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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:It's all been leading up to Jesus
Text:Matthew 1:1-17 (View)
Occasion:Christmas Day
Topic:The Incarnation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 19

Hymn 16:1-3

Psalm 89:1,2

Hymn 16:4,5

Hymn 20

Scripture reading: Matthew 1

Text: Matthew 1:1-17

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Our text for this Christmas morning features a genealogy.  Some people find genealogies boring, but others are fascinated by them.  Historically, the Jewish people were always keenly interested in them.  They kept meticulous genealogical records, records that were preserved into at least the first century after Christ.  When he wrote his gospel, Matthew would’ve easily been able to access these records. 

The big question is:  why did Matthew put this genealogy in his gospel?  Is it just because it’s interesting?  No, there’s a deeper reason.  The genealogy of Jesus says something about God.  It tells us of God’s faithfulness to all the promises he made in the Old Testament for a Redeemer.  There were salvation promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But, most importantly, to King David.  We sang about those promises in Psalm 89.  God promised that the Saviour would come as the son of David, from the line of David.  This genealogy proves how God was faithful to what he promised.

This morning we’re not going to look in detail at every verse of this genealogy.  Instead, I want to take more of a big picture approach.  There’ll be a couple of details we’ll note, but we’re more interested in what the genealogy taken as a whole is saying to us about God and the gospel. 

When we take it as a whole, one thing we need to see right away is how it’s structured.  Verse 17 tells us that it’s been deliberately set up in three sets of fourteen generations.  That doesn’t mean that there were precisely fourteen generations in each of those time periods.  Matthew did leave out some generations, which happens in other biblical genealogies too.  What’s important here are the fourteens. 

What’s so special about the number fourteen?  In Hebrew, each letter of the alphabet also represents a number.  If you add up the letters of the name David in Hebrew, it comes to fourteen.  And David is also the fourteenth name in the genealogy.  This isn’t a coincidence.  Scripture is pointing out how all of God’s promises which got focussed on David and his offspring, those promises are fulfilled with the coming of Jesus into this world.  In this morning’s Christmas sermon we’ll see how It’s all been leading up to Jesus

We’ll see how:

  1. He came through sinners
  2. He came for sinners

Putting together a genealogy always involves choices.  There are certain lines you’ll follow and others you won’t.  There are certain people you might mention and others you might not.  When Matthew wrote out the genealogy of Jesus here in chapter 1 of his gospel, he made certain choices.  They’re choices that stand out. 

For example, normally, women are mentioned in various biblical genealogies.  But when it comes to the genealogy of Jesus, which women would you mention?  You might expect what have been called the model matriarchs of the Old Testament.  You might expect Sarah, the wife of Abraham, or Rebekah, the wife of Isaac.  Maybe Rachel and Leah, the wives of Jacob.  But none of these model matriarchs are included. 

Instead, we have five women who all have a story:  Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.  The first four all have one thing in common.  Tamar was likely a Canaanite, Rahab was from Jericho, Ruth was a Moabite woman, and Bathsheba was married to a Hittite, which would’ve resulted in her being considered a Hittite herself.  So they were originally all Gentiles.  Jesus has these four women from other nations in his family tree.

And these women also have a background involving sin, even if it’s not necessarily their own.  Tamar pretended to be a prostitute so she could sleep with her father-in-law Judah.  Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho before helping the spies.  As a Moabite, Ruth would have been a worshipper of idols like Chemosh.  And while Scripture doesn’t say she was responsible for this sin, Bathsheba was the object of David’s lust and was sexually assaulted by him.  She got dragged into this sinful sordid story.  It’s not exactly a family tree to be proud of.

Then there’s Mary, the mother of Jesus.  She was alleged to have had premarital sex with Joseph.  While in God’s eyes Mary was upright, a “favoured one” according to the angel, people regarded her as far less.

In this genealogy in Matthew, we’re given the legal descent of Jesus through Joseph.  Joseph was the adoptive father of Jesus and it’s the line of Joseph that we’re following here in Matthew 1.  Jesus is a legal heir of David because of his relationship to Joseph and the line tracking back from him. 

If we look at some of the men in that line, we again see sin and rebellion against God.  There are the notoriously wicked kings like Ahaz, Manasseh, and Amon.  Some of their wickedness even included the sacrifice of children to Molech.  Terrible stuff.  Yet they’re in the genealogy of Jesus. 

But when we look at the history of the patriarchs in the book of Genesis, the Holy Spirit didn’t cover over their blemishes either.  We see Abraham’s failure to trust God when it came to his wife Sarah in foreign lands, not just once, but twice.  Isaac does exactly the same thing with Rebekah.  Then there’s Jacob – his life is one episode of deception after another.  Judah comes up with the idea to sell his brother Joseph to human traffickers. 

Even when we look at the better kings in the genealogy, there are some horrible, sinful stories.  I already mentioned David and what he did to Bathsheba.  Their son Solomon was led into idolatry by his pagan wives.  Hezekiah’s heart was proud.  Even King Josiah didn’t listen to God and paid for it with his life.  Even the best kings were sinners.

And in the end, it all resulted in the biggest catastrophe of the Old Testament:  the deportation or exile into Assyria and then later Babylon.  Because of their sinful rebellion, God exiled the people of Israel to Assyria and the people of Judah to the far off land of Babylon.  They were removed from the Promised Land and the temple, where God had dwelt with his people, the temple was destroyed.  However, despite all of that, God never gave up on his plans to bring the Messiah into the world.  Christmas was on God’s schedule and he kept on working towards it.

The way this genealogy is made up of sinful human beings really reminds us of the power of God.  There’s no sin that can stand in the way of his purposes.  Even through all these sinners, God was going to be faithful to what he had promised.  In Genesis he had promised that the child of the woman was going to smash the skull of the snake.  At times in the Old Testament it looked grim – how was God ever going to come good on his promises with all that sinful messiness?  But in his mercy and power and wisdom, God did come through.  You know what that tells us about God?  It tells us he can be trusted.  You can trust him in the shadows and valleys of life.  Things might look grim for you right now.  But look at this genealogy and all its dark moments.  It all leads to the birth of Jesus, the dawning of light and hope.  God could be trusted then and he can be trusted now.  Whether it’s sin burdening you or whether it’s suffering, the good and wise God will be faithful to his promises to you.  He’s promised to be your Father and work out everything for your good.  Look at this genealogy and you see evidence of how he’s done it in the past.  He’ll do it again now and in the future.  Trust your good and wise God, brothers and sisters.

There’s more encouragement here as we ponder what this genealogy tells us about Jesus.  The sixteenth-century Reformer Martin Luther once commented on this genealogy and he said, “Oh, Christ is the kind of person who is not ashamed of sinners – in fact, he even puts them in his family tree.”  Exactly right.  Even though Christ himself was conceived and born without sin, his family tree included sinners on every branch.  As Hebrews 2:11 says, Christ is not ashamed to call sinners his brothers.  That includes not only his family tree going backwards, but also his family tree looking forwards.  It includes us.  Though we too are sinners, if we look to Christ in faith and turn from our sins, we’re included in the family of God.  We’re brothers and sisters of Christ, our elder brother.  And the gospel proclaims that Jesus isn’t ashamed to have it that way.  Even though you and I are sinners, Jesus isn’t ashamed to have us in his family.  What a wonderful truth!

But all those sinners in the genealogy of Jesus tell us something else too.  They were all crying out for him to come.  They needed him to come.  And so he did, he came for sinners.

In all of those generations from Abraham to Joseph, there were animal sacrifices for sin.  Millions of animals were killed and their bodies burnt up on altars.  Their blood was shed, millions of liters of it.  All those countless sacrifices were leading up to Jesus.  God forgave the sins of his people through these sacrifices because they were pointing ahead to Christ.  Nevertheless, these sacrifices had to be offered repeatedly, over and over, throughout all those generations.  It was tiresome.  The whole system of sacrifices called out for a once-for-all sacrifice.  This once-for-all sacrifice would do two things. 

The ultimate sacrifice would cancel out sins.  It would erase them in the sight of God.  This is what we call expiation.  That’s the first thing.  The other thing is propitiation.  The ultimate once-for-all sacrifice would turn away the wrath of God and return his favour.  That’s what we call propitiation.  So the once-for-all sacrifice would bring expiation and propitiation.

That’s what Jesus came to offer.  He was born into this world as one of us.  He came as a human being with a human genealogy.  His humanity qualified him to make the once-for-all sacrifice which would bring both expiation and propitiation.  Because human beings have sinned, a human being has to be the one to take the punishment we deserve.  He came for sinners.  He came in the place of sinners.  He came to offer what we couldn’t for ourselves, what no one in his family tree could for themselves. 

You see, no human being can make a sacrifice sufficient to expiate or cancel sin.  No human being can make a sacrifice sufficient to propitiate God, to turn away his wrath and return his favour.  Hell is where sinners make the attempt.  But hell is eternal because no amount of time and no amount of suffering will be enough to satisfy God’s infinite wrath against sin.  We need Jesus to be our expiation and propitiation.  He came to be that for sinners. 

We also need the obedience of Jesus offered in our place.  Having had our sins cancelled and having had God’s wrath propitiated, the law still demands obedience going forward.  Jesus offers that in the place of sinners too.  Throughout his life on earth, he was perfect and sinless.  That perfect obedience wasn’t for himself, but for sinners.  No human being has the obedience God requires.  Go through that genealogy and find the most upright person.  Who would you nominate?  Boaz stands out in my mind.  He was a really righteous man; Scripture calls him a “worthy man.”  He proved it with the way he treated Ruth.  Now even though Scripture doesn’t record any particular sin of Boaz, if he was a human being, he was a sinful son of Adam and Eve.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We all need obedience and Jesus provides it. 

That’s why, when the Son of God came in the flesh, he was named Jesus.  Jesus means “Saviour.”  He came with everything sinners need for salvation.  You need your sins cancelled?  Jesus provides expiation.  You need the wrath of God turned away and his favour returned?  Jesus provides propitiation.  You need a full measure of obedience to God’s law?  Jesus provides it.  In all these ways and more, he is the Saviour all sinners need.  He was the Saviour all those people in his genealogy needed and he’s the Saviour that you and I need.

In his love for us, God has given us the greatest gift ever:  the gift of his Son as our Saviour.  In his love for us, the Son of God agreed to be that gift and come into this world for sinners.  Loved ones, the gospel calls you again to embrace this gift of expiation, propitiation and obedience offered in your place by Jesus.  Everything in the Old Testament was leading up to him and pointing to him as the Saviour you need. 

At Christmas it’s easy to get caught up in the sentimentalism of the season.  A baby in a manger, familiar Christmas carols that people sing but don’t really think about, the giving and receiving of gifts, parties and get-togethers.  But brothers and sisters, let’s not forget the reason we celebrate today.  We celebrate God and his mighty work of salvation in Christ.  It’s a salvation from sin, a salvation from the hell we each deserve, it’s a salvation from a life devoid of ultimate meaning and purpose.  Without sin, there would’ve been no birth of Christ and there wouldn’t have been a need for the cross.  Our sin made these things necessary.  Our sin brought the Son of God into a lifetime of humiliation and suffering, starting in a manger.  Christmas is a time of joy as we remember what God did to rescue us.  But it should also be a time of sober reflection on why it all had to happen.  The genealogy tells us.  The whole family tree led up to Jesus, the one who came through sinners and for sinners.  AMEN.


O God of our salvation,

Thank you for your sovereign mercy in history.  Throughout the generations leading up to Christ, you were faithful to your promises.  Not one of them fell to the ground.  We praise you for that.  Even though people were sinful, sometimes in horrible ways, you came through with your Word to send a Saviour.  Thank you for the birth of our Lord Jesus.  We thank you for Jesus, the one who saves us from our sins. Help us all with your Holy Spirit to place our trust in him.  O God, we trust in Christ as our expiation, as the sacrifice which cancels our debt to your justice.  We trust in Christ as our propitiation, as the sacrifice which has turned away your wrath and returned your favour.  We trust in Christ as our obedience and righteousness in your sight.  With the help of your Spirit, may we all keep our eyes focussed on him as the only Saviour. 

Lord Jesus, thank you for not being ashamed of sinners.  You weren’t ashamed to have all these names in your family tree.  You’re not ashamed to have us in your family either.  Thank you for your mercy and kindness.  You are a gracious and loving Saviour and we adore you.  We praise your Name for setting aside your glory and coming into the world as one of us.  We thank you for the love you’ve shown in your incarnation.  Help us with your Holy Spirit to love you in return and live for you each day.                                                            

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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