Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

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Being Right When it Looks Wrong

December 7th, 2008 by Vic

Matthew 1

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Advent means a coming. This is the time of year we remember Jesus’ first coming and look forward to His Second Coming. Christmas is a fulfillment of the past and a hope for the future. Christmas is a time to look both ways.

One of Jesus’ last commands was to watch and pray. We tend to be pretty sloppy at watching and observing. I do not read and ponder the signs of the times too well. I was thinking this week about how the economy will affect churches. What is the Lord trying to say to us? Are we looking for God’s activity in all this?

If I asked each of you to sketch a friend on paper, how many of us would recognize the sketch you made? But if you had practiced, if you took time and looked at your friend and drew him from the front, side, different angles, if you practiced drawing and seeing how the eyes fit in relation to the nose and face, if you began to see how the cheek bones added different shadows, if you could see the unique folds in the ears and the shape of the other features, then if I asked you to sketch your friend, it would be much more accurate and maybe we would recognize your sketch.

Now apply that to your Bible study. If I asked you to sketch God, how accurate would your description be? Would your drawing be Christian or cultic? But if you had been searching the Scriptures and comparing one feature with another, if you had been looking at the relationship of different truths, then your description would be more accurate.

When you read the Word, do you really see? Do you have eyes but do not see? Turn to Matthew 1:1. What do you see? This verse tells you several things about the author. What do you see? 1. He intends to write a book and this is the beginning. 2. This book is a genealogy. Not an extensive genealogy, but just of one person named Jesus Christ. The focus is Jesus. 3. The writer must mean something different by the word ‘son’ than I do. I only have one Father. 4. Genealogies are very important to the writer. 5. The writer thinks he has found something important. Apparently to be a descendent of both Abraham and David was very special. There seems to be a reason Matthew included 4 women in the genealogy.

What does all this mean? It means Matthew is writing to Jews, but with a few surprises. They were really impressed with family lineage. For them the ancestor was always more important than the offspring. Within the norm God has a surprise. Jesus is more important than Abraham and David. In Matthew’s letter, the reader is expected to understand Jewish customs. The reader is expected to think very highly of Moses and the prophets.

Now what is Matthew saying in our Scripture today? This Jesus is Christ in nature and title. This Jesus is greater than David and Abraham. One branch of Judaism identified the Messiah as the Son of Abraham. Another branch indentified the Messiah as the Son of David. The name David is 3 letters in Hebrew ‘dwd’. To the Jew the letter ‘d’ had the value of 4 and the letter ‘w’ had the value of 6. This Jesus is the climax of God’s plan. This Jesus is a name above all names.

The first 17 verses are written because of verse 18. They did not have embryo transplants at that time. It was impossible for a woman to become pregnant without coming together with a man. Mary received an embryo by a miracle of the Holy Spirit and it had never happened before. She became a surrogate mother.

There was a Jewish scandal. A young girl has been seduced by some deceitful man who said he was an angel. Was it Joseph who slept with Mary before the engagement period was complete? That is why righteous men required an engagement period. Mary was probably 13 years old. She was probably more naïve than our girls here. She did not watch movies and TV. She was not involved with sexual chat on her cell phone. She had always been a good girl.

Let’s pretend. Joseph was older than Mary so think about a 20 year old like John writing up a contract before witnesses with the parents of a 13 year old girl. John is a very godly young man so he will wait one year before he brings Mary home. During their engagement they were never alone, but they were married. We had a cousin that made that commitment. She never kissed Sherman until their wedding ceremony. Joseph now has legal rights over Mary. To get out of the engagement required a divorce. Then 6 months later it becomes obvious that Mary is pregnant.

The birth of Jesus is wrapped in scandal and surprises. Read the genealogy notice the scandal and surprises.

In the KJV look at the long list of begats. In the NIV notice all the fathers and the surprise that Joseph was different. Joseph does not begat Jesus. He receives Jesus. All other fathers caused their sons to be born, but not Joseph. Jesus was born to Joseph. Literally the Greek reads, “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.” Joseph was a step-father.

This is a surprise in the genealogy! The active verb is repeated for every link in the family except the last. The repeated active verb becomes a divine passive. “He begat” becomes “he was begotten”. The fathers were the active agents until Joseph, then God becomes the active agent and Joseph receives the action. Joseph is the passive agent. Joseph is Jesus’ legal parent.

Why does Matthew use lists of 14? Some say 14 refers to the phases of the moon or tides. And in the rhythms of God’s grace, Jesus came. 14 is the number of David’s name. 3×14 is 6 sevens and Jesus would be the 7th seven. 3×14 is 42 which was the last normal period before Pentecost and the year of Jubilee. 42 was a period of years before the conclusion. Maybe Matthew just wants to surprise us. It is clearly said that God had a plan. There was a design behind the history of God’s people.

Between Abraham and Jesus, Luke has 56 names, compared to Matthew’s 41. Matthew structured history to state clearly that God had a plan.

Jesus did not come by the will or decision of man. We cannot make God appear. Neither can we cause ourselves to become Christians. We believe Jesus and choose to follow Him. He is the gift of God. In one sense we receive this gift.

If you read through the first chapter a few times, you begin to sense that you are seeing through a man’s eyes. We are looking at Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s point of view. Maybe Matthew interviewed Joseph. Maybe Joseph wrote a diary. As he looks back on his ancestors, he is amazed that God would bless him.

Why are 4 women included in this genealogy? The 4 women mentioned were sinners or foreigners. The Messiah’s lineage included scandal and surprises. Maybe Mary still had a poor reputation. Maybe Matthew is reminding us that God can use people with poor reputations. God may even use me. Even with dirty spots in my past, God blesses me. God surprises us by using the weak, scandalous, and irregular. The women in the past then remind us that God often works in the most unusual ways.

When you pause to think about it, you too will be amazed that God could ever love you and forgive you of your sin, but He did and He does. You may have something in your past that you are very ashamed of, but God accepts you just as you are, forgives you, and tells you, “Go and sin no more.” If you keep sinning you are under God’s curse. If you walk in His ways you are blessed.

Jesus is the same word as Joshua and means ‘God is Saviour’ or ‘God is salvation’.

Christ and/or Messiah mean ‘anointed one’ or priest.

Son of David means he is in line for the throne. It was a title used by the prophets.

Son of Abraham means he is a real Jew. Salvation history begins with God’s promise to Abraham. Matthew was concerned about our salvation more than our creation.

Verse 18 says, the birth of Jesus Christ was like this, but he says very little about the birth. His focus is on the obedience of Joseph. Mary’s pregnancy is attributed to the Holy Spirit. What does that mean?

What were Joseph’s thoughts? His first thought was that she was unfaithful. Maybe Mary tried to explain, but she was too naive to be believed. Somebody must have seduced her and said he was an angel. God had not spoken through angels for 400 years. Joseph tried to figure out the why and how. He struggled to reconcile the facts and his love.

Verse 19 suggests Joseph had a dilemma. “Being a righteous man” compelled him to keep the letter of the law. His options were limited. He could expose her sin and have her stoned. That would be the righteous thing to do. He could divorce her publicly or divorce her privately. But a real righteous man lets love balance righteousness. A real righteous man can keep the law with a heart of love. As a righteous man he did not want to marry a girl so obviously guilty of sin, so he decided on private divorce proceedings.

Joseph couldn’t marry her. He would be either admitting his guilt or stating that he did not want holy children so he would marry a non-virgin.

God surprised him in a dream and changed his strategy. Joseph took on Mary’s obvious sin. It would be common knowledge then that the child was his. Joseph became willing to appear like an unrighteous man and publicly declare that he was the father of this child. Joseph was willing to obey God and lose his reputation. Joseph was not willing to hurt Mary for the sake of his reputation in the church. Love compelled him to handle the matter privately. Love covers a multitude of sins. His love compelled Him to take some of Mary’s burden as his own.

Joseph was a righteous man. This means he was a conscientious Jew. He had committed himself to observing the Law. He could have killed Mary and been labeled a good Jew. He could be righteously wrong. We can sometimes be wrong with our rightness. We can sometimes do more harm than good by doing what the law says. Righteousness is worthless without love.

Matthew does not tell us if Mary and Joseph discussed the issue, but God sent an angel to help Joseph get some sleep. We don’t know how many sleepless nights he had, but after he had finally fallen asleep one night, an angel came and said:

1. You are a Son of David, be bold. Life is not always easy.

2. Don’t fear what you do not understand.

3. Mary is your wife, not someone else’s.

4. The child is from God, not Mary’s sin. This is God’s action.

5. You are to name Him. He is your son legally in the world’s eyes.

Now skip to verse 24. What does a good man or good woman do? Everything God tells them to do.

1. He obeyed

2. He got married

3. He took responsibility for the child.

Joseph’s obedience and submission to God is as remarkable as Mary’s.

If we say ‘yes’, God works all for good. God’s plan will probably be different from our plan. He will probably surprise us again.

Look back at verses 21-23. Matthew gives us the purpose for writing his book. He gives us enough information to confirm that Jesus is the One the prophets have been looking forward to. Jesus is the name above all names.

This is a fulfillment of Isaiah with a surprise twist. The name ‘Jesus’ meant salvation or God saves. He will not save his people from Roman political tyranny but from sin. He will also bring God’s presence to men.

Joseph is not the focus, but he was part of God keeping His promises. Mary is really not the focus either, but she is part of God keeping His promises. The genealogies are not really important, but they confirm that Jesus fulfils the promise. The angel is really not important, but he confirms that Jesus is from God and God keeps His promises. The surprise is that He will save them from the consequences of their sins. That was not the common expectation.

All the promises are fulfilled in Jesus. Name above all names. Emmanuel. God with us. The Word that remains. Jesus has come and He is coming again. That is Advent. God’s presence is with us. Not just the kings, priests and prophets, but with us. What a surprise!

Joseph demonstrates the dilemma of the righteous in an unrighteous culture. Our culture encourages us to consume love rather than to be love.

Our dominant culture has expectations of us and tries to squeeze us into a consumer mould. Joseph had some expectations, but was willing to set those aside for God’s surprises.

Advent is about the surprise arrival of the Light of the World. The angels come with light. The wise men come with light. My Christmas is filled with lights. Advent is about light shining in a dark world.

Read Isaiah 60:1-3. The light of the world is a person. The light of the world is Jesus.

Darkness is a metaphor of the desperate situations in life. Darkness is descriptive of a sinful world, a sinful life. Darkness is descriptive of life without God. Before God spoke to creation the world was in darkness. Before God speaks to our hearts, they are full of darkness. Jesus is the light of salvation.

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Like a man who has always lived in a cave. The darkness is all he knows. The only movement he sees is shadows on the wall. What can you do to let him know there is a world of Light? Point to the Light of the World.

Into the country and culture of Jews, God sent a Light to show us what He is like. They had no ’60 Minutes’ or ’20/20′ to investigate all the facts that came together for Christmas. Little miracles were happening all around, but no one put the pieces together for several years.

In the routine of Jewish ritual and tradition, God is saying, “I love you.” God has never stopped speaking, but even today, many have a hearing problem. The atheists in Seattle do not hear.

However, scattered throughout the country were some good listeners, devout believers, expecting God to send a King. They were looking for a political and spiritual leader that would deliver them from the phony priests and politicians. But God did not quite use the language they were expecting. They thought God would speak like he always had, but He just said, “Jesus.” They thought God would speak in the spectacular, but He spoke quietly to the heart.

Without the media coverage, only a few people knew of the angel that came to Zechariah in Jerusalem (Luke 1:5-25). It was a very private setting when the angel came to Mary in Nazareth (Luke 1:26-38). Also it was private when the angel came to Joseph in Nazareth (Matthew 1:18-25). There was just a small group of shepherds who heard the angels sing that night (Luke 2:1-21). When Simeon and Anna held the child and God whispered, “I love you,” most passed it off as the ecstasy of old age (Luke 2:22-39). The angel later told Joseph to escape to Egypt, but no one paid too much attention to the miracles of Christmas. Angels had not appeared like this for over 400 years. Mary just does not understand.

This Christmas God will still be speaking in peoples lives. It will probably be in quiet ways and we may not understand the impact of all the little things that are happening. However if we had eyes to see the power of God at work in our lives, we would hear Him still saying, “I love you.” Jesus is born. “God so loved the world that He gave His Son…” Will you receive God’s gift in your heart?

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