This message was part of a series I called “An Unexpected Christmas.” I offer it here as fodder for faithful pastors who are preparing to feed the flock of Jesus as we move into the Second Sunday in Advent. I pray you all had a wonderful time of worship this past Lord’s Day.
Introduction to the Sermon
This Advent, the Sundays before Christmas, as well as the first Sunday after Christmas, I want us to look at a great portion of God’s Word: Matthew Chapters One and Two.
We all love the anticipation of unwrapping a surprise at Christmas. Well, what Matthew tells us in these passages, is that Christmas itself, so long awaited, was a surprise when it finally came. But in the surprise, in the unexpected Christmas, there were amazing graces for each of our lives.
This morning, we begining with Chapter One of Matthew and verses 1-16. This is the genealogy of Jesus. You will notice that the Introduction to the Genealogy begins in verse 1 with a general statement that Jesus Christ (the Anointed One) is the male descendant of David and Abraham. God had made covenant promises to Abraham that a descendant would come forward from him and through Abraham and this line; the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12.3; 22.18). God had promised David, likewise in 2Samuel 7.12:
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (ESV).
God also said in Psalms 132.11:
“The LORD swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne” (ESV).
So Matthew’s Gospel, immediately, identifies Jesus as this Promised Messiah to the principal figures with whom he made covenant on behalf of the whole world.
And the family tree of Jesus includes some interesting folks. In fact, you could even say that you would never expect the Son of God to have such a family. It is an unexpected family for a coming King.
But there is grace in the surprise.
Let’s read the Word of God.
(Read Matthew 1.1-16)
Introduction to the Sermon
Tommy Franks, the commanding general of the American military force that marched from Kuwait to Baghdad in an amazing victory recently told of his humble beginnings in rural Oklahoma and later small town Texas. His story of his family life revealed both the humor of family life as well as one experience, which continues to cause his such pain.
“I’ll always remember one Friday evening between paychecks when I asked my father for some spending money. We were driving home to Uncle Bob’s, and my dad turned around and pulled up in front of a little corner grocery store on the west side of Andrews Highway. I knew my mother shopped here, which seemed funny because the store was out of the way.
‘Tommy Ray,’ Father said, ‘go in and tell the man behind the cash register who you are and ask for five dollars until next payday.’
I sat in the front seat, frowning. That would be kind of a low class thing to do, I thought, and just too embarrassing.
‘No, sir. I’d rather not.’
‘Why?’ he asked.
‘I’m not very proud of my name,’ I finally said.
‘Okay, son,’ Dad said, staring the Mercury’s engine and shifting into first gear. He dug into his pocket and came up with several quarters and a crumpled dollar bill, what Mother called, ‘your Father’s coffee money.’ He handed me the change and the bill. ‘This’ll do you for the weekend,’ he said.”
Tommy Franks went off for a movie and popcorn with his friends. And maybe his father shouldn’t have sent him in to do that. But Tommy Franks, a great general, a mighty war hero, wrote:
“I’ve replayed this scene in my mind a thousand times over the course of almost fifty years, and I regret saying the words—‘I’m not proud of my name’—to this day.”
This season of the year reminds us that the source of greatest joy can also be the source of greatest pain and it is summed up in one word: family.
Family, for better of worse, forms the first fabric our lives, into which every other experience must be woven. And at no other time of our lives, more than Christmas time, do we focus on the family.
In Matthew, the Apostle begins his Gospel story by focusing on the family of Jesus. Matthew Henry said of this passage: “It is not a needless genealogy. It is not a vainglorious one, as those of great men often are. It proves that our Lord Jesus is of the nation and family out of which the Messiah was to arise.” And what we come to see, as we read the names of those in his background, is that Jesus identifies with us on so many levels. Do you boast of family greatness? Well, Jesus’ family tree included kings like David. Do you bow your head over family shame? Jesus’ family tree included prostitutes and even incest. Jesus’ family line included mighty warriors as well as men and women of faith. And it included cowards and men and women of great unbelief. It is not what you would expect for the Savior of the World. Matthew 1.1-16 is, indeed, about the unexpected family of Jesus.
But listen carefully:
The unexpected family of Jesus leads us to see that God glorifies Himself, not in the pride of man in our families, but in the promise of God working through the pain of our families.
Let’s look at Matthew 1.1-16 and see how the unexpected family of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords gives us hope.
One unexpected feature of Jesus’ family is this:
God brought salvation out of scandal in Jesus’ family tree
Beginning with Abraham Matthew moves through the famous “begats” of Scripture. Those of us who use the King James Version or who, like myself, were raised up hearing its language, remember these King James Version “begats:” Abraham begat Isaac and Isaac begat Jacob and so forth and so on. I recently read letters that Sunday School children wrote to God. One letter said: “Dear God, I was wondering if you could tell me what does ‘Begat’ mean? I keep asking and nobody will tell me! Love, Katie.”
Well, it is a good question. To be sure: Matthew is not just listing gemological data. In fact, the word that the KJV translates as “begat,” or other translations render, as “was the father of” really means descendant. This is not an unbroken line, “For example, it is almost certain that the Rahab mentioned is the prostitute of Joshua 2 and 5 (see comments on next verse) and was certainly not the biological mother of Boaz (see Ruth 4:12, 18-22).” Matthew picks and chooses and the ones he puts forward are not always the best. You, who know your Old Testament stories, know that to read through these names is to read the names of the some of the greatest scandals in redemptive history.
It was the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, an agnostic, who gave us that unforgettable quote:
“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
But in the family tree of Jesus, the family skeletons are not there to dance, but to show us something: that God can bring salvation out of scandal.
Abraham was a man of God, but Abraham lied about his wife to save his own skin, when he was passing through a dangerous country. Abraham was a man of faith, but his one great sin of faithlessness to God’s promise brought forward an illegitimate line that brought an enmity into the people of God. And his sin was a scandal that continues to our own day. David was a man after God’s own heart, but the story of David is, as we know a scandal that makes modern political scandals seem small indeed. Solomon was a wise man, but Solomon was a spoiled son of David who disobeyed greatly in the area of marriage and his offspring would end up losing the earthly kingdom of David.
But I draw your attention to the four women mentioned in the passage. And I quote from one commentator on this passage:
“Inclusion of these four women in the Messiah’s genealogy instead of an all-male listing, especially with the exclusion of names of such great matriarchs as Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah, shows that Matthew is conveying more than merely genealogical data. Tamar enticed her father-in-law into an incestuous relationship (Genesis 38). The prostitute Rahab saved the spies and joined the Israelites (Joshua 2, 5; cf. Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25). Ruth, Tamar, and Rahab were aliens. Bathsheba was taken into an adulterous union with David, who committed murder to cover it up. Matthew’s peculiar way of referring to her, “Uriah’s wife,” may be an attempt to focus on the fact that Uriah was not an Israelite but a Hittite (2Sa 11:3; 23:39).”
Lest any Jewish person be led into pride to think that it was only Israel that brought forward the Christ, Matthew highlights these women and the Gentile background of the Lord Jesus. But Matthew also shows us in all of these men and women that Jesus came to the world through men and women of faith and men and women of scandal. And most of the time, they were one in the same.
And that gives me hope. If God sent His only begotten son through a line of scandal, then the scandal of my own life, of my own background, the scandal of our sin, cannot stop the grace of God. In fact, God will save me and glorify Himself even through the scandals of my life.
I am in the midst of a study of the presidents of the United States. I have read recent biographies about George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Lincoln, U.S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, both the elder and younger George Bush, and Bill Clinton. It is a great study and I can’t wait to read more. But already I have my favorites. And the ones I particularly like are ones who came out of pain to build lives of promise in spite of, or even as a direct result of the pain of their lives. Maybe I can just relate better to them. Ronald Reagan used to say that he was born in a room above a bank and that was the only relationship his family ever had with a bank. Indeed, he was poor. And the Reagan poverty was so in part because of his alcoholic father, who could not keep a job. His father was also a staunch, but non-practicing Catholic. His mother was a devout Calvinist who was in church anytime the door was opened. The family was often the subject of scandal because of the father’s problems. But the family kept going and believed in family even when they couldn’t see it. So Reagan at the very point of family pain rose to prominence through his desire to overcome these problems. This would be the president who would one day say:
“What I’d really like to do is go down in history as the President who made Americans believe in themselves again.”
A vision of self-confidence bloomed in the hardship of family scandal.
Every man has his scandal and his family scandal. But the power of the Gospel is that God can bring salvation and hope out of scandal—even the scandal of your parent’s sin, your sin, even the scandal that is on your mind right now. Nothing is too hard for God. In fact, Jesus came to us in this unexpected way: out of family scandal.
Another unexpected feature of Jesus’ family is this:
God brought salvation out of sorrow in Jesus’ family history
Look at verse 12:
“And after the deportation to Babylon…”
One line. But there is a great and a sad story in that one line. In that one line is the story of a nation in sin. There is the story of families who denied God and His Word and went their own way and paid a terrible price for their sin. The captivity of Israel in Babylon would always serve to be a symbol, in the Bible, as the people of God under the oppression of the enemy, as in Revelation where Rome is depicted as a Babylon of its day.
Many of us, if we were honest, have such sorrow in our backgrounds. Our hearts bear the pain of captivity to all kinds of sorrow: depression, addiction, financial failure, marital failure, our failure, parent’s failure, or some other failure from the past that seems to suck the promise out of our future. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a powerful story of how this works. Steinbeck retells the Cain and Abel story in the Salinas Valley of California. This story is powerful because as we see the brothers Cal and Aaron struggling for the affection of their father Adam, amidst the pain of their mother’s abandonment, and how the story ends in such tragedy for all, we sense that this is real. We understand such sorrow. And when the Presbyterian author Frederic Buechner writes in his book, Telling Secrets, about how his father’s suicide shaped his family forever, even if we have not experienced that particular sorrow, we understand it. Because we see it so often and some of us here even know it in our families. We are captives to the sorrow that comes upon us in this life.
There is the sorrow of Babylonian captivity in many families and in many of our lives. We wouldn’t expect the Savior to come out of such sorrow, though. But He does. But this is our hope.
And it is a good time to remember the truth of the Scriptures and I prefer the King James at this point when it puts it this way:
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4.15 KJV).
And we think of the great Isaiah description of Jesus:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…” (Isaiah 53.3 KJV).
I wonder how many here feel despised or rejected, or feel the weight of some sorrow? Maybe the sorrow of your sin? Or a sin committed against you?
Jesus came the way He came out of the background seen here, to transform your sorrow to joy. That is the Gospel in his very lineage. And by faith, it can be the Gospel in yours.
A final unexpected feature of Jesus’ family is this:
God brought salvation out of simplicity in Jesus’ family origin
The legacy of the line that brought forward our Lord Jesus included scandal and sorrow. But it also included Simplicity. He came to a simple and humble family. But not that there is any lack of wonder in this simple family!
At the end of the line is a son of David, Joseph. Fulfilling all prophecy. But remember that our Lord was not born of a man, but only of a woman. And Jesus, in coming to us in this wondrous way, fulfilled the ancient prophecy that He would be born of a woman without the aid of a man (see Genesis 3.15). But the Scripture is also showing how our Lord fulfilled prophecy about coming from the line of David by becoming the adopted son of Joseph the son of David. Thus, Jesus became heir to the line of David through the sovereign placing of Him in the family of this man Joseph. So we read of this great doctrine:
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8.15-17a ESV).
This is the grace of God shown and a truth that will bring great freedom to you and to me. For the doctrine of adoption is a precious doctrine that affects every child of God. Who are the true sons and daughters of Abraham? Those who by faith trust in this Christ. Who are the true sons and daughters of the Almighty? Those who are born again into the kingdom of God by faith in this adopted Son of Joseph.
But Joseph and Mary are shown to be simply figures. They are not royalty. There has been much research done on the home life of people in first century Palestine. In Mark, when the religious leaders and the people see Jesus and His claims they exclaim:
Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Mark 6.3
The word for carpenter is the word, te/ktwn, tektoœn, a noun which means “carpenter, woodworker; more generally: construction worker, including stonemason and metalworker.”
This was a simple family.
I mentioned the presidents and their lives. Some of the most profound and privileged times I have had are times when I stood at the boyhood homes of some of our presidents. I remember being at the home in Abilene, Kansas of Dwight David Eisenhower. That house was little more than a shanty. But out of it would come the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe and the leader of the most powerful nation in the history of the world. But life for him started in a shotgun house in a western cow town.
I told one of our pastors the other day that the greatest joke I know of is Mike Milton as Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. I said, “Boy did I marry up in this deal!” I told him that I still see myself as a barefoot boy in a poverty-stricken backwoods of Louisiana. I see myself as uneducated, orphaned and simple: too simple to be given such a large charge as this. I talked to my Aunt Georgia the other night on Thanksgiving. She is Aunt Eva’s younger sister, now as spry 95 herself. When we talked of how God had worked in our lives, she seemed to say that it didn’t surprise her at all that God would work something special out of something simple. And it shouldn’t any of us. There is a passage in Zechariah 4.10:
“For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice…” (Zechariah 4.10 ESV).
In Christ, and like Christ, our destiny is not determined by our past. Our destiny is determined by God’s grace. And that grace becomes our ticket to a beautiful future—even eternal life in Jesus.
In her touching book, The Christmas Shoe, fellow Tennessean Donna VanLiere has woven together a moving story for this season about successful attorney named Robert and a little boy named Nathan. In her story, Robert has everything—money, a beautiful wife, smart, well-dressed children, who have become like everything else in his life, —just things—and because of that, this man who has everything has nothing at all. One Christmas Eve, Robert grumbles as he has to knock off work early from the law firm he has grown to hate, to go and buy a Christmas gift for his wife he has grown to ignore. What do you buy for a woman who has everything, but her husband’s attention? The wealthy attorney is irritable, to say the least, as he finds himself on that particular Christmas Eve in a check out line at a department store. He is anxious to get his expensive gifts paid for, wrapped and back to his family, which is falling apart back at his suburban show home. In the midst of his Christmas foul mood, he encounters a little boy in front of him has a pair of shoes—a pair of cheap and gaudy shoes. The reader knows what Robert doesn’t know. This boy, Nathan, is the son of the mechanic that Robert just chewed out as he picked up his luxury sedan. Robert chewed out Nathan’s dad because, well, because he could. Nathan’s parents were poor, but content and happy. But tragedy has struck their godly household and Nathan’s mother is dying from a dreaded disease. Indeed, her time is close.
I read from The Christmas Shoe:
“The little boy moved forward and placed the shoes down on the cahier to scan the price—$14.25. The child dug into the pockets of his worn jeans and pulled out a small crumpled wad of bills and scattered change. The cashier straightened out the mess of currency.
‘There’s only $4.60 here, son,’ he said.
‘How much are the shoes?’ the child inquired, concerned.
‘They’re $14.25, the cashier replied. ‘You’ll need to get some more money from your mom or dad.’
Visibly upset, the boys asked, ‘Can I bring the rest of the money tomorrow?’
The cashier smiled and shook his head no, scooping up the change.
Tears pooled in the child’s eyes.
He turned around and said, ‘Sir, I need to buy those shoes for my mother,’ his voice shaking. I was startled to see that the child was talking to me. I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. ‘She’s not feeling very good, and when we were eating dinner my dad said that Mama might leave to see Jesus tonight.’
I stood unmoving, holding the basket.
I didn’t know what to say.
“I want her to look beautiful when she meets Jesus,’ he said, his eyes beseeching me.’
Why is he asking me? I thought. Do I look like an easy target—the rich man with money to throw around? I instantly felt annoyed. Was this some sort of con, parents sending their children out to take advantage of people’ emotions at Christmas? Yet, why did the child tell the cashier he’d bring the rest of the money tomorrow?…Without thinking or saying a word, I pulled out my wallet and handed the cashier a fifty-dollar bill to pay the remainder of the cost of the shoes.
The little boy lifted onto his tiptoes and watched as the last of the money was distributed into the drawer. Eagerly, he grabbed the package, then turned and stopped for a moment, looking at me again.
‘Thank you,’ was all he said.
I watched as the child ran out the door and disappeared into the streets.”
In this story, God had brought together a man who had everything except love with a boy who had nothing but love to show that the greatest gift is the unexpected love of God.
Nathan runs out with hope to send his mother off to Jesus in the Christmas shoes. And Robert is left with his expensive gifts and a fresh awareness of his poverty of spirit.
‘Are you ready, sir?’ the cahier asked. I didn’t hear what he was saying. ‘Sir?’ he asked again. ‘Are you ready to cash out?’
I looked at the items in my basket and shook my head.
‘No,’ I answered. ‘I think I need to start over.’”
God has brought you together with an ancient story of how Jesus came. And the story of His coming is a time to say, “I think I need to start over.”
Advent is a time for many of us to come face to face again with the scandal of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that reveals the shallowness of life without love. It is a time for many to put away what we have previously brought to the check out register of life. It is a time to see the Christ who came in scandal, sorrow, and simplicity came like that to reach us in our scandal of sin, our sorrow that comes from such sin, and the truly simple but profound way to know love. It is to confess our poverty and receive Him into our hearts now and always as the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness, to know Him as our Lord and Savior.
 See Tommy Franks, American Soldier, 1st ed. (New York: Regan Books, 2004).
 NIV Commentary, “Matthew 1.3-5” (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary by Kenneth L. Barker & John R. Kohlenberger III (consulting editors) Copyright ©1994 by The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, All rights reserved., Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 1.0).
 See John Steinbeck, East of Eden, John Steinbeck centennial ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 2002).
 See Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets, 1st ed. ([San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991).
 Greek to English Dictionary and Index to the NIV New Testament from Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Edward W. Goodrick, John R. Kohlenberger III, and James A. Swanson, Copyright ©1999, 1990 by the Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, All rights reserved., Electronic text prepared by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 1.0).
 Donna VanLiere, The Christmas Shoes, 1st ed. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001).