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Matthew

Family Album

Matthew 1:1-16

Lesson audio

It is perhaps unfortunate that the first book of the New Testament begins with a genealogy. Most readers don’t want to read that, so they skip it. But this genealogy gives us some lessons:

  • It introduces us to the family from which Joseph came; Joseph, who was to be the earthly father who raised Jesus.
  • It shows us how God permitted some of the most spectacular of sinners (and others) to be in the ancestral tree of Christ – for He inherits his claim to the throne of David from Joseph.
  • It serves the same general purpose that a family album does – so picture yourself pointing out the aunts, uncles and cousins.

So, let’s take a look at the pictures. We’ll skip the famous ones, and tour some of the lesser known folks.

Women

Three women, other than Mary, are mentioned here. They are not the most respectable of women, either. All three would have had a good reason to be excluded if God were so inclined. The fact that these three are here tells us that Christ’s human side is very much like our own. Which, of course, fits the Son of Man. If these three are in the family, surely we are not going to be disqualified either.

Tamar

Tamar’s story is a rather simple, sexual one.[1] She must have been something special – one way or another. Let’s start with an explanation.

In those days – and later codified in the Law of Moses – a woman’s right to have sex (you read that correctly) was established by the rule that a widow would be married to her late husband’s brother. Her first husband died (and it was well understood he died at God’s command). Her second husband (the first husband’s brother) refused to have anything to do with her; the kids would be accounted to the first husband, you see. God did not approve; the second brother died also. The third brother was a little boy at the time, so her father-in-law, Judah, told her to wait at her family home until the boy grew up.

But Judah wasn’t really fond of losing another son to this black widow. He kept putting off the wedding until Tamar lost patience with the man. She dressed as a temple prostitute, and offered herself to Judah, her father-in-law! What’s more, she got pregnant. Judah didn’t connect her with the daughter-in-law, so when news of the pregnancy arrived, he condemned her to be burnt to death.

She arrived at the execution with Judah’s seal, bracelet and staff – and revealed who the father of the kids was. An embarrassing moment, indeed. Neither of the parties in this one could claim much of righteousness. The double standard is very old, indeed.

There are some lessons here:

  • Judah tried to play God instead of following the rules. This is a bad idea, even if you think you are righteous.
  • God is very fond of using your own words and actions to condemn you, a trait seen in Jesus quite well.
Rahab

We meet this woman at the siege of Jericho.[2] She’s a whore – who hides two Israelite spies. That means she’s a betrayer as well. But she gives us an example worth looking at:

  • She trusts in God – without having a presentation of the Four Spiritual Laws. She doesn’t really know to much – but she goes out on faith.
  • She also is relying on the people of God to keep their word, to save her and their family. It’s a reminder to us that we should keep our word too, even if the recipient is less than respectable.

When Christ says, “Whosever will,” He means it.

Ruth

Her story is found in the book of that name in the Old Testament. The first thing that strikes you is that she is not Jewish, but sticks to her mother-in-law Naomi even though it takes her from her own gods and puts her at the mercy of another God. She’s a gentile; an outsider. Christ welcomes them too.

The story shows us, by example, the kinsman-redeemer. A close relative was permitted by law to redeem property which originally belonged to the relatives. It’s a picture of Christ, the Son of Man, redeeming us. It is the picture of the bride of Christ, redeemed by her Lord.

The Kings

Starting with David, the lineage of the King of Kings is traced through the royal house. We’ll skip David and Solomon, and look at the good, the bad and the fallen.

Hezekiah

Hezekiah was one of the “good” kings of Israel. He restored the worship of God to Judah, destroying the altars of the pagan Gods. (This would have him in hot water with the ACLU today, but they weren’t around then.) He was a restorer, as Christ will be at His return.

He did have one problem – he bragged about his possessions to a delegation of Babylonians (who later sacked the city and removed those possessions). But one thing shows us his heart: when he began what was apparently a fatal illness, he cried out to God – who healed him.[3] He shows us the picture of a man whom God heals – the broken-hearted who come to him empty, even if that man is a king.

Manasseh

You’d think, with an example of such a good king (his father was Hezekiah), the next one would have a decent reign as well – and you’d be wrong. Manasseh reigned as king for 55 years[4], and during that time he was evil. He sacrificed his sons in the fire of Molech; he used the Temple as a place to worship other gods. God sent prophets to him, to change his ways. It didn’t help.

The only thing that did make a difference was this: The Babylonians took him captive. The shackled him, put a ring through his nose much like you would a pig, and hauled him off to Babylon that way. When he got there, he repented. God heard his plea and restored him to his kingship. So it was that this one king turned around. Many others did not.

One example he does set: God welcomes the repentant, no matter how much evil they have done.

Uzziah

Uzziah was a king who was just about perfect – and took too much pride in his perfection.[5] He was victorious; he invented clever war machines, he had the people keep the faith – he was just about everything you’d want in a good king. Except for one thing: pride. He thought he was so righteous and great that he could offer incense on the altar of God.

God had other ideas, which Uzziah should have known. The priests rebuked him (rather dangerous that) but God convinced him. For this sacrilege, God gave him a quick case of leprosy; his son would rule in his place from that day on.

There’s a lesson there too: all of us are sinners. If we think we know the rules, then we ought to follow them.

Prophecy

One thing we need to know: in prophetic words, a man could be a stand-in for one of his descendants. The Son of David would know this. Let’s look at three individuals in Christ’s lineage, in the aspect of prophecy.

Judah

(This is the same Judah who had sex with Tamar). As Jacob was on his death bed, he blessed his sons. This is the blessing he gave Judah:

"Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father's sons shall bow down to you. "Judah is a lion's whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. "He ties his foal to the vine, And his donkey's colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes. "His eyes are dull from wine, And his teeth white from milk.

(Gen 49:8-12 NASB)

This is the prophecy that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah. You can see much else in here that can be related to Christ. The reference to Shiloh, however, has caused much scholarly ink.

  • It could be a reference to the Prince of Peace.
  • It could mean “to whom it belongs” - meaning that the kings of Israel would come out of Judah until the Messiah claimed the kingship.
  • It might be a reference to Shiloh, the city, and events which happened (or will happen) there.

It’s not clear, but virtually all agree it refers to the Messiah.

Josiah

There is a fascinating prophecy for Josiah:

Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. He cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, "O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, 'Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.'" Then he gave a sign the same day, saying, "This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, 'Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.'"

(1Ki 13:1-3 NASB)

This takes place about ten generations before Josiah is born – and he does exactly that. He literally digs up the bones of the priests of Baal and burns them on this altar. It is a forerunner of Christ, in his zeal.

Zerubbabel

This descendant of David was not a king – the kingship had been abolished – but he was a principal in the rebuilding of the Temple.[6] About this man, who was not a king but of the royal lineage, two prophets wrote:

On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, "Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, 'Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? 'But now take courage, Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD, 'take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,' declares the LORD, 'and work; for I am with you,' declares the LORD of hosts. 'As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!' "For thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. 'I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD of hosts. 'The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,' declares the LORD of hosts. 'The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,' says the LORD of hosts, 'and in this place I will give peace,' declares the LORD of hosts."

(Hag 2:1-9 NASB)

The prophecy clearly refers to the return of our Lord. Zerubbabel is the stand-in. In these days, a prophecy about a man could be seen as being fulfilled in one of his descendants. The theory (biologically incorrect) was that the descendant was in the ancestor’s body at the time of the prophecy, and therefore it would apply to him.[7]

Even more startling (and argued over) is this passage:

Then the angel who was speaking with me returned and roused me, as a man who is awakened from his sleep. He said to me, "What do you see?" And I said, "I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side." Then I said to the angel who was speaking with me saying, "What are these, my lord?" So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, "Do you not know what these are?" And I said, "No, my lord." Then he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts. 'What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of "Grace, grace to it!"'" Also the word of the LORD came to me, saying, "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. "For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel--these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth." Then I said to him, "What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?" And I answered the second time and said to him, "What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?" So he answered me, saying, "Do you not know what these are?" And I said, "No, my lord." Then he said, "These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth."

(Zec 4:1-14 NASB)

Followers of prophecy have little difficulty identifying the two trees with the two witnesses of Revelation chapter 11. Various interpretations have been proposed for these two witnesses; but you can see that the prophecy is connected to this one. Zerubbabel’s anointed ones are the same ones seen by John.

Is there a point to all this in the family album? Indeed, several.

  • First, the most unlikely people are found as ancestors of Christ – and if they are fit for His family, we are too. No matter how “outside” you feel, no matter what sins you have committed, he still says, “Whosoever will.”
  • Next, just because you’re from a good family doesn’t mean you can presume upon God. You still need to come to Him with a humble and contrite heart. And you still have to watch what you’re doing.
  • Finally, there is a great day coming, a day longed for and welcome by all those who love God.

[1] Genesis 38:1-26

[2] Joshua 2

[3] 2 Kings 20:1-11

[4] 2 Chronicles 33:1-20

[5] 2 Chronicles 26

[6] See Ezra 3:2-8

[7] See Hebrews 7:1-10 for a parallel example.

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