Is the Genealogy Really Such a Let Down?

To the first-time reader, the Old Testament can feel like a confusing collection of laws and awkward stories.  Before too long it becomes an amazing epic retelling of God’s preparation for the arrival of his Son into our world.  If you have eyes to see, then the Old Testament becomes a treasure trove of God’s presence and God’s promise.  It is certainly not about heroes of the faith, for God’s people were consistently faithless, and yet God’s faithfulness outshines their wretchedness.  Where God had every right to declare his promises null and void, instead he kept adding to the promise and moving toward the arrival of the Messiah.

Then there is a blank page.  This is it.  This is the moment in a Bible read through that should make your heart leap.  So, you arrive in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 1.  Here it is!  This is the good news!  And then you find . . . a genealogy.  Disappointing to say the least.  Surely God could have launched the New Testament with something more exciting than a list of old names?

Actually, the genealogy at the start of the New Testament is a reason to celebrate.  More than that, it gives us reason to press on in our ministry.  Here are three reasons to be thankful for the genealogy that launches our New Testaments:

1. The good news that we proclaim is not a fairy tale, it is rooted in history.  

The arrival of God the Son into our world is not announced with a “Once upon a time,” introduction as we would expect of a fantasy tale.  It is announced with a “This is the genealogy of…” that we would expect of a historical figure.  This is so important.  In the midst of our preaching and pastoral care of souls we can forget how alien the good news of Jesus actually sounds to people.  It can sound like a fairy tale that we think might offer hope in the “real world.”  But let us never forget that the Gospel is not a fairy tale, it is rooted in actual events.

The Gospel is not a mythical tale that we speak into the real world to give people a purer perspective by which to live, or a touching tale that sets an example for us to follow in our infinitely more complex experience.  The Gospel is not a suggestion for how we should live.  It is an announcement of what God has done.

Real historical figures had real flesh and blood children who gave birth to actual children, and so on.  This genealogy offers forty-two touchdown points in history as preparation to the touchdown point that transforms history.  If Jesus was merely a myth, or only an example, or somehow just a fairy tale to inspire us, then all this would be so unnecessary.  If Jesus were a fairy tale, then he need be no more than a heavenly interruption in our normal world.  Instead, he really entered right into our normal world.

It is important to note that Matthew’s genealogy is carefully crafted.  He is deliberately selecting generations in order to build a shaped list, rather than an exhaustive one.  He is also tracing a line that diverges from the line that Luke includes in his Gospel.  It is not a contradiction, after all, your genealogy could also take any number of lines down through the centuries.

Read through the genealogy and ponder your ministry.  They faced struggles and uncertainty, yet they were part of God’s great story in ways most could hardly imagine.  We too don’t see the end of our story, but we know we are part of his story.  Thank God that the Gospel is rooted not in myth, but in history.  He came into our world and now we can live and serve him in that same history.  Real people, living real lives, facing real struggles, and always part of his story!

2. The good news that we proclaim is not shaped by our culture’s needs, it is shaped by God’s promise plan.

If we were to try and write the story of a God-sized fix to our hellish plight, we would probably make it a story of an other-worldly super-hero coming to our aid.  We wouldn’t have that hero becoming one of us, and a lowly one of us at that.  We would surely not trace a line down through two millennia of dysfunctional families, men who gave their wives away, men who stole other men’s wives, women of ill-repute, and disobedient nationals humiliated by deportation.

And yet there is a shape to this genealogy.  It is a deliberate shape that Matthew introduces in verse 1 and underlines with summary sums in verse 17.  This is the Abraham to David to Exile to Jesus genealogy.  What is significant about Abraham, David and the Exile?  Surely it is not the giving wife away (twice), stealing a wife and having her husband killed, and the humiliation by deportation … surely these are not the high points of the story?  Actually, no, but as we will see in the next point, this background certainly adds a unique colour to it all.

What is significant about this shaping of the genealogy is that these are three points in history where God leaned forward and added detail to his great promise plan.  God had promised to rescue humanity from sin back in Genesis 3:15.  That promise was developed when God promised to make Abram’s name great and to bless all the families of the earth through his seed.  Tick, tock, the clock was counting down.

King David was blown away by further development on that promise, that his throne would endure forever and his greater son would ascend to it in the future.  Tick, tock, the clock continued to count down.

The prophets spoke in the context of national failure, in the context of Israel’s flaws being fully revealed by the Old Covenant that the day was coming when God would establish a New Covenant that would change everything.  Tick, tock, the clock was counting down and this genealogy shows us where it ends.

Jesus.

The fulfillment of God’s great sin-conquering, life-giving, problem-solving, Satan-defeating, promise plan was Mary’s son, baby Jesus.

What an encouragement this is to us as we continue to minister two thousand years later.  It is easy to see the mess of humanity.  And it is easy to miss that God has a greater plan being worked out in his own timing.  We can trust him, we must trust him.  We have no other hope besides him.

3. The good news that we proclaim is not coloured by human success, it is coloured by God’s grace for sinners.

We could put on rose-tinted spectacles and see the good in this list.  After all, Abraham was eventually a man of faith.  David was a man after God’s own heart.  Jacob was at least productive when it came to building a nation, and Boaz was an all-around good egg.  There are others we could name in the list, people of noble character, including Ruth, not to forget Joseph and Mary, of course.  Definitely some good people, or in many cases, some good moments.

Nevertheless, the more you study the list, the more you see the sin.  This is not a list of Israel’s finest and greatest.  This is a list of ordinary people who stumbled and messed up and blew it and sinned.  This is not a bland list of empty suits – positions celebrated without recognition that it was real humanity in those roles.  This is not a list brightened by human success, but rather a list coloured in by God’s grace to fallen people.

Did Abraham, Isaac and Jacob deserve to receive God’s good promise?  Obviously not, if you read through Genesis.  Did David deserve to have his throne established over the whole world forever?  Definitely not, if his story is heard in full.  Did Israel deserve the New Covenant?  Not in a million years.

God’s grace transforms human mess.

And perhaps the greatest colour in the genealogy?  Surely it is the colour added by the unusual inclusions … Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah.  Four women. Probably four foreign women.  Most importantly, four women with significant question marks over their moral purity.  Tamar dressed up as a shrine prostitute to trick her father-in-law into giving her a son.  Rahab’s name always comes with the title of her profession.  Ruth was a wonderful women, but she did get a man drunk and slip under the covers at midnight.  And Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, was involved in the greatest scandal ever seen in Israel’s royal court.  They weren’t all bad, in fact, all of them were women of faith.  But they all had that question mark hanging over them.

And that is the colour that sets up the final woman in the list – Mary.  A woman of faith.  And yet a woman with her moral purity questioned by all.  She was pregnant before her wedding.  It was a scandal, even in a sin-stained place like Nazareth.  But this was not more of the same human mess.  This was God’s answer to the human mess.

The genealogy might first appear dull, then at a closer look it seems to contain some great names, but if you keep looking you see the mess of those lives, and if God opens our eyes to see, we start to see the glorious grace of God shining through it all.

That is where this post ends, but it is where hope begins.  When God gives us eyes to see the beauty of his glorious grace shining in the mess of humanity.  The genealogy prepares us for the coming of Jesus, the Christ.  Maybe this genealogy prepares us to press on in our messy ministries too – knowing that God’s great promise plan and glorious grace has already entered our world and brought the hope we all so desperately need.

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A couple of years ago I wrote Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation – I hope you can get hold of a copy and enjoy a light biblical read on this critical subject of God’s Son becoming one of us so that we could be one with Him!  It is not just a subject to study at Christmas.  The incarnation is in the very DNA of the Christian faith.

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John’s Letters

John’s Letters: Living in the Light of God’s Love (10Publishing, 2017) is now available from 10ofThose.com. I was privileged to contribute Galatians: The Life I Now Live to this Undated Devotions series in 2015 and am thankful that I could contribute this volume on John’s Letters.

The book is available in paper or e-book format from the site, and from some other booksellers too.  Each day traces the flow of thought in the section, highlights the main idea and leaves the reader with a reflection question to ponder.  I hope it can be a blessing to some!

2015 Blog Summary

designThis was an intriguing year for BiblicalPreaching.net – thank you for visiting the site! Let me share some highlights and stats with you.

Some of the Series – We began the year with a series of preaching resolutions that stirred some good comments, followed by another provocative series on radars preachers need to develop, and then 10 reasons why your listeners may not be satisfied with the preaching they are hearing. People always seem drawn to Biggest Mistakes series too, since we all make lots! So 10 Listener Fatigues is worth a mention too in a similar vein.

Monthly Opener – At the start of each month I have shared a longer post that has been picked up by the European Leadership Forum.  These included, Overflow Leadership: 2 Vital Ingredients, Jesus Nudges, Cracks are Serious, one that stirred lots of verbal response at a conference – 7 Ways to Guard Hearts at a Christian Conference (with its follow up regarding Guarding Hearts at Bible School, and also at Guarding Hearts at Church).

Book Launch – The end of the summer was given over to another guest series at the launch of Foundations – click here to find out more. Here’s the series intro, plus a couple of highlights for me?  Glen Scrivener on sin, John Hindley on being human, and Jonathan Carswell on a Passion for Books (have you heard about 10ofthose.com starting in the USA now? Please spread the word!).  Speaking of books, I also shared a chapter from Pleased to Dwell at the start of December (how can I nudge people to ponder the Incarnation during the rest of the year – all ideas welcome!)

There were quite a few other posts that seemed to stir response, such as Who Turned Preaching Into a Solo Sport? And probably the one that deserved the least attention, but somehow got quite a lot – Meaningless Chatter.

Most Popular Posts this Year?  Due to some friendly sharing from friends with big readerships, by far the most popular posts were these (can these posts get traction again on twitter? Feel free to share the links!)

10 Pointers for Young Preachers as well as 10 Pointers for Older Preachers

10 Pointers for Seminary Trained Preachers as well as 10 Pointers for “Untrained” Preachers

10 Pointers for Preaching Teams as well as for Preaching Easter, and Special Occasion Preaching, and of course, Evangelistic Preaching.  There was another on Planning a Preaching Calendar, and one on Planning a Series.

There you have it, another year of blogging. So much I didn’t mention, but thanks for reading this far!  What should I write about in 2016?  All suggestions welcome, most suggestions followed!

A Passion for Books – Jonathan Carswell

10ofthoseHere is one last guest post relating to the launch of Foundations. Jonathan Carswell is a good friend who works with a great team at 10ofthose.com (this includes 10Publishing). They specialise in publishing shorter books and I’m excited to let you know that they have now launched in the USA. If you are in North America, be sure to check out their website and follow on Twitter @10ofthoseUSA – I wholeheartedly recommend them to you! I would suggest that Jonathan’s passion for books is one that every preacher should share . . .

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Being a dyslexic I think it’s funny that God has put me in a job where every day I am recommending people to be reading Christian books! Despite finding reading hard work at best and an uphill slog at worst, books that have pointed me to Jesus have been life-changing in my Christian walk. It’s for that reason that I’m so passionate that other people are reading Christ-centred books too. But with many books being long, expensive and, if we’re honest, sometimes a bit boring, how is it that we can ‘catch the bug’ for reading Christian literature?

While we mustn’t be lazy or try to cut corners I do believe that reading short, accessible books is a great way to start. They may not be the end-word on a topic but they can be a starting point, a starting point that many of us are not even getting to. I fear that sometimes the reason people are not reading is because they feel they don’t have the time or they don’t have the brain capacity to take on some of these tomes that well-meaning Christian publishers are now producing. The majority of people are not in that place. So read short books, many of which are Christian classics. You can finish them in one sitting, in around an hour. Over the course of several weeks or months, you can read across a breadth of topics, which will stand you in great stead as firm foundations for your Christian life. Peter’s books Foundations and Pleased to Dwell are excellent resources that are accessible, short but full of deep Christian truth. Or try Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness – it changed my Christian life.

The other thing to consider with shorter books is their ease to give away to people who aren’t yet Christians but are willing to investigate. I’d encourage us all to have a stock of short accessible evangelistic books and tracts that we can give away. There are cost-effective ways of doing this and as the resources point people to Jesus they can totally transform a life. Wouldn’t it be amazing if each of us began passing out short, Jesus-pointing resources to those who are Christians to help them grow in their faith, and to those who aren’t Christians to begin their trust in the Lord Jesus. And as we do it, their life just might be changed!

John Hindley: What Does It Mean To Be Human?

John HindleyJohn is pastor of BroadGrace Church in rural Norfolk (England).  John authored Serving Without Sinking and You Can Really Grow  (Good Book Company), as well as Suffering and Singing (10ofThose).  John is married to Flick and has three little ones. In his own words, “John Hindley is a wicked and filthy wretch made beautiful by Christ alone.”  I am thankful to John for offering this guest post as we head into the release month for Foundations.

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To be human is to dig. At least, that is what it is after the fall. To be human outside the garden, East of Eden, is to heft your shovel and dig again. It is to hope (if there can be a hope beyond hope) that this time the guy who sold you the map was honest, despite the way his parrot kept laughing at you.

To be human, for some, is to sail against the storm, hack your way through the undergrowth and then force your spade into the earth. For other the dig comes after a lie-in and pleasure cruise. But we are all digging, where X marks the spot, because there must be treasure somewhere. One of the maps has to be right, and there has to be a chest filled with pieces of eight. Or with peace, with hope, with love, with joy, with meaning, with forgiveness, with a future, with life.

Maybe we know what we are searching for, or maybe we dig with the desperation of not even remembering what we are digging for. We dig the sands of career, health, family, hobbies, holidays, wealth, stories. We dig and dig until one day we hear the sound of a spade against a chest. Carefully the chest is unearthed, and then gently prised open.

When we look back on that day, it still makes us smile to realise how wrong we had got it. We thought we had to dig. It never occurred to us that we were the treasure.

To be human, truly human, is to be the treasure that Christ paid the highest price to win. It is to be the delight of his eyes despite our running, our striving to find treasure far from him. It is to be the blood-bought forgiven who will always be treasured by their Captain until he comes back for us. We are safe, hidden in Christ.

And now, when we dig, we find treasure everywhere.

Marcus Honeysett: What Does It Mean To Be Human?

mhoneysettMarcus is the director of Living Leadership and an elder at Crofton Baptist Church in South East London.  He has authored four books, including Fruitful Leaders and Gospel-Centred Preaching (with Tim Chester).  Many people have benefited greatly from Marcus’ teaching and writing.  I am thankful to Marcus for offering this guest post on such an important question.  Remember, this guest post series is offered to mark release of Foundations – please do check out FourBigQuestions.com and encourage others to follow @4BigQs on Twitter and Facebook.

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So God created Mankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

The two most foundational things about being human beings are:

  1. That we are creatures
  2. That we are special creatures – made in the image of God

Therefore when God blesses the man and woman, telling them to be fruitful, increase and fill and subdue the Earth it is as dependent beings, not independent ones.

In this dependency is the very foundation of life. Everything broken about the world can be traced back to rebellious, sinful desire to live independently from God rather than dependently upon his fatherly goodness as his dearly loved children.

This means that we are never more fully human than when we are consciously living in repentance and faith. A constant walk with God, is the thing that maintains our life and our joy because we were made for it – and forsook it back at Eden. A daily appreciation and thankfulness for the spilt blood of Jesus Christ is the thing that keeps us conscious of God’s everlasting mercy.

Confessing our sins, turning with hatred from evil, glorying in the cross brings healing and gospel transformation by the Holy Spirit. Why? Because when we do we are acknowledging and celebrating true creatureliness. We embrace our dependency. We delight not in God’s absence from our lives but in the closeness of his presence.

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Glen Scrivener: What is the Essence of Sin?

Glen-321AGlen is an evangelist and director of Speak Life. He is the author of 321 – The Story of God, the World and You and blogs at Christ the Truth. He lives in Eastbourne with his wife, Emma, and daughter, Ruby.  At our church we give away copies of 321 to  visitors, it really is a fantastic resource.  I am thankful to Glen as he launches this guest post series for Foundations.  (I will post complete guest posts here for most of the series, but would love for you to check out the book website, FourBigQuestions.com and so you will be directed there to finish this post – thanks!)

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What is the essence of sin?

Is it “climbing onto the throne of your life”?
Is it “stealing the crown for yourself”?
Is it “shaking your puny fist in the face of God”?
Is it saying “Shove off God, I‘m in charge, No to your rule”

Well, yes. But is it deeper than that? You bet!

You see, if we define sin as “self-rule” what do we say to the Iranian refugee working his fingers to the bone, sending back every penny to the family?

What do we say to the woman serially abused by the terrible men she invites into her life?

What do we say to the drug addict whose only remaining desire is the hell-bent drive to throw his life away?

What do we say to the down-trodden mother who’s completely lost herself in her family?

What do we say to the self-harmer consumed by self-loathing?

All these people are sinners. But is their sin best captured by a definition of “self-rule”? Surely not. And the Bible knows this, which is why its teaching on sin goes far deeper than “self-rule.”

In the Bible we are . . . click here to see the rest of Glen’s post on FourBigQuestions.com

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Foundations Guest Series Introduction

Foundations CoverWhat do you do when you have one opportunity to communicate the life transforming message of the Bible? Where do you go biblically to address the key issues people really need to hear today?

I had one series of just four sermons and desperately wanted my hearers to hear the critical building blocks of belief. I could have gone to Ephesians or another epistle. I could have gone to the Gospels. I decided to go to Acts.

Preaching from Acts is an exciting challenge because you are entering into other peoples’ sermons as well as their situations. The first apostles were communicating the timeless gospel to the first hearers as the message spread. Perhaps what they preached then would be ideal for expressing the life transforming message today?  It is.

Foundations: Four Big Questions We Should Be Asking But Typically Don’t is forthcoming from Christian Focus Publications. It is a little book that I hope will pack a big punch. In Foundations we see how the Apostles addressed the very questions that we should be asking, but typically we don’t.

Acts contains messages preached under the glare of imminent threat, thus making every word count. Acts contains messages preached to staunch Jews ready to defend the honour of their heritage, a couple of purely pagan crowds who did not know Othniel from Oprah, some brand new believers in Christ, and every other possible combination of listeners. In Foundations we hear Paul addressing the sophisticated philosophers in Athens, over-zealous pagans in Turkey, and some of the judges brought in to put him on trial. We see how the apostles united when the gospel faced its first major attack, and how they made it so clear how the foundational questions must be answered by all.

Underneath our beliefs there is a foundation, and often it sits there unchallenged. The most important issues for life and eternity are regularly engaged in the Bible, but we often ignore this foundation. We too easily think it is all so obvious that we would be wasting our energy to linger longer than it takes to give a momentary tip of the hat to these issues.

Foundations is a fast read, but I hope it will help preachers and listeners, young believers and those established in the faith. It might even be used to clarify the wonder of the gospel to those who are still looking in from the outside. This guest post series is going to run over the next weeks to help mark the launch of Foundations.

Thanks to everyone who will contribute to this guest series. And thank you to everyone who helps spread the word about Foundations – by encouraging others to follow on Twitter (@4BigQs) or Facebook (Facebook.com/4BigQs), pointing people to FourBigQuestions.com, or buying several copies to pass on to friends and pastors so that in a small way, the great wonder of the Gospel can grip the hearts of as many as possible.

Sincerely, thank you.

Another Guest Post Series – Coming Soon!

Foundations CoverLast year I ran a guest post series to mark the launch of Pleased to Dwell.  There were some great posts from folks including Darrell Bock, Glen Scrivener, Dane Ortlund, Peter Comont, David Murray, Rick McKinley, John Hindley (click a name to see the post!)

Starting in the next few days I am going to run a guest post series to mark the launch of Foundations: Four Big Questions We Should Be Asking But Typically Don’t.  This book is based on the sermons and speeches in Acts, so it should be a helpful little read for preachers, but it is targeted much wider.  Maybe it will be a useful book in your church? Perhaps for a small group study, or as an encouraging giveaway, maybe for youth, maybe for your leadership team, maybe to folks on the fringe, perhaps even to some not-yet-believers who might be open to its message.

I am thankful to the friends who will be offering posts in this series and I hope it will be helpful for you.  I will continue to intersperse my own posts related to preaching during these weeks.

If you are able to help spread the word about Foundations, please do.  Momentum is building toward the launch and every social media comment encouraging others to follow, like, buy, etc. is appreciated.  Here is the Facebook page, here is the twitter link (@4BigQs) and the book’s own website is FourBigQuestions.com.  Thanks so much!