by Rev. Adrian Dieleman
Mr. & Mrs. Stewart of Louisville, Kentucky received a microwave oven one Christmas from their son. They were so excited that now they, too, could be part of the instant generation. Mr. Stewart unpacked the microwave and plugged it in. Literally, within seconds, the microwave transformed two smiles into frowns! Even after reading the directions, they couldn't make it work.
Now two days later Mrs. Stewart was playing bridge with a friend and confessed her inability to get that microwave oven to even boil water. "To get this thing to work," she exclaimed, "I really don't need better directions; I just need my son to come along with the gift!"
Does this sound familiar? Many people have similar problems with VCRs, camcorders, CD players, computers, and electronic clocks in cars or bedrooms. A number of weeks ago Bill Drennon spent over six hours on the phone taking people step by step through fixing up their computer. Like Mrs. Stewart, they need their kids to show them how the stuff works.
In this season of Advent we want to celebrate that when God gave the gift of salvation, He didn't send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out. Instead, He sent His Son.
On this second Sunday of Advent I want to look again at the family tree of Jesus. This morning, however, I want to pay special attention to the ladies, the women, in the family tree of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah (we know her as Bathsheba), and Mary.
You should know that women are not normally mentioned in Jewish genealogies. And, when we look at the genealogies of the Old Testament, we see that Rahab is never connected with the line of David. So why did Matthew place her in the line of David and Jesus? In fact, why are any of the women included in Matthew's list? What is his point?
As we will find out, these five women help us to understand why God sent His Son to take on human flesh.
I Jesus Came for Sinners
A The five ladies – like a lot of the men that are also listed – remind Matthew's audience that Jesus came for sinners. To a greater or lesser extent the five women have a reputation as sinners.
You can read about Tamar in Genesis 38. It is not a nice story. A couple of months after Tamar's husband died she pretended to be a prostitute. In this disguise she fooled her father-in-law to go to bed with her and got pregnant by him. Though Tamar was a seducer and pretend prostitute Matthew includes her in the family tree of Jesus.
Rahab we should all know about from the story of Joshua. We can read about her in Joshua 2 & 6. She is the prostitute who hid the two spies Joshua sent to Jericho. We are told nothing of Rahab's union with Salmon, the man who became her husband. But knowing her occupation we can only assume she snared him with her body. Though Rahab was a prostitute Matthew includes her too in the family tree of Jesus.
Ruth we can read about in the book that bears her name. She was a Moabite. You need to know that the Moabites were the result of the sexual union between Lot and his oldest daughter (Gen 39:30-37). The Israelites had nothing but contempt for the Moabites because they had their origins in incest and considered their offspring impure to the tenth generation (Deut 23:3). Furthermore, Ruth was very forward and perhaps a little improper in the way she pursued Boaz at the barley pile while he was under the influence of alcohol. Though Ruth was an aggressive Moabite Matthew includes her too in the family tree of Jesus.
Matthew identifies the fourth woman as "Uriah's wife." Her name was Bathsheba. You can read about her in 2 Samuel 11. She was the woman who committed adultery with King David and got pregnant and then permitted David to have her husband killed. Also, she plotted to put Solomon on the throne after David's death. Though Bathsheba was an adulteress and an accessory to murder Matthew includes her too in the family tree of Jesus.
Finally, we have to consider Mary, the mother of Jesus. She got pregnant under suspicious circumstances. Yes, she was engaged to be married, but she and Joseph were not yet living together as husband and wife. In fact, it was known that Joseph was not the cause of her pregnancy.
B Suppose you have a cousin who is the president of Calvin Seminary or in Bill Clinton's cabinet. Chances are that you will proudly mention this on some occasion. But let's say your cousin is a convicted murderer. Chances are you would probably be kind of quiet about this.
Matthew, in contrast to us, is brutally honest about the family tree of Jesus. Under the leading of the Spirit he included five ladies of ill repute in the lineage of Jesus. These five women – like a lot of the men that are also listed – may be seen as a blot on the purity of the Messiah but the LORD is not embarrassed by their reputation. In fact, He was not ashamed to pose with them all for a picture that would be spread out on the first page of the New Testament.
Look at it this way: with these five ladies in His family tree we see Christ taking on sinful flesh. Or, as the Apostle Paul puts it,
(2 Cor 5:21) God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
In the five ladies Christ identifies with us in our sin and misery, our darkness and death so that we can identify with Him in His righteousness and life. In the five ladies Christ became one with fallen humanity so we can become one with Him in God.
I read about a grandfather who found his grandson jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his chubby little hands and said, "Out, Grandpa, out."
It was only natural for the grandfather to reach down to lift him out, but as he did the mother of the child stepped up and said, "No, Johnnie, you are being punished -- so you must stay in."
The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child's tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart. But the mother's firmness in correcting her son must not be taken lightly. Love, however, found a way. The grandfather could not take the grandson out of the playpen, so he climbed in with him.
My brothers and sisters, that is what Christ did with us at Christmas. In taking on sinful flesh He climbed in with us.
This coming week we are asked to prepare our hearts for the Lord's Supper. As we do so, let us remember that we are sinners, that Jesus took on our sinful flesh, that Jesus identifies with us in our sin and misery.
II Christ Came for Gentiles
A The four Old Testament ladies also remind Matthew's audience that Jesus came not just for Jews but for Gentiles too. To a greater or lesser extent the four Old Testament women represent the Gentile nations.
Consider the four women again. According to the pre-Christian Book of Jubilees (41:1) Tamar was an Aramean. We know that Rahab was a Canaanite. Ruth was a Moabite. And Bathsheba was identified as the wife of Uriah the Hittite. The four ladies show us that foreigners, Gentiles, are included in the genealogy of the Messiah.
B Here we get a picture of the inclusive ministry of Christ. No one is outside of the family of Christ simply because of race, nationality, or country. Red and yellow, black and white, all are included in the Gospel ministry, all have a place in His mission.
Here is the assurance that if foreign women can be included in Jesus' family, then you and I can be included too. Our past makes no difference to the Lord. Nor does the purity of our blood-line. He cares not if we grew up Dutch or Christian Reformed or Roman Catholic or white. Jesus' family tree shows us that there is room for every kind of person in His family.
When Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes moved to Washington, D.C., to take up his duties as chief justice, he transferred his membership to a church in the area. Now, it was the custom in that church for all new members to be called to the front of the sanctuary at the close of the worship service. The first to be called was Ah Sing, a Chinese laundryman who had moved to the capital from the West coast. He took his place at the far side of the church. As the dozen or so other people were called forward they stood at the opposite side of the church, leaving Ah Sing standing alone. But when Chief Justice Hughes was called, he took his place beside the Chinese laundryman.
Chief Justice Hughes put into practice what the family tree of Jesus shows us: that there is room for every kind of person in the family of God.
As we prepare for the Lord's Supper let us make sure that we believe in Jesus so that we also are part of His family tree.
III The Faithful Providence of God
A Lastly, the five ladies also remind Matthew's audience of God's faithful providence from age to age.
Look again at the five ladies: Tamar, a seducer, a pretend prostitute, an Aramean; Rahab, a prostitute, a Canaanite; Ruth, an accursed Moabite; Bathsheba, an adulteress, married to a Hittite; Mary, a single woman, and pregnant.
In these ladies we see God using the unexpected to advance His Kingdom and further His plan of salvation. God triumphed over human obstacles, human sin, and human lust to bring about the birth of the Messiah. God used prostitutes, scheming women, adulterers, and a virgin to bring Jesus into the world. God intervened in human history.
This means nothing can stop the Messiah's coming or coming again: not human might, not human sin, not human custom or rules. God does what He has to so that the Messiah appears.
B The genealogy of Jesus teaches us that the only way we can get from Tamar to Rahab to Ruth to Bathsheba to Mary to Jesus is because of God's providence. The birth of Jesus Christ from this suspicious blood-line is evidence of God's planning. When it comes right down to it, the genealogy is not a record of man's biological productivity, but a demonstration of God's providence. The genealogy of Jesus, we can say, reflects the faithful working out of God's plan of salvation in history.
Five ladies in Jesus' family tree. They show us, on this second Sunday of Advent, that Jesus came for sinners. They show us that Jesus came for Jews and Gentiles. They shows us the faithful providence of God.
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the Sunday Before Christmas (Genealogy of Jesus Christ)
Malankara World Christmas Supplement (additional Sermons, articles, devotionals, etc. on Christmas)
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