Our God is a Redeeming God
Topic: Christmas Passage: Matthew 1:1–1:16
For the last few months our community groups have been discussing the book of Ruth and one of the things that came up frequently is how surprising it is that Ruth would show up in Jesus’ genealogy. In fact, other than Mary, there are only four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy and the fact that each one seems to be disqualified to be there tells us that God is trying to tell us something through their inclusion.
Years ago there was a commercial that opened with a well-dressed audience listening attentively to an Italian opera, and a voiceover asked something like, “What can an Italian opera teach us about financial investing?” I don’t remember what Italian operas taught us about wise financial investing, but I do remember the connection wasn’t a real obvious connection – you had to look for it.
Genealogies aren’t known for being particularly interesting reading. Genealogies in the Bible are those lists of long, hard to pronounce names that trace the lineage or ancestry of particular families, and they can be pretty tough sledding to get through. When I come to a genealogy, I need to confess that I often skip over them. But genealogies in the Bible often contain hidden treasures that are not immediately obvious – you have to look for them and this morning as we look at the four women contained in Jesus’ genealogy I want to ask the question,
“What can Jesus’ genealogy teach us about God’s redemptive heart for sinners?”
Genealogies were very important to Jews to demonstrate the purity or legitimacy of a person’s heritage and lineage. Jesus’ lineage demonstrates that Jesus was of the line of Abraham and Judah and David – all necessary if Jesus is to be the Jewish Messiah. And what was typically important to the Jews were the names of the fathers – mothers were only mentioned when there was something noteworthy about them. In Jesus’ genealogy, other than Mary, only four women are considered noteworthy of mention. But what’s strange is that what sets these women apart isn’t status or stature, but scandal. Not one of them belong here which is exactly why they do belong here and why their names beautifully display the redemptive mission of Jesus and the redemptive heart of God. We learn through them that our God is a redeeming God.
This time of year our thoughts turn to the birth of our Savior, how He came to save the lost, to rescue the sinner, and there is a beautiful word that conveys what Jesus came to do: Redemption. He came to redeem. Redemption means to recover ownership by purchasing back.
ILL: It’s not a perfect analogy, but folks have been kind enough to bring in their empty cans and bottles to be redeemed to help pay for our young people to go to next year’s youth camp. Those cans that were destined to rot away on a garbage pile instead are redeemed (at a redemption center) and they are not only recycled to be useful again, but their redemption also contributes towards our youth going to a camp where they can be challenged to live for Christ. Redeemed from a garbage pile and for the purpose of changing a young person’s life. You could get choked up thinking about it – I’ll never look at an empty can the same way again. Redemption is to recover ownership by purchasing back.
Jesus came to redeem lives, to purchase our lives back to God. To redeem us from a life that was destined to rot on the garbage pile of our sin and shame and to redeem us for a life of kingdom usefulness. So it is fitting that that redemptive mission would be displayed in the lives of his ancestors and specifically in the lives of the four women mentioned in his genealogy. Let’s consider who these women are.
(3) And Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…
Tamar was the daughter in law of Judah and when her husband died and Judah’s other sons did not honor their duty to produce offspring through Tamar, she disguised herself as a prostitute and waited by the roadside for her father in law to pass by. Judah did pass by and not knowing who she was hired her services and she conceived twins by her father in law. It doesn’t surprise us that Jesus’ line passes through Judah, but it is scandalous that it passes through prostitution and a forbidden incestual relationship. We’d expect Tamar’s place in Jesus’ ancestry to be hidden, but it is highlighted because our God is a redeeming God.
(5) And Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab…
Rahab was not only a Gentile, but she was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. Hebrews 11 calls her a “harlot”, what we would call a “woman of ill repute”, so you’d think that her presence in Jesus’ ancestry would be obscured so as not to taint him with her bad reputation, but she is proudly included in Jesus’ genealogy because our God is a redeeming God.
(5) And Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth…
Ruth is a Moabite, a people who were Israel’s sworn enemy and oppressor. Moses commanded Jews concerning Moabites:
"No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, Deut. 23:3 (ESV)
A Moabite wasn’t even to be allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord – not to the tenth generation. Yet Ruth entered, not only the assembly of the Lord but the ancestry of the Lord. Ruth demonstrates that our God is a redeeming God.
The last of the four women isn’t even mentioned by name, but that’s not in order to diminish the scandal, she is identified by the scandal. The last woman is Bathsheba but she is simply called
4. The wife of Uriah
(6) And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah…
Most of us are probably familiar with the story found in 2 Sam 11: David is on the rooftop, his men are at war, and he sees Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, bathing on her rooftop. He sends for her, commits adultery with her, and when she becomes pregnant, he tries to cover it up by calling Uriah in from the battle, but when Uriah doesn’t go in with his wife, David devises a scheme to have Uriah murdered in such a way as to make it look like a misfortune of war. He then takes Bathsheba as his wife and later they would have a son named Solomon.
The wife of Uriah is an interesting character. Some protest that she had to do the bidding of the king, she had no choice. I don’t agree. First of all, Jewish kings weren’t the kind of authoritarian, bloodthirsty kings that the Gentile kings were. To disobey a Gentile king was probably near certain death, but to disobey a good king like David in the name of righteousness would almost certainly NOT cost her her life. Second of all, this was not something David wanted to be widely known - he was acting in the darkness of secrecy. He never wanted Uriah to know, and he never wanted the public to know. That’s why he tried so hard to cover it up.
If Bathsheba had boldly said (the way Joseph said to Potiphar’s wife), I cannot do this wicked thing against God and my husband, it would have ended right there. I think the sordid truth is that the wife of Uriah was a willing accessory to this adulterous affair, and yet here she is identified, not by name, but by her scandal. Like the other three women the wife of Uriah displays that our God is a redeeming God.
Four women, four scandals. They would be the names we’d want to leave off the list, but here, in a genealogy that doesn’t typically list women, they are intentionally highlighted. So what can Jesus’ genealogy teach us about God’s redemptive heart for sinners? There are many things but time only permits me to point out two things that are as true for us today as they were for these four women:
- God covers sin and shame with mercy, not secrecy
A couple of weeks ago a woman named Judy Lewis died at the age of 76. She was the “secret daughter” of Clark Gable and a single actress named Loretta Young. Young concealed her birth and adopted Judy when she was 19 months old. Even though everyone knew exactly who Judy Lewis’ real parents were, Young would never publicly acknowledge that her adopted daughter was really her biological daughter to the day she died. She covered her shame with secrecy.
The human race’s answer to shame and scandal is to cover it with secrecy. Hollywood doesn’t have a corner on cover up. We see cover up in politics – we’ve seen more than one presidential candidate torpedoed because of allegations of scandal and cover up -, we see it in sports – Penn State has been rocked by allegations of scandal and prestigious reputations have been disgraced because they covered up in secrecy what should have been disclosed, in business, on Wall Street, it’s everywhere. To some degree we all cover up, and probably more than we think. I’m not saying we all have scandal in our lives because I don’t believe we do, but we all have things we are ashamed of that we want to draw the blinds on to the world, keep others from knowing, cover with secrecy. We might be ashamed over something we have done, or over things that were done to us. Children who are innocent victims of abuse feel shame. It’s misplaced shame – they didn’t do anything wrong, but its shame nevertheless. Here’s the problem: covering our shame with secrecy does nothing to remove the shame, often it just compounds it.
If Loretta Young were alive today, she’d find that denying that her daughter was her daughter brought far more shame to her name than the original shame of conceiving a child out of wedlock. What scandalizes us today is that her daughter grew up without ever hearing her mother lovingly acknowledge and accept her as her daughter. We can accept having a child out of wedlock but it seems cruel to us to deny that child the love and acceptance of a parent and leave a young girl not knowing who she is and then confused as to why her mother would deny being her mother. Secrecy might hide the shame for a while but it doesn’t remove the shame.
God’s Word is brutally honest. It doesn’t try to conceal or do damage control. There it is right in Jesus’ genealogy: his line contains scandal and shame and sin. Here’s what amazes me: the children born to those four women should never have been born – Tamar should never have committed incest with her father in law. As Gentile women Rahab and Ruth weren’t eligible to be married to Jewish men. And David should never have had a son by Uriah’s wife. And yet, not only did it all happen, God displays it for all to see. Why? Because our God is a redeeming God.
The greatest cover up of all time
Jesus came to redeem fallen men and women from our fallenness and shame. He came to walk among thieves and prostitutes and murderers and blasphemers and to redeem their lives back to God. That’s what we celebrate when we celebrate the birth of our Savior.
So it’s fitting that his lineage would contain fallenness and shame redeemed and that it should be highlighted not concealed. Jesus doesn’t cover up our sin and shame with secrecy, he covers up our sin with his blood which purchases forgiveness from our sin and shame.
Forgiveness covers sin by cleansing it away. When I have an argument with Janice and say hurtful or angry things, time doesn’t cover my sin. Waiting a while doesn’t make it all better. Ignoring it – acting like it didn’t happen and I didn’t say it doesn’t cover it. Saying nice things to make up for it doesn’t cover it. Only asking for and receiving Janice’s forgiveness covers the sin because forgiveness says, I have absorbed your wrong against me and I don’t hold it against you. I won’t hold it against you, I won’t withdraw from you, and I won’t bring it up again. Forgiveness covers our sin with mercy and healing, not secrecy. And that’s what Jesus came to do.
Pastoral application: if there’s something in your past that you feel a deep shame for, and it has affected how you relate to people and how you relate to God, I pray that you see this morning that secrecy can’t ever really cover it. Not really. I am not encouraging you to tell everyone, but to begin by openly confessing it to God – every detail and every bit of your shame. And then believe that Jesus covers you with his loving mercy. You are forgiven. Like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. There is something more powerful than our sin and shame and regret: Jesus’ mercy. He died to purchase forgiveness for our souls. Let Jesus redeem your shame and turn it into a display of His grace.
And if your shame isn’t something you did, but something that was done to you, confess that to God as well, not as sin, but tell the Father of your sense of shame and hurt and confusion and ask Him to redeem even that thing for His glory and your good. Our God is a redeeming God. He will be near you as you confess that to Him and He can bring healing and peace to your soul as you do.
God’s redemptive heart is to cover our sin with the one thing that really does remove our sin and shame – forgiveness. Our God is a redeeming God.
2. God redeems the destiny of sinner for kingdom purposes
I’ve been hard on these women, purposely emphasizing their scandal and shame because it is a reality in each of their lives. But, it isn’t the final reality. They aren’t remembered for their shame, they are remembered for their part in carrying on the line of the Messiah. They are women of faith who trusted God in the face of serious challenges and their own failure and God honored their faith and used their lives for His kingdom purposes – specifically carrying on the line of the Savior.
Ruth should not have been allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord, but Ruth was a beautiful, godly, humble woman – a real heroine – who refused to be excluded from the assembly of the Lord. She clung in faith to Naomi and to Naomi’s God. Listen to what she tells Naomi when Naomi tells her to go back to her own people and her own gods.
And [Naomi] said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." 16But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you." Ruth 1:15-17 (ESV)
I love Ruth’s courage and resolve! That is a tenacity that is born of faith, and God honored that faith and drew her into the line of Christ. As beautiful as it is that we have been saved from hell, don’t ever forget that you have been saved for something too! God wants to use you for His kingdom purposes. Have the kind of faith that refuses anything less.
When Christians lose sight of that, we tend to drift. Grateful that we are saved from hell, we forget what we are saved for. But God wants more from our lives – He wants to use us in big ways and small ways to further His kingdom. We may not always even see how He is using us, but by faith we keep stepping out and opening our mouth and being available.
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba – none of them knew their names would end up here in Jesus’ lineage. None of them dreamed that they would be used of God to carry on the line of the Son of God who would save all who believe from eternal judgment. They didn’t know but they trusted God. You may not know but trust God and walk each day in the Spirit and you’ll be surprised how God will use you. And one day you might find He used you in ways you had no idea. Our God is a redeeming God.
God sovereignly wove a genealogy, a lineage, through a line of fallen, sinful men and women, that would deliver us to a young virgin named Mary, who would have a child conceived of the Holy Spirit, God’s own Son. He came to redeem the Tamar’s and Rahabs and Ruths and Bathshebas – and us – and all who believe on the name of Jesus Christ. That’s why He came – that’s why we celebrate Christmas – He came to redeem lost sinners. Our God is a redeeming God.
What should be our response?
1. Confess our sins – refuse to live in secrecy sin loves, but bring sin to light of confession and repentance.
2. Faith in God. Faith in God that leads to courage and commitment to serve Him.
¨ Is there a situation that God wants you to take the initiative in – to honor Him
¨ Is there a stand the Lord wants you to take that may cost you sacrificially? Ask God to fill heart with faith that leads to courage and commitment.