The first Evangelist, Matthew, takes pains to point out that God’s incarnation embraced a very fallen family.
Jewish genealogy is different than a Family Tree. It is legal evidence, culled out of records maintained by the highest Jewish council, Sanhedrin, to settle disputes concerning inheritance, rights, responsibilities, and ownerships.
In a list of Messiah’s forefathers, Matthew inserts five mothers: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “Uriah’s wife,” and Mary. The honorable mothers like Sarah and Rebecca are left out.
Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law: deprived of justice, compassion, motherhood, and a future, she deceives Judah into thinking that she is a prostitute and conceives his twin boys.
Rahab was a practicing prostitute.
Ruth – a wonderful daughter-in-law – was a culturally despised Moabite. She followed her mother-in-law’s advice to seduce Boaz.
David committed adultery with Bathsheba, murdered her husband Uriah, to begin the Messiah’s royal lineage.
“Why does Matthew link such shameful characters with Virgin Mary” asked one of my Bible School students.
“In order to point out,” replied another student, “that Mary’s son was born to bear our sins. He was not ashamed to be a friend of sinners. He took the initiative to dine with despicable tax-collectors.
As we looked deeper, my 30 or so students discovered that Matthew included these women’s names because he was crafting a careful argument:
Matthew’s readers – the traditional Jews – were different than postmodern scholars who no longer believe in truth. The Jews did not think of history as a game scholars play to promote private agendas. Therefore, they did not invent a “scholarly theory” that Jesus never existed. They couldn’t think of Jesus as a “story” because they knew his family.
Enough of them knew that he was conceived prior to Joseph and Mary’s marriage. For them, Jesus was born in sin.
Matthew’s argument for virgin birth is simple: Why did Joseph bring a pregnant Mary home to be his wife? Was he an idiot? Or did he actually believe the angel who told him the truth about Mary’s pregnancy?
Of course, the main points of Matthew’s genealogy are to present Jesus as the promised son of Abraham who will bless all the nations and the legal heir of David’s everlasting throne . . . the king who has all authority in heaven and on earth. However, Matthew also uses his genealogy to effectively deflate Christ’s critics. “You say,” he tells them, “that Jesus was born of an adulterous Mary. In a moment I am going to tell you why the righteous Joseph took a pregnant Mary as his wife . . . but even if you don’t believe that Mary was virgin, let me remind you that you already revere less than honorable men and women as individuals God used to give you your beloved, righteous, and wise kings.”
It is fine to talk of the ‘holy family’; Mary and Joseph were indeed righteous. However, that focus should not mislead us into thinking that Jesus did not embrace a fallen family line. He came to bear our brokenness. That’s why “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses . . . Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4: 14-16)
May Christmas 2014 be your Season of Grace,
PS. Enrich your holidays
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