Finding the Reflection of God in a Portrait of Scandal
December 11, 2016 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Finding the Reflection of God in a Portrait of Scandal
Topic: Encouragement Passage: Matthew 1:1–1:16
Grace Community Church
December 11, 2016
Finding the Reflection of God in a Portrait of Scandal
This morning I want to share a fresh take on a message I gave several years ago because I really love this message and the window it gives us into the heart of God, so please turn with me to Matt. 1. The Amolfini Portrait was painted by Jan Van Eyck in the year 1434. It is the portrait of a young couple - either newly married or newly betrothed, standing in a small room holding hands. Even to the untrained eye it is a beautiful painting commemorating a special moment in the lives of this couple, but it is more than that if you know where to look. The artist himself is hidden in the painting in several ways. Centered on the wall directly behind the couple is an elaborate Latin signature that translated says, "Jan Van Eyck was here 1434". Hanging on the wall right below the signature is a small convex mirror that reflects the room from the opposite angle and so when you look closely you see it reflecting the back of the couple but you also see that there are two men standing in front of the couple, one of those men being the artist, Jan Van Eyck himself. When you look closely, you can see the image of the artist hidden in the painting.
This morning we're going to look at an amazing reflection of God hidden in, of all places, a genealogy. If you're like me, you find reading through the Bible's genealogies tough sledding and I'll admit that more than once I've skipped over them and picked the story up on the other side. But God has hidden some amazing revelations of Himself in Biblical genealogies, and when we look closely at Jesus' genealogy as recorded by Matthew we find a clear reflection of God's love for the lost, the outcasts, the rejects, the losers, of the world. So let's read Matt. 1:1-16 and see if you can find the surprising, even shocking reflection of God's heart hidden in this genealogy.
Genealogies were very important historical documents to the Jews because they documented the purity and legitimacy of a person’s heritage and lineage. By tracing Jesus' lineage through King David, Matthew establishes that Jesus was to be qualified to be the Messiah and to sit on the throne of David. For the most part, a Jew's family line was traced through his father, and so, for instance, Luke's genealogy of Jesus lists no women other than Mary, Jesus' mother, and Matthew's genealogy lists only four women. 42 generations documented with only four women mentioned raises the question, why these four women? What distinguishes them from all the women not mentioned? What qualifies them to be singled out on the Savior's family tree?
We might think that for them to rate honorable mention in the Lord's family line they must be particularly holy, or done something really heroic, or something really great to cause God to want them to be singled out like that. The truth is just the opposite. The thing these four women have in common - what sets them apart - is that each of their lives were marked by scandal. Serious scandal. The kind that you'd think would disqualify them from being in Jesus' family line, or at least would embarrass God enough to cause Him to downplay their inclusion in Jesus' ancestry. Yet the Lord chooses not to hide them, but to highlight them in an otherwise all-male genealogy. Why? What does that tell us about God, and about them?
It actually tells us something really wonderful about the heart of the Savior whose birth we celebrate at Christmastime. As we look closer at these four women, we see God Himself writing "I was here" next to their names. Jesus is reflected beautifully in their lives. He was present and working in their imperfect, scandal-marked lives, and they belong in his family line precisely because they don't belong in his family line. This is what Christmas is all about: Jesus came to find the lost, love the unlovely, draw in the outcast, and redeem rejects.
So let's a take a couple minutes to look at these women and the scandals that marked their lives. Scandals today make headlines in the news, so imagine with me if there had been newspapers in that day, what the headlines might have read. The first woman we come to is Tamar in verse 3: And Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar… Tamar would have made the front page with this headline:
Daughter-in-law tricks her father in law into impregnating her by impersonating a prostitute
Now Judah's a name we all know and respect. The coming Messiah (Jesus) would be called the Lion of Judah. But in Genesis 38 we are told that Judah's son Er married Tamar, but he was a wicked dude and the Lord put him to death so Judah told his next son Onan to carry on his brother's name by producing offspring through Tamar, but Onan didn't honor his duty and the Lord also put him to death. Judah promised his youngest son to Tamar when he grew up but she saw that Judah wasn't going to fulfill that promise so she disguised herself as a prostitute and waited by the roadside until her father in law passed by and hired her services. Tamar conceived twins by her father in law. No surprise that Jesus' line passes through Judah, but it's pretty shocking that his line passes through prostitution and a forbidden relationship between a father in law and his daughter in law.
The next woman is Rahab (5) And Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab… Her headline might have read something like this:
Gentile prostitute betrays her people by helping Jews conquer Jericho
Rahab actually had two strikes against her - she was a Gentile, and she was a prostitute. Hebrews 11, in the same breath that honors her for her faith, calls Rahab a harlot. We remember when Joshua sent two men to spy out the city of Jericho how Rahab hid them from the soldiers who came looking for them. That was an act of faith, but you'd think her Gentile blood and immoral profession would be enough to ban her from Jesus' lineage, and yet Matthew highlights her.
The third woman mentioned is Ruth in verse 5: (5) And Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth…
Moabite woman forbidden ever to enter the assembly of the Lord enters the family line of the Lord
Ruth was a Moabite and Moabites were Israel's sworn enemies. God erected an impenetrable wall between the Jews and the Moabites by ordering the Jews to never, ever, allow a Moabite anywhere near the people of God or the house of God.
"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)
God is serious about this, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever…and yet, Ruth not only enters the assembly of the Lord, she enters the ancestry of the Lord.
The last woman we find in verse 6 is Bathsheba. (6) And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah…Her headline is like something you'd read on a tabloid in the supermarket:
Steamy affair leads to secret love child and murder
Matthew doesn't even mention Bathsheba by name, he describes her by her scandal! David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah. Most of us know the story in 2 Sam 12, how David sees Uriah's wife Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop and sends for her while the men are all away at war, and commits adultery with her. She becomes pregnant and to cover his tracks, David conspires to have Uriah murdered in such a way that it looks like a casualty of war.
David is definitely the more guilty of the two, but Bathsheba was a willing accomplice, at least to the adultery. She could have refused, she could have protested the kings advances, she could have appealed to his conscience before God, and there is no doubt he would have backed down. Bathsheba was a willing participant in the adultery and even after her husband - a good and honorable man by all accounts - was killed under questionable circumstances, she would go on to marry King David. Through this sordid affair, Solomon was conceived and through Solomon's line Jesus' heritage passed.
Unlike newspapers sometimes do, I haven't exaggerated these headlines, these are accurate descriptions of the scandals these women were involved in. But there's something more we need to see in this. Not only were these women's scandals woven into their identity, their scandals were also woven into Jesus' identity too. In a natural sense, Jesus' birth wasn't in spite of their sin, it was because of their sin! If Tamar hadn't tricked her father in law, Perez would never have been born, and that would have ended Jesus' line. If Salmon and Boaz hadn't married Gentile women (one a prostitute, the other a hated Moabitess), Jesus' line would have ended there. If David had remained faithful to his many wives, if he had never committed adultery with Bathsheba, never murdered Uriah, never married Bathsheba, Solomon would never have been born and that would have been the end of the line for Jesus' ancestry. In a natural sense, as far as Jesus' genealogy goes, Jesus wasn't born in spite of these scandals, he was born because of them. What does this tell us about our Savior? How does this reflect the heart of Jesus to us?
Jesus came to identify with our sin, not insulate himself from it
Jesus came to save us by jumping into all the mess that we deal with everyday. Jesus never sinned, but that doesn't mean he insulated himself from the effects and the heartaches of our sin. Jesus came to save us by identifying with us as sinners. He identified with us in our sin, tempted as we are in every way - yet without sin.
The truth is, like these four women, sin is woven into the fabric of our identities too. That's what makes sin so pervasive. You and I don't just sin, we are sinners. Sin isn't just something we do, it is woven into who we are. We are sinners and whatever sins we practice get woven into the fabric of our identity. If we do selfish things long enough we become selfish people. If we abuse alcohol long enough we become alcoholics. If we fall into immorality, we are affected on the deepest level by that immorality - it becomes a part of who we are, and it affects the people closest to us in an incredibly deep way too.
And when someone sins against us - cause we live in a sin-messy world - often that gets into us and wraps itself around our identity too. Last week Dave Johnson shared about how he came to faith in Christ recently, but in his testimony he talked about how he was bullied as a young boy. That isn't on him, that's on the kids who bullied him. But it got into him and affected him on a deep level of identity. He saw himself in a certain way because of it. He saw others in a certain way because of it. He put up walls to protect himself and even though he was young when it happened, that bullying has affected him all his life. We can all say the same thing about sins that happened to us and affected our sense of identity and who we are on a deep level.
We live in a sin-messy world. Jesus didn't insulate himself from all this mess, he allowed it to become a part of his identity so that he could save us from our sin and redeem our identities from the grip of sin. So sin and scandal is inseparably wrapped into his lineage and therefore his identity and it would continue to be so all his life. He was born to an unwed mother and whispers that he was an illegitimate child would follow him all the days of his life. At points in his ministry he was called a blasphemer, a friend of sinners, and even a devil. When a prostitute washed his feet with perfume and her hair, the religiously uptight Simon thought to himself, "not much of a prophet - look who he is allowing to touch him".
This identification with our sin reached its climax on the cross. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus never sinned, but he took our sin upon himself as he hung on the cross in order to pay the penalty for sin that we owed to God. Rather than shunning us for our sin, Jesus identifies with us and empathizes with us in our sin. Hebrews 4:15 says, For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin.
This is why we can come to Jesus just as we are. We don't have to clean ourselves up before coming to him, he accepts us just as we are with all our mess and sin. Jesus came to save us from sin, and to untangle sin's grip, not only from our mind and heart, not only from our behavior, but also to untangle sin's hold on our identity and who we see ourselves as being. And that brings us to the second reflection of Jesus we see in the portrait of these four women.
Jesus came to cover our sin and shame with mercy, not secrecy
Human nature is such that we instinctively want to cover our shame with secrecy. I'm not talking about the natural and healthy desire for privacy, I'm talking about something deeper - hiding things that we're ashamed of, sometimes not only from other people, but from ourselves. One of the hallmarks of a dysfunctional family is they have a lot of secrets. Things that don't go beyond the four walls. The drapes are drawn, the doors are locked, no one gets into certain rooms. There are things that are never talked about. That kind of secrecy gets deep within the identity of that family.
Five years 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 the birth of her daughter and adopted Judy when she was 19 months old. Everyone knew that Gable and Young were Lewis’ real parents, but Young never publicly acknowledged that her adopted daughter was really her biological daughter and only acknowledged it to her daughter when her daughter was in her 30's and confronted her mother with the rumors. Loretta Young was ashamed and spent her life trying to cover an important part of her life with secrecy.
God isn't much for secrecy. In Luke 12 Jesus tells us, There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. Luke 12:2-3
God's big on shining light on deep, dark secrets. He does it here in Matt. 1, one day He will shine that light on all our lives. Secrecy really can't cover our shame - not permanently at least. Jesus didn't come to cover our shame with secrecy, he came to cover our shame with mercy. With forgiveness. With cleansing that reaches deep into our souls and cleanses us from the inside out.
1 John 1:6-7 says, If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness(secrecy), we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Forgiveness for our sin and freedom for our identities from the grip of sin begins with confession. Bringing our sin into the light of honesty before God and, where appropriate, man. If there’s something in your past that you feel ashamed about, I pray that you see this morning that secrecy can’t cover it. Not really. I'm not encouraging you to tell everyone, begin by confessing it to God. Believe that Jesus covers you with his loving mercy. You are forgiven. Like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, like Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Jesus' mercy is more powerful than all our sin. His blood more powerful than the stain of shame. But we don't receive that cleansing flow in the shadows. We need to step into the light of full confession to God.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Before we close, there's one more way that we see Jesus' heart reflected in these four women.
Jesus changes our identity not by denying our sin, but by displaying us as trophies of His grace
I’ve been purposely emphasizing these women's scandal and shame because it is a reality in each of their lives. But, it isn’t the final reality. Jesus took their scarlet letter and wove it into a scarlet thread of redemption in their lives. 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 – especially their part in carrying on the line of the Savior. Far from being ashamed of them, they are beautiful displays of God's grace. That's why Jesus came - not to pick out a few people good enough to deserve salvation (the Bible tells us no one is) but to save sinners who are completely unworthy of being saved, and then He doesn't hide them in embarrassment, He proudly displays them as trophies of His amazing grace. He does this by using them and us as instruments of grace in the lives of others.
What really marks Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba isn't their sin, but how greatly God used them in His plan of redemption. God forgave them but He also forged them - all their faults and failures and all - into effective instruments for His kingdom purposes. And the Lord wants to do the same thing in our lives as well.
Here's a simple way of thinking about it: Jesus wants to mend us, and then he wants to send us! When it comes to sin, shame, identity, we don't want to get all introspective. Bring it into the light, confess it, believe Jesus has forgiven you, and then move outward to help others. The end game isn't just to bring healing to our lives, he wants to use us to help bring forgiveness and freedom to other people's lives. Jesus mends us, then he sends us! If you were bullied, God can use you to help others who have been bullied to find a new hope in Christ. If you were an alcoholic, God can use you to reach out to others struggling with the addictive grip of alcohol and give them new hope in Christ. However sin wove itself into the fabric of your identity, Jesus wants to unweave its grip, not by denying it, but by displaying His far greater grace and using you as a witness of the power and grace of the Lord to others.
Believe that Jesus took your sin upon himself
Walk in the light by confessing your sin to the Lord
Have faith that God has changed your identity and your destiny, not only to make you a citizen of his kingdom, but also an instrument of his kingdom. He wants to rename you from lost to found, reject to redeemed, unlovely to loved by God, forsaken to accepted, and useless to useful. Jesus wants to mend you, and then he send you into a broken world with his message of grace.
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