Sunday, January 5, 2014

Airing Out the Family Laundry

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Wednesday, January 1, 2013:  Matthew 1:1-2:25

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.  Matthew 1:17 (NKJV)

Starting with a GENEALOGY

The first page of any novel, of any book is one of the most important.  Gotta get their attention quick and hold it.  Movies are that way.  The title is carefully selected to hook you.  Then the first few minutes are so important.

How many times have you begun a magazine article (or a blog -- ha ha!), and tuned out after the first few lines if it doesn't grab you?  Frankly, I do it!  We are a society of scanners.

That's why the beginning of the New Testament (the most important book ever written) is so surprising.  It's a genealogy for goodness sake!  Most of the time, we skip this stuff.  Ugh!

But there is more there than we realize.  There are three striking aspects of the family tree of Jesus listed in the first chapter of Matthew.  It is amazing how candidly the rough places are aired out -- the sensitive areas are faced straight up.

1.  A Statement about GENDER

One of the intriguing and unusual aspects of Matthew's list is the inclusion of women.  Since inheritance always passed through men, women just don't show up in Jewish genealogies.  Yet here we have Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba named.  Four women, all of whom incidentally have some sort of blemish or question mark attached to them.  Why are they inserted?

This is ground breaking.  It points to the effect of the Gospel to elevate and honor women as joint-heirs of the Kingdom of God.  This may sound "old hat" in our present democratized social climate.  But it certainly wasn't a "given" in the time of Matthew.  Women have a unique and irreplaceable place in the advance of the Kingdom of God.

2.  Salvation to the GENTILES

Another unusual detail is the inclusion of Gentiles in a Jewish family tree.  Two of the women, Rahab and Ruth, were a Canaanite and a Moabite respectively.  Add to this that Bathsheba's true husband, Uriah, was a Hittite.

Why would Matthew make sure these "outsiders" were identified as ancestors of Jesus?  Wouldn't that taint the pure bloodline?  The simple but profound message is that Jesus doesn't belong to the Jews.  While Israel is the origin of the Gospel, yet Israel does not CONTAIN the Gospel.  Jesus came for the nations!

3.  Scandal sets up GRACE

There is little doubt the original Jews who read Matthew's genealogy were shocked.  It had UNCLEAN written all over it.

The lineage includes some great people.  Abraham, David, Hezekiah -- to name a few.  But it also includes some sordid episodes.  You find murder, adultery, a prostitute, and a daughter-in-law who posed as a prostitute in order to commit incest.

How would you like for the dirty laundry of your family history to be aired out for the world to see?  Joseph was minded to put Mary away secretly so that she would not become a public example of scandal (Matt. 1:19).  We all tend to do the same.  We whisper and hide the antics of family members we want to protect from public condemnation.  Matthew's genealogy does not flinch from complete candor.

The message is clear.  No matter who you are or what you've done; no matter where you are from or what has happened -- there is room in the family for you.  The blackness of scandal only sets up the brilliance of God's grace.

One Who Would Know

A closing note.  Matthew compiled this list.  It is not a complete lineage.  Several generations are left out.  Is is organized to make a point -- a point about redemption and restoration.

Matthew writes from his own experience of the grace of God.  He was a tax collector, a Roman curialis, prior to folowing Jesus.  These were Jews who sold out to Rome to gather taxes.  They ruthlessly raped their own people with extortion and thievery.  Yet they could not be accepted into Roman society.  They were outcasts in every way.  Thus was produced what Thomas Cahill calls "a caste as hopeless as any in history."

Yet Matthew met Jesus.  He was introduced into the family.  He was transformed -- and you can be too.  He went from crook to Christian.  What has Jesus done for you?  What CAN He do for you?

It's Matthew's message.  It's Jesus' message.  It is Good News.

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