THE MOTHERS OF JESUS: Matthew 1:1-17
By Ted Schroder,
December 11, 2016
Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, in his latest book, Hidden Christmas, The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ, points out that Matthew's Gospel begins with a "seemingly tedious genealogy." In ancient family-oriented societies your pedigree constituted your resume. You included all your prominent ancestors and left out the dodgy ones. But Matthew does the very opposite with Jesus. It is a unique family history that tells us some very important truths about the coming of Jesus.
It includes five women as mothers of Jesus. This was unheard of in a patriarchal society. Women had no legal rights in both Greek and Jewish culture. She could not inherit property or give testimony in a court of law. She was completely under her husband's power. She was seen less of a person than as a thing. This is still the case in Muslim society. This genealogy reinforced the value of women in the history of salvation and in the life of the church. Jesus treated women with respect and honor. In addition three of these women were Gentiles: Tamar, Rahab and Ruth -- Canaanites and a Moabitess. They were ethnic outsiders who would not be allowed to worship in the temple.
Keller remarks that their inclusion recalls "some of the most sordid, nasty and immoral incidents in the Bible." Tamar initiated an immoral relationship with Judah her father-in-law and bore him two sons: Perez and Zerah. Jesus was descended from Perez. The Messiah came out of that dysfunctional family.
Rahab was the prostitute who aided the Israelites in spying out Jericho. Matthew makes a point that Solomon's mother had been Uriah's wife. Uriah was one of David's Mighty Men who risked everything for him when he was outlawed by King Saul. Later he arranged to have Uriah killed in battle in order to marry his wife Bathsheba. Matthew could have omitted mention of Uriah and simply designated Solomon as the son of David by Bathsheba but he makes the point that "out of that dysfunctional family, and out of that deeply flawed man, that the Messiah came."
Keller comments, "Here, then, you have moral outsiders -- adulteresses, incestuous relationships, prostitutes. Indeed, we are reminded that even the prominent male ancestors -- Judah and David -- were moral failures. You also have cultural outsiders, racial outsiders and gender outsiders. The Law of Moses excluded these people from the presence of God, and yet they are all publicly acknowledged as the ancestors of Jesus.
"What does it mean? First, it shows us that people who are excluded by culture, excluded by respectable society, and even excluded by the law of God can be brought in to Jesus' family. It doesn't matter your pedigree, it doesn't matter what you have done, it doesn't matter whether you have killed people. If you repent and believe in him, the grace of Jesus Christ can cover your sin and unite you with him.....It is not the good people who are in and the bad people who are out. Everyone is in only by the grace of Jesus Christ. It is only what Jesus has done for you that can give you standing before God.
"There is no one, then, not even the greatest human being, who does not need the grace of Jesus Christ. And there is no one, not even the worst human being, who can fail to receive the grace of Jesus Christ if there is repentance and faith.
"In Jesus Christ, prostitute and king, male and female, Jew and Gentile, one race and another race, moral and immoral -- all sit down as equals. Equally sinful and lost, equally accepted and loved.... God is not ashamed of us. We are all in his family
"There is another side to this. All cultures encourage their members to look down on some people in order to congratulate themselves for their own superiority. It may be people from another race or class. Maybe you look down on those snobs with so much education, or maybe it's those ignorant ones with no education. Maybe you despise the people whose political views you think are ruining the country. In all of these examples, you have been taught to see some people as unclean, beyond the pale, unholy -- while you are okay. Jesus Christ's values are radically different. The world values pedigree, money, race, and class. He turns that upside down. These things that matter so much outside Jesus' church must not be brought inside. He says, in a sense, 'In my family, those things that are so important out there in the world must not be so important.'" (pp.32-34)
Mary was also an outsider in her society. She was a nobody from an obscure village in a distant part of the mighty Roman Empire. Yet God chose her to come into the world. She was aware of the great things he had done for her. "He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. / He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. / He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." (Luke 1:51-53)
When you consider yourself an outsider, a moral failure, ashamed of your past, inconsequential in the scheme of things, lacking an aristocratic pedigree or accomplishments, at the end of your usefulness, and of little value in the eyes of the world, remember the mothers of Jesus. I am reminded of the outsiders St. Paul lists: "Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. AND THAT IS WHAT SOME OF YOU WERE. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God"(1 Cor.6:9-11).
Jesus came to save sinners. He came to minister to those who are sick, not those who are whole. Not one of us can claim to deserve salvation on the basis of our merits. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Not one of us can afford to be superior to others, to look down upon others, to think that we are better than others. Moral superiority is usually a cloak for hypocrisy. We are enjoined by James never to show favoritism to the rich, and to the elite of any kind (James 2:1-10).
The Gospel is for everyone. No one is excluded from the family of Jesus. "He came to his own but they did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:11,12). Jesus welcomed the Samaritan woman at the well who was on her sixth marriage. He allowed the woman who had lived a sinful life anoint his feet, wipe them with her hair, and kiss them. He said that her many sins had been forgiven as she showed by her love.
The present interest in genealogy, family history and ancestry may be selective as people embellish their antecedents and polish their pedigrees. God is not impressed with our credentials but our hearts. He wants to know whether we will receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord. What is our spiritual genealogy? He is more interested in knowing whether we are children of God. "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy Cross I cling; / naked come to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace; / foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me Savior, or I die." (Augustus M. Toplady)
The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of Amelia chapel, Amelia Island, Florida
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