Advent Midweek 3 LSB #’s 358:1-4, 358:13, 433:1, 3-5, 358:8, 14
Text – Matthew 1:1
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
If you didn’t notice, the Gospel reading from Matthew 1 is a listing of Messiah’s family tree. Preaching from a list can be sermonic suicide, a certain sleeper. Professors tell students, “Avoid lists. Shun lists. Whatever you do, never, ever preach on lists!” But today, foregoing all conventional sermon wisdom, the text is a list.
I know. I know. Those 17 verses read much like a telephone book. And yes, people under the age of 20 have no idea what that is. Back in the dark ages, in BC times – BC stands for “Before Computer” – you’d actually have to look up someone’s phone number in a book! And that’s what Matthew 1:1–17 looks like, a big, fat, dull, dry telephone book!
“It’s true,” you lament, “This is going to be suicide by sermon, a certain sleeper! Wake me up Martha when it’s over! Why in the world would pastor choose to preach on a list?” I’ll tell you why. Matthew’s list tells us something very important about family life.
“Family Life” is the name of this Advent sermon series. We’ve been in Luke’s Gospel, learning about Zechariah, Elizabeth & John the Baptist. Today’s family truth comes from Matthew’s Gospel, & it is this – Lower your expectations. That’s it. Pretty simple, isn’t it? That’s the goal. Lower your family expectations.
Don’t get me wrong. You have cute children. Your husband can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Your wife can cook to the moon & back. Your teenagers are polite, good athletes, & solid citizens. But when it comes to family life it is time, high time, it’s past time, to what? To lower your expectations.
What do I mean? All too often, we expect children, spouses, in-laws, cousins, aunts, &
uncles – to be perfect. And when they don’t measure up to our standards, we let them have it. “After what you just did, I can’t believe you’re my son!” “You’ll never get it right! Will you?” “Do I have to show you everything?” And then the final nail in the coffin, “You’re not the person I thought I married!”
In the midst of all this trauma & turmoil Matthew’s genealogy says, “Lower your family expectations.” How does the Apostle do it? He does it with a list! Let’s look at this list of the family members of the Chosen One.
Tamar dressed like a woman of the night. She is 1st mentioned in Genesis 38:6, “Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, & her name was Tamar.” Er died, so Judah gives Tamar to another son named Onan. Onan died, so upon the birth of another son, Shelah, Judah instructs Tamar to wait until Shelah grows up. At that time Shelah will become her husband.
Are you kidding me? Judah is asking Tamar to wait 20 years to get married again! This leads to one of the shortest business transactions in the Bible. Tamar dresses up like a woman of the night. Not knowing she is Tamar, Judah propositions her. She asks for payment. Judah promises a young goat. They sleep together. Tamar conceives. They both go their own way.
And this Tamar is in the family tree of Jesus! But hold on to your hat, because Rahab (also in Christ’s family) was a Canaanite & a woman of the night. (Joshua 2:1) A woman of the night & a dreaded Canaanite. We all know from the children’s song, “I Just Wanna Be a Sheep,” that Canaanites do what? They raise Cain, at night!
And, horror of horrors, Matthew includes another person on his list, Ruth – & Ruth was a Moabite. That’s a title she receives six times in the book of Ruth! Ruth once worshiped Chemosh! It was bad enough that Canaanites worshiped the detestable gods called Baal & Asherah, but Moabites paid homage to a violent god named Chemosh who demanded child sacrifice. And it keeps getting worse. Next in line comes Bathsheba who was an adulteress. This is so unsettling that Matthew can’t even bring himself to write her name “Bathsheba.” In Matthew 1:6 he simply calls her “the wife of Uriah.” You know the story.
It was springtime & King David, instead of going off to war, takes a walk on the palace roof. He sees a beautiful woman bathing &, in staccato-like fashion, finds out her name, sends for her, takes her in, & the two sleep together. Sometime later Bathsheba sends a two-word message to the king in 2 Samuel 11:5: “I’m pregnant.”
David orders her husband Uriah to return from the battle. Little does Uriah know that his refusal to sleep with Bathsheba, out of a sense of honor, becomes his sentence of death, because after that David orders his general named Joab to make sure Uriah is killed in battle.
Tamar dresses up like a woman of the night. Rahab is a woman of the night, & a Canaanite. Ruth is a Moabite, while Bathsheba not only bathes openly, but later is instrumental in the death of one of David’s sons – named Adonijah. That’s quite a list of family members!
But there’s more. Looking at some of the men on Matthew’s list, are they any better? Hardly! Solomon broke every commandment in the book. He had 700 wives & 300 mistresses (1 Kgs 11:3). Solomon worshiped a multitude of foreign gods while enslaving people to build his palace & God’s temple.
Solomon’s son Rehoboam divided the kingdom – the north from the south. Then there was Manasseh who filled Jerusalem with blood; 2 Kings 21:16 says that Manasseh “shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end.”
The purpose of a biblical genealogy is to give solemn honor to the final descendant – in Matthew’s case, Jesus. Why, then, doesn’t Matthew invoke the names of Israel’s three lovely matriarchs—Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel? And why doesn’t Matthew work around names like Solomon, Rehoboam, & Manasseh? It’s not with glitter & Hollywood glitz that Matthew introduces us to Christ’s family. There are no fireworks or fine pedigrees. There is rather a bunch of ramshackle relatives!
What do you do with your ramshackle relatives? Let ‘em have it, right? Hold a grudge. Stay bitter. Walk around with a chip on your shoulder. Maybe that’s us, but it is not Jesus. “She will bear a son, & you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) That’s what “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.”
And who are His people that He saves His people? Tamar, who deceived Judah – Rahab, who sold herself to men – Ruth, who grew up worshiping a violent & murderous god – Bathsheba, who left Uriah for David – Solomon, who began so well only to finish so bad – Rehoboam, who ripped a nation in two – & then there was Manasseh. Enough said!
The point of it all? Lower your expectations! Take your list of unrealistic family expectations & tear it up. Let go of your impossible demands, your absurd assumptions, your ungodly ultimatums. And replace them with what? Replace them with forgiveness; the forgiveness Jesus won for you. How did He do that?
Jesus not only chooses ramshackle relatives. Jesus chooses fishermen instead of Pharisees, sinners instead of Sadducees, harlots instead of Herodians. Climactically, Jesus chooses thorns for His crown instead of silver & gold, spit & blood instead of sweetness & light. His choices lead to torment & torture, darkness & death.
All this led to the greatest shock of all, “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, He is risen, as He said.” (Matthew 28:5-6 ESV) Jesus is life overriding death & making all things new – even you.
For many Matthew 1:1–17 reads like a telephone book containing names no one cares
about today. For others it’s sermonic suicide, a certain sleeper. But to those of us who know what it’s like to expect perfection in our families, Matthew’s list means letting go of false hopes & unrealistic expectations. It means replacing them with forgiveness, a clean slate, & a new beginning. It can mean accepting humiliation as Jesus did, which leads to life.
That’s why Matthew’s list means, why for all of our families Matthew’s list means, everything! And Jesus has guaranteed that there is still room on the list for you. Amen.
Glory be to Jesus, who in bitter pains poured for me His lifeblood from His sacred veins! Blest through endless ages be the precious stream which from endless torment did the world redeem! Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies; but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries. Amen. LSB 433:1, 3-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet