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Lessons from the Past

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| Lessons From the Past
Jesus came to save all people who will call on his name. \

References:  Matthew 1:1-17

When I took my first preaching class in college, our professor told us that our final exam would be to write a sermon during class on a passage of Scripture that he would reveal the day of the exam. We tried to get him to give us a hint, but he wouldn't. He just said, "Don't worry, it is a text with plenty of sermon possibilities."

I said, "It will probably be Matthew 1:1-17." This was a joke, because the first part of Matthew is a genealogy— a list of who begat who.

The professor looked at me and said, "May, if you were half a preacher you could find a sermon in any text—even in the genealogies."

Whether or not I'm half a preacher is a topic for another day, but I did discover somewhere along the way that there is a great message in Matthew 1:1-17—even though it is "only" a genealogy.

Today we'll discuss this chapter a little further. We're starting a new series on the book of Matthew. It is called "Jesus the Messiah." This will be a long series, because we'll be taking a close look at all 28 chapters of this Gospel. The focus of the series will be: What significance does this first-century Jewish rabbi have in our lives today? He claimed to be the Messiah; how does it affect our lives? How does it affect our relationship with God? That's what we'll be looking at in the Gospel of Matthew. Today, it's the genealogy of Jesus.

At first glance, this passage of Scripture seems to be nothing more than a list of names. But when we take a closer look at the names on this list, we see that there are three important lessons to be learned here.

1. Jesus is the Messiah for all people.

There are some names included in this list that you wouldn't expect to see in a typical Jewish genealogy. In ancient times, it was common for biographies to begin with a genealogy, because a person's genealogy was his "claim to fame," so to speak, his credentials. Matthew's genealogy of Jesus serves that purpose, because it traces Jesus' bloodline back to King David, showing that Jesus did have a claim to the throne of Israel. But this list of ancestors includes some names you wouldn't expect to see. Specifically, it includes Gentiles and women. And some of them are, speaking euphemistically, women with a past. The list includes Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho; Tamar, who dressed as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law; and Ruth, who was a Godly woman, but she was a Moabite—and the Moabites were a despised race among the Jews.

As you probably already know, first century Jewish society was an exclusive, patriarchal culture. Women were second-class citizens, and so were Gentiles. Jewish men used to pray: "Lord, I thank you that I was not born a woman, or a Gentile." Typically, a Jewish genealogy would be traced through the male bloodline alone.

So the question is, "Why would Matthew include others in the genealogy of Jesus?" He did it because he wanted to underline a simple truth: Jesus is the Messiah for all people; in his kingdom, he treats all people as equals—Jews and Gentiles, men and women.

Do you remember the automobile advertising campaign that said, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile"? That's what Matthew is saying: This is not your father's Judaism. What has worked in the past will not work in the future, because God is establishing a new covenant with all people. And in this new kingdom there will be no second-class citizens.

This is what Paul was referring to when he said,

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Then Paul went on to say,

But if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)

It wasn't that God was canceling the promise he made to the Jewish people in the Old Testament. He extended his promise to include all people. In the book of Romans, Paul said...

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the Jewish ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not a cutting of the body but a change of heart produced by God's spirit. (Romans 2:28-29)

Matthew included these names in the Christ's genealogy to remind us that in God's eyes we are all on level ground. He doesn't prefer one race over the other; he doesn't prefer one gender over the other; and he doesn't prefer one social class over the other. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

There's no room in the kingdom of God for racism, or sexism, or ageism, or ...what's the word for it? (I got that from George W.; if we don't know a word we just make one up.)

There's no room for any kind of discrimination in the church. Especially this church—because this is the church where you and I can have an impact. Our goal should be to build a church that defies demographic description. We don't want people to be able to say, "That's just a church of rich people. If you don't have money, you don't belong there," or, "That's just a church for white people," or, "That's just a church for families; if you're not married you don't fit in." This church is for anyone, regardless of age, color, marital status, social status, or anything else.

Not too long ago the pastor of a new church told me, "We're going to be a yuppie church."

I said, "That's interesting. Do you have a time machine? You can correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't yuppies pretty much an 80's phenomenon?" I think they may have been missing the point.

This same church did a direct mail campaign in which they intentionally targeted the white, affluent neighborhoods in their community. The black neighborhoods, the integrated neighborhoods, and the poor neighborhoods didn't get a mailing. And the most amazing thing is that the brochure they sent out contained the line, "We accept you just the way you are."

Jesus is the Messiah for all people. And the doors of his church—this church—are open for all people, even the Moabites. This is such a fundamental concept of Christianity, you can find it in the begats. The second thing I want you to notice is...

2. God's mercy is greater than your sin.

This genealogy traces Jesus' bloodline back to King David (to assert Jesus' right to his throne), and then the rest of the way back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. Behind the names in this list are some incredible stories. Some of the people in this list committed sins that you just wouldn't expect ancestors of the Messiah to commit—sins that you would think would have ruined their lives, and destroyed their opportunity for God to use them again. Instead, their lives tell the story of God's mercy.

I mentioned Rahab earlier. She was a prostitute in Jericho. Joshua (who, as you know, fought the battle of Jericho) had sent spies into the city in order to help him prepare for the upcoming battle. The spies stayed at Rahab's house. This may sound a little suspicious—that they would choose to stay with a prostitute—but, in the spies' defense, it should be noted that in those days brothels were often hotels, too.

The king of Jericho heard that there were spies staying with Rahab, and he sent troops to the house to drag them out. But Rahab hid them, and later helped them escape. She said to them,

"I know the Lord has given you this land...for the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you." (Joshua 2:9-12)

The spies agreed and kept their promise.

The 11th chapter of Hebrews is often called "The Hall of Faith" because it contains a list of the great people of faith in the Old Testament. Rahab, the prostitute, made that list. When the Israelites attacked Jericho, Rahab and her father, mother, brothers and sisters, were all saved. She later married a man named Salmon. They gave birth to a child named Boaz. Boaz was one of Jesus' ancestors. At one time Rahab may have been a prostitute, but she became a follower of God, and her heirs gave birth to kings, including the King of Kings.

Most of you are also familiar King David, who committed adultery with Bethsheba, whose name also appears on this list. After their affair, David had Bethsheba's husband killed and he took her as his wife. But David was a man with a heart for God, and he eventually repented of his sin and sought God's forgiveness. God's mercy was greater than David's sin; he forgave him and restored him. David and Bethsheba gave birth to Solomon—King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. Solomon was an ancestor of Jesus.

When we look at the lives of these people, we discover a foundational truth: God's mercy is greater than any sin.

You may be tempted to think the sins you have committed in your life have ruined it for you, and have ruined it for others. But that's not true. God's mercy is greater than your sin.

Does it sound to you like I'm saying that since God's mercy is available to everyone, we can go out and sin all we want? That we don't need to worry about it, because he'll restore everything for us? Does it sound like I'm saying that? I hope not, because I'm not saying that at all—anymore than I'm saying, "Since the doctor can heal a broken arm, let's all go out and break our arms and let the doctor fix it." Yes, a doctor can fix a broken arm, but what fool would put themselves through that pain?

As you look at this list of names in Matthew 1, you see examples of God's mercy at work in people's lives, but you also see how sin utterly destroys families, and tears down kingdoms, and wrecks people's lives. Don't put yourself through that. Don't live a reckless life just because you know that God can fix it.

When we sin, the Bible promises that God will forgive us. He forgives us and he wipes out our sin completely. Micah said,

Where is another God like you, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! (Micah 7:18-19)

When we look at the lives of Jesus' ancestors, we see that God's mercy is greater than any sin. The third thing I want you to notice...

3. The fruit doesn't always fall close to the tree.

You know the saying I'm referring to, don't you? Most people think children will end up like their parents—like father, like son—and most often they're right.

I live in a small town in the south, and I've noticed something here that I didn't see when I was growing up, because I was raised in a large city. But here, in this small town, children tend to be labeled according to who their parents are. I've seen it at work in the school system, in the Little League, even in churches. The presumption is that if you come from a bad family, you'll probably be trouble, too. Most of the community leaders are children of those who were community leaders 30 or 40 years ago. The assumption is that the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, but it doesn't have to be that way.

You are not limited by who your parents were, or who their parents were, or who their parents were. You don't have to follow in their footsteps.

In the genealogy of Jesus there are many lives characterized by brokenness, pain, and rebellion. Jesus himself was born under a cloud of suspicion, because Joseph and Mary weren't properly married at the time of his birth—they were only engaged. I'm sure that there were whispers about Jesus when he was a child, about who his real father was. These whispers may have followed him through much of his life. In Mark 6:3, the townspeople refer to him as "Mary's son", not "Joseph's son", as would have been customary.

And yet, in spite of his family heritage, and in spite of the way he was judged by those in his community, he was able to prove a powerful Biblical truth: the fruit doesn't always fall close to the tree. You're not tied to the past; you have unlimited potential.

Some might say, "Wait a minute. Jesus had unlimited potential because he was God, he was born of a virgin, and he had access to power that we don't have." The first two parts of that argument are right; the third part is wrong. Jesus was God, born of a virgin, and when he came to earth he surrendered his rights. Paul said,

Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. (Philippians 2:6-7)

Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life on earth—not as a God who is above temptation, but as a man who is tempted just as we are. [Hebrews 4:15] He could have sinned, but he didn't. He could have followed in the footsteps of his ancestors, but he didn't. He could have allowed the judgmental attitudes of the people around hold him back and prevent him from doing God's will with his life, but he didn't. As he neared the end of his ministry, and he knew the time had come for him to die on the cross for the sins of the world, he could have said, "No!" He could have refused, but he didn't. In his hour of temptation he could have given in and taken the easy way out, like his forefather Judah, like his forefather David, like his forefather Solomon. He could have, but he didn't, because he had the power of God in his life. The same power that is available to you and me. [Romans 8:11]

The genealogy of Jesus is a reminder that you don't have to follow in anyone's footsteps just because they happen to share your last name. It is reminder that you don't have to be held back by the expectations of others—or the lack thereof. You belong to God, and he can do things in your life that no one else ever thought possible. As far as he is concerned, sometimes the fruit does fall far from the tree.


Jesus came into the world to be the Messiah—to save all those who call on his name. He conquered sin so that we could conquer sin; he conquered death so that we could conquer death. He ushered in the kingdom of God, the new reign of God on earth. It's not a political kingdom, it is a kingdom that he establishes in the hearts of people. All people—regardless of race, gender, or social status. All people—regardless of how they have wrecked their lives by sin, because he came to wash away our sin. All people—regardless of whatever limitations their past may have put on them. He came into this world so that God can reign in your life as king. He has destroyed the barriers of race, gender, poverty, sin, and the past, so that you can have free reign to be what he made you to be.

Sermon text with italics and bold and John 3:16 and v. 20.

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