Friday, December 8, 2017

A Strange Beginning to the Christmas Story

And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.– Matthew 1:21

The Christmas season is one of the most wonderful times of the year, but it’s also one of the most hectic times. With all the shopping, decorating, school programs and parties—for many of us, this season has become too much of a rat race. So this year, I hope you’ll take the time to stop and smell the poinsettias. (Do poinsettias even smell? It doesn’t matter.) If you slow down and push aside the commercialism and hecticness of the season, underneath it all you’ll find the simple heart of Christmas: Jesus Christ—born to save the world.

As with anything simple, it’s best to begin at the beginning: the opening chapters of Matthew. Usually, when we read the Christmas story from Matthew, we skip the first 17 verses. Because, after all, 15 of the first 17 verses are a genealogy—just a list of names. And that’s not very important, right? Yet for some reason, it’s the first scripture to appear in the Bible after the book of Malachi, some 400 years before. Why on earth would the Holy Spirit lead Matthew to break the silence with a genealogy?

Great question. He did it, in large part, because Matthew’s original audience was Jewish. And the Jewish people in Matthew’s day were very concerned about pedigree. For example, a priest was required to give an unbroken record of his genealogy all the way back to Moses’ brother Aaron. So, to the Jews of that time, it would be impressive that Jesus’ ancestry could be traced all the way back to Abraham, and that his lineage also included King David. As Matthew set out to prove that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the King of the Jews, proving that Jesus was both a descendent of Abraham and a descendent of King David was critical. Otherwise Jewish readers would have ignored the rest of Matthew’s gospel account.

After establishing that sterling pedigree, here’s a surprise: Four women are listed in Jesus’ genealogy. Back then, this would have shocked every Jewish reader. The nation of Israel was a very patriarchal society, and most Jewish men would never list any women in their genealogy—especially women with mixed blood lines and sordid pasts. Yet Matthew lists Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. The first two women practiced prostitution. Ruth was from the wicked nation of Moab. And we all know the story of Bathsheba’s affair with King David.

So, what was Matthew thinking? What’s the deal with these four not-so-upstanding women being included in Jesus’ genealogy?

As theologian William Barclay puts it, “If Matthew had ransacked the pages of the Old Testament for improbable candidates he could not have discovered four more incredible ancestors for Jesus Christ [than these four women]. But surely, there is something very lovely in this.” Barclay points out that by including these names at the very beginning of his gospel, Matthew was showing the essence of the good news to come. The story of Jesus Christ is all about barriers going down: the barrier between Jew and Gentile; the barrier between male and female; and most of all, the barrier between saint and sinner. As Jesus says in Matthew 9:13b, “For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

You see, the Good News of Jesus Christ is contained right here—in this genealogy that you’ve always thought was boring and unimportant. Jesus didn’t come to be the Savior of those who have their act together, those who have a squeaky clean past, those who have no skeletons in the closet. Jesus came to be the Savior of the whole world. That includes prostitutes, addicts, liars, cheaters, thieves and murderers. So, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how far you’ve strayed, no matter how many skeletons you have in your closet, Jesus came for you, too. He came for you.

And here’s one more dollop of heartwarming icing on the Christmas cake. In Matthew 1:17, Matthew strategically lists Jesus’ genealogy in three groups of fourteen generations each. If you take a closer look at the beginning and ending names in each group of 14, you’ll discover a beautiful snapshot of human history and the reason for Christmas.

The first group begins with Abraham (the “friend of God”) and ends with David (the “man after God’s own heart”). The second group begins with David and ends with the Babylonian exile—a punishment by God for Israel’s rejection of God. And the third group begins with the exile and ends with the birth of Christ.

Herein lies the unfolding of human history: We were created as friends of God to become men and women after His own heart. But we squandered that wonderful gift by turning our backs on Him. As a result, we suffered defeat and death. But Jesus came to give us grace and hope and life. That’s the story of human history. And that’s simply Christmas!

Dane Davis is the Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit  and join us this Christmas season for our message series, “Simply Christmas,” Sundays at 10 a.m.

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