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Jack Graham - Surprising Grace


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    Jack Graham - Surprising Grace
TOPICS: Christmas, Grace, Christmas Time is Here

Well, Christmas time is here and we are celebrating with everything we have. We know how to do it here in Texas and we do it big, bold and bodacious. We think you ought to magnify Jesus as much as you can. And I stand in amazement when I see just the talent on the stage and then the faithfulness of people to work all day long and come up here and sing at night, volunteers who give of themselves, and they do it because they love the Lord and love people and want people to know Jesus. So this is the season for giving and this a time for grace, and that’s what we’re talking about these days leading up to Christmas. We’re taking a fresh look at Christmas through the lens of grace. And the message today is called "Surprising Grace". I could have called it "Startling Grace" because we’re going to find grace in the most unusual place. This grace is in the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew chapter 1.

Now, typically when we read the Christmas story we just skip right over Matthew 1 and all these begats. You know, so-and-so begat—this is King James speaking here—so-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so, and you know we go screensaver on that pretty quick, right? And we forget the begats! But there is such an incredible story of grace. In fact, the entire storyline of the Bible is the story of grace. Grace is God’s love in action. Grace is the unmitigated, the unmerited, unbelievable love of God, and it is undeserved. There’s nothing that we can do to attain God’s grace. It is such a beautiful word. Just think about the word grace; it’s a beautiful, elegant word. The Greek word for grace is charis. That also is a beautiful word. You can hear the word charity in that word charis. It is the word for grace which means gift. Grace is the gift of God. It represents this profound truth, the story of God’s love.

And grace is unique to the Christian faith. No religion of the world teaches grace except the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. This wonderful amazing grace of God fills our hearts to overflow with praise and adoration to God, the one who has given so much. The reality is we should never get up in the morning or go to bed at night without praising God for His grace. I said grace is unmerited and undeserved. I can also say it is unreasonable, because we think that grace should only be given to good people. And sometimes we wonder why God doesn’t deal with all the bad people. Why doesn’t God just go ahead and deal with all the bad people and judge them right now? We say that until we realize we are the bad people! Because "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), and "There is none righteous, no not one" (Rom. 3:10).

And when you say you are a human being, you are admitting that there are flaws and failures and foibles in your life. The Bible calls this sin. There are sins of commission—what we do that we should not do; and sins of omission—those things that we don’t do that we ought to do. We have all sinned. And so grace shows up even though mankind has sinned and sinned and sinned and sinned and sinned throughout each generation from the beginning until now, and now it appears that sin is escalating. The vulgarity of our own culture today is increasing. The sinfulness of sin is evident everywhere, and yet the message of Jesus Christ is a message of grace, a grace that is greater than all of our sins. The Apostle Paul said, "Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds" (Rom. 5:20).

And so when you look at the genealogy of Jesus you may wonder, "Pastor, where do you find all that there"? Because what you see is this forgotten chapter in the Christmas story, but it’s really the first Christmas tree. It’s the family tree of Jesus beginning with Abraham, the father of the faith, and moving on through the history of Israel to David, and even the inter-testamental period between the Old Testament and New Testament as each one of these grandfathers and grandmothers of Jesus are noted. Some are notorious for their faith, others are notorious for their sin. We have here in the family line of Jesus the good, the bad, and the ugly! There are the greats, the not-so-greats, and the wannabe greats. Many of the people that we meet in the legacy of our Lord are unknown, plus difficult to pronounce.

That’s why I’m not going to read the whole genealogy this morning, because I would struggle with it. This is probably not the passage you’re going to pick when you gather around your Christmas tree and read the story of Jesus. But it is so very important. In fact, I dare say this genealogy is essential to what we believe as Christians. For the Jews, it was very important to know your family tree. It had to do with your legacy, the land in which you would live. When Joseph was told to go to the place of his ancestry for the birth of Jesus, that was all a part of the plan, so they kept copious notes as to where people were born, and the land that they would be given. Their identity was in their family name, in their tribe and so on. So to the Jew this is very important.

Now I know when we read this, it sort of reads like a Hebrew phonebook! A movie reviewer was asked to review the phonebook one day. Now I know we don’t have phonebooks any more, but he was asked to review the phonebook. And he looked at it and he said, "Well, here’s my review: good cast of characters, weak plot"! And sometimes you look at the cast of characters here in the line of Jesus and you say, "Great cast of characters, but who are they"? But I assure you it is a great, great plot. Number one, because Jesus came from the bloodline of Abraham. It was essential that the Messiah be a Jew. And Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, is one of the direct ancestors of Jesus. And so He is a Jew.

Now to our Jewish friends, and many Jewish friends join us at the Gift of Christmas and other times here at Prestonwood, let me remind you that, as Christians, we are not asking you, as a Jewish person, to convert to our Gentile religion. We in fact, have converted to the Jewish faith by receiving the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ! We proclaim Jesus as Messiah! And what we are begging our Jewish friends to do, and the whole world, is come to Jesus who is the Messiah, the Savior and the Lord of all! Jesus was a Jew. He’s also noted as one of the sons of David. David is mentioned in this ancestral line and, of course, it was vital for the Messiah to be a direct descendent of David. The point being that Jesus had a human family. He is Son of God, but also Son of man. He was born. He had a mother! He had an adopted father who helped to raise Him. He lived a lineage and had a legacy. He was a part of a family tree. He didn’t just drop out of heaven! He wasn’t just manifested magically at the manger! He was born in a human way, in an historical way! Our faith is a historical faith. It is not based upon legends or myths or fables.

This Summer we’re going to take a trip, and you’re invited to go with us, on the second and third missionary journeys of Paul, along with the Greek Isles. We’re going to be on the Isle of Patmos where I had the opportunity to preach on the Lord’s Day on the Isle of Patmos for the Revelations given. Hopefully we’ll do that again. And we’ll be at Ephesus and we’ll be at Athens. And when we go to Athens and Corinth and other places of this nature, you see the Greek mythologies everywhere and the remnants of the Greek mythology. You see the place where Paul preached at the Acropolis on Mars Hill and he addressed all the Gods and then he spoke of the Unknown God, the one true God, and shared the Gospel.

One of the greatest evidences, in my view, of the Christian faith is how one man, a Jewish believer by the name of Paul, was able with a few band of believers to take on the whole Roman-Greco world with the Gospel and turn the world upside down. It’s a miracle. But the Greeks, they believed in these magical, fanciful gods that just appeared in mythology. That’s not Christian faith. Jesus was born into a family, and what a family it was.

This is chapter one of Matthew, verse 1: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, son of Abraham. (Got the big stuff first. Then he starts with the begats) Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab (that’s like abba-dabba-dabba to me!), and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah… (Matt. 1:1-6).

Now let’s just stop right there because that about covers it, and the list goes on right up to the time of Joseph, and then Jesus. But when you look at this family tree, you realize that the family of Jesus was a messed up family. The Messiah had a messed up family. Oh, by the way, we all do! Somebody starts singing "I’ll be Home for Christmas" and your stomach gets all in a knot, right? Because we think, "Oh no! I gotta go home for Christmas and my crazy cousins are there and that wild-eyed aunt of mine". And I don’t mean to make light of that because it’s a real problem for a lot of people. Their home’s are fractured in some way and broken. And you know, it’s a tough thing to have to deal with family. It’s important that you share your faith with your family in some way and that you share Jesus with your family regardless of what your situation is, because, look, the messianic line is messed up.

There are names of people here in this list that you and I would leave out. If I were writing the story, I would leave out some of the names that are here, and I’ll show you why in just a moment. In history, there were military leaders and emperors who hired people to write and rewrite their history in order to make them look good. They left out all the bad stuff. I mean, that’d be like writing the story of Richard Nixon and leaving out Watergate, right? Just leave out all the bad stuff. So that’s what was typically done in the ancient world, but the Bible is brutally honest. There’s no cover-up or gloss over. God is keeping it real. I mean, you wouldn’t be surprised that Matthew mentions Abraham and David and Solomon, but it is surprising that we find grace in others here that are not so great, and yet, still have grace.

For example, the four women that are mentioned as mothers in the family tree of Jesus are the original bad girls of the Bible. One is named Tamar, in verse 3 she is mentioned. The story of Tamar is so sorted that we wouldn’t read it out loud at church among children. It’s found in Genesis 38. But who was she? She was a woman who dressed up as a prostitute after her husband died and seduced her own father-in-law for money. She was not Jewish, but in fact she was outsider who didn’t fit into the family of faith. She was ungodly in every way. In every action, there is not one redeeming quality mentioned about Tamar in the Bible. Nothing good is said about Tamar, and yet she shows up in the genealogy of Jesus?

Another woman that we meet, the next one in fact, is named Rahab: that’s verse 5. Rahab perhaps is a more recognizable name to many of us. Rahab lived in Jericho and when the children of Israel were surrounding Jericho, they were devising their strategy in order to overtake Jericho as God would tear the walls down. And so they sent spies into this this walled city. And when they got there, a woman by the name of Rahab was impressed by the sheer power of God, so she hid these two Hebrew spies, and protected them. Oh, did I mention that Rahab was a call girl? She was a prostitute. And yet she did this extraordinary thing for these Jewish men by hiding them so that they would not be killed.

The rest of the story is clear. The walls came down and Rahab was graced, because grace didn’t just exist in the New Testament; grace existed in the Old Testament as well. God is a God of grace; He’s always loved you. And this woman Rahab was converted and she’s one of the great conversions of the Old Testament. And yes, her name appears in God’s hall of faith found in Hebrews chapter 11. "By faith, Rahab hid those spies". She shows up as a heroine of faith! How is that possible? Grace. Tamar, Rahab and then Ruth in verse 5.

Now Ruth was a lovely woman, but she also was an outsider, in that she was a part of a group called the Moabites. She was a Moabitess. The Moabites were begun in incest and cursed by God. She was from a cursed family. This family was considered vile and wicked; they were cut off from Jewish worship. They were not allowed to enter into the presence of God! And yet Ruth is one of the mothers in the lifeline of Jesus! Why? Grace. In fact, Ruth was the wife of Boaz in Bethlehem. It’s also a beautiful Bethlehem story, the story of Ruth. She became the wife of Boaz in Bethlehem, and the great grandmother of David the king of Israel, who begat the son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. But there’s one more woman to pick from and her name is Bathsheba. Actually her name does not show up in the Scripture. It just says in verse 6 of Matthew 1, "And Jesse the father of David was the king, and David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah".

The wife of Uriah was seduced by David the king, and for the rest of her days was a part of the scandal that took place in David’s kingdom. Uriah, her husband died on the battlefield, set up by David. It was a sorted situation. It was a cover-up. Of course, Hollywood loves this story. There have been movies made about David and Bathsheba. She was a failed and fallen woman who was married but slept with the king. She is a part of one of the greatest scandals in history. And yet because of grace, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba, is one of the grandmothers in the line of Christ. She was Solomon’s mother. You know this whole thing, this grace line is like a pot of gumbo. It’s got a little bit of everything in it, right? It’s a veritable hall of shame in many ways. Prostitutes and pagans and adulterers and outcasts and liars and sinners! These are definitely people who would be on the naughty list but for the grace of God.

That’s why I called it earlier unreasonable grace. That’s why I’m calling this message "Surprising Grace". And it’s not surprising that God would save these, but surprising that God would save me. And you, too. This is why we call it amazing grace. Astounding grace! Next week I’m going to preach from John 1:14. It says, "And the word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen His glory. The glory is the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth". Last week we preached on "Your Best Christmas Ever". And we said, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet, for your sake He became poor so that by His poverty you might be made rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus was named because He came to save His people from their sins.

So salvation is deliverance from our sins. It’s not an attitude adjustment or behavioral modification or promising to do better or trying to get a new life. It is God doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. And certainly grace is expressed at the cradle, in the very fact that Jesus has come. We see God’s grace in the cradle, but we see it most of all from the cradle to the cross, from Bethlehem to Golgotha, where Jesus died for us. "God demonstrated His love toward us" (Rom. 5:8). Grace is given in spite of our sin. We all have a past, we all have our secrets, we all have our sins, we all have our shame. And if you don’t think you do, you’re nothing but a Pharisee and self-righteousness will kill you! We all have sinned! But just because we have a past, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a future because of grace, because of what Christ and Christ alone has done for us. It’s not what we do for ourselves. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8).

You know, your family’s a mess; you’re a mess; your life is upside down! Jesus came for people just like all of us! You come from a broken family, a fractured family. Well, God knows how to put lives back together. He can put you in a brand new family, the family of God! He came, was born, that you might be born again. The family you were born into, that’s a losing deal because we’re all the sons of Adam. We’re all in the family of sin! But in Christ, we are now made alive! And it’s all because of His grace. And even at the outset, before the story gets told, God puts this family Christmas tree right here in Matthew 1 and decorates it with beautiful ornaments of grace. That’s what God does. Not because we are good, but because God is good. Because God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And the Christmas tree of Jesus reaches to the tree at Calvary where He died on the cross.

One last word before we go. Look at verse 16 of Matthew 1, wrapping up this birth-line of Jesus, this bloodline of Christ: "And Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ (or Messiah)". Jesus fulfilled the promise of the Messiah. He was the Son of Abraham, and a direct descendant of David. But notice what verse 16 says, and what it does not say. This is important. It doesn’t say Joseph was the father of Jesus or the begotten of Joseph. Why? Because He was born of Mary. He was the heavenly child of an earthly mother. Galatians 4:4 says, "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman". He was born of the seed of the woman. Jesus was virgin born.

You say, "Is that necessary"? Absolutely. Because if Jesus was born of man, the bloodline of man would have been in Jesus. If He was born in a natural way, He would have inherited the sinful life of man, but Jesus is born as the Son of God, the sinless Savior, born of the woman. Isaiah 9:6 says, "For unto us a child is born, and a Son is (what?) given". God the Father gave His Son, born as a child of Mary. The Son of God was born a Man so that we could be the sons of God. So that is grace in the genealogy! This is the first Christmas tree. It’s the book of life! Did you know that God keeps a book of life? And in the Revelation, the last book of the Bible, there is described a judgment at the end of time and every person will be accounted for in their life, and ultimately, what they have done with Jesus Christ determines whether or not their name is written in the book of life.

You didn’t make the Bible, but you can make the book of life, and you better make the book of life because those whose names are in the book of life are saved forever and escape the judgment of God in finality! These names remind me of one other thing. Some of these names we know and remember and honor to this day. Abraham and David and Solomon and Ruth and others. But most of these names we don’t have a clue who they are. They were born; they lived; they died. Born, lived, died. They came for a little while and passed away and are gone, except for their names. And it reminds me that life is so short. We’re here just for a little while.

Maybe the last time you went to a funeral or even walked through a cemetery, you see those graves there. Do you ever contemplate what were their lives like? I like to walk through old cemeteries, you know, and see old gravestones and unique epitaphs. And sometimes there’s a little bit about their lives, but most of the time, you wonder how many tears they shed. Not only was there grace in the line of Jesus, but there were a lot of grief, too. There were tears. These were real stories of real people who lived, who had babies, and died and they were grandparents and they were parents. They were people just like us. When we live and when we die, it won’t be long until the people who come behind us won’t know who we are. I dare say you don’t know the first names and last names of your great, great, grandparents unless you study that kind of thing. You couldn’t do it.

I know you couldn’t do it for the great, great, great grandparents. You could go look it up and get on Ancestry.com and find it, but the fact is that your great, great, grandchildren are not going to know anything about you much. "Only one life, twill soon be past and only what’s done for Christ will last". It’s your living legacy, your family faith that gets passed along. The only thing I can do about my great, great grandchildren is to care for my children and my grandchildren and, God willing, my great grandchildren if I live that long. But the only thing I can do is take the life that I’ve been given and by the grace of God know that I am in the Lamb’s Book of Life and live a life of faith and grace so that my family knows Him. Because it’s not important that they remember my name, but it is critical that they know the name of Jesus! And that’s what we want to pass a long. I want to be in the family of God forever and ever and ever. And I want you to be there with us.
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