A Genealogy Roadshow
Scriptures: Matthew 1:18-25, Romans 1:1-6
This week I went on a website called famouskin.com. On this
site you can look up the family connections between famous people. For example, you will never guess to whom Barack Obama is related [Slide 1]. Barack Obama is related to George W. Bush. They are 11th cousins, meaning that 11 generations back they have the same ancestors: Samuel and Sarah Hinkley. I also looked up Richard Nixon. [Slide 2] Nine generations back Richard Nixon is related to Taylor Swift. Who would have guessed? But my favorite is Warren Buffet. [Slide 3] Warren Buffet is a 6th cousin once removed from Jesse James. If you dig deep enough we are all probably related, somewhere in our family, to a thief.
Which was also true for Jesus. The very first chapter of
the New Testament begins with a genealogy, a list of Jesus' ancestors. [Slide 4] Verse 2 says, (Click 1) "Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob." In our 365 Bible stories we read that story back in January: how Jacob deceived his blind father Isaac into giving him an inheritance intended for his brother Esau. The next verse says, (Click 2) "Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar." Tamar was Judah's daughter-in-law who disguised herself as a prostitute and was propositioned by her own father-in-law. Out of their illicit relationship she produced twins, one of whom became Jesus' ancestor. That story, by the way, is not in the Children's Bible.
The list goes on. (Click 3) Verse 6 says, "David was the
father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah." We read that story in May: how David had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his most faithful soldiers. Then he arranged to have Uriah killed in battle so he could marry his widow. And those are Jesus' ancestors.
You can see where Christians came up with the idea of
original sin-that sin is practically hereditary, passed on in our genes. There is a wonderful Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which Calvin says to Hobbes, [Slide 5] "Do you think babies are born sinful? That they come into the world as sinners?" Hobbes says, [Slide 6] "No, I think they're just quick studies." (The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, vol. 3, page 163). Whether hereditary or learned, Jesus was the product of a persistently sinful, dysfunctional family tree.
Except he wasn't quite the product of that tree. [Slide 7:
Blank] His genealogy is traced down to Joseph who became the husband of Mary, but then we are told that Joseph wasn't really Jesus' father. Why does Matthew go through all the trouble of tracing Jesus' ancestry for 28 generations all the way down to Joseph, only to tell us that Joseph was not really Jesus' father?
The answer to that question brings us to the core of the
Bible. Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy in order to connect Jesus to the Old Testament. I know that many of you are tired of the Old Testament. You have been dying to get to the New Testament. But Matthew says, "Not so fast." The first verse of Matthew's gospel, the very first verse of the New Testament, says, [Slide 8] "An account of the genealogy ["genesis"] of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham." In one verse Matthew takes us back to the first book of the Bible and the sweeping promise God made to Abraham. In Genesis 12, (Click 1) a story we read back in January, God says to Abraham, "I will make of you a great nation, . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Then later on, in a story that we read in May, God says to David, (Click 2) "Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure before me; your throne shall be established forever."
Despite the dysfunctional history of that family, God never gives up
on those promises. God sticks with the descendants of Abraham through abundance and famine, through slavery in Egypt and deliverance at the Red Sea, through wandering in the wilderness and homecoming in the Promised Land, through faithful and unfaithful kings, through defeat, exile, return from exile, another defeat, and finally occupation by the Romans. It's the story of God's relentless determination to fulfill the promises made to Abraham and David: to use their descendants to bring blessing to all the nations of the world. And now Jesus becomes the heir, the focal point, of those promises. [Slide 9: Blank]
You can't understand the story of Jesus without the story we
have been reading for the last nine months. It's like pregnancy. You can't get to the birth of Jesus without nine months of gestation, and that is what we have been doing for the last nine months in our 365 Bible stories: preparing for the birth of Jesus.
Matthew begins his story with a genealogy, because you can't
understand Jesus without the Old Testament. You can't understand grace without judgement. You can't understand forgiveness without sacrifice. You can't understand love without the commandments. You can't understand eternal life until you understand how much God cares about this life in all its physicality.
The Old Testament is necessary to understand salvation, but
it cannot deliver it. And that's why the New Testament begins with a new genesis-a new creation.
Growing up I was told that Jesus' virgin birth was a way of proving
that Jesus was the Son of God. But interestingly two of the four gospels make that point without any reference to the virgin birth. [Slide 10, Click 1] Mark's gospel begins with the words: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." There is no question that Mark believes Jesus is the Son of God. And yet there is not one word in Mark's gospel about the virgin birth. The same is true for John. (Click 2) John's gospels says, "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known." There's no question that John believes Jesus is God's Son, and yet John's gospel has not one word about the virgin birth.
The virgin birth is not just about God entering history as a human
being; it's about God through Jesus beginning a new creation, bringing about a new "genesis" in the world.
Notice what the angel says to Joseph: [Slide 11] "Joseph, son of
David,"-notice again the connection to the Old Testament-"do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." This reference to the Holy Spirit is a reminder of the wind or spirit of God-in Hebrew they are the same word-that was present with God at the creation of the world. Now, in Jesus, God begins a new creation. "She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
There were many heroes in the Old Testament who saved people
from their enemies, but no one saved them from their sins. The sins of each generation keep getting repeated and passed on. But in Jesus a new creation has begun, a future for us no longer determined by past guilt, animosity, or family dysfunction. [Slide 12: Blank]
In the Star Wars movies there is that a scene where Darth Vader says
to Luke Skywalker, "I am your father." Luke screams, "Nooooo, it's not true!" But deep down he knows it is true. He knows he carried with him the genes of Darth Vader, the seeds of the Dark Side. Darth Vader says to him, "Join us, Luke. It is your destiny." Later, in the last movie the evil Emperor tells Luke the same thing. He tells Luke to give in to his hate, to give in to the dark side. He says to Luke, "It is your destiny."
But it isn't. In the climactic final confrontation with the evil
Emperor Luke refuses to join the Dark Side, and instead he puts down his light saber. Immediately the Emperor attacks him with bolts of electricity, like a Taser on steroids. But as Luke writhes in agony on the floor something changes in Darth Vader. Watching his son suffer the consequence of the Emperor's evil, Vader no longer sees hate as inevitable. He grabs the evil Emperor and throws him off the balcony of the starship, and Darth Vader becomes a new person. It's like heredity in reverse. Instead of Luke inheriting the evil of his father, the father finds new life as a result of the son's sacrifice.
Do you recognize the story? The virgin birth, like Jesus' death on
the cross, means that our heredity no longer determines our destiny. Our past no longer determines our future. In Jesus we are invited to become a new creation.