Abijah was a positive and righteous leader.
Asa was, as well, for most of his 41 years on the throne, though his life ended in rebellion against the Lord (2 Chronicles 16:10-14).
Jehoshaphat led his people to miraculous victory over their enemies through passionate prayer (2 Chronicles 20:1-30). So far so good.
But the bad soon follows.
Jehoram put all his brothers to death when he ascended the throne, was rebuked by the prophet Elijah, and lost the treasures of his palace and even some of his own sons and daughters to the Philistines. We cannot count on our father’s faith, but must make it our own.
Uzziah was one of Judah’s great military and spiritual leaders, until his pride led to his downfall. He took for himself the priestly privilege of burning incense before the Lord, for which he was punished with fatal leprosy. It’s not how we start but how we end that counts.
Jotham was generally successful, known for building programs during his rule.
Ahaz was not. He led the people into idolatry and even child sacrifice, as one of the most wicked rulers in Jewish history.
Now the pendulum swings even more wildly from generation to generation.
Next came Hezekiah, one of the greatest rulers in all of Jesus’ family line. He brought sweeping reform to the nation, abolished idolatry, and saved Judah from Assyrian assault.
His son was Manasseh, whose reign was longest of any king in Judah’s history but also the most wicked. The nation’s destruction was ultimately his fault.
His son Amon was killed in a palace revolt.
Josiah turned the nation back to God, as one of the greatest leaders in biblical history. He rediscovered the Book of Deuteronomy, and used it to make sweeping spiritual reforms. Tragically, he died in battle at the age of 39. And the rest of the story is equally tragic.
Jeconiah ruled only three months until the king of Egypt deposed him. Then his brother Jehoiakim took the throne, until the Babylonians deposed him and destroyed their nation in 586 B.C.
From the nation’s greatest heights under David and Solomon to their lowest subjection, in 14 names. How quickly history can change. But Jesus chose them all, godly and wicked, for his family tree. Why?
From Babylon to the Christ
Most of the names which complete the list are completely unknown to us.
Shealtiel means “I have asked of God.”
Zerubbabel was governor of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. He and Joshua the high priest rebuilt the altar and laid the foundation for the Temple.
The next names are given to us in triplet.
Abiud means “my father is glorious;” Eliakim means “God will raise up;” Azor’s name possesses no theologican meaning so far as we know.
Zadok means “righteousness; “Akim’s name has no significant meaning; Eliud means “God is high and mighty.”
Eleazar means “God helps;” Matthan and Jacob are otherwise unknown in Scripture.
For nine generations, the Messiah’s chosen family possessed no leaders remarkable enough to earn biblical citation. They may have been rulers of the nation, or not. They may have been as godly as Josiah or as profane as Manasseh. Only God knows. But God knows. Why are such unknown people here?
Every name in the list is included because Jesus wants everyone to come to his birthday party. He understandably invited people of unblemished moral record such as Boaz and Josiah. But he also invited tragically flawed figures like Judah, Ahaz, and Manasseh. Why? Because God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Some of us don’t think we’re worthy to be invited to the party.
We know our sins and failures. Some are secret, and some are not. Every family has a story, as does every person you know. I have had conversations this week which would prove that fact to us all, if I were to make them public. You probably have as well.
What private sins are you glad no one knows? What secrets are locked away in the closet of your soul? Ahaz and Manasseh prove that none of our stories are bad enough to keep us out of God’s story. We can all know him, and know that we know him. We are each welcome at his birthday party.
Others of us think we are worthy to be invited. We don’t have a story as bad as some of these we’ve heard today. But your last sin was enough to keep you out of God’s perfect paradise. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). If God were fair, none of us could come to the party. It is only by his grace that any of us are invited. And it is by his grace that all of us are invited. We can all know him, and know that we know him. None are worthy, but all are welcome.
How grateful are you for Christmas this year? Is the pressure and busyness of the season getting to you? For some of us it’s a very hard time of the year. The 25th anniversary of my father’s death is this week. For many of us this is a difficult season. For all of us it is a busy season. Have you found the joy of Christmas yet? Here’s how you can.
Since I knew all week that I would be teaching on this subject, I have tried to spend the week in gratitude. I have focused on the fact that the baby came just for me, to bring God’s forgiving love into my hardened world and my stress-filled heart.
I have prayed and read Scripture each morning, not to fulfill a religious duty but as a privilege, realizing that I am standing in the throne room of heaven itself by grace. I have done my work this week as a beggar helping other beggars find bread. I have prepared this message in gratitude for the honor of speaking God’s word to you today. And as I have spent this week in gratitude for the grace of Christmas, I have rediscovered a depth of joy which had gone missing in my hurried, busy life.