Denying Self and Seeing God
Summary: Jesus wants His disciples to know: difficulty is coming, but so is glory.
As we pick up the events of Jesus’ life this morning, we come to the point where He gives His disciples an intelligence briefing – He wants them, and us, to know: difficulty is coming, but so is glory.
We’re going to hear some challenging things this morning and I want to encourage you, in fact I’ve been praying for you for several days now, that we will all be open to reconsidering our lives, attitudes, and expectations in light of the things we hear.
I have no doubt the Holy Spirit is going to be actively applying things to our souls this morning and asking us to respond, because the kinds of things we’re going to hear Jesus say should have a radical, profound, impact on our attitudes and actions. You can’t hear things like we’re going to read and consider this morning and walk away unchallenged, the only question is: will you resist or will you receive what you hear?
Before we begin, we need to remember the context, what has happened in Jesus’ life up until now? We’ve seen Him working incredible miracles, healing every sort of illness and injury, even raising people from the dead. He has walked on water and cast out demons. He just commended Peter for recognizing that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And He just promised He would build His church and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it.
But now this:
Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
It’s easy for us to lose sight of it, but Jesus’ life has been full of adversity from the very beginning – there was no room at the inn for His mom to give birth, His family fled His own country as refugees of a brutal government when He was an infant, He was rejected by his own brothers and sisters who did not recognize Him as the Messiah until after His resurrection. He was regularly and openly resisted by the establishment and was eventually betrayed to them by one of His own disciples. He did miracles for thousands upon thousands of people and many of them simply took what He gave and went about their way never returning to give thanks or praise.
Friends, do not miss the fact that Jesus endured a great amount of opposition and rejection, His was not a perfect, charmed, existence. He was tired at times, frustrated by circumstances, disappointed by people around Him. And pay particular attention to this: Jesus expected to be in direct confrontation with established leadership – the political and religious bureaucracies and their leadership and laws were major sources of opposition for Him. Friends, you can relate to Jesus and He can relate to you.
But, He also had a special outlook. He knew what was coming in both the short and the long term and He had confidence in it. He knew the opposition and resistance that lay ahead, and although He wanted His disciples to know about it, this was an intelligence briefing, not a strategy session. He’s giving them information, not asking for ideas. He tells them He will be killed – but also, He will be raised again the third day. Jesus knows the stages this will go through and how it will ultimately end.
Of course, that doesn’t sit well with some of the disciples, it doesn’t make sense to them in light of all they have seen and experienced of Jesus, so they assume Jesus needs a little pep talk, maybe He just needs to be reminded that they’re with Him, that He’s got this. So,
22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
Peter is the good friend who says, “Look – you’ve got to get rid of that negative self-talk Jesus. It might be a challenge, but you’ve just got to visualize your success and we’ll work through this. You’re a champion!”
And, if this were just about power and victory, then Peter would be right. Jesus can take whatever these guys in Jerusalem are going to give. But Peter doesn’t fully understand yet that there is much, much, more going on here – something that touches on the very foundations of the universe.
The collision that will happen in Jerusalem is not a collision between the raw power of Jesus and the positional power of the elders, chief priests, and scribes; it’s the defining moment in human history. It’s the culmination of everything Jesus has come to do. So, instead of shaking it all off and saying, “Yeah Peter, thanks. Sorry for getting all down and depressed back there” Jesus rebukes Peter.
23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Ouch! That has to hurt, huh? One day you’re the rock on which He’s going to build His church and the next you’re Satan incarnate. What happened?
Well, look at what Jesus says: “You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
We talk a lot about a God being a God of love, and He is, but you also have to read things like this and hear Jesus tell someone to go away because they’re an offense to Him. Friends, we must, must, must, understand that we can do, say, and think things that are offensive to God.
He doesn’t just overlook everything and smile down as we do whatever we want. He reacts. And that reaction is not always something we will like. It might hurt. It might be shockingly embarrassing.
But notice too that Jesus says why Peter is an offense to Him (circle this word in your Bible) – for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
This tells us something else very important – there are two ways to live in this world, two different mindsets we can have, and they are at the root of everything else. Everything we say and do, everything we experience, and everything that lies ahead of us is grounded in one of these two things – we live either according to the things of God or the things of men.
So right here is where I’m praying fervently that God will capture our attention and help us to understand these things – to expose: what are we driven by? What are our motives and agendas and values anchored in? Are you and I, whether non-Christians, or disciples of Christ like Peter, primarily mindful of the things of God, or the things of men? If you’re looking for practical application points, I’ll give you one right here- this is a model for how we should pray: that we would have revulsion at things that are not from God, instead of attraction.
We live in what has been called an attention economy. Advertisers, developers, corporations, friends and family, content creators and curators, they’re all competing for your attention. That’s why some of you have been scrolling through other things on your phone while you’re sitting in church, you’re infected by FOMO – fear of missing out – on something more important, more exciting, more compelling. You have this chance to be mindful of the things of God, but you’re distracted by the things of men. And that’s under the best possible circumstances – here, gathered together for corporate worship, this should be the easiest place to be mindful of God, and yet we’re still distracted by the things of men.
Jesus wants us to know these two separate operating principles exist, and that they are in conflict. So, which are you operating on, which are you driven by? Hold that thought as Jesus expands upon the idea:
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
In recognition of these two ways to live, Jesus is calling us to make hard decisions in life. He’s actually calling His followers to pick up a cross. Remember, the cross is not just a piece of gold fashioned into a pendant that you hang by a pretty chain around your neck; it’s a weapon. It was an instrument of execution and He is calling us to put to death certain desires that rise up within us because they are born out of the hearts and minds of men and do not reflect the heart and mindset of God.
Friends, we should not trust every desire that we experience. There are times when we will have to tell ourselves ‘no!’ because desires bubble up inside us that are not compatible with following Christ.
But listen: that is a VERY strange message in our day and age. It is VERY strange to tell someone not to follow their desires, much less to put any of their desires to death. Our culture tells you all the time, ‘you need to be authentic,’ ‘you need to be real,’ ‘you need to discover your passion’ – well, what if your passion, what if your desire, what if your inclination or interest is contrary to Scripture and the mind of God? Who wins out?
Jesus says here it is possible to spend your life pursuing your passions and wind up with nothing in the end – to gain your life, but lose it. To gain the world, but lose your soul.
And friends, of all the cities in the world, of all the congregations in the world, this is a city, and we are a congregation that needs to hear this message! Because, we are a driven people. We are high performers and high achievers and many of you got here on the basis of your past performance and future potential.
Even if you don’t feel like a strong type-A personality yourself, it’s just in the air here. People are driven by their career or their issue or their project and this is the seat of power, this is the place to do things, important things. This is the place with the good schools that help you get into other good schools or into good jobs. This is a city, and we are a people that are going somewhere.
But here, in this city, I have met people who have gained the world and lost their soul. I’ve met people who sacrificed their family in pursuit of their career and didn’t realize until it was too late.
I know people who have sacrificed their fertility in pursuit of their career and fun and find themselves in their 40’s regretting that they waited so long to try having kids or have just accepted the fact that they might never have them. Now, I also know some that have done nothing wrong, and life has just turned out that way, I’m not critiquing them, but I’m talking about people I know that will admit – they chose not to start a family in their 20s or 30s and now they look back and question that choice.
I know people who are sacrificing a potential family because they’re busy chasing achievement and freedom – people who could get married, who have a viable option, but keep kicking it down the road for a more convenient time.
We have kids who are full of stress and anxiety about performance at school or in athletics because they’re trying to do all the things they see everyone else doing, including making it to the pool for swim practice 5AM on school mornings or whining and wishing for the latest phone or fad.
And worst of all, I know people who came to this city with a healthy relationship with Christ, and have grown spiritually flabby as the competing desires for the things of this world have choked out their time spent with Jesus and serving Him.
This city offers desirable things. It offers you the chance to meet and know people who seem to be important, powerful, and influential. It offers you the chance to “have an impact.” It offers you the chance to think about big issues and work on big policies and programs. This city offers you the chance to make a name for yourself and set yourself up for the next step.
But friends, which of those things are you not offered by God? Does God not offer you an identity and a mission, a purpose in life? Does God not offer you the chance to serve in His eternal government advancing His eternal kingdom? You can go tour the ruins of the Roman Empire, you can visit the Forbidden City in China and see the Terra Cota warriors, You can tour Mayan and Aztec ruins and see what’s left of once mighty kingdoms and the people who served in them while God’s kingdom continues on forever.
Mansa Musa, the king of Mali, has been called the richest man to have ever lived, but most people know nothing of his once powerful kingdom in West Africa. Meanwhile, Jesus, the carpenter and stone mason from the small town in the sticks – from the ‘fly-over country’ of His day, is building His Church and it outlasted, endures through, and overcome all of the world’s greatest empires like an anvil that has broken a thousand hammers.
The point I want to make is that the problem may not be with the things you desire, but where you’re trying to get them from. Are you seeking to follow Christ or something else? Some vague definition of success? Or maybe it’s your perfectly scripted idea of success and how to get there? The essential question is: where do you get your desires from? Do you have the mind of common men and women, or do you have the mind of Christ? Does Jesus rebuke your motives or commend them?
Jesus turns to those that follow Him and says, take up your cross, put your self-centered desires to death, all those things that you have picked up from other people who are not My people, things that reflect the mind of men and not the mind of God, and put them to death.
And notice: God wants you to take an active role in doing that. He’s not just going to flip a switch or dump a bucket of holy water over you that washes all that away – He gives us a part to play. And it’s not an easy thing He’s calling us to do. He’ll help us if we ask, but He actually says we will be tested to the very limits of our strength and endurance at times. Not beyond our limits, but right up to our limits. Consider what we read in 1 Corinthians 10, a verse that we should all memorize:
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
There are times you will be tempted right up to the limits of what you can bear, it will feel like crucifixion to put your desires to death. Do you know that? Do you expect an easy life? The Christian life is HARD at times. Do you remember that on the night before He was crucified Jesus even prayed in the Garden asking God, if there was any other way than this? Going to the cross was hard for Jesus, and He’s calling those who follow Him to do hard things to – yes, we have His leadership and help, and He is always there for us, but that doesn’t mean it’s all going to be easy.
If you find it hard to resist temptation at times, if you find it hard to change, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. In fact, the struggle and the difficulty might be proof you’re doing it right.
But look, this is not all just about self-control and deprivation and denial. Jesus is NOT calling us to be a bunch of dour, stern, joyless, aliens. He’s actually calling us to a greater joy. He’s saying don’t fill up on empty calories, because there’s a fat, juicy, grass-fed steak coming up for dinner and molten lava cake with a fresh scoop of vanilla for dessert.
Pay attention to this important point: Jesus wants us to battle our lesser desires with something greater – to fight fire with superior firepower. He’s saying don’t get caught up in this world, wait just a little longer for what I have for you. Watch what He says next:
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.
I want you to notice this: Jesus is offering reward as motivation. He’s saying all the thoughts you have about success and satisfaction and fulfillment and belonging and identity, there’s nothing wrong with them per se, as long as you fulfill them in the right place – wait for Me, do things My way, and you’ll receive a reward – you’ll be satisfied beyond your wildest imagination and you’ll enjoy it with no regrets, no shame, and no fear because you got it the right way.
And then, He goes on to prove it:
28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Matthew 17:1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
11 Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. 12 But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.
Here, on what has been called the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples see a miniature picture of what is to come when Jesus’ glory is fully revealed.
Notice what they saw: Jesus in His native, overwhelming glory. The light wasn’t shining on Him, it came from Him. Now, those of you who know your Bible well know the veil in the tabernacle and temple veiled the glory of God, so too Jesus’ body veiled His glory most of the time, but here there is a temporary pulling back, that we might be able to see the reality underneath – the revelation that this was fully God in the full flesh of a man.
It’s what we will all see one day.
In the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, John see the Risen and glorified and says His head and hair are white like wool, His eyes, like a flame of fire, and His face, John writes is “like the sun shining at full strength” (Revelation 1:13).
And then, at the very end of Revelation we read about the Heavenly city and we’re told there is no night there and they don’t need the sun because “Lord God gives them their light” (Revelation 22:5). This is the God we worship. The God that is calling us to Himself. The God who set aside all of His glory and put on flesh to come and rescue us.
Do you know Christ? Do you know who He is? Do you know what He offers to you, what He has done for you? Can you name any good thing that He has held back from you without reason? Do you know what is keeping you from Him? Do you know where, in your life, you have the mind of men and women of this earth and not the mind of God? Do you know which desires you need to put to death?
And have you considered, when you take up the cross, what are you putting to death? Do you understand that God is only calling you to put to death things that COMPETE with your true joy, the joy that could be found in Him, in seeing His glory, in serving His Kingdom. When you take up your cross you’re recognizing – there are things in me, or things that come to me, that are CONTRARY to my deeper, true desires and satisfaction. You’re recognizing the difference between the thoughts of man and the thoughts of God. You’re putting to death the self that rose up in garden of Eden so that you can know God in His glory on earth and be with Him in His kingdom forever.
May God help us all to see more of His glory and to understand what He truly has in store for those that love Him as we are conformed to the image of His Son. Take some time today and ask God: where has corrupted thinking entered your life, what ambitions and goals do you need to let go of? And ask Him to reveal His glory to you as He did to the disciples on the mountain, ask Him to help you know and trust His promises for you – ask Him to help you wait for the greater reward to come. Ask Him for the strength to follow and carry your cross.
And keep in mind what Jesus said on the night before He carried His own:
John 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
then determine how much they felt they should receive from it. And then they would hire a local to oversee the tax collection for that region.
But here’s the problem only the person they appointed would know how much he had to collect. So, there was a minimum he had to gather for Rome, but he could adjust that number a little bit to include something for himself off the top and that is how the tax collectors got paid. So when you paid your taxes, you never knew how much was going to Rome and how much was going to this guy.
So Matthew, or Levi, makes a living by squeezing money out of people for the government and his own pocket. And he’s taking that money from his own people, the Jews, and giving it to a foreign power that is occupying their land and controlling their lives. Most of his neighbors viewed him as an opportunistic traitor, the living, breathing, expression of Roman occupation and oppression in their city. As one pastor noted: “He had better make a lot of money, because he wouldn’t have a lot of friends, except among other tax collectors and Gentiles.”
Think about what his job cost him: no one wants to say hi to him on the street, he wouldn’t be welcome at community events; he wouldn’t be welcome in the synagogue where people went to worship God each week on the Sabbath. But he would have money, position, and power. Is that an OK trade? And, do you think we have people in our region making similar trades today? Trading in their family for power, position, or money? Compromising their walk with God for the sake of making a few buck or seizing an ‘opportunity’?
Let me ask: what makes you turn your back on your family and your people and your religion, all the things that give you your identity and place in the world? What was going on inside this man? What was he trying to find? What did he feel like he needed? And why did he feel like the only way to get it was to betray everyone and everything else? No one forced him to serve as a tax collector, as far as we know he chose this on his own, in fact, he probably maneuvered and schemed for it and worked to guard his appointment. Why? And did he feel like it was worth it?
Maybe he did in the beginning. Maybe he felt the trade-off was “just the price you have to pay” to reach your goals. But I think at some point he began to feel the isolation of it all, the emptiness of it all, the disappointment of it all – the kind that settles in at night when you’re trying to fall asleep and your deepest thoughts start to bubble up in burning questions – the questions you want to shut out or run away from.
I think God was pressing him with those deeper questions – stirring his soul to ask: is this really what it’s all about? Is there anything else? Is this what life is? What should I be doing? Can I ever go back? Can I ever be forgiven? Can I really change?
I believe God was agitating Matthew’s soul, just like He might be agitating some of yours, stirring you up, troubling you with deep questions and desires for deeper things.
For Matthew, it all came to head one day when he was sitting at his desk near Capernaum. Because on that fateful day, Jesus, a poor, blue-collar carpenter just beginning His public ministry walked by, looked at Matthew and simply said, “Follow Me.” In that one moment, everything made sense – Matthew was ready for it, though he didn’t know what “it” was, and he immediately surrendered – gave up his position with Rome and became a follower of Christ.
Finally, he felt like he had found what he was really looking for. Here’s a man who had made great sacrifices for his career, and suddenly he found something he was willing to give it all up for.
Friends, that’s who Jesus is. He is the one worth giving up everything else for. He is the one worth following. He is the one who shows up as the answer to all our questions and puts everything in order. If you’re feeling unsettled today, if you’re asking those deeper questions, listen for Jesus, because He’s coming to you and saying the same thing – with authority and tenderness, He is telling you – “Follow Me.” It’s not a question, it’s a command, but it’s a gentle command and full of promise that you can discover who you really are, in Christ.
Look at what Jesus did with Matthew’s life – He took who Matthew was, what he was good at, and gave it meaning and purpose.
In order to be a tax collector you had to have some amount of education, you had to speak both Greek and Aramaic and be able to read and write, you also needed to be well-organized and keep good records. Now, don’t those also sound like great skills for someone to capture the details of the life of Jesus and pass them on? It turns out, accuracy and details matter to a tax collector AND a gospel writer.
Friends, the same skills that made Matthew a good tax-collector were redeemed, transformed, and used for God’s glory.
And I wonder how He wants to do the same for you? What skills and abilities has God given you, what qualifications and opportunities has He given you? And how might He want to use them if you surrender yourself and say, “Lord, I am available to you”?
I hope you’re asking the question. Because God does have a plan for your life, He is building His kingdom and His church, and you have opportunity to be a part of it – to have all your abilities and your gifts used for His glory and the good of those around you.
And that might mean He calls you out of the marketplace and into the ministry, like He did with Matthew, or maybe He simply opens your eyes to see how you can make the marketplace into your ministry by seeing your job, or your team, or your school as the place where you serve Jesus with the gifts and abilities He has given you.
As your pastor, this is what I want for you, I want you to see that God is with you wherever you go that He wants to use you, if you are available to Him and if you will look at your context and ask: God what are you doing here and how do You want me to join in? What will it mean for me to “Follow You” here?
But right now we need to see how it all played out for Matthew – how God used his eye for detail to record important things about Jesus and where He came from.
I want to recognize, right away, this is more detail than you might prefer – next week will be much easier as we dig into the story of Mary and Joseph – but this is the way Matthew begins his story, so let’s read through it and then talk about what can learn from it, because it’s all here for a reason.
Matt 1:1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
2 Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. 4 Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. 5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6 and Jesse begot David the king.
David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. 8 Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. 9 Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. 11 Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.
12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor. 14 Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. 15 Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. 16 And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.
Now if you take a class on communication, public speaking, or writing, they will tell you how important it is to grab the attention of your audience. This doesn’t quite seem to hit that mark for us, does it? So why does Matthew choose to start off this way?
And the answer is: because he didn’t write it just for us. This is God’s Word, it’s what God wants all people to know – people from every tribe, and language, and county and jungle and village on the planet – people who lived in the 1800s and the 800s, all over the world and all throughout time. And those people did not, and do not, live in the same media-saturated culture as we do.
To most of them, to most of the people in the history of the world, family is important. If you meet someone new, you want to know where they fit – who is their family, where do they come from, what’s their connection? Today, we meet people in total isolation, as if their past and their lineage have nothing to do with who they are. For most of the world though, and for much of history, people were understood to have a place where they fit. Matthew is showing people where Jesus fits.
And that was very important, especially for the Jews who were the first to read what Matthew had written. They knew what God had said in the past, so they expected the Messiah to come through a particular family line, to come through the line of Abraham and also be a descendant of David. This genealogy shows that Jesus does both. It proves that God kept His promises and did what He said – Jesus is the fulfillment of what Jewish people had been hoping for centuries. That’s why it’s so important to open the book with a family tree.
And actually, if you think about it, we do still care about connection and family today. Some of the most popular stories of our time are about family. Think of Star Wars, Harry Potter, even Downton Abbey, they’re about family: who is related to whom and who is the descendent of whom, who is the father of whom? What family are you in?
And then, think of the popularity of DNA kits where you take a swab of your saliva and send it in for analysis to learn where your ancestors came from, or the popularity of sites like ancestry.com. It turns out there is something in each of us that really wants to know: where did I come from, who am I connected to, and how do I fit in? Sometimes, for all of our modern independence, like Matthew, we wonder if it’s worth the cost of being alone.
Of course, the problem with families is: they’re messy. We might have some family members and ancestors that we’re proud of and get along with, but we’ve also got some people we don’t exactly like, or aren’t exactly proud of, or that we’re disappointed about or tired of. Well, you find the same thing in the line of Jesus: heroes and harlots, victims and victors, role models and rogues.
Take a look at the ladies in this list. Now, first of all, you have to know that it was extremely rare for women to be included in a genealogy, but these ladies are, and when you get to know at a little more about them, you might be shocked that this is line of Jesus.
First you have Tamar, you meet her in Genesis 28 where she put on a disguise and sold herself as a prostitute to her father-in-law Judah because he wasn’t keeping up his responsibility to take care of her, in the process she got pregnant and gave birth to the twins Perez and Zerah. So yeah, you’ve got a bit of a mess right there.
Then you have Rahab who really was a prostitute, and she wasn’t a Jew, she was a Canaanite, a different ethnicity. We meet her in Joshua 2 where God takes extraordinary measures to save her and her family from the destruction of Jericho and bring them into His blessing and promises for Israel. And this is a common thing, to see God adopting people in, bringing people that you would not expect into His family.
It’s the same thing that happened with Ruth who we meet in the book of Ruth – she was from Moab, a nation the Jews hated. She had been married to a man who was a Jew, but he died along with all the other men of the family leaving Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi in a precarious position. But God changed her life and her destiny through the kindness of Boaz, and the woman who once felt as though she had nothing, eventually had a grandson who sat on the throne of Israel: King David, Israel’s most beloved king.
Of course, David didn’t always make the best choices. He’s famous for things like slaying the giant Goliath, but he’s also infamous for stealing the wife of another man. Bathsheba “had been the wife of Uriah” until David used his position of power to take advantage of her, which you can read about in 2 Samuel 11.
Each of these women were in a vulnerable place – Tamar couldn’t get the support she was entitled to, Rahab was a citizen of a city facing destruction, Ruth had lost her husband and all economic security along with him, and Bathsheba was the victim of a predator. Some of them brought difficulty on themselves, others were just victims of circumstance or the choices of others, but God redeemed them all and turned their stories into part of the lineage of Christ.
And then you have the kings – they’re a mixed bag as well. From King David on you have a list of rulers who had a spotty record of righteousness and debauchery. We just mentioned David’s highlights and humiliations, but then you have men like his grandson Rehoboam who was a wicked ruler – so bad in fact that it led to a split in the Kingdom. His son Abijah was wicked like dad, but then things turned around with Asa who was good, and so was his son, Jehoshaphat, but Joram his son was wicked and then he had Uzziah who had some good moments, but was also struck down with leprosy for attempting to enter the temple and burn incense, something only the priests were allowed to do (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).
What’s the lesson here? It’s this: politicians will never be our saviors, it doesn’t matter what party they represent, they’re still human beings and human beings are tempted to make bad choices because of power. They don’t, and can’t know everything, do everything, or fix everything. And even if things are good for a season, they’re going to be bad again sooner or later because human beings are still involved. No political party is ever going to save us or be 100% reliable.
The flip and flop of the character of the kings also shows us that good parents can have bad kids and bad parents can have good kids because we all, every generation, need to have our own relationship with God. You can’t ride on your parent’s coattails on the one hand, but neither are you doomed by your parents on the other. We all need Jesus and we can all have Jesus.
So, what we find in the genealogy is God fulfilling His promises – doing what He said He would do: provide a savior through Abraham and David who would be a blessing to all humanity.
But we also find a sample of the kind of people Jesus came to save: Jews like Jacob, Jesse, and Josiah, Moabites like Ruth and Canaanites like Rahab, men like Solomon and women like Tamar, saints like Boaz and sinners like Uzziah, rulers like David and carpenters like Joseph. People like you, and people like me. We all need Jesus.
This genealogy shows us that no one has it together enough, no is popular enough, no one is powerful enough to create their own forgiveness and salvation.
But it also shows us that no one is too far gone, no one has too much or sinned too big to be forgiven. We all need Jesus who came to call sinners to salvation, and to give us a new identity in Christ.
This genealogy presents God’s extravagant grace on display and we see it again in the life of the man who wrote it down. There is a God who brings the outsiders in.
This morning if you will turn to Jesus He will include you in His family – where your sin abounds grace abounds much more. And if you will make yourself available to Him, He will go to work in your life like He did in Matthew and redeem and transform your skills and abilities for His glory. Will you do that?
We’re about to celebrate communion, and as the men distribute the elements, I want to encourage you to take a moment and pray. Confess your sins to God, ask for forgiveness, and offer Him your life once again – to make of it whatever He pleases. For His glory, and your satisfaction and joy.