We have this morning been singing about Christ and talking about Christ. Many of us call ourselves Christians, we call ourselves by His name. When we think of our Lord Jesus Christ, many key attributes or facts may come to our minds. He is our Savior, He is our Lord, He is mighty, He was meek, He was born as a baby and ascended as a man, He was gentle and caring and yet He possessed all the power of the universe and more. He was a teacher, a guide, an example, He was a friend. He came to earth for a short time, though He has existed since eternity past and will for eternity future. While on earth His appearance was as a mere man, though He was fully God. Jesus expressed emotion, both sadness and anger. He was sinless, and He gave Himself as a sacrifice for us.
Today we begin a study that will be centered on Jesus Christ. Though we may know Him, there is so much more to know. And for the believer, to know Him more is to love Him more. I want us to know Him more and I want us to love Him more.
We will be in the Gospel of Matthew for, well, for a while. I am really looking forward to this study with you. I need to know more about Jesus and to love Jesus more. And you do too. And so let’s do this together, week by week. Week by week, looking at His life, His ministry, His message. I pray that we will grow closer to Him, love Him, desire to be with Him more than perhaps we have ever been in the past!
The book of Matthew in particular was written with an emphasis of Jesus as a sovereign King. He is the King of kings and His right to rule is clear, and His graciousness in His rule toward His people will also be clear. What we will see is that He is the rightful heir to the throne and His Kingdom will be eternal. Also, into His eternal Kingdom He will bring all of those who have trusted in Him. He is a king who willingly and graciously shares His Kingdom, pouring out His love and kindness on all who belong to Him.
Though His Kingdom is and will be perfect, He does not choose those who will participate in it by their abilities or their feeble works.
I remember as a boy how we would play sports, usually football, in the street of my neighborhood in front of my house. Being in the city, we didn’t have a field nearby, so the street was often our field. When everyone shoed up we had to divide up into teams. It was always the same method, two would volunteer to pick their teams. One guy would choose a team member and then the next guy would choose until everyone was on a team. You know how it goes. The oldest, fastest, and most athletic would get chosen first and the younger, slower, not very talented would be left until last. If the object of the game was to win, then you wanted the best on your team.
Well, thank the Lord, that is not how Jesus has crafted His Kingdom.
We know this by looking at ourselves and others who are believers in Christ, but we also know this, and more importantly, because the Bible says so:
1 Corinthians 1 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,
We will see that the standard of the Law is too great, that none of us can rise to its standard, but Jesus came to bring a people to Himself and He willingly meets the standard for us in a gracious act of coming to this earth, living a perfect life, giving Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, and rising from the dead and ascending to the heavenly places. We will see many of the details of His life and death in this book.
I’m not going to do a major introduction to the book today. My intent is to give you relevant background information more as we go. But I do want to say a word about its author, Matthew.
Much of what we will see in the theme of this book is grace. God is gracious to His people. We will see again and again a God who reaches down and touches people's lives and saves them from themselves, from their sin, from the evil that is in this world. From the beginning I want us to see a measure of this theme of God’s graciousness in the life of Matthew, the writer of this book.
At the point in time when this book was written, or really when Christ was born, Rome had been ruling over Israel for some time, about sixty years. Rome was oppressive to the Jews in many ways. One way they oppressed the Jews was through taxation. I know that we may think all taxation is oppressive, but in Jesus' day there was a taxing system that had certain corruption built into it. Here is how it worked. Roman senators would buy the rights from the central government to collect taxes from certain regions of the country. Bidding would take place and someone would walk away the winner with the rights, under the authority of the government, to collect taxes. So far, so good, but here is where it gets shady. This owner of the right to collect taxes was called a publican, and the way he would make money was by collecting more than what the central government required. Whatever he could collect over and above the central government's requirements would be his to keep. So the incentive for him was to charge as much as possible to profit as much as possible.
It gets worse. The publicans themselves did not usually go around collecting the taxes, but would hire local people to do the collecting. They would hire people who were familiar with the people who lived in the region, someone who was an insider in that society. And these hired collectors, they would do like the publicans and further increase the tax in order to get their own profit. It was really an unfair system of extortion, and the primary extortionist was the person on the ground actually collecting the money from his own people. So you can see that this collector would seem like a traitor to those he collected from. He was not a liked person, in fact he was a hated person. Over and over again in the gospels we see tax collectors mentioned with other people who were seen as vile sinners. For example:
Matthew 21 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
Tax collectors were hated, they were traitors to their people, probably loners, they didn’t have many friends, and were selfish lovers of money.
And yet what do we see in this book? We see that its author is Matthew, the former tax collector. Jesus called Matthew to be one of His twelve disciples. We see his calling in Matthew 9.
9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
Don’t you love that? Matthew was not out of Jesus' reach, he was not out of God’s gracious love. God called him, God changed him, he walked with Christ, ministered the gospel, and even was given the task of writing this book that we will study together.
Matthew was not just an author who told of the grace of God, Matthew was a grateful recipient of God’s grace. This was personal for him. God’s grace meant something to him, it had changed his life!
I am going to read the first 17 verses of Matthew chapter 1, which is the genealogy of Jesus. As I read it you will certainly recognize some names, but not others. The point is that Jesus was of the line that God told us He would be from. Prophesy was fulfilled in this genealogy. He was the king of the Jews. He was descended from Abraham according to prophecy and through the royal line of David. God prescribed this royal lineage, provided for it, protected it, and it worked out just as it was planned.
Matthew 1 1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
Now, we will not go name by name through this genealogy, so don’t worry. It is quite a list with many names! But what I do want to do is continue this theme of God’s graciousness, and I want us to see His grace in this list. I mean, can you imagine if Jesus Christ was a part of your line? We may think, "Well I would have to be a super godly Christian for that to happen," and yet what we find is that there are some in this account who were not, and who were even outcasts. People who were rejected. Let me show you this briefly.
Both Tamar and Rahab were involved in sexual sin and were treated as outcasts by family and friends. These were sinners for sure. And yet God used them, God’s grace fell upon them and made them a part of this line for the coming Messiah. Rahab is the one who protected the Israelite men in Jericho and she eventually became the wife of Salmon, who was the father of the godly man Boaz who would marry Ruth.
There was David, a mighty king and yet a great sinner who had a man killed so that he could marry the man’s wife. And yet his new wife, Bathsheba, became the mother of Solomon and ancestor of the Messiah.
God reaches out to and calls sinners to Himself, and we see this even in this recorded genealogy of the Christ.
You are not outside of God’s reach, of His grace. He knows you, He knows who you are and what you are like. He knows your deepest thoughts and motives. And yet you can call upon Him, you can repent of your sins, you can receive His salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible is not full of perfect people, it is full of rotten people whom God has set His love on. This should be encouraging to each of us.
In closing, I want to end with verse 16 which says, "and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary was born, who is called Christ."
Though Mary was deeply devout and loved the Lord, she was not perfect and was a sinner like all others born on this earth. Mary also needed a savior. Many today lift up Mary as if she too were some kind of divine human, a sinless person. And yet Mary herself declared her need for a savior.
In Luke 1:46-50 Mary declares this:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
Mary no doubt received a special measure of God’s grace to bear the Savior. But she too was looked down on for becoming pregnant during her betrothal period. Joseph stood with her knowing that she had conceived by the Holy Spirit, and God stood with her and held her up. God was gracious to Mary.
Here is the thing: if God did not work through sinners, then as far as people go He would have nothing to work with. Tamar, Rahab, David, Boaz, Mary, and all others mentioned in these first 17 verses were sinners in need of a savior. Sinners in need of God’s grace. We too fit that profile. Every person that we will encounter in this book will also. All those whom Jesus spoke with, all whom He healed, those He rebuked, the special ones He called as His disciples, His accusers, His followers, those who crucified Him. Every one had the same great need, they needed a savior.
My hope is that each of us in the coming weeks will be in awe of who Jesus is and our hearts will be captured by Him in ways that perhaps it never has before. He is the King and He is our gracious Lord and Savior.