David Jeremiah - Call Him Messiah
"Roots" is an American television mini-series based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel. It's called "The Saga of an American Family". And "Roots" received 37 prime-time Emmy Award nominations and they won 9 of them. Also won a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award and received unprecedented Nielsen ratings for the finale, which still holds a record as the third highest rated episode for any type of television series, and the second most watched overall series finale in US television history. No one knew at the time but Haley's bestseller and the blockbuster television series that aired a year later were the beginnings of a genealogy craze that would sweep our nation.
Four decades later, genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the United States after gardening, and the second most visited category of websites on the Internet. Genealogy is a billion-dollar industry that has spawned profitable websites and television shows and scores of books and with the advent of over-the-counter genetic testing kits, a cottage industry in DNA ancestry testing. Someone has said, "I trace my family history so I will know who to blame. Every tree has some sap in it". When we open our Bibles to the first chapter of the New Testament, we discover that Jesus' family tree is not the exception. Jesus' genealogy recorded in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew and Luke reveals a whole host of characters. There are spies and foreigners and kings and paupers and prostitutes and military heroes.
What can we learn from this section of Scripture filled with hard-to-pronounce names and dozens of "begots"? Let's begin first of all with the long wait for our Messiah. The Jewish people had not received any word from the Lord for over 400 years. After the close of the Old Testament, the end of the book of Malachi 'til you get to the book of Matthew, four centuries go by and there is no word from God. What would God say when he would speak for the first time? I promise you, none of us would have done it this way. Matthew 1:1: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham". Matthew's Gospel begins with a 17-verse, 40-name genealogy tracing Jesus' earthly lineage back some 2000 years and 42 generations. The genealogy begins in verse 1 with the mention of Christ and it ends in verse 17 with Christ mentioned again. This is the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
To the surprise of many, Christ is not Jesus' last name. Christ comes from the Greek word which means the Anointed One or the Chosen One. Christ is the New Testament Greek equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew word which is commonly translated, "Messiah". Jesus Christ means Jesus the Messiah or Jesus the Anointed One. Jesus Christ didn't get in trouble in his world because they didn't like his last name. Jesus Christ got in trouble in the Jewish world because he claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus was the Messiah. And the Old Testament is filled with hundreds of passages that promise the coming of a messiah. Here's just a few that relate to his birth, more than 700 years before this happened. Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be called Immanuel. Micah predicted that he would be born in Bethlehem. Isaiah predicted that he would be visited by the magi and presented with gifts. And Jeremiah predicted that the Messiah's birth place would suffer a massacre of infants.
All of these prophecies were made 7 centuries before they actually were fulfilled. And while there are over 300 prophecies concerning the first advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, scholars say there are about 48 that are directly related to the birth narrative of Jesus. And mathematician Peter Stoner estimated that the probability of fulfilling 48 prophecies concerning this event was 1 chance in a trillion trillion trillion 13 times. Our minds can't comprehend a number that big. It is staggering. It's equal to the number of atoms in a trillion trillion trillion trillion billion universes the size of our universe. The odds alone say it would be absolutely impossible for anyone to fulfill all of the Old Testament prophecies. Only Jesus throughout history managed to do it. And if I were an unbeliever and I studied the prophecies concerning the birth of Jesus alone, I would be so overwhelmed that I would bow my knee to him and accept everything that he said. No one has ever done anything like that.
Back to the genealogy. In Matthew's day, it was your family and your pedigree and your clan that people were connected to. So if we're going to believe this is the Messiah when we open up the New Testament book, we're going to get the résumé of the Messiah. The things that constituted your résumé back then were the people that you knew and the family that you grew up in and, just as we do in our day, people back then would often tinker with their résumé. They would take things out that made them look bad and add things in that would make them look good. But Matthew does not do this. In fact, Matthew does exactly the opposite. His résumé is shockingly unlike any other ancient genealogy with all of the foibles and yet all the potentials of everyday people. But God worked through these people to bring about his plan of salvation, and there's no pattern of righteousness in the lineage of Jesus whatsoever. Not what you would think, not what you would think at all.
We don't have time to mention all the people listed in this genealogy but here are four things that grab our attention as we meditate on these verses. As you read through the names in the first 17 verses of the 1st chapter of Matthew, you discover that the genealogy of Jesus breaks the barrier between men and women. There are five women listed in the genealogy of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. We might not think it's such a big deal, but in ancient patriarchal societies, women were virtually never ever listed like this in a genealogy, let alone five of them. You could call these women gender outsiders, yet here they are, front and center in the genealogy of the Messiah. The genealogy of Jesus breaks the barrier between men and women. Number two, the genealogy of Jesus breaks the barrier between Jew and Gentile.
Most people think that when you read these names in Matthew chapter 1 that is the background and lineage of Jesus that all of them are Jewish. Three of the women, Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, were Gentiles. They were Canaanites and Moabites. To the ancient Jews, these nations were unclean. Let me read to you a verse from Deuteronomy chapter 23, specifically about the Ammonites and the Moabites. Listen to this: "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever". They were not allowed in the tabernacle or the temple to worship and yet, here they are in the genealogy of Jesus. The genealogy of Jesus breaks the barrier between men and women, it breaks the barrier between Jew and Gentile, and it breaks the barrier between saint and sinner. Three of the women that are included in the list of people in the genealogy of Jesus were involved in serious sinful acts that would have presumably disqualified them from inclusion on such a noble list. Let me refresh your memory. The first woman mentioned in the list is a woman by the name of Tamar.
Verse 3 says: "Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar". Genesis 38, one of the most sordid chapters in the Old Testament, tells the story behind this reference. Tamar was the wife of one of Judah's sons, but her husband died before they had children and so she tricked her father-in-law, Judah, into sleeping with her. This was an act of incest, everywhere in the Bible against the law of God. And even though Jesus was descended from one of the boys, Perez, not Zerah, Matthew mentions both of the boys and he mentions both Judah and Tamar just to make sure that we have this whole story in mind; it was out of that dysfunctional family that the Messiah came. And then there's Rahab. She's mentioned in verse 5: "Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab". Rahab was not only a Canaanite, she was a prostitute who was used by God to help Joshua and the people of Israel defeat Jericho. She ended up in Israel after the battle. She married a man by the name of Salmon and to this couple was born Boaz who became the husband of Ruth.
And then there's Bathsheba, one of the strangest mentions in all of the genealogy. Follow me on this. Verse 6 says David was in this genealogy. "David the king begot Solomon," now watch this, "by her who had been the wife of Uriah". Now why did Matthew call Bathsheba, "the wife of Uriah," instead of just calling her by her name? I mean, even if you didn't know anything about biblical history, you would know this is a strange reference. But Matthew is making us remember a tragic and terrible chapter of Israel's history when David betrayed one of his best friends, Uriah, slept with his wife and then had Uriah murdered to cover it up. Here then, you have in this genealogy moral outsiders, adulterers, adulteresses, incestuous relationships, prostitutes. Indeed, we are reminded that even the most prominent of people, Judah and David, were moral failures. And you have cultural outsiders, racial outsiders, gender outsiders. The law of Moses excluded these people from the presence of God and yet here they are, publicly acknowledged as the ancestors of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What does it mean? First of all, it shows us that people who are excluded by culture, excluded by respectable society, and even excluded by the law of Moses, can be brought into the family of Jesus. Doesn't matter your pedigree, doesn't matter what you have done, if you repent and believe in him, the grace of Jesus Christ can cover your sin and you can be united with him. You see, back in ancient times, there was this concept of ceremonial uncleanness. If you wanted to stay holy or respectable or good, you had to avoid contact with unholy things. The unholiness was considered to be contagious, and so, you had to stay away from it. You had to stay separate from it. That was what all the washings and the cleansings and the, you know, all of the rituals were about. But Jesus turned that around. His holiness and his goodness cannot be contaminated by contact with us. Rather, his holiness infects us by our contact with him. Come to him regardless of who you are and what you have done, no matter how morally stained you are, and he can make you as pure as the driven snow.
In David and Judah, we learn there is no one, not even the most respected and powerful who do not need to come to Jesus for cleansing and forgiveness. And in Tamar and Rahab, we learn that even the lowest and most despised beings can receive the grace of Jesus Christ if there is repentance and faith. So you see, men and women, the genealogy of Jesus Christ in this long wait for the Messiah teaches us that prostitute and king, male and female, Jew and Gentile, one race and another race, moral, immoral, all sit down as equals. Equally sinful, equally lost, equally accepted, and equally loved. In the old King James Bible, this chapter is filled with so-and-so begat so-and-so, and we often have thought, "That's the most boring part of the Bible". But no, the grace of God is so pervasive that even the "begats" are dripping with the mercy of God.
The fourth thing you learn from this genealogy is that the genealogy of Jesus breaks the barrier between then and now. The promise of Messiah took generations to be fulfilled. It was centuries, it was millennia, before the angel came to Mary and told her about the child she was to bear. The promise was a long time in coming and I know that then, as we often do now, we think Jesus isn't gonna hear us and he's never gonna do what he said, that God has forgotten. But God had not forgotten. And so you read in verse 16 of Matthew chapter 1 as the long wait for the Messiah ends: "And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called," what? The Messiah, the Christ. So the genealogy of Jesus begins and ends with a supernatural birth. At the beginning of the line was Abraham whose son was a miracle baby and at the end of the line was Jesus who was born of the virgin Mary. From the long wait for the Messiah, we come now to the second half of our story and the long war against the Messiah.
What was happening in heaven while all of this was happening on the earth? Well, a battle was going on. You may not remember it, you may not have ever heard it before, but let me take you through the main points. The battle began at the Creation. In Genesis chapter 3 and verse 15, as you barely open the book we call the Bible, are these words spoken by God to Satan as he was closing down the Garden of Eden: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel". This is thought by most theologians to be the first mention of the gospel in the Bible.
When God told Satan in the Garden of Eden that the seed of the woman, the Lord Jesus Christ, would bruise his head, Satan began his campaign to eradicate that promised seed. Knowing from prophecy that the Promised One would spring from Israel, the adversary did everything he could do to keep that nation from ever being formed. He incited Esau to try to kill his brother Jacob: Jacob, who would father the 12 tribes of Israel. When that didn't work, he incited Pharaoh to murder all the Jewish babies that were born in Egypt. So Pharaoh commanded all its people saying, "Every son who is born, you shall cast into the river and every daughter you shall save alive".
If Jacob or Moses had not survived, the nation of Israel would never have existed and the line of Jesus would have been broken and we would not have a Messiah. In fact, at one point in Israel's history, Satan almost succeeded in destroying the line of David. The promised redeemer was supposed to come through the royal line of David and, after David's descendant King Jehoshaphat died, there were a series of intrigues and murders that eliminated the entire Davidic line except for King Ahaziah and his family. And in 2 Chronicles chapter 21, read these words with me: "And they came up into Judah and invaded it, and they carried away all the possessions that were found in the king's house, and also his sons and his wives, so that there was not a son left to him except Ahaziah, the youngest of his sons". Ahaziah was then murdered and the queen mother usurped the crown and she killed all of Ahaziah's children, finally and once and for all, ending the royal line that would come from David. Or so she thought. But the high priest's wife managed to hide Ahaziah's youngest son, Joash, until he could be crowned. In that little boy, in that one male, was the survivor of Israel's royalty.
If that young boy had been killed, it would have all been over. And the promised seed and the ultimate purpose of God would have been ended. You think I'm making this up? Let me read to you from 2 Chronicles chapter 22: "Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal heirs of the house of Judah. But Jehoshabeath, the daughter of the king, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him away from among the king's sons who were being murdered, and put him and his nurse in a bedroom. So Jehoshabeath, the daughter of King Jehoram, the wife of Jehoiada the priest (for she was the sister of Ahaziah), hid him from Athaliah so that she did not kill him. And he was hidden with them in the house of God for 6 years, while Athaliah reigned over the land". And when he was old enough, they trotted him back out and the line of David was alive and well again. Thwarted but undaunted, Satan then decided to incite the wicked Haman to plot the extermination of all the Jews. And God raised up Esther for such a time as this to expose Haman's scheme and the promised seed was spared.
Then you come to the battle at Christmas. And here I direct you to a very strange passage to ever read in the Christmas season. But it's a passage where Almighty God draws aside the curtain and allows us to look into the unseen world and see what was going on at such a time as this. In Revelation chapter 12 and verse 4 we read these words. I'll put them on the screen. "The dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child," capital "C," "as soon as it was born. And she bore a male Child who was to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne". When the prophesied Child, the Lord Jesus Christ, was finally born, Satan instilled fear and hatred into King Herod who had all the babies in Bethlehem murdered. Do you remember that part of the story? He thought that surely the promised seed would be slain in this insidious act of infanticide.
So you read in Matthew 2:16: "Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its districts, from 2 years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men". But the sovereign hand of God intervened and directed Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt and the life of Jesus was spared. Immediately after Jesus was baptized at the beginning of his public ministry, Satan confronted him in the wilderness and tempted him with three powerful temptations. But Jesus rendered his adversary powerless and he gave him the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God. And he quoted from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy and he defeated in every single instance the temptations of Satan which, if Jesus had succumbed to even one nth of one of those, he would have been disqualified and redemption would be history.
After this, the devil made two more attempts to murder Jesus by proxy. He tried to coerce the people of Nazareth to throw Jesus over the top of a hill and then he fanned the hatred of the scribes and Pharisees and they tried to stone Jesus to death. Each time, Jesus miraculously escaped unharmed. Satan had been after the Lord Jesus Christ from Creation. He followed him all the way to the cross and that battle took place on a Friday afternoon. And Satan must have been filled with glee. He thought he had finally won the battle. He finally would destroy the Lord Jesus. On a Friday afternoon at 3 o'clock he saw the fruition of his long campaign against God: the promised seed, the Lord Jesus, succumbed to a bloody death on the cross. And when Christ's mangled body was wrapped in linen, embalmed in spices and sealed in a sepulcher, some people I have read said Satan danced on the top of the grave.
He thought he had won. But God had purposed for this promised child to rescue and rule the nations, and God never changes his purposes. On the third day, he raised Jesus from the dead and Satan's purpose once again was thwarted. The wait that began with Abraham and the war that began with Creation were brought together at the cross. Is there still some waiting? Oh yes. And is there still some war? "We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in the darkness". But here is the good news. Looking back over our shoulder, all the way back to the book of Genesis, there is no one doubt about the outcome. The Jesus who overcame Satan at his birth, at his death, and at his Resurrection, is the Jesus who has promised us that we too will overcome. He came to be one of us, so that we could one day spend eternity with him and his Father in heaven.
If ever there is a story that should be told at the Christmas season, this is that story. If you listen to the songs and the messages, the stars are shining, the angels are singing, the shepherds are worshiping, the wise men are traveling, and Jesus the baby is probably crying. It's a beautiful pastoral scene that we have in our minds. But in the background of that is the long wait for the Messiah and the long war against him. He came and fought through all of that for one simple reason: because he loves you so much. He loves you so much, not only that he would come but that he would execute war against the enemy and continues to do that even to this day.
What should we take away from Christmas if we take anything at all? We should take away this picture of the love of God who sent his Son but don't forget the other part of the story. It wasn't all peace and quiet. It wasn't a silent night. It was a night that was filled with the ultimate victory against the enemy who tried to do it all in. And I wrote down in my notes as I finish this, "I have a God who loves me and I have a God who fights for me. He fights for me". I hope you know him, not just as the little baby that we sing about or that we put symbols of in our front yard. I hope you know him as the gift of God who came to this world because of his great love for you and has fought for you through it all. And one day, if you put your trust in him, you will stand with him in heaven and hear him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord".
Christmas is about salvation, as we learned in the genealogy, for all kinds of people. Nobody is too bad to be a Christian. Nobody's gone too far away from God, never to come back. The arms of God are long and they reach to all those who will return. If you've been away from God or if maybe you never have met God through Jesus Christ, the message of God's love is for you. I stand here as his representative to tell you once more. Christmas is this. God loves you, and God fights for you. He believes in you. Maybe it's time for you to believe in him.