The Beginning of the Best Story Ever
I don’t do a ton of writing myself, but one of things that I know about writing, that we all learned back in school, is that when you’re writing a story, paper, essay or really anything, you want to start with a bang, something captivating, a hook, something that is going to grab your attention.
Think of the movie Up. Remember that one, the Disney/Pixar movie, the one with the balloons and the flying house and the talking dog? Remember how it begins? There’s a poignant opening scene where it tells the story of this husband and wife living life together and growing old together, and all ups and downs, the highs and lows, and then the wife passes away. I remember watching that movie for the first time, thinking it was going to be some innocent little cartoon movie, and then 10 minutes in I’ve got tears streaming down my face, thinking, “What is happening to me right now?” And as the viewer, you watch that opening scene and think to yourself, “I don’t know where this story is going, but I’m all in. I need to see where this is headed.”
Every great story has a strong beginning. And at first glance, it seems like Matthew didn’t get the memo on this one. He begins his story with a genealogy, a long list of names. Some names we recognize, but many we don’t and for that matter, can’t even pronounce.
You and I think - could there be a more boring, less riveting way to start a story? The gospel begins with a phone book? Why, Matthew, why?
And our tendency, as with most all genealogies in the bible, is to probably just skip over it.
But the truth is, Matthew is doing something very intentional and powerful here, something that the original and intended audience would have picked up on immediately.
Think about how stories typically begin. It’s the classic, “Once upon a time,” “In a galaxy far, far away,” kind of stuff. But Matthew wants to make it very clear right from the start that this gospel story is not the stuff of fairy tales, this is not the stuff of old wives tales, or legends, and myths. The gospel is an event. It’s rooted in history. It’s anchored in truth. For the people hearing Matthew’s gospel for the first time, they’d be thinking, hey, those are our people, those are our descendants, that’s our history.
And this takes us to our first point. Three things I want you to see going on here in Jesus’s family tree.
1) The gospel, at its core, is good news, not good advice.
For the Israelites, Jesus was the one that they were waiting for. They were waiting for the coming Messiah, the one who would fulfill all of the Old Testament promises. The two names that begin and structure this genealogy are Abraham & David, two of the biggest characters in Israel's history, and these two point us to the promises that God made to the Israelites.
The people who are hearing this genealogy have been wondering, “Will there ever be a descendant of Abraham who will be a blessing to all the nations?
They’ve been wondering, “Will there ever be a King, a Messiah, who will sit on David’s throne?”
And the answer is yes. This genealogy is Matthew’s way of saying, yes, here’s Jesus, he’s the Messiah, he’s the one we’ve been waiting for.
And so just like the movie Up, by beginning with a genealogy, Matthew’s readers would be thinking, “I don’t know where this story is going, but I’m all in. I need to see where this thing goes.”
You see, the gospel is good news, not good advice.
The gospel at its very core isn’t a message about what you and I need or ought to do. It isn’t a call to be better people. The gospel is not a 10 step plan to living your best life now or how you can make this Christmas the best Christmas ever.
No above all, the gospel at its very core is an event. It’s an announcement. It’s good news about what God has done for us. Part of it being the arrival of the Messiah, that is, Jesus himself.
The gospel is good news.
Now, good advice is nice, don’t get me wrong. We all are in need of good advice from time to time. About a year ago I read a book on productivity, called, Do More Better, lots of good stuff in there, and I’m learning a lot on how I can get control of my 4,133 emails in my inbox right now. It’s good stuff. But while good advice is fine and all, for the most important moments in life, good news beats good advice every time.
Think about it - if you’re at the hospital and a family member is in critical condition and you’re in the waiting room and you see the doctor walking towards you, are you hoping to hear good advice or good news?
If the doc comes out and tells you, “It’s still too early - we don’t know anything yet. My advice to you is - take deep breaths, drink some water, go for a walk” we’d think, yeah, sure, fine, okay.
What you really want to hear is the doc come out and tell you, “Your wife/husband, they’re going to be okay.”
What we really want and need at the end of the day isn’t good advice, you and I are in need of good news!
Matthew is telling his Jewish readers right from the very start, “You all, I’ve got good news.”
The Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, the one we’ve been waiting for has finally come. Through him your sins are forgiven, through him you are reconciled to God, through him you are given new life. There is hope for the hopeless, joy for the joyless, peace for the peaceless. That is good news.
Friends, are you feeling depressed? Are you experiencing guilt and shame right now? Do you feel like your family isn’t as put together as all the other families, well friends, take heart – Jesus has come to this earth, he has died for you and for me. You are loved. In Christ, you are forgiven. In Christ, you are enough.
And so you all, over these next couple days, as you sit around the Christmas tree, as you open those presents, eat a few too many desserts, as you celebrate with family and friends, be reminded of the good news of the gospel. That Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, has come.
That’s the first thing I want you to see in this genealogy. Matthew starts with a genealogy of all things to remind everyone who hears these words that the gospel is true and that it is good news, not good advice.
Here’s the second I want you to see.
2) The gospel is good news for anyone and everyone.
You may have noticed that this genealogy includes some names you might not have expected. Yes, it names a number of the faith giants – Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon, etc. – but it also includes some of the lesser names, and honestly, some of the darker parts of Israel’s history.
First - it includes a few women – which is remarkable back in the 1st century. You would never see women included in genealogies, only men. The implication being that the gospel is good news for everyone – both men and women.
Two of these women are Gentiles – Rahab and Ruth – for some reason, a genealogy that begins with Abraham, father of the Jews, includes Gentiles, or foreigners if you will. It’s a reminder that the gospel is good news for everyone – both Jew and Gentile, citizen and foreigner.
Even more, and this is what is especially stunning, it includes people of questionable character and highlights some of the darkest moments in Israel’s history – there’s Rahab, who was a prostitute, Manassah, who practiced witchcraft and child sacrifice, and maybe most notably, you have the verse that says, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife. It’s shining light on the fact that David committed adultery with Bathsheba. Matthew wants his readers to see how grave this act was by not mentioning Bathsheba’s name. He simply says Uriah’s wife, and in doing so reminds the reader of the adulterous act.
It is unbelievable that Matthew does this. Think about it – it’s 2,000 years ago, Jewish background with an incredibly strong honor and shame culture. When it comes to family and everything else, you would only share the good stuff, the stuff you’re proud about. You would never highlight and volunteer your flaws, your weaknesses, your failures. And with that you wouldn’t speak of your unspeakable family members with others.
And frankly, we don’t like to either. If you’re at a dinner party and someone says, “Tell me a bit about your family,” you’ll easily volunteer the fact that your daughter Julia is a successful medical school student and your son Blake and his wife just had their first child, but you’ll probably leave out the fact that your uncle Will committed a felony last year and that your cousin Amy is addicted to painkillers.
But this is exactly what Matthew does! He’s essentially saying, “Let me tell you about some of our worst moments over the last 2000 years.”
Do you see what Matthew’s doing? The gospel is good news for anyone and everyone. It’s good news for men and women, Jew and Gentile, those who have been faithful in marriage, those who haven’t been, those who are proud of their family history and those who are ashamed by it. The gospel is good news for all.
One of my favorite pastors, his name is Tim Keller, summarizes the gospel this way. “The gospel is that I am so sinful, so broken, so flawed that Jesus had to die for me. And the gospel is that I am so loved, so valued, so cherished that Jesus was glad to die for me.”
And Keller says that this gospel creates a deep sense of humility and confidence at the same time. Incredible humility because of our sinfulness, that we cannot save ourselves, that Christ had to die. But at the very same time, incredible confidence, because of his love for us, that he did save us by dying on the cross for us. The gospel is good news for all. For the people who have it all together, to those who don’t, to all those in between.
Our God is the Savior of all - broken, sinful, messed up people like you and me. And he is working in the midst of our brokenness, even redeeming it for His glory.
I recently heard of a restaurant in Italy that has been listed as the third best restaurant in the world, so super fancy, right. One time one of the assistant chefs dropped a lemon tart on the counter right before it was going to be served and it just splattered everywhere. The assistant chef panicked, went white as a sheet, right. You don't do that in the third best restaurant in the world, right?
The head chef put his fingers in a triangle, and he said, "You know if you look at it like this, it looks like modern art. He got a plate, sloshed lemon sauce all over it in a really sloppy way, put the broken pastry shell on it and gave it the sophisticated name, "Oops, I dropped the lemon tart." It is now one of the most popular dishes in that restaurant. People literally come from all over the world just to have "Oops, I dropped the lemon tart." God is that chef. He can take any broken, lousy, messed up thing and turn it into a , "Oops, I dropped the lemon tart," work of art.
The gospel is good news for anyone and everyone.
Here’s the third, and final, thing I want you to see.
3) Jesus makes us family.
He makes you and I family. Why do I say that? Well, obviously this genealogy Matthew records here isn’t your typical family tree. It isn’t even accurate in a traditional sense. It’s not listing every single father and son in the family line. No, Matthew is taking some creative freedom here, and in doing so, he’s trying to make a point. That is, Jesus makes us, as a community of believers, as a church, he makes us family.
It’s reminding us that our destiny isn’t dependent upon your bloodlines, your family tree, or where you’re born or who your parents are and that our biological families are not the end all be all nor the only people we should consider as our family. This church is a family centered around Jesus Christ. What’s interesting is that there are 25 genealogies in the bible and this one, along with the one’s in Luke’s gospel are the very last ones. It’s a reminder that Jesus coming changes our notion of family as we know it.
In the Old Testament, the word family always, always, always referred to your biological, earthly family, your family line. But in the New Testament, it shifts. Some of the writers started talking about family a little differently.
Paul and Peter started saying things like “family of believers,” “God’s family,” “God’s household.” When Jesus was told that his earthly mother and brothers were waiting for him, he radically declared, “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
And so this genealogy is the tipping point. Jesus is the hopeful beginning, the announcement of a new family. All those who believe in Jesus are adopted and welcomed into an eternal, glorious family. It’s the Kingdom family. Jesus is saying to people all over the world, “Welcome to the family. Welcome to the family.”
As Christians, we ought to relate to one another as family, just as we would with our biological families.
Years ago when I first wrote this sermon, I was writing it at a coffee shop with my wife Callie. All while there was a girl sitting next to us in the coffee shop crying. And I had no clue, Callie was there with me and noticed all this cause she’s way more perceptive than me and she’s watching this all unfold and would tell me about it later – but there’s this girl crying at the coffee shop. And apparently she was wearing some kind of WWJD bracelet, you may remember those from 1999, and as this girl is crying this other woman comes over, sits down and asks if she’s okay. She asks her name and then she begins praying for her. This girl was able to collect herself, the woman went to the counter, bought her coffee, said her goodbye’s and then left.
How beautiful is that? It was all happening right in front of me and I had no clue.
The gospel makes us family. Which is such good news as we work our way to Christmas. Because is there ever a time of the year where you are more aware of your family situation, whether good or bad or incomplete? Every type of loss we feel throughout the year in regard to our family is magnified tenfold during this Christmas season.
You all, is there someone that you know, a neighbor, someone you work with, someone you go to school with, someone who might be lacking or hurting in terms of family, someone that you could reach out to, invite them in and give them a sense of family, treating them like you would your own family?
That’s what Jesus does. He makes us family.
Three things from Matthew’s genealogy. Maybe, just maybe now you’re convinced that this is a great way to start the greatest story of all time. But maybe you’re not, if so, that’s okay, that was never really the point.
Instead I hope you remember this. The gospel is good news, not good advice. It’s good news for everyone – those who have their act together and those who don’t. And for all those who believe that it truly is good news, he makes us family, a community of faith that loves and serves one another like family and points each other to the good news of Jesus Christ.