In the Fullness of Time

Matthew 1:1-17

In Galatians 4, Paul tells us that everything that has happened through history has been carefully orchestrated by God to bring his Son, the Messiah and Redeemer into the world to save us from our sins: But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Gal. 4:4-5).

Jesus was not a random and arbitrary thought in the back of God’s mind. Every moment of history was focused through him, as God prepared for that perfect moment to send him into the world.

I’m going to ask you to listen carefully as I read one of the most exciting passages in all of Scripture:

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, 

the son of Abraham: 

Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram, 

Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon, 

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse, 

and Jesse the father of King David. 

 David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, 

Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa, 

Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah, 

Uzziah the father of Jotham,

Jotham the father of Ahaz,

Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 

Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah, 

and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

 After the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 

Zerubbabel the father of Abiud,

Abiud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor, 

Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Eliud, 

Eliud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob, 

and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.  (Matthew 1:1-17)

Let’s admit it, genealogies are boring – they’re as much fun as reading a telephone book. We classify them as second rate scripture. If we were trying to encourage someone to read the Bible we wouldn’t send them to the lists in the book of Numbers, the generations of the kings in 1&2 Kings, or the genealogy in Matthew. Genealogies generally have a quality about them that promote drowsiness, not faith.

But what if you happened to be looking through an old High School yearbook in a yard sale and there was a picture of your mother – or a history of Glenwood Springs and there were your great-grandparents – or if your mother wrote a history of your family and researched all your ancestors, and you found out you were related to Albert Einstein – or you came across your grandmother’s Bible and there in the family history are all of the marriages and births and deaths for generations, and there stuck in between the pages is a picture taken at a family reunion and you start trying to name all of the people who have been a part of your life.

You see, it’s not that we don’t like history, but we like history that involves us. There is a delightful excitement if you find within a genealogy your name, your family, your heritage.

Matthew begins his Gospel with purpose as he lists the generations of descendants who preceded the birth of the Messiah. Some faithful, others faithless. Some names famous and well known, other’s whose significance has been lost over time. Each one playing a crucial part in linking father to son to grandson, generations spanning over 1500 years, each participating unsuspecting of his part in God’s ultimate purpose.

As much as anything, this genealogy reminds us that God works in history, in the lives of real people, real events. Our Savior, God’s Messiah was not the stuff of legends and myths and fables. His life, ministry, teachings were firmly rooted in history.

Matthew divides his genealogy into three equal sections of 14 generations each.

The first grouping encompasses the span of Israel’s history from the beginning of their identity in Abraham through the golden years of David’s reign as king.

The second grouping sees the decline and division and finally the devastation of God’s people as Jerusalem is leveled and they are brutally carried away into Babylonian exile.

The final grouping shows God’s relentless love for his people – even though they have rejected him and broken his covenant. He preserves a remnant and out of that faithful remnant he selects a young maiden named Mary to bear the eternal, incarnate Son of God.

Such symmetry reminds us through and through that God remains in control. There is order and purpose and God’s providence working in every life. No sin of God’s people, no military power of a foreign nation, not Satan’s assault on heaven’s purpose could derail God’s plan to redeem mankind through his son.

To you and me, a genealogy might seem a rather daunting way to begin a book. Wading through these lists might bog us down from the very beginning. But to a Jew who read this Gospel, it would be the most natural thing in the world.

When Josephus, the great Jewish historian wrote his autobiography, he started with his personal pedigree.

King Herod the Great, despised because he was a half-blooded Edomite, destroyed the official registers and replaced them with a more royal pedigree that none could contest.

For the Jews, they wanted, not only to know who you are, but where you came from, and what’s in your family. It was more than a matter of pride, it was a matter of credibility. It was important to know who you are and your station in life.

Genealogies evoke memories – you look through a history of the Glenwood church and start thinking back on this person and that family. And it’s not just names, but memories of events and people that have affected your life, or made a difference in the way the history of this congregation has turned out.

As we read this genealogy, our memories are prompted by different names – names like Abraham, Boaz, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Zerubbabel. Stories that come alive with faith and courage and divine pleasure. You would expect those kind of folks to line the path of the Messiah.

There are some surprises, also. The wickedness of Ahaz and Manasseh and Amon. There they are in the lineage of the Messiah.

Matthew pauses along the way to point out various facts:

Although many in the list wore the royal crown, David alone was called “the king.” Jesus will be called the “son of David.”

Matthew tells us that “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” No white washing sin – no hiding the dirty laundry.

He points out that Jechoniah had brothers and lived at “the time of the exile to Babylon.” Matthew doesn’t skip over their darkest moment of defeat and shame.

The surprises also include the names of five women – unheard of in a Jewish genealogy – unthinkable in the ancestry of the Messiah – and the kind of women they were! Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Four of them suspected of adultery or prostitution, four of them foreigners, aliens to Israel.

And so this genealogy reminds us of four things as we read its names and notes and sideline comments:

That our faith is rooted in history, not some mythical, mystical storybook legend.

That God’s grace is continually at work among his people. God’s people may sin, his nation be faithless, his covenant be broken, but God never gives up on his people.

God’s providence is always in evidence. Nothing is left to chance. These generations aren’t an arbitrary wandering through a wilderness of human uncertainty. God is working through people and events toward the fulfillment of his plan for his people.

This genealogy is always focused on the Messiah that was to come. God’s people are a waiting people. They anticipated with fervency the coming of the promised one who would redeem them and restore them to God. We wait with anticipation for the day when he will come again.

The verses that follow recreate the drama of the coming of the Christ – This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

The emphasis isn’t on the child, the manger, the nativity scene. It focuses, as did the genealogy, on the Christ as the one sent in the fullness of time, to fulfill God’s purpose – to bring redemption to a people in need of a Savior.

Fullness of time – full, not on account of man’s accomplishments. God’s wasn’t waiting for us to reach some level of moral superiority. Man brings only sin to the equation. He sent his son when we were morally bankrupt – You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:6-8) It is God’s fullness that brings salvation to mankind, and hope for history.

And it is God’s love for you, yes you, that prompts him to reach out to you with the heart of a Father who wants his son or daughter to be with him. He continues to orchestrate our lives, and in the fullness of time he works his purpose and his will if we allow him.