(This also appeared in the Faith column of the Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, KY on December 23, 2016)
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,
Abihud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Elihud,
Elihud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-17, NIV).
Why in the world would I eat up all this space in today’s faith column to repeat a passage of scripture that is hard to read and commonly skipped over? Matthew 1:1-17 is the genealogy of Jesus. It is a list of ancestors that describes his lineage. There are many such so-called “begats” (so-and-so begat so-and-so, as the King James Version would say it) in the Bible: long, boring, unpronounceable lists of people. We typically don’t hear them read in church and almost never hear sermons preached on these passages. In fact, when we read (or skim over) this list from the beginning of Matthew we come to the last verse and assume that we get the point: Jesus is the Jewish messiah, descended from Abraham and King David.
Well, I think there is more for us to discover here. I’ve already taken up a lot of space, so I’ll be brief. For Christians, the birth of the messiah on that first Christmas means that God has taken the initiative to save his people from sin and death. This is good news and it gives us hope. With Jesus, God has come into the world in a special way. But that’s not all. God did not choose to make his entrance through lightning and thunder as he descended from the heavens. God chose to come as an infant, just as all of us are born into the world. But God did not choose the role of an emperor, in the palace of a king; he made his way into a very ordinary family, the son of an unwed teenager and her carpenter fiancé, all of whom would soon become refugees in Egypt fleeing violence in the Middle East.
But that’s not all.
When you look closely at the genealogy, when you examine the lineage that God chose to be the ancestors of the messiah, you will notice some unusual things. Number one, Matthew lists women, four of them (besides Mary) to be exact. Women were never listed in genealogies. Number two, those women weren’t just anybody. First is Tamar. Go read Genesis 38. Tamar is a scandalized woman, almost stoned to death by her father-in-law and baby’s daddy. Sounds like a soap opera, right? Go read it. Scandalous. Next is Rahab, a prostitute from the Book of Joshua. Jesus’ great(x29)-grandmother was a prostitute? Scandalous. Then there is Ruth, a foreign-born Moabite (see Book of Ruth). And finally Bathsheba. Do you remember Bathsheba? Well, if you have forgotten the scandal with King David that she was caught up in, Matthew reminds us. In fact, he doesn’t even list her name; he calls her “Uriah’s wife.” You know why? So that we remember that David has her first husband killed so he wouldn’t find out that she had become pregnant through adultery with the king! Scandalous!
Ok, I’m out of space. So what is the point? Here’s the point. God loves the world so much that he comes into it in a special way to save all of us from our sins. And he chooses ordinary people like us to accomplish this work. He picks people like us. And when I say, “people like us,” I don’t mean the perfect people with perfect records among us. He picks the imperfect people, to show us that there is nothing in our pasts, nothing too shameful that can prevent God from using us to do great things. That love is amazing, and that grace, that forgiveness is unfathomable. In fact, I would say it’s scandalous!