Jesus is Israel’s (our) Royal Redeemer (Matt. 1:1-17)

[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 GenesisBut 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 GodToday 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

We are objects of God’s mercy

This is a sermon that was preached at Bellville Reformed Church this past Sunday evening.  For examples of other Reformed sermons and resources, please look here.

We are objects of God’s mercy

1 Peter 2:1-10

Have you ever arrived in a new place – like another part of your home city or country, or perhaps another country altogether – and you have thought to yourself: This is like a different world?  It looks and sounds and feels so foreign?  For many Christians, the Old Testament – or at least parts of it – can seem like a very different world.  The OT can seem so different from the NT and the ways in which God deals with his people today.  Throughout the ages, Christians have wrestled with how to relate the Old and New Testaments.  Some theologians have concluded that the God of the OT is one of judgment and wrath, while the God of the NT is one of mercy and love.  Others believe that Israel was saved through keeping God’s law in the OT, while Christians are saved by faith in Jesus in the NT.  These theologians see little continuity between the Old and New Testaments.  Because of perspectives like these, the OT is all too often outright neglected in the life and ministry of the church.  But is our world really so unlike that of OT Israel in the ultimate sense?

Let’s answer this question this evening by considering 1 Peter 2:1-10, with special emphasis given to vv 4-6 and 9-10.  One of the defining features of the letters of the Apostle Peter is that they were written to Christians who were predominantly Gentile in nature.  In other words, they were not ethnic Jews and physical descendents of Abraham.  This reality is important in a number of ways for our understanding of God’s message of salvation to us in our passage as well as the Peter’s letters in general.  I will give you two closely related reasons why.  First, Peter takes salvation truths about God’s OT people and their world, and applies them directly to Gentiles, who, for the longest time were considered strangers to God’s covenant promises.  In other words, Peter shows us the magnificent continuity between the OT and NT worlds.  But how does he do this?  This brings me to my second point.  The world of the OT and ours come together in Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of the OT.  [Die wereld van die Ou en Nuwe Testament kom saam in Jesus Christus, die beloofde Messias van die Ou Testament.]  Through the blood of Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile, you and I, have escaped the wrath of God and become objects of his mercy.

I. Two testaments, one people

The first ten verses of 1 Peter 2 are filled with direct and indirect references to the OT and the identity of God’s chosen people, Israel.  Peter uses these references to describe who we are as NT Christians.  You will notice how naturally and seamlessly Peter applies OT Jewish truths to NT Gentiles, but not without reference to Messiah, that is Jesus, the cornerstone of the church.  So, let’s consider some of the ways in which our identity as Christians is shaped by the world of the OT, and God’s salvation promises and acts we find there.

Brothers and sisters, here Peter gives us spiritual nourishment for our souls without which we will perish.  Let us heed Peter’s admonition in 1 Peter 2.2 to long for “pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation.”  No infant can live without milk, so likewise no Christian can live without the Word of the Lord.  So, if you have like the Psalmist (in Psalm 34.8), “tasted that the Lord is good”, then seek after more of his grace this morning as he speaks to us.  Let us consider who God has made us to be in Jesus so that our faith may be strengthened.

In 1 Peter 2.4-6, Peter tells his readers – tells us – that like “living stones” we are being “built up as a spiritual house” of which Jesus is the foundation or cornerstone.  In other words, Peter uses the imagery of the OT temple – where God met with his people – to describe our union with God.  Remember, Jesus is the one prophesied of in the OT as the fulfillment of the physical temple.  Jesus is the one of whom the Psalmist spoke of and Peter picks up on in Psalm 118.22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  While rejected and ultimately crucified by men, Jesus is nevertheless “in the sight of God chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2.4).  Therefore, if you have faith in Jesus this morning, you too are chosen and precious in the sight of God; you have entered into God’s house through the doorway of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit has united us to Jesus, and thereby sanctified us, to make us “holy priests” so that we can offer up “spiritual sacrifices” to God.

In the OT, God met with Israel in the temple, where only the high priest could enter the most holy place, and only after all sorts of cleansing rituals.  In the OT, the priests offered up the sacrifice of goats and bulls to atone for the sins of the people.  But with the coming of Jesus, things have changed.  Things are much better.  Peter tells us that through Jesus we have all become stones in God’s temple (v5).  We have all been made holy priests who can now enter boldly into God’s presence, into the inner sanctuary – through Christ.  And because Jesus offered up the sacrifice of himself once and for all for our sins, we now offer up sacrifices of praise to God out of thanksgiving.

Brothers and sisters, the good news to us this evening that is born out of and builds upon the world of the OT; the spiritual nourishment for our souls, which is a bottomless-banquet; is that if you believe in Christ this morning “you will not be put to shame” (v6).  For the one that Isaiah prophesied of in Isaiah 28:16, and Peter quotes in his letter, has washed away our sins and has given us the certain hope of eternal life.  And this is true despite the accusations of the law, and what the world might say and how it treats us.  Although we are sinners and guilty of breaking God’s law, our nakedness and shame has nevertheless been dealt with by Jesus.  Jesus took our shame and gave us his perfect righteousness.  Now, by faith in Jesus, we stand justified in the sight of God, never again to be condemned for our wicked deeds. [Deur die geloof in Jesus Christus staan ons regverdig voor God.Although the world ridicules us for our faith and our stand against idolatry and immorality; although, like Israel in exile, the world oppresses us; although the world would like to shame us, humiliate us and disgrace us – our sufferings in this life will not result in shame and condemnation before God.  For we have been vindicated before the world in Jesus.  We will most certainly reign with him in final victory over sin, death and hell.  Beloved, consider who God has made you in Christ by his Holy Spirit.  Consider the even greater clarity and confidence we have of our salvation than the OT Saints.

Two Testaments, one people, in Christ

Have you – like the Psalmist and a countless number of OT Israelites – tasted of the goodness of the Lord, which has become even sweeter since the coming of Christ?  Do you believe in Lord Jesus and do you know the forgiveness of sins?  Or do you continue to reject the Son of Man like those who crucified Jesus and put him to death?

Friends, let us not forget the flip side of God’s promise of salvation.  The sobering reality is that for those who reject Jesus, he is: “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2.8).  In other words, to reject Jesus – the incarnate Word and the cornerstone of God’s kingdom – is not without consequence.  It results in spiritual death and condemnation.

But for those of faith, Peter gives these magnificent words of life and assurance in vv 9-10: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  Beloved, consider with me again the wonder of God’s promise of salvation to us Gentiles.  Remember that according to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2.12, we were once “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”  But this has changed, has it not?  Notice Peter’s description of the unity that we now share with God’s OT people.  Consider how God has widened the scope of his grace now to include both Jew and Gentile, you and I.  Notice how we now share in the fulfillment of God’s promises to OT Israel, how we share in the fulfillment of Israel’s experience as God’s chosen people.  And how has all this been made possible?  Through Jesus!

We share in the fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses, and therefore OT Israel, stretching all the way back to Exodus 19.4-5.  Back then, the Lord addressed Moses with these words: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  In the Ancient world, God delivered the physical descendents of Abraham from slavery in the great Exodus event from Egypt and made Israel his chosen people.  Now, in NT times, and according to Peter, we too have become part of the ultimate spiritual realities symbolized back then in the first Exodus.  We are Abraham’s spiritual descendents and God’s “chosen race” through the second and final Exodus accomplished by Jesus at the cross.  The good news of the gospel is that regardless of our ethnic or cultural background, we can all become part of God’s family; we are all one in Christ.  If you have faith this evening, know that God chose you before the foundations of the world to be part of a new and redeemed humanity, through the sacrifice of Jesus applied to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  [In Christus het ons deel in die beloftes van die Ou Testament.]

Peter also tells us that like OT Israel we are a “royal priesthood”.  Here again, it is through Jesus Christ and God’s Holy Spirit that we have been sanctified and made holy so that we can enter into God’s presence and offer him our sacrifices of praise.  Our identity and destiny is the fulfillment of Israel’s redemption from bondage in Egypt and deliverance into the Promised Land.  In the OT, Israel served King Yahweh in Canaan as a nation of priests.  Today, we serve as priests in God’s spiritual kingdom that is already ours, but has not yet come in all its fullness.  Like OT Israel, we have been set apart from all the peoples on earth to be part of God’s “holy nation”: one that is not defined by ethnicity, race, politics or geography, but by faith in the atoning blood of Jesus.  Just as God made Israel his prized possession from among all he nations of the world, we too are called “God’s special possession”.  In the OT, God’s people consisted mainly of ethnic Jews, but today we comprise a people that have been drawn from every, tongue, tribe and nation as a trophy for God’s glory.

Brothers and sisters, let me ask you once more: Do you see the magnificent continuity between the Old and New Testaments?  Do you see how we share in the same dramatic story of God’s redeeming acts that stretch all the way back to the early chapters of Genesis?  Peter has shown us that there are two testaments in the Bible, but only one people of God.  Israel is not replaced in the New Testament by another people, but rather Israel is enlarged to include us.  We, the church, are the Israel of God.  This is the first point I have been making this evening.  The second is that in order for this to be true – two Testaments, one people – God had to send Jesus.  Why?  Because of our sin and the idolatry of mankind.

In closing, I would like to bring the problem of sin into sharper focus, because it helps magnify the wonder of Peter’s in verse 10.  In order for us to appreciate the wonder of the gospel and our new identity in Christ, we must grasp the awful predicament that all of humanity is in on account of sin.  No one is able to cleanse himself and make himself holy before God.  Think back to OT Israel.  God promised them a long and prosperous life in the Promised Land – which was like heaven on earth – if they obeyed God’s law.  But, they failed didn’t they?  God ended up divorcing and disowning Israel as a people and sending them into exile for their disobedience.  The book of Hosea is one place where the unfaithfulness of Israel is graphically portrayed.  Israel is described as the prostitute, Gomer, who had gone after foreign lovers.  Israel is also likened to Gomer’s children of whoredom, whom God calls “Not my people” and “No Mercy”… And yet, exile and separation was not the end of the story for adulterous Israel.  For we read in Hosea 2.23 of God’s promise: “And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not my People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”

Notice how this is the same storyline of redemption that Peter picks up on in 1 Peter 2:10.  Once again, we find that we are no different from Israel.  We too are lawbreakers caught up in this world of sin.  And yet, the good news of the gospel is that like the remnant of Israel we have become participants in another world – the age to come – through Jesus Christ.  Once we were not a people, “but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  Thanks be to God for his promise made to Abraham that cuts through two testaments and two peoples, and finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  As recipients of God’s grace and mercy, let us therefore live as strangers and exiles in this world with a certain hope of future salvation.  Let us fight against sin because we are dead to sin and this world.  Let us go forth with thankfulness, knowing that we have been cleansed and justified in Jesus.  Let us go forth proclaiming “the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Amen!

Simon Jooste

Evening service, Bellville Reformed Church, September 30, 2012