My granny, my mum’s mum, lived a long life. She died when she was 95 years old, so she had a good knock. She was a solid Christian woman, but was also fairly old fashioned in her attitudes to certain things. For example, when I left the police force, I rebelled against short hair, so I didn’t have a hair cut for a couple of years. I thought I looked like Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam! Granny would often say to me, “1 Corinthians 11 says that long hair on a man is a disgrace!”
Nonie and I got married in 1997 and I still had long hair, so at our reception, Granny produced a photo of me from when I was in the police force and had short hair. She showed it to just about everyone at our wedding, saying, “I know he looks ridiculous now, but he really is a lovely boy!” Interestingly, I look back at the photos of our wedding and granny was right: I didn’t look like Eddie Vedder: I looked ridiculous!
Anyway, years before this, she’d done a heap of research on both sides of our family tree. She went way back to about the year AD 900, which is pretty cool. Both sides of my family came out here from England. On my dad’s side of the family, his dad came out in 1922; his mother’s side a bit earlier. Her great grandfather got sick of living in England, so he built a big boat, put his whole family and all their possessions on it and sailed it out here in about 1870, which is a great effort! Tough stock. His son had the same adventurous spirit as well. He was an electrician who worked on the Harbour Bridge. He was up on the very top of the arch. The higher up you went, the more money you earned because it was so dangerous. That was dad’s side: adventurous, tough people.
Mum’s side all came out from England in the mid 1800s. But they didn’t build a boat. They were even tougher: they swam out (that’s a joke, by the way).
But, like all families, there are a few skeletons in our closet. “Where’s auntie?” “She’s having a holiday in the countryside.” “What kind of holiday?” “The kind of holiday that lasts for about nine or ten months.” And when auntie came back, what do you know? She’d adopted a little baby, who looks surprisingly like her neighbour from up the road. These days no one bats an eyelid at that sort of thing, but go back 80 years and it was a very different story. That sort of thing was incredibly scandalous!
There was at least one mysterious death. There were one or two drunks who managed to squander vast amounts of money. On a brighter note, there were also a heap of Christians and several of the men were preachers and pastors. I’m not the first Rev. Wakeford, which is cool.
You go back a bit further on my mum’s side, and one of my ancestors was the king of the southern half of England: lots of castles, vast tracts of land, servants, the whole nine yards. Now, I know that’s about 1,000 years ago, so it’s a fairly tenuous link to royalty, but don’t let that stop you from calling me ‘Sir’ from here on in, or perhaps, ‘your majesty’.
That’s my family tree. I figure it’s pretty normal: lots of branches and plenty of nuts! Yours probably doesn’t look that different. Go back far enough and you find all sorts of people. Family trees are fascinating things
It’s Christmas in a couple of days, so I thought we’d look at Jesus’ family tree: Jesus’ pedigree, if you like, not because it’s so much better than ours, but because, apart from having so many unpronounceable names, it’s probably not that different from yours or mine. I’ll show you what I mean from Matthew 1:1-16.
Apart from Jesus right at the end of our Bible reading, these are regular people. Some were deeply religious; some were total shockers; some were faithful people who had some epic brain snaps, just like us; and all of them, except the last one, Jesus, were sinners. They all rebelled against God in some way. Either they did what they weren't meant to do, or they didn’t do what they were meant to do. They’re just plain old sinners like you and me. So Jesus’ family tree is a bit like a mirror. As we look at this we see bits and pieces of ourselves.
Some of us are a bit religious. We come to church a few times a year: maybe Christmas and Easter and a few other times. And we do this because we think that by ticking that box a couple of times a year, we’re doing enough to keep God happy. Religious people know they aren’t perfect, but generally they hope their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, and that God will be OK with them at the end.
Some of us are total shockers. Sure, we turn up regularly, but there are times when we’re having ourselves on. We give in to sin early and often, and our lives are a bit of a mess. Some of us keep our sin hidden a bit better, so we look pretty good. But under the façade lurks pride and arrogance: a feeling that we’re better than others. Christians who are like that are one of the main reasons so many folks stay away from Church. They’re sick of being judged.
Jesus’ family tree has all this, which means it’s both confronting and encouraging. It’s confronting because we see ourselves here. But it’s also encouraging because if God can save and bless and use this catalogue of muppets and wack-jobs then maybe he can do the same with me.
There are 42 men in this list and five women. I’ll mention a few of the blokes but we’ll spend more time looking at these five women, because a Jewish family tree with women in it is pretty unusual. Normally it’s just the men who are mentioned, so Matthew has included these women for a very specific reason.
The five women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. These women were just like us: some made bad decisions; some grew up without knowing God; some were abused by others; some were just faithful and obedient. But all of them are included in Jesus’ family tree. These are the kind of people God rescues, redeems, forgives, blesses, and then works through. And it doesn’t matter that all five are women. Their stories apply to men as well. So, let’s get into it.
The first one is Tamar, verse 3. You can read her story back in the first book of the Bible, Genesis chapter 38, but briefly this is it. Tamar was married to a bloke named Er. His parents couldn’t figure out what to call him: “Er, Er”, and the name stuck. Anyway, he was wicked in God’s sight, so God killed him. There was no welfare back then, different to our culture. Back then, if a married bloke died without leaving any children, his nearest male relative had to marry the widow, take her into his home, and give her children to keep the dead husband’s family line going, and to ensure that the widow had someone to take care of her when she got old. It sounds kind of weird to us, but with no welfare, a widow was in real trouble. So this is a pretty good law that God gave his people.
Anyway, Er—Tamar’s wicked and now dead husband—had a brother. His name was Onan. It was his responsibility to give Tamar a child. But he was also wicked. He slept with Tamar but didn’t want the responsibility of having a child with her: so he didn’t finish the deed and instead spilled his seed on the ground, as it were. His sin was that he used Tamar for sex, showed her no respect or honour, and did not fulfil his responsibilities to her and provide her with a child. So God killed him as well.
Things aren’t looking too good for Tamar. Her father-in-law had another son, but since the first two sons died while married to Tamar, he was scared the same thing would happen to son number three. So he didn’t let him marry her. So Tamar took matters into her own hands and disguised herself as a prostitute, waited for her father-in-law to turn up, and seduced him. His name was Judah, verse 3. Tamar was desperate. She had sex with her father-in-law and got pregnant. She had twins, Perez and Zerah. Their mum was their dad’s daughter-in-law. Weird? Absolutely! So why mention this hill-billy freak show? Because Tamar’s story is not unlike some of ours. She was one of God’s people, but her life was a total mess. Maybe that describes you. You’re one of God’s people but your life’s a mess. You’ve been used and abused; and maybe you’ve tried to fix it yourself and only made matters worse.
It is hard to imagine the shame and violation Tamar would have felt, sinking to the level of pretending to be a prostitute and sleeping with the very man who should have been taking care of her. This woman is totally abandoned. Tamar’s story tells us that even in the darkest of circumstances, God is somehow still at work. He doesn’t pick the most respectable people or the most religious people. He often picks people whose lives are totally messed up, people who’ve been sinned against terribly, and he rescues them and provides for them. He mends their brokenness and blesses them. These people end up being a blessing to others. Tamar did. She is Jesus’ great-great-great-great-however-many-more-times-great-granny. That makes her story part of our story. God worked through her to bring Jesus to us.
The second and third women are both in verse 5. Rahab is first. You can read about her in the book of Joshua. Rahab didn’t disguise herself as a prostitute. She didn’t need to because she was a prostitute! Briefly, her story is this: after forty years of wandering around the desert for their disobedience to God, the people of Israel were again at the Jordan River, about to cross over into the Promised Land. Joshua sent two spies in to have a squiz. Where did they go? A brothel! That’s not what I learnt in Sunday School when I was a kid. I was told they went to an inn and had a nice hot cup of cocoa. They didn’t. They went to a brothel where they met Rahab, a prostitute. Rahab had heard of God’s people and she had heard of God. She knew her city was toast. The long and the short of it is this: the spies promise Rahab that if she hides them from the blokes who are looking for them, then she and her family will be spared when Israel invade. That is what ends up happening.
Rahab is included in Jesus’ family tree for the benefit of anyone who thinks they are out of God’s reach. If that’s you, listen to Rahab’s story and let her tell you that there is no such thing as being out of God’s reach.
It’s hard to imagine anyone further away from God than a prostitute from a godless town like Jericho. Yet, here she is, in Jesus’ family tree: and she’s in Hebrews 11 as well, the chapter about the heroes of faith in the Old Testament. How did all that happen? Well, God met her where she was. He saved her and he changed her. She started making decisions that brought her closer to God. She started to trust God instead of pretending he wasn’t there. She quit her job as a prostitute. She met and married a faithful, godly Israelite bloke. No one is too far from the God, who can turn the prostitute from Jericho into the great-great-great-great granny of God’s own Son!
Ruth is next. The book of Ruth in the Old Testament is all about her. She’s different to Tamar and Rahab. Her story is one of the most beautiful things in the Bible. She was an extraordinary woman. But, even so, what on earth is she doing in Jesus’ family tree? She wasn’t even Jewish! She was from Moab! Moab and Israel were sworn enemies! Ruth grew up worshipping false gods and had never even heard of the one true God. But she married a Jewish dude who’d moved to Moab with his parents for all the wrong reasons. He ended up dying. So did his brother and then their dad, leaving Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, abandoned and without hope. After a while, Naomi decided to go back to Israel, and Ruth, her daughter-in-law, went with her.
It would have made much more sense for her to stay in her own county and get married to one of her own people. But she had come to know and trust God with an unshakable faith. Ruth loved God and totally trusted him. She stepped into harm’s way to take care of her mother-in-law, and God honoured Ruth for that choice. He protected her and provided her with more than enough food to survive. And after a short time he gave her a godly husband, Boaz. How cool is God! Boaz was Rahab’s son, the son of a former prostitute! Boaz was a man who also loved God and was completely honourable toward Ruth. A little while later they had a baby son, named Obed. He grew up and had a son named Jesse. Jesse grew up and had seven sons, the youngest of whom was named David. So, Ruth, the girl from Moab, a sworn enemy of God’s people, was the great grandmother of Israel’s greatest king. Only God can pull that sort of thing off. He’s awesome!
So why is Ruth here? Ruth shows us that Jesus is for all people, and that gives you and me great hope! We weren’t part of God’s people when we were born. Neither was Ruth. But the gospel isn’t limited to one nation of people: it’s for everyone. If you aren’t yet a Christian, this tells you that the gospel is for you, that Jesus is for you. And get this: there’s also a good chance that this church is for you. There are people from over 70 different nationalities who call MBM their spiritual home. Maybe you’re not a Christian just yet. Maybe you are not part of God’s big family just yet, but you can be. You are invited to join God’s family through believing in Jesus and giving your life to him.
Then you’ve got Bathsheba. Matthew doesn’t even say her name. He just says in verse 6, “David, the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife” (NIV).
You can read about David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. It is absolutely clear that David’s sin is the focus. He sees Bathsheba having a bath on her roof next door to the palace. She was a very beautiful woman. David should have been at war with his troops but he stayed at home. That was his first sin. Having seen his beautiful next-door neighbour in the bath—who was also married to one of his most famous, loyal, and brave soldiers—he should have just though that his mate Uriah was a very fortunate bloke, and left it at that. Instead, David sins again by sending one of his servants to bring her to the palace. They end up having sex and Bathsheba gets pregnant. David needs to hide his sin so David sends for Uriah. David has him brought back from the war, has dinner with him, and gets him drunk. Then David sends him home, hoping that he will sleep with his wife, and that everyone will assume that the baby is Uriah’s. However, Uriah is a far more honourable bloke than David, so he sleeps on the front steps of the palace instead of enjoying a night with his wife. Why? Because all his men are away from their wives fighting a war, so he’s not about do something they can’t do. The next day David does the same thing. He has dinner with Uriah, gets him drunk, and sends him home to be with his wife. Uriah sleeps on the steps of the palace again. Then David sends Uriah back to the war with a sealed letter to the commander. The letter tells the commander to put Uriah where the fighting is fiercest and then leave him high and dry in the hope that he will be killed. That is exactly what happened. Uriah, loyal, brave, and unbelievably honourable, is killed so that David’s sin remains hidden.
If you were going to do a family tree, this would be the thing you’d leave out: a king, an adulterous affair, an unplanned pregnancy, and a murder. So why does Matthew include it? It’s here because these are the people Jesus came to save. People like David, a faithful bloke most of his life but also a man who had some epic brain snaps; and people like Bathsheba, who’ve had terrible things done to them. It would seem that Bathsheba didn’t really have much choice in anything that happened. It all happened to her. Yet even this doesn’t put her out of Jesus’ reach.
Time and again Jesus meets people who had fallen into epic sins. He never ignores their sin. Instead, he put his finger right on it and points it out, but always so that he could then show them grace, mercy, forgiveness, and give them a fresh start. That’s what God did for David. A short while after it all happened, God confronted David with his sin. David repented. God gave him mercy, grace, and forgiveness. God looked at Bathsheba’s life that was now a train wreck, and over the next few years, he put her life back together as well. This is what God does: he redeems and repairs broken people.
I don’t know where you are at. For all I know, this might be exactly what you’re up to. I’ve preached to congregations within which there were adulterous relationships going on. It’s terrible, of course, but Christians aren’t immune from this sort of thing. So maybe this is you. It might be something else. But whatever it is, Jesus is pointing his finger at our sin so that we can’t ignore it. But he’s only doing that so that we will repent, so that he can show us mercy and grace, so that he can forgive us and restore us. That’s what Jesus does. He can take us from that dirty darkness of sin and bring us to the clean light of grace and forgiveness. That’s why Bathsheba is in Jesus’ family tree.
And lastly we’ve got Mary, down in verse 16. She was a teenager, engaged to be married to Joseph. Mary was a virgin, and rightly so. God came to her one day and told her that she was about to get pregnant. She knew this would be hard to explain to her fiancée, but that didn’t stop her from trusting God and obeying him.
She saw Joseph a while later and told him she was pregnant. Joseph knows full well it wasn’t him! “So who was it?”, he asks. “God”, she says. “Yeah, right!” She was right but, understandably, Joseph didn’t believe her. Next thing you know, God tells Joe to pull his head in and listen to his fiancée and get married. They would have a son and he was to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. That’s what Jesus’ name means: the LORD saves.
So Mary was faithful and obedient. But that doesn’t mean she was perfect. When Jesus grew up, he started telling everyone that he was the saviour of God’s people, the Son of God, and that he and God were one. Mary thought her son was mad. She didn’t believe him. She heard him speak, saw him do miracles, but she thought he was out of his mind. It wasn’t until after Jesus was crucified and raised back to life that Mary finally figured out that Jesus wasn’t just her son, but that he was also her saviour.
Maybe this is you. You know about Jesus; you've heard about some of the things He said; you know about the miracles, but you haven’t yet crossed over from knowing about Jesus to believing in Jesus.
Well, Jesus came here to save his mum. And he came here to save you as well. You mightn’t be in the same boat as Tamar or Rahab or Ruth or Bathsheba. Maybe you’re like Mary. On the surface, things look good and respectable. You put up with Jesus but keep him at arm’s length. If that’s you, it’s time for you to stop messing about with Jesus. Sop resisting him and start making him your saviour and king.
Matthew’s family tree of Jesus really is a mirror. It gives us a long list of sinners who look just like us, except most of them have weird names. Apart from that, we’re just the same. None of them were so bad or so far away from God that they couldn’t be saved. And none of them were so close to God or so good that they didn’t need to be saved. That’s us. None of us are so bad or so far away from God that we can't be saved. And none of us are so good or so close to God that we don’t need to be saved. Jesus is the only one who is able to change your heart, save you from your sin, and give you a new life. That is why he came. That is why we’re here. That’s what Christmas is all about.