I've greatly abbreviated it, of course. If I read the whole thing to you, you would be bored to tears. Unless, of course, your name happened to be in the list. And then you would know that it is more than a list of names. These are real people, who lived and loved and laughed and wept, just as we do. In this long list of very real people, we can find the credentials of Christ. We turn often to those other credentials where the Father said from Heaven, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Or John 3:16, the "only begotten Son" of God. Or we have turned often to the story of the virgin birth. I used to preach every Christmas Sunday a sermon on the virgin birth, and that's important. But it's also important to know where Jesus came from on His mother's side. It's important for us to know that He who was both the offspring of David and the Bright and Morning Star is also the Son of man and the Son of God. So we have here, in the first chapter of Matthew, Jesus family tree.
Suppose I brought with me today my own family tree. It probably wouldnt interest you too much. But suppose there was someone famous in my ancestry--a war hero or a president or something. You might listen to me brag about that. When you grow up in poverty and obscurity, you tend to cling to a little shred of dignity--a little shred of fame like that. That's the way Joseph and Mary were. They had the same lineage up to a point. They were distantly related--not close enough to be a problem--but they were related. They were both descended from David the king. Living as they did, in poverty and obscurity, Joseph and Mary clung to this little shred of dignity and fame. They were descended from the king, and there was royal blood in their veins.
Another thing about a family tree is that there may be a name of one infamous as well as famous on it. Suppose there was a notorious outlaw or a traitor in my ancestry. We wouldn't talk about him too much. Perhaps there is a bad apple on your family tree, too. There were four on Christ's. When you read this genealogy, you discover a surprising thing. There are four women's names. Ordinarily women were not listed in the genealogies of the Old Testament, but there are four of them named here, and there is something shady about every one of them.
One of them is Bathsheba. We all know about her. While her husband was away in service, she was carrying on with the king. There's Rahab. The Bible just plainly labels Rahab a harlot, which has always been the most despised of all occupations. Theres Tamar. Tamar was not only guilty of adultery, but incest, in that she had a child by her own father-in-law. She's on the list. The only one that comes through well is Ruth. Ruth's character is fine, but Ruth put herself in a compromising position that could have been a great embarrassment to her and to Boaz, who later became her husband. So she doesn't get off scot-free either. These are the four women who were named in the genealogy of Jesus. It's surprising, isn't it. The world's one perfect man came out of a family like that. More surprising still, theyre listed. You would think, conditions being as they were, they just wouldn't say anything about it. But the writer goes out of his way to drag these names in. Why do you suppose that he does that? I don't know for certain, of course. But the fact that they are there is to me a great comfort. If you have ever been ashamed of your family, or if you have ever been ashamed of yourself, its a great comfort to read this chapter.
It's a great encouragement, too. We can overcome all kinds of handicaps and all kinds of backgrounds. God has overruled appearances before. He can overrule appearances again. We can't sit around making excuses, saying, "Well, I didnt have a fair start in life; so thats the reason that I have done this or that."
Most importantly, there is a great lesson here. Jesus came to identify himself with a human family, a family just like mine, a family just like yours, a family with its good and with its bad. Sometimes we talk about Christ's deity in a way that it seems almost to set Him aside from our world, as if He were on the outside looking in. In fact, He experienced life as we do. All this long experience of history was in Jesus' ancestry. Yet He became the only pure, the only perfect, man who ever lived. It's important for us to know that Jesus had a family, and not just on paper, either. Jesus had a real family. He grew up in a home where there was a mother and where there was a stepfather and where there were half brothers and half sisters. The Bible tells us that His brothers did not believe in Him. We know that Jesus was conscious of His destiny at least from the time He was twelve years old, perhaps sooner. Can you imagine the conflict that must have been in that home in Nazareth--Jesus growing up knowing who He was, and His brothers and sisters not believing who He was. Here was the great Son of the living God, subject to all this conflict and tension. It makes one think of Abraham Lincoln. We put him down as one of the greatest men who ever lived. Yet Abraham Lincoln at home was in a situation of constant tension and conflict because of his unsympathetic wife.
In Jesus' family, it was the brothers and sisters. They dragged Jesus' mother into it, too. You remember once during His ministry that His mother and His brothers came and tried to persuade Him to come back home. I think I know what was in the mothers heart. I think she said, "He's working too hard. He's going to kill himself if He doesn't take it easier. He's working too hard." I think the brothers said, "He's making a fool out of himself, and we've got to persuade Him to come home."
Do you live in a home filled with tension? It would be an unusual congregation if there were not someone in that situation. Jesus understands. Do you live in a home that knows poverty? Jesus understands. Do you live in a home that is afflicted with wealth? Jesus understands that, too. Do you know what it is to live in obscurity? Are you a nobody? Jesus was a nobody until He was thirty years of age and began His ministry. Or have you had to face the opposite problem of fame? Jesus knew the pressure of being famous. Have you succeeded in life? Do you know how difficult it is to live with success? Jesus understands that. Multitudes thronged His feet. Do you know what it is to fail? Jesus experienced failure. Once all but twelve of His followers turned their backs upon Him and forsook Him. Do you know what it is to be betrayed by friends? Jesus did.
There isn't a problem you can name that didn't enter into the life and experience of Jesus. So Christianity has something to say to your situation. I don't know what your situation is, but I know Christ has something to say to it. Christ entered a situation like yours and lived in it.
We've all felt sometimes like the dear old saint who was caught out in a violent thunderstorm. She feared for her life, and she prayed. She said, "Oh Lord, its no wonder that you have so few friends, if this is the way you treat them." A lot of people have felt like that. But Jesus came into the stormy seas of life and lived through the violent experiences with us. That's a very important thing for us to know.
Then in this list of the ancestry of Jesus, we find the supporting cast for the drama of the ages. There are forty-seven names in the list--the great, the near great, the not-so-great. These forty-seven lives cover two thousand years of history. Here is a history that begins with one man in a nomads tent on the desert. Then it follows the fortune of a family as they journey back and forth. Then it flows into the experience of a nation, oppressed, delivered, raised to the heights, hurled to the depths. Love, romance, marriage, hate, birth, death, war, murder, peace, wealth, poverty, glory, shame--they are all written here in this panorama of human passion and experience.
At the end of the list is one name, the name above every name, Jesus Christ. This long procession, two thousand years old, stops at Bethlehem. The procession ends at a stable. The procession ends with a baby. Looking back across the long procession, we marvel at the elaborate preparation God made. For Christ was on His way to Bethlehem for centuries. Now we know that God lives and moves in history, making sense out of human nonsense, putting the jig-saw puzzles of life together again and giving purpose to our frustrations and meaning to our failures.
Yes, this is the supporting cast, and Christ is the star. He who is so much a part of our human family was also apart from our human family. For Jesus Christ was absolutely unique. He was not a product of His age or His time. His time produced no other great prophet (except, perhaps, John the Baptist), produced no other great poet, produced no other great preacher who would influence all humanity. Jesus was not the product of His times. He was not the product of His nation. There was little about Israel to suggest that they were to produce a leader such as He. He was not a product of His town, that squalid little town of Nazareth. There was nothing to indicate that from that place would come the Lord of history. Jesus was not the product of His family. The royal blood flowed once in their veins. It was quite diluted when you got down to Joseph and Mary. There was nothing about them to suggest that from such a place should come such a Christ. No, Jesus is not of this world, and His kingdom is not of this world.
We, too, may live apart from this world. That's an inexpressible comfort. That is an immeasurable relief. We can live apart from this world that is so shallow, so superficial--this world that is so unfeeling and indifferent, this world that is so temporal, this world that is so evil. Christ will help us to rise above it and to live apart from it. Truly He was out of this world.
We would imagine that one so unique would have a unique birth, and He did. For though there are thirty-nine begats in this chapter, the most important is the one that isn't there. For when you come down to Christ, Matthew chooses his words very, very carefully. "Matthan begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." If you want the begat that concerns Jesus, you have to go to John 3:16. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son." Above it all, I want you to see that He is the comprehensive Christ--the Man for all the years.
Each year, Time magazine selects a man and labels him "The Man of the Year." Sometimes its a good man, and sometimes its a bad man. They select the man who, in their judgment, has most influenced the life of the world in that year. He is "The Man of the Year." Pick any year you choose, and Christ is "The Man of the Year." Indeed, He is the "Man of the Years." He is the Man for all seasons. Generations before looked forward to His coming. All generations since look back and wonder. This is the book of the generations of Jesus Christ, the man of all generations. In all the years yet to come, Jesus will still be relevant, and His teachings will still be appropriate. He is the Christ of all ages.
I do not know in what situations you will find yourself in the future, but whatever it is, Christ has something to say to you and for you. I do not know what kind of a shape our world will get itself into in years to come, but I know that Christ will always be there redeeming the world and reclaiming His own. He is the Christ of the ages. He is the Man for all seasons. It would be the greatest of all losses if we should worship Him once a year and turn our attention to Him only at the Christmas season. He deserves something more and something better than that. He is the Man for all situations.
The genealogies run from tents to palaces, from slave-huts to throne rooms, from shepherds to slaves, kings to harlots. So Christ addresses himself to every conceivable human predicament and offers himself as a remedy. Above it all, we see Christ, who has never yielded His control over time, the world, or history. He is the Lord of history.
And we see God busy in history, for twenty centuries, so that you and I could have these few fleeting years of grace. Oh, do not take your privilege lightly. Thank God you were born in such a time as this. God spent two thousand years getting ready for the glory time, in which you and I are now privileged to live. Let us thank God for a Christ who was a product of history, without ever being the victim of it, who belonged to this world, but was not caught up in it. We need such a Savior. We need a Savior who can be the Master of history, who not only lives within it but above it, who directs and controls it while moving along with it. In other words, we need a Savior who is both man and God, one that is truly historical and truly eternal.
We have such a Savior in
Jesus Christ! Oh, how our world needs Him--our world so bent on self-destruction.
We've threatened ourselves with the atomic bomb; we've threatened ourselves
with pollution; we've threatened ourselves with the population explosion.
Our world seems bent on physical selfdestruction. Our world seems
bent on spiritual self-destruction. Into such a world, Christ comes to
redeem. "Oh, Holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us we pray; Cast
out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today."