We all love telling old family stories. Well, as we continue in our series, All Planned Out, we are going to look at the family story of Jesus. Let me tell you right here and now: It’s a doozy. But if we’ll pay close attention, there’s something to learn here about just how committed God was–and is–to seeing His plans for us come to pass. So, lean in and listen with me to some really good stories.
When my grandma was 16, my grandpa snuck in the window of a dance she was at because he saw her in there. Within a few months they were married when she was still just 17. They went to an amusement park called Fairyland in Kansas City for their honeymoon. Her older sister, Peg, who was 15 years older, already married and living in Kansas City, chaperoned them, and wouldn’t let my grandma ride the Ferris Wheel at the park. That’s just one of a ton of stories I heard growing up. I don’t know that I can say any of them in particular shaped the direction I’ve taken in my life, but there was just something about knowing the stories of my past that helped me know who I was.
I saw this play out in another way about a year and a half ago. When my grandma passed away, on the evening before the funeral, all of the family was gathered at my parents’ house and somehow a ton of pictures had been pulled out. I think it was probably for assembling the slide show they did. In any event, that evening, after dinner, everyone crowded in the front room—this was obviously before COVID—and spent probably two hours looking through old pictures. I enjoyed it for sure, but I think what I enjoyed even more was seeing how engaged our boys were in getting a sense of who they were. Even Micah, who was just barely five at the time, was all about picking out picture to bring home with him. And as we went through them together, one picture led to a story which led to another picture and more stories and on and on it went. It was a pretty special night.
There’s just something powerful about family stories, isn’t there? It’s good to tell them and retell them again and again. They shape how we understand ourselves. They give us a context in which our lives fit and make just a little bit more sense than they otherwise do.
Well, this morning we are in the second part of our new teaching series called, All Planned Out. The big idea for this series is that Christmas wasn’t something God threw together at the last minute. Instead, it was something He had been planning on giving to the world for a very long time. In fact, as we saw a couple of weeks ago in the first part of our conversation, these plans stretched all the way back to the beginning of human history. When it comes to Christmas, salvation was always God’s plan. As we continue in this season of Advent, of preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus into our lives and further into our world, we’re digging in a bit to see more clearly just how these incredible plans of the Father came to pass.
This morning as we continue this journey, I want to talk about something most people think is really boring. Actually, let me put that to you as a question: If you were going to make a list of the parts of the Bible that are the most boring to read, what would you include? Definitely the details of the sacrificial system in Leviticus, yes? How about the descriptions for the building of the tabernacle in the last few chapters of Exodus? That’s pretty rough. Maybe some of the writings of the prophets where they’re just condemning everybody for everything? For me, though, the part that has always sat right at the top of my list are the genealogies. I mean, have you ever really tried to read those? Really tried? I remember the first real Bible reading plan I ever did. It was three years long—one chapter a day, until you got to the beginning of 1 Chronicles. Then you had nine chapters to read. I about had a cow when I saw it. Then I got to the beginning of 1 Chronicles and it all made sense. The folks who put the plan together just figured everybody was going to want to skip through that part. It’s just nine solid chapters of names, one after the next. There are a couple of little stories to punctuate the boredom, but other than that it’s just names. Most of which you can’t pronounce and whose stories are totally lost to history.
So then, if you were going to write a gripping narrative of the life of Jesus, you’d naturally want to include only the exciting stuff, right? Definitely no genealogies. But when you arrive in Matthew, the very first book of the New Testament, the first thing you find is…a genealogy. Be honest: How many of you have skipped over that section entirely to get to the good stuff? Count me in those numbers.
So, why would Matthew start with something so boring? Because for his first audience, genealogies like this weren’t boring at all. In fact, these lists of names represented some of the most exciting parts of the story being told. Why? Because these weren’t just lists of names to them. Like a family tree today may not be very exciting to simply look at, the names we see there aren’t the only things we’re thinking about. We’re thinking about the stories behind those names. Each of those names represents a family story that has shaped our lives. Well, the genealogies in the Scriptures represented the same thing for the original audiences. Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew is a perfect example of this. This isn’t merely a list of names; it is a reference to the family stories that shaped the path for how Jesus first made His appearance in this world.
If you’ve got a copy of the Scriptures with you this morning, find your way to Matthew 1 with me and let’s take a look at this together. Let me start by just reading for you what Matthew wrote here: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers, Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Aram, Aram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab, Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered King David. David fathered Solomon by Uriah’s wife, Solomon fathered Rehoboam, Rehoboam fathered Abijah, Abijah fathered Asa, Asa fathered Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat fathered Joram, Joram fathered Uzziah, Uzziah fathered Jotham, Jotham fathered Ahaz, Ahaz fathered Hezekiah, Hezekiah fathered Manasseh, Manasseh fathered Amon, Amon fathered Josiah, and Josiah fathered Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. After the exile to Babylon Jeconiah fathered Shealtiel, Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel fathered Abuid, Abuid fathered Eliakim, Eliakim fathered Azor, Azor fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Achim, Achim fathered Eliud, Eliud fathered Eleazer, Eleazer fathered Matthan, Matthan fathered Jacob, and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Christ.”
Whew! Try saying all of that three times fast. Now, let me start telling these stories. We should be out of here by Tuesday afternoon easy. Okay, we’re not really going to do that, but some of these stories are pretty amazing. I mean, you’ve got Abraham there at the start. He was willing to trust God to give him a son…for 25 years…and didn’t see the fulfillment to that promise come until he was 100. That’s not to mention his willingness to leave behind everything familiar and follow the command of a God about whom he knew very little on the basis of a promise that had to seem utterly impossible on its face. In other words, Jesus’ family line here got off to a pretty strong start.
Isaac and Jacob followed after this and both stuck reasonably closely to Abraham’s example—both the good and the bad. But then things started to fall apart. Right there at v. 3, Matthew notes that Judah (one of Jacob’s twelve sons) fathered twins, Perez and Zerah. That part isn’t so unusual. But the next part would have grabbed everyone’s attention: Matthew listed their mother, Tamar. For starters, women weren’t listed in genealogies like this. All that mattered was the identity of your father. For Matthew to list Tamar would have screamed, “This is a story you should probably know!” Well, the short version is that Judah had three sons before Perez and Zerah, two of whom were scum bags and got punished by God for it. Judah himself doubled down on their evil which led Tamar—who had originally been married to the oldest son—to take some desperate and morally dubious actions to provide for herself. The whole thing was a mess. And God continued Jesus’ family line right on through it.
Then, just when you’ve gotten into another reading rhythm, Matthew lists yet another woman: Rahab. Here was another woman of questionable morals who wasn’t even an Israelite. She lived in the military outpost city of Jericho that the people of Israel conquered and destroyed on their first stop into the Promised Land. She double-crossed her own people in order to help the Israelites, and for her efforts was the woman through whom God continued working out His plans for our salvation.
And as if two women in the list weren’t enough (neither of whom checked off any of the boxes that you might have expected for “ancestor of Jesus”), there’s yet another woman listed in the very next line. Rahab’s son, Boaz, marries a Moabite woman named Ruth. Perhaps it was his eclectic background with a Canaanite mother that made him willing to even consider such a thing. Whatever his reasoning, though, no one would have expected this in Jesus’ genealogy. For starters, the Moabites were the bitter enemies of Israel. And besides, Ruth would have been considered damaged goods complete with lots of extra baggage: she was a widowed foreigner who had demonstrated a willingness to leave her family behind when it helped her cause. Nobody would have expected anything to come out of that relationship. Except God, who used it to continue winding His way through human history toward His Son’s arrival.
We could keep telling stories. Matthew’s real drive in presenting this genealogy was to present Jesus as the son of David, and so of course he’s here. But the path Jesus’ family line took was through the most painful and shameful part of David’s life—his affair with Bathsheba. And while there were several good kings who followed in David’s wake, there was also Manasseh whose reign was mostly consumed by a violent, bloody, paganism. Then there is a whole group of names whose stories are all completely lost to history.
Okay, but what is all of this? I mean, it’s fun telling all these stories just like it’s fun telling old family stories, but let’s be honest: We want to know what any of this really means for us. Perhaps you understand and appreciate the genealogies in the Scriptures a bit more—not that you’re likely to be chomping any harder at the bit to read through them in detail—but we’re still left with the question of what God wanted us to understand in these?
Well, think about these stories for a second. What’s one thing they all have in common? Okay, yes, they’re all in the Bible, but that’s not it. They’re all messy. Every single one of these stories—when we actually know them—are messy. They’re filled with people who blew it in increasingly significant ways. They were selfish and cruel. They were thoughtless and uncaring about others. They were downright evil. And yet this is the path through which God brought His Son to earth. God the Father worked through one messy story after another and just kept right on moving forward to see His good plans for His creation brought into reality.
Okay, so what does that mean? Make it personal. If God worked through all those messy stories to bring His Son to earth, to see His plans for the salvation of the world realized, do you think your story poses any difficulties to His bringing His good plans to bear in your own life? Of course it doesn’t. What’s more, it doesn’t matter how hard and ugly your story gets. I suspect you haven’t done anything as bad as many of these characters did and God still worked through their lives. He can still work in yours. Your hardest story can’t stop God’s good plans.
This is what the coming of Christ into the world means for us. No matter what your story is, where it has taken you, what kinds of dark paths you have traveled to find yourself where you are today, God’s good plans can still be a part of your life when you align that life with Jesus. Your hardest story can’t stop God’s good plans.
So then, come on, what kinds of things are in your story? Are there good ones? Hard ones? Ones you’d rather not remember? Things of which you are both proud and ashamed? No matter what’s there, God’s good plans are for you in Christ. Your hardest story can’t stop God’s good plans. The only real thing left to do is to submit yourself to those plans; give your life to Jesus. Give your life to Jesus and experience the renewal of hope, the covering of peace, the lifting of joy that only He can give. My invitation to you this morning is to do that very thing. Your hardest story can’t stop God’s good plans. Let’s experience those plans together.