of the kings, particularly the reign of David and Solomon, and Israel’s enjoyment of the Promised Land was indeed a high point in the history of God’s OT people. David was in many respects a great king who led his people in the fear of God. He represents the kind of king that would one day finally deliver God’s people.
The thing about David and his great son, Solomon, however, is that they were like the rest of Israel just human, which means they were sinners. Their corrupted nature is the reason why the line of kings starting with David got worse and worse over time, and Israel could not keep the Old Covenant. This disobedience of both kings and peasants alike is why Israel as a nation found herself eventually evicted from the Promised Land and held captive by a pagan king.
Nevertheless, despite the waywardness of Israel God remained true to his promise to deliver his people through a king, like David, who would one day emerge from sinful and broken Jewish descent. In 2 Samuel 7 God makes a covenant with David, which is in keeping with the covenant of grace that he made with Abraham in Genesis. But here the promise points more clearly to its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In 2 Samuel 7:12-13, God addresses David with the words: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.”
Before considering the final of the three sets of fourteen generations culminating in the Christ, I want you to notice that even in this very Jewish section of the genealogy of David and his seed, there is still evidence of morally questionable foreigners being included among God’s people. Most conspicuous is, v6b, Bathsheba, the wife of the Hittite, Uriah. Bethsheba, like David, was an adulterer.
It is these sordid twists in the lineage of Jesus that have often caught the smug and self-righteous in the church off-guard… Will we let the Bible speak on its terms? Will we allow the Spirit of God to take us through the messiness of sin to find Jesus on the other side? Will we believe that God can indeed redeem through the means of an imperfect church and in spite of ungodliness in our lives? Do you believe that God will save you despite your checkered family history? Do you believe that he will keep his covenant promises to your children despite your failures as parents?
Jesus is the final redeemer of Jew and Gentile
The last section of Matthew’s genealogy covers the period between Israel’s deportation to Babylon and the coming of Christ, which spans about six hundred years; six hundred years of plenty of question marks for the people of God. In Babylon, Israel was a divorced people owned by pagans. But this was not the end. For a flicker of hope continues in the final of three lists of fourteen generations. This final period brings the OT revelation of Messiah to completeness. The three sets of fourteen generations works out to be six times the number seven – the number seven being a Biblical symbol of completeness or perfection. The OT ended on the precipice of fullness and perfection: waiting for the age of seven times seven promised by God.
As the story goes, in the latter part of the OT we learn that Israel did not remain in captivity, but were allowed back into Jerusalem where they were allowed to rebuild the Temple, thanks to the decree of the Persian King, Cyrus. The books of Ezra-Nehemiah tell us that under the king-like leadership of Zerubbabel, Israel enjoyed a measure of peace and prosperity as a nation again. But they were never completely free from foreign rule. More importantly they lacked the promised king – the royal Messiah – who could finally defeat the enemies of sin and death…
Beloved, the opening verses to the book of Matthew herald for us the fulfillment of the OT hope of salvation and restoration in Jesus, the Christ. He is the new beginning for every sinner since the Fall of Adam.
Friends, consider who Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us Jesus is. Let us throw off our worldly presuppositions about God’s Son and listen. Let us not read this record of the Gospel as a humanist manifesto or science manual. Consider this Jesus. He is the Christ, the anointed Son of God: the royal Redeemer of the world. Unlike the great Abraham and David, he is no mere man. For we read in Matthew 1:16 that he was not the product of human procreation, but rather born of the Virgin Mary through the conception of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of the Father who has existed from all eternity. He is the God-man who came down to earth to make all things new through his life of suffering, his death and his resurrection.
With the eternal generation and incorruptible life of Jesus, the Father and the Spirit has established forever the family line of the children of God. Today is the day of salvation. This is the age of the life-giving perfection of seven-times-seven, made possible through the blood of the Christ.
Brothers and sisters, children, and friends, this is your Saviour from sin. He is not only the redeemer of the Jews, but of Gentiles as well: Canaanites, Hittites, Moabites, Greeks, slave and free, male and female: of you and I. By faith in Jesus, we too have become part of the royal family of God – the Israel of God – that stretches all the way back to the beginning of time.
Because of Jesus, no matter who your earthly father or mother is, or how messy your life has been or is, you can indeed be a part of the family of God. You can have the loving God of the universe for your Father. This is the hope we can pass onto our children, even as we do so as imperfect sinners. This is the gospel of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. Foolishness to the world, but unto us who have ears to hear it, the power of God unto salvation. Amen.
Simon Jooste, RCSS morning service, May 5 2013
[Sermon audio here.]