The Secret to Christmas Joy
Dr. Jim Denison
Christmas started me on the road to moral ruin. In first grade, our class was melting crayons into drawings of the Wise Men. I finished early and asked the teacher if I could do whatever I wanted. She said yes, so I melted a crayon into her hair. She quit teaching that year. Thus began a life of elementary school crime.
My second-grade teacher broke her paddle on my backside, and quit that year. My third-grade teacher suffered a nervous breakdown and quit. In the fourth grade I locked a girl in the coat closet during lunch; another day I knocked eraser dust into the window air conditioner, spraying the entire classroom. That teacher quit that year.
In the fifth grade I learned to make stink-bombs out of plastic pens (I’ll not share the secret, so others won’t follow my immoral example), but that teacher stayed on the job anyway. My sixth grade teacher quit that year. Perhaps there’s a pattern in the story. My long-suffering mother knew my teachers better than I did. I received Christmas presents each year only by grace.
Today we’ll look at those Jesus invited to his birthday. We’ll learn that we’re each invited by grace, no matter what our elementary school teachers thought of us. And we’ll learn why that fact matters so very much in this, the Advent week of joy.
From Abraham to David
Verse 1: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Why did Matthew begin in such a boring way? Because this subject was absolutely crucial to his purpose. He is writing to convince the Jews that Jesus is their Messiah. But the Messiah must come from the racial line of Abraham and the royal line of David, much as a candidate for President of the United States must be a natural-born citizen of our country. If Matthew cannot demonstrate these twin facts about Jesus, his work is done before it begins. His genealogy back to Abraham and David proves the case for Jesus’ Messiahship.
Now, remember that Jesus was the only baby who chose his ancestors. And he chose these 38 people. Let’s learn something about them, and ask why they’re here.
Jesus chose Isaac rather than Ishmael, though his mother was 90 years of age when he was born. Jesus’ own birth was not the first miraculous conception in his family line.
He chose Jacob (which means “deceiver”) rather than Esau, though the former lived up to his name most of his life. He would not be the last deceiver included by Jesus in his disciples and family.
He chose Judah rather than another of Jacob’s 12 sons. He could have chosen the godly Joseph, for instance. Any of the others were men of greater integrity than Judah.
Here’s how we know: “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar” (v. 3a). Tamar was married to Judah’s first son, but he died; then to his second son, but he died as well. Judah refused to give her his third son, so she pretended to be a prostitute, slept with her father-in-law, and bore him Perez and Zerah. Jesus chose a family line which included the worst kind of immorality. But Judah was not the last person of questionable character to be included in his family.
God redeemed Judah’s sin in amazing ways.
Despite his incestuous beginnings, Perez was blessed greatly by God (cf. Ruth 4:12). His descendants would become military heroes and political leaders (1 Chronicles 27:2-3; Nehemiah 11:6; 1 Esdras 5:5 [Apocrypha]). God can always hit straight licks with crooked sticks.
Hezron was the ancestor of two of the greatest clans in Judah (1 Chronicles 2:18-24, 25-33).
Ram was not Hezron’s first son, but his second (1 Chronicles 2:9). We don’t know why God chose him specifically, though his name means “exalted.” The Lord has plans for us which only he knows.
Amminadab was the father-in-law of Aaron, the first high priest. And so Jesus is descended from the priestly line, as well as the royal.
Nahshon was one of the most prominent leaders in Jewish history, known as the “leader of the people of Judah” (1 Chronicles 2:10).
His son Salmon, on the other hand, married the pagan prostitute Rahab. Straight licks with crooked sticks, indeed. And with remarkable results.
Their son Boaz was one of the most honored people in Jewish history. And one of the most famous, for his romance and marriage to Ruth, the Moabite foreigner. No one would have included her in their family but God.
Their son was Obed, which probably means “worshipper.” His son was Jesse, a resident of Bethlehem and father of eight boys. The last would become the greatest king in Jewish history.
Jesus chose some of the holiest people in Hebrew history for his ancestors, but also some of the most corrupt. Why?
From David to Babylon
The moral disease in his family tree is most evident in what comes next: David’s son was Solomon, “whose mother had been Uriah’s wife” (v. 6b).
The story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba was so loathsome that Matthew could not bring himself to call her by name, but he made sure we know that she was Uriah’s wife before she was the king’s.
But as another example of God’s redemptive ability, their son Solomon became the wisest man of all time (1 Kings 3:12). Tragically, he was not the most moral. His 700 wives and 300 concubines led him into paganism and immorality. The result was a downward slide into captivity and near oblivion for the people of God.
Now the list bounces back and forth from morality to immorality, as the nation catapults into captivity.
Rehoboam refused the wisdom of his elders; his egotism split the nation permanently into the 10 northern tribes (“Israel”) and the two southern tribes (“Judah”). Jesus’ genealogy follows the southern kings from this point forward.