Today’s message is the first in a series of messages through the gospel of Matthew. Here are the first verses of chapter one:
The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king.
David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa. Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. 1 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
Perhaps for some of you, this reading got a little tedious. Just a list of names. Kind of like reading the old telephone books we all remember. Just names, addresses, phone numbers.
When I was 17 or 18, I was curious about the Bible that Christians read. I bought a cheap New Testament and, thinking the bible is like any other book, I started on page one. After slogging through the first dozen or so verses containing nearly unpronounceable names, I closed the book and wondered what ANYONE sees in the Christian bible worth taking the time to read.
Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but according to multiple surveys, lots of people – including those in the pews each Sunday, think the bible is boring. Or hopelessly outdated. Or unworthy of 21st century sophistication.
One study by Lifeway Research found that just a third of Americans who attend a Protestant church regularly read the Bible every day. Roughly 25% read it only a few times a week. That means some 40% of those who regularly attend a Protestant church do not regularly read their bible. The statistics are far worse among Catholics.
And why might that be? Well, the surveys tell us 25% of Christians simply don’t make daily bible reading a priority. Fifteen percent say they don’t have the time. Thirteen percent say they’ve read it enough that they don’t need to read it again. Some 10 percent say they don’t read books. Another 10 percent don’t see how the bible relates to them. And another 10 percent disagree with what it says.
When I stopped reading the New Testament at verse 11 of chapter one of Matthew’s gospel, I did so because I thought that list of names was totally irrelevant to my life. And I did not at the time understand how ancient people like Abraham, Judah, Rahab, Ruth, Manasseh, and all the rest – I didn’t understand at the time how important each was as an example of how even I could be used by God for His glory and His purposes.
As many of you know, Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Matthew started his message that way to demonstrate from the Scriptures to his Jewish readers that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah from the line of Judah and through the line of David.
Jews of the first century knew Messiah HAD to spring from that lineage because they knew God's promises to Abraham and to David. Unfortunately, when I first opened the New Testament, I was completely ignorant of those prophesies.
It’s important for us as we sit here today to understand the value for us to know Jesus’ human ancestry because NONE of the men and women in Jesus’ lineage were morally unspoiled. They were harlots, idolaters, fornicators, adulterers, murderers . . . the list goes on. But Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus demonstrates that God does not hold us responsible for the sins of our ancestors. Nor does He hold us responsible for our OWN sins when we bring them in contrition and repentance to the Cross. If we are born again, our history starts with US. It does not matter if our parents were liars or adulterers or traitors or idolaters. All that matters is what WE do.
And by the way, that truth works the other way, too. It does not matter to God if my father was a pastor, or my grandfather was a missionary, or my great grandfather started churches all across America. I will not stand at the judgment with them. I will stand alone at the Judgment, and God is going to ask me what did I do with Jesus. Am I born again? Did I walk with – or away from – my Savior?
The list of names in the direct lineage of Jesus’ humanity also demonstrates that when God makes a promise, He keeps it. It might be generations upon generations before He brings that promise to pass, but His timing is obviously not the same as OUR of timing. That is why St. Peter reminds those who are impatient about the promise of Jesus second coming:
“But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:8-9
In other words, impatient as we generally are – God will bring to pass ALL His unconditional promises – including the second coming of Christ – just as He brought to pass all His promises in the Old Testament. And that is important to the Christian – and to the not-yet-Christian – because, and to only briefly remind us of some of those unconditional promises – God when He promises us His unconditional love, and when He vows to forgive the truly penitent of every sin, every time, and when He promises to never leave or forsake us – when He makes those promises, He means it.
And so, in light of His promises, how then ought we to live? Well, that’s an easy question to answer if our purpose in life is to please Him who makes us those promises. We should strive to live holy lifestyles, avoiding sin, confessing, and repenting every time we do sin, and always listening for the Lord to sound that trumpet.
What does a holy lifestyle look like? It used to be we could answer that question with a question: What Would Jesus Do? But anymore, with such widespread bible illiteracy in both the pulpits and the pews, it is no longer sufficient to answer the question with, “What would Jesus do?”
However, we cannot take the time now to look at that question in detail, especially when the entire Bible describes what a holy lifestyle looks like. In fact, Matthew points us in that direction in his record of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. In His sermon, the Lord gives a simple-to-read, yet difficult to follow, list of commandments and warnings all related to living a holy lifestyle. Take some time soon to reread those chapters and see for yourself.
But back to Matthew chapter one. The former hated tax collector continues the list names until verse 18, when he records:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.
It confounds me – actually, it angers me – that so many bibles translate Isaiah 7:14 (or place a notation in the margins) the Hebrew word used here for ‘virgin’ as ‘young woman’ or ‘maiden.’ I will not take the time to explain the reasons that mistranslation is so dangerous to Christian faith. You can do your own research if you wish. But I will say this:
If Isaiah 7:14 does not refer to a miraculous virgin conception, then the text two chapters later in 9:6-7 cannot refer to Jesus, either. “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”
If Isaiah 7:14 does not refer to the miraculous virgin conception of the Messiah, then that means Mary the mother of our Lord was a harlot, a whore, because Joseph knew the baby in her womb was not his.
And if Jesus was not conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin womb of Mary, then that makes Jesus an illegitimate son because He was born out of wedlock. And you may remember, the Pharisees implied the same to Jesus about Mary’s dishonor when they told Him: “We were not born of fornication.” (John 8:41)
If Mary was not a virgin, then Matthew is a liar because he said, quoting from the prophecy in Isaiah, that Mary was a virgin. And if Matthew lied about that, then what else did he lie about?
If Isaiah 7:14 does not refer to the miraculous virgin conception of Jesus, then watch for them to dismiss the OTHER miracles of Christ, including His physical death and physical resurrection.
Do you see how true Christianity falls apart if only one thread of the prophetic promises is pulled illicitly from the fabric? That is what these despicable children of Satan try to do when they say Mary was not a virgin.
Matthew continues in chapter two this way: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea . . .’” (2:1-5)
The word “Magi” comes from the Greek magos meaning “one of a learned and priestly class.” They traveled some 800 miles from Persia to greet the one who was the King of the Jews. It is instructive that the Jewish religious leaders living only a few miles from Bethlehem did not follow the Magi to worship the child – who by this time was living in a house and not in the manger.
How did they know about the star that led them to Bethlehem? Probably from the history of Daniel’s captivity in Babylon some five hundred years earlier, along with the rest of Israel. It is likely that Daniel had taught the Jews in captivity, along with their captors, of the prophecy of the coming Messiah. For example, this one in one of the books of Moses: “A star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel . . ..” (Numbers 24:17); And this from Isaiah: “Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn….Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah, and all from Sheba (Ehiopia) will come bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” Isaiah 60:3,6.
I wondered why the pagan religious leaders traveled 800 miles to pay homage to the King of the Jews, whereas the religious leaders of the Jews living in Jerusalem – nearly a stone’s throw from Bethlehem – didn’t bother to join the Magi in at least visiting the baby Jesus, if for no other reason than curiosity.
And I got to thinking, perhaps they dismissed the idea that the Messiah had FINALLY come to them because – well, they’d been waiting 1600 years since God's promise to Abraham, and some 1000 years since God's promise to David that a Messiah would come from his seed.
Perhaps the Pharisees and other members of the religious elite reasoned to themselves that they’d waited so long, surely this cannot be the time prophesied by the prophets.
How odd, isn’t it? After all, they’d been reading the Scriptures every Sabbath. Every Sabbath. So, how could they miss that those scriptures were speaking to them of the baby Jesus.
But before we get too hard on them, how much were they like so many Christians in the pulpits and the pews today who read the Scriptures every Christian Sabbath, and yet SO MANY miss the message of a holy lifestyle, and to be ALERT for the second coming of Messiah, even though the signs of His soon return are increasingly apparent to anyone who has eyes to see and hearts to hear.
Perhaps some reason to themselves that we’ve waited 2000 years for the Lord Jesus to fulfill His promise of His return for His true children – so why expect it now? We look at the signs of the times and we say to ourselves surely, this cannot be happening in OUR lifetime, can it?
Let us not be like that. It seems as if hardly a week goes by that events which Jesus and the apostles promised would happen before His second coming are happening right in front of our eyes. Be ready, be on the alert. Listen for trumpet. Do not go to sleep like the religious leaders in the first century Jerusalem fell asleep.
Do not let what St Peter warned about happen to you: Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4)
How will we stay awake? Make the decision to do so. Each morning when you awaken, and if you need to, force yourself to read your Bible. Create for yourself a prayer list of people you want to pray for and pray through the list. Find so-called ‘canned prayers’ – like the psalms, or old church hymns – some of which we sing here each week – and pray those lyrics back to God.
This is not a time to be lazy about our faith. Let me remind you of the survey results I cited at the beginning of this message: Twenty-five percent of Christians surveyed don’t make daily bible reading a priority. Fifteen percent say they don’t have the time. Thirteen percent say they’ve read it enough that they don’t need to read it again. Some 10 percent say they don’t read books. Another 10 percent don’t see how the bible relates to them. And another 10 percent disagree with what it says.
Determine with God's help to NOT be like any in those groups. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day didn’t recognize the time of their visitation. We do not want to follow in their footsteps and miss the Lord when He comes again.