Dear Radio Friends,
Today I would like to consider with you Matthew 1:1-17. If you look it up, you will probably find that it is a part of the Bible that you remember as something that you have glanced over but waited until you got to verse 18 of the chapter where you thought the good part was. The first seventeen verses of the Gospel According to Matthew list the genealogies of Jesus Christ. It contains many hard names to pronounce. Perhaps we concluded that it is relatively unimportant and insignificant for us.
But that is not so. Nothing in the Bible is unimportant. In that genealogy in those first seventeen verses of Matthew one, we have a wonderful explanation of the grace of God in the giving of His Son, Jesus Christ.
A few things I would like to point out to you about that genealogy. First of all, Matthew in these verses is tracing the origin of the human nature of our Lord. He is intent, especially, to show us that Jesus descended from Abraham and is a direct descendant of David. If you want to know Jesus’ origin, as far as His divine nature is concerned, you must read the Gospel According to John (chapter 1): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (vv. 1, 3). Our Lord is both a real man and fully God in the wonder of the incarnation, in the womb of the virgin Mary. As far as His divine nature is concerned, the fact that He is God of God, if you wish to trace that out and find its origin, then John says, “In the beginning, He was with God.” As the divine Son of God Jesus was not created. He is eternal and He is equal with God, yet a distinct person within the Godhead. He is the eternal Son of the blessed God. He is the creator who upholds all things by His own power. He is “God blessed for ever” (Rom. 9:5).
But if you say, “Trace the roots of His human nature, for Jesus took upon Himself our flesh and blood,” then the Bible takes us to Matthew 1 and says, “Jesus, according to the flesh, is the descendant of David and of Abraham.”
The second thing I want to point out in these first verses of Matthew 1 is that Matthew, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, is selective in his genealogy. I say “selective” first of all because he begins with Abraham. Now, if you look up Luke 3, you will also find the genealogy of Jesus, through His mother Mary. Luke begins with Mary and goes all the way back to Adam. Matthew begins with Abraham. Then he is selective. He puts the genealogy into three groups of fourteen. We read in verse 17, “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.” Why? Matthew is led by the Holy Spirit to make it very simple and very easy to remember. He says, “Now the genealogies of Jesus, if we begin with Abraham, are roughly, Abraham to David, fourteen generations; David to the captivity in Babylon, fourteen generations; the captivity in Babylon to Joseph, fourteen generations.” And he does that because it is his intention to focus on this fact: that Jesus Christ descends from Abraham and David, the two outstanding men in the Old Testament to whom the promise was made that the Messiah would come of their seed and generation. If you had to pick out two in the Old Testament to whom God made promise: “Christ will come out of your descendants,” then you must first pick Abraham. For we read in Galatians 3:16, “Now to Abraham … were the promises made.” Then you must pick out David, for we read in II Samuel 7, “I will set up thy seed after thee, … and I will establish his kingdom.” So if you were to ask the Jews of the Lord’s day: “The Messiah, the promised one, whose son will he be?” They would answer, “Well, He is David’s great son. And He is Abraham’s seed.”
When we look now more closely at His ancestry, what do we see? We see awful lowliness and sin. We see that Jesus Christ came out of those and for those who were undeserving and vile and wretched sinners of themselves. We see the corruptness of our own sinful nature for which He came to save. We think of that glorious statement of the apostle to Timothy, “This is a faithful saying: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.” Now, if ever that saying becomes vague in your mind, as to what kind of sinners Jesus came to save, and if ever the word “sinner” becomes generic to you, if you begin to think of a sinner as some kind of confused, mixed-up, muddle-headed person who makes bad choices, then you should read Matthew 1:1-17 and meditate on the list of names you are given. It will purge you of all the niceness that you like to think about in sin, and it will show you how vile and wicked we are as sinners. If this were your family tree, you would hide it. You would not leave it out on the desk for people to read. You would disown it. The shame would be awful for you.
Look at the list. We read that Judah begat Phares and Zara of Thamar. That goes back to Genesis 38, a chapter of the Bible that we sometimes even wonder if we should read it out loud to our children. Yes, you should, because it is in the Bible. We read there of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, to whom the promised seed was to come, for Christ sprang out of Judah. We read of the fact that Judah, the man, went out to find a harlot and was deceived by his daughter-in-law Tamar. When she becomes pregnant, and he finds out that she is pregnant, he decides that she has to be killed – until she shows to him that he is the father.
We read further that in His line there is Rahab the harlot and Ruth the Moabitess. We read that in His line there is David the king who begat Solomon of her who had been the wife of Uriah. That is, remember, David himself murdered a man to cover up his sin, and then took the murdered man’s wife with whom he had committed adultery (Bathsheba).
Then we read that in His line there was Manasses, who sacrificed his own son upon the flames of the idol Moloch. It could hardly have been worse. His ancestors committed horrible sin.
Why does the Bible tells us this? Why not cover it up? After all, we are in the Christmas season. Can we not have more positive themes of this Babe who has come to reaffirm the dignity and the worth of mankind and the presence of God? Can we not have it that way? Well, if you want it that way, you are making your own gospel. You are making your own “feel-goodism” religion. But you do not have the religion that saves. For the religion that saves is about sinners – the reality of who you are, and you are a despicable sinner in the sight of God. God has so loved us that He gave His Son for such sinners. Why does the Bible tell us about all of these things in the ancestry of the Lord? Because, you see, you must be humbled. If you are not humbled, you cannot understand what God’s grace has done in the giving of His Son.
Look at how we have defiled ourselves. If salvation in any way were dependent upon our merit, we would sink to the bottom of hell. Do you know that? Does it make you ashamed and does it make you blush and does it break your heart? Then, are you filled with joy unspeakable when you see Christ in Bethlehem? God gave His Son for sinners!
If you excuse yourself from the list of those who are found in Matthew 1, and if the Word of God concerning the awful wrongness of sin in you does not cast you down in tears, then the Word of God to you, right now, is: “Repent!”
But this genealogy shows us more. We see in the genealogy the marvelous preservation of God, the marvelous power of God to save. As this genealogy proves that we did not deserve the Savior and that we could not bring Him, it also proves that there is no power able to prevent God from sending His Son. The continuation of the promise that God had given in the Old Testament that He would send His Son seems so often to have hung on a thread. If we would compare it to a flame, we would think it almost went out, that if it could not be protected it would be lost. From every conceivable point of view it seemed that the consummation of the line of Christ in the bringing forth of the Savior could not take place. Not only the sin of His people threatened it, but the world and the devil repeatedly tried to cut it off. But it was God who preserved. It was one of the most beautiful acts of God throughout the Old Testament time, four thousand years, preserving His promise. It was a wonderful work of love, of wisdom, faithfulness, and power. It was a demonstration of God before which we marvel. God brought His Son as He said He would – even though all the forces of hell and sin and all of the sin of His own people opposed it. But it happened. He came because nothing can prevent God from keeping His promise.
The line goes through the time when Israel was in Egypt. There is the attempt of Pharaoh to drown the baby boys in the Nile River. Later on there will be a wicked queen Athaliah, who tries to kill all the royal seed of the house of David. Then there is Nebuchadnezzar. Time after time, always throughout Old Testament history, constantly this line of the promise was under attack by the sinful world and by the devil. And constantly it was forfeited by the sins of God’s own people.
But God preserved it. Why? Because the promise lay deep down in His heart. And He kept it. That is the way it is. Get it straight. Give glory to God, not to yourself. That we are in Jesus Christ and continue with Him is due only to the faithfulness of the mighty God. Our foolish squandering, forfeiting,departing, and forgetting – and God’s preserving of His promise out of unimaginable faithfulness and love.
Men prattle about salvation as a joint effort. Men boast themselves of their own faithfulness, that God’s cause could not be accomplished without their moral fortitude and their contribution. Oh, no! The reality is this: For of Him are ye in Christ Jesus (I Cor. 1:30). Of God are you in Christ Jesus. Again, “Unless the Lord had left us a remnant, we should have been as Sodom and Gomorrah.” Where would you be today if the Lord did not keep you?
But, you see, the wonderful comfort is that God is faithful. He cannot deny Himself. That is our joy. That is our salvation. You see, the truth is that we do not take our sins seriously enough until we see what it is. When we see what it is, we lose all trust in ourselves. But that is OK. Do not trust yourself! But let all your boasting be in the Lord. And rejoice that you are kept by the power of God through faith, ready to be revealed in the last day (I Pet. 1).
There is one more thing that I find in this genealogy, if I may mention it briefly. That is the wonderful compassion of Jesus Christ. Is there anything that can compare to this – that He would stoop so low, that He would be numbered with the transgressors? I say again, read the list of ancestors and begin to imagine a little bit the type they showed themselves to be. If these were your ancestors, you would not be very happy. Your ancestors reflect upon you. The reflection here is terrible. The sinless Son of God identified Himself with sinners. He to whom nothing could be added, He who had no lack, in compassion and in pity assumed our sins. Our sins are as dark as anything in that list of men recorded in Matthew 1. Our record before God reads the same as theirs. But we can say, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” Jesus Christ was not ashamed to be born of a woman whose ancestors contained such names as we read in Matthew 1. He was not ashamed to come in our stead so as to deliver us from all of our shame. He clothed Himself with our disrepute and our filth that we might be clothed in His righteousness and holiness.
Only the mercy of God can explain this. Only the mercy of God.
When you read Matthew 1:1-17, I want you to notice especially verse 16, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” It does not say there (here is the one exception), that Joseph begat Jesus. No. Joseph became the husband of Mary. But he did not beget Jesus. Oh, Jesus was born of Mary, all right. But not through Joseph. Jesus was born by the marvelous work of the Holy Spirit upon the womb of the virgin Mary. God impregnated Mary so that the child born was indeed of the seed of Abraham in the flesh, and the seed of David according to the flesh. But the child was not given life by man. The child was holy and undefiled and separate from sinners. Out of the foul stream of human nature God brought forth His holy Son to redeem us in the way of His obedience and His bearing the penalty for all our sins. He, in His holiness, covers in the sight of God all our sins in which we were conceived and brought forth.
So don’t omit the reading of the genealogy in Matthew 1. Read it and weep over your sins and shame. Read it and sing over God’s amazing faithfulness and preservation. And then, when you have finished reading, bow in prayer before the God of grace and praise Him for your Savior, who did not refuse to be born of Mary, and who identified Himself as one who had come to save sinners of whom I am the chief.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy precious Word. Bind it to our hearts. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.