The Joy of the Gospel

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Luke 2:10, ESV.

One thing I have never been able to enjoy in my life is Christmas movies, not sure about you, but for me it is that scene where someone in the movie says, “The real meaning of Christmas is…” And then the actor proceeds to talk about being kind to people, showing love, family, giving gifts to others, or some form of heart felt sentiment.  The problem is the reality of many peoples lives shows that Christmas is not always such a joyous occasion.  For example, Christmas 2013, Tao Hsiao was shopping in East China with his girlfriend.  After five hours of shopping with his girlfriend he had reached the point where he was sick of it and wanted to go home.  Unfortunately his girlfriend insisted that he must go into another clothes shop.  After continual insistence Tao Hsiao chucked the shopping bags to the floor and jumped off the balcony in order to commit suicide.

The fact of the matter is Christmas is often a hard time for many people: Families are reminded that their loved one is no longer present, parents struggle financially to give the gifts the world expects, people sit alone reminded that there is no one that cares, families descend into bitter arguments over pathetic issues over ‘who should cut the Christmas turkey’.  Christmas is not always that joyous occasion that we get told it is in the media.

The problem is not that we face difficulties at Christmas, because the truth is we face problems all year round; they tend to just be intensified at Christmas.  The problem is we do not have, or have not recognised what true joy is.  While we follow in the worlds ways of focusing on the exteriors of the world – family, gifts, community service, friends – we will never find true joy.

The question then is, if our problem is that we do not have true joy, then obviously we know what we need; true joy.  But what is true joy? And where do we get it from?  In the story of the shepherds and the angels we find the answer to both of these questions.  Interestingly we are not told anything about who those shepherds were.  Were they happy shepherds or sad shepherds?  Were they hired hands or owners?  We have no clue, and I think Luke does not give us the information for a reason.  It isn’t important for the story, but it also means we can apply what happens to the shepherds to us without reservation.

You see on that fateful night, things were probably the same as every other night, shepherds sitting quietly in the field watching their sheep.  Only one thing we know of these shepherds and that is their reaction to what happens.  We are told in verse 9 that an angel appeared and the glory of the Lord shone around them, their response – as is common when an angel appears to people – is fear.  Just like when Manoah and his wife are visited by the angel in Judges, or when Zechariah was visited, or Mary, or Daniel.  The response is always the same, one of terror.  Why?  Because when a sinner is confronted by the glory of the Lord the first reaction that comes to a sinners mind is judgement.  Who of us can stand before the glory of God?  The same response that the people of Beth Shemeth gave in 1 Samuel 6 would have gone through the minds of the shepherds, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?”

But the shepherds were not to remain in fear, the same God who commanded the angel to say to Zechariah, Manoah’s wife, Mary and Daniel, do not be afraid, also commanded the angel to say to the shepherds, “DO NOT BE AFRAID”.  Why should they not be afraid?  Because the angel has not come in judgement but the angel has come in peace, he has come to bring good news of great joy.  Not just news, not just good news, not even just good news of joy, but good news of great joy.  Yes, we have a great need, we need true gospel joy at this time of year and all year around, but we have a God who is greater then our need, for he promises as true joy that conquers all things.

Brothers and Sisters we must have joy, we must have true joy and we must have it in all situations.  True joy only comes through the announcement of the gospel, it only comes through the birth of our faithful saviour.  We can look to alcohol, work, family, friends, money, sport, cars, computers, internet, pornography, sex, drugs, or any other human creation, but we will never find true joy.  We will always be left wanting, like a child opening an empty Christmas present.  We will be left with tears in our eyes.  Why?  Because when we open those things and seek joy it is like grabbing a thorn bush for support, it gives support for a short time but it also destroys your hands, rips at your flesh and gives way eventually.

So what is true joy?  It is beholding the birth of Christ, it is looking to the coming of our saviour, it is seeing God who came to be man, who came to live amongst us and to die for us.   It is all these things but it is more, it is having a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  The fact of the matter is when life gets tough, when life gets turned upside down like a carton of milk, nothing will sustain you, nothing will bring you joy other then your relationship with an all sovereign God.  What does joy look like in different situations?  Let us briefly consider that before concluding.

Life’s pretty normal?  When you live life and everything seems normal it can be easy to become complacent and think to yourself that you need nothing more for your joy and peace.  This is one of the most dangerous places to be.  From here the person most commonly stops looking to Christ for joy, stops looking to the gospel of peace, the true joy that comes with having a right relationship with Christ.  There is no rejoicing in what Christ has done, pride creeps in and our joy turns into selfish pride of what we have obtained.  If your life feels like is going smoothly, safe guard yourself, you must make sure you joy is in God and not in yourself.

Life’s pretty hard?  When your life is at its worst, maybe the death of a family member, a decision is made you disagree with, work is getting you down whatever it is.  This is the time when you must look to God for your joy.  This is when you must cry out with the Psalmist, “From where does my help come from?” And respond with,

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;

the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forever more.

Psalm 121, ESV.

When you turn to him in hardships he will provide what you need, and your joy will be great.  Not because you will be happy, not because your hardships will instantly go away, but because your faithful God will come to you and be known by you.  He will be your God and you will find all joy and peace in him!

Life’s end?  Sickness and death, what joy can there be?  Look to the stories of those faithful Christians who have died.  Their testimonies abound, I remember the story of the death of a man who said, “I am seeing into heaven and I can see the saviour.  He is with me.”  When his wife began to cry he said, “Peggy, don’t cry.  This is what I have been waiting for.  This is my coronation day.”  He remained like that until he passed into glory.  Death can be a wonderful thing for those who are experiencing the joy of the gospel, because they view it with hope.  But how atrocious is the death of the wicked, they die in utter fear and hopelessness.  May your joy be found in Christ if your time is near!

Dear reader, the fact of the matter is, in all of your life you can look to yourself for your joy and be disappointed throughout your life.  Or you can turn to the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ for your joy and you will NEVER be let down.  You will experience joy in every area of your life, not because you are strong or great, but because you have a faithful Lord and saviour who will supply you with all your needs.

Our problem in life so often is that we do not have true joy, we need true gospel joy and that gospel joy is announced to us just like it was to the shepherds at the birth of Christ.  Reader, the choice is yours, do you accept the joy on offer, the joy that comes only through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?

The Gospel in Genealogical Form

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

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.

Matthew 1:1–17, English Standard Version.

I wonder how many of you have read or heard sermons preached on the genealogies in scripture?  I wonder how many will respond with a groan when the minister chooses a list of names to preach from?  In our Western culture genealogies and ancestry are relatively unimportant.  We are not particularly concerned with who our great, great, great grandfather was.  Therefore, when we get to the genealogies of Scripture it can be easy to just view it as ‘just a list of names’.  Unfortunately, because of our cultural mind set, we tend to not recognise the importance of these lists.  Let us be reminded at this point that “[a]ll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16–17)  If that is the case, then these lists are profitable for making the man of God complete, equipped for every good work.  If that is true, which without hesitation I would declare that it is,  then we must put far more importance on these lists, see them for what they are, and allow the word of God to plunge into our souls.

It may seem odd to us that Matthew would start his gospel with a genealogy.  I am not sure about you, but if I was writing something in order to declare Jesus to people I am not sure that I would consider starting with a genealogy.  However, I would probably not be writing to the people that Matthew was writing to.  You see, Matthew was writing to a mainly Jewish audience, and for Jewish people your ancestry was extremely important.  Who you were, where you lived and your relationship with God was all based off your lineage.  We see this in Chapter 3 when the Saducees and Pharisees came to John the Baptist, he says, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father'”.  According to the Jew, you are who you are,  based off your bloodline.   And it was for this reason that the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to start his gospel with a genealogy.  Because the fact of the matter is, for the Jewish person to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Christ, they had to see who he was.  In order to set that foundation right Matthew starts by saying, ‘here is the one I am going to talk to you about, this is who he is’.

Now some of you may be thinking, that is all fine and good, why should us westerners care about the genealogy of Jesus?  What does it really mean to me?  We already answered the first question, we should care because it is the breathed Word of God, given to make us complete.  What does it mean to me? Well, we are one week out from Christmas are we not?  And at this time we celebrate the Lord’s ultimate provision in the gift of his son, in this genealogy we have the story of how God brought that about.  How God gave us his son, and because of that gift we have hope.  And that is our topic for today, The Hope of Jesus’ Genealogy.  We will consider this topic under three headings: 1) Jesus’ Covenantal Genealogy, 2) Jesus’ Gracious Genealogy, 3) Jesus’ Sovereign Genealogy.

The first thing that we see when we look at Jesus’ genealogy is that it is a covenantal genealogy.  Jews would have been taught from a young age that the coming Messiah would fulfil the great Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.  It is for this reason that Matthew states in verse 1, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  For Jesus to be the Christ, he must be a son of Abraham and David, and he must fulfil the covenant that was made to Abraham and David.  When the Jews read that Jesus Christ, Jesus Messiah, was the son of Abraham they would have instantly recognised the claim that Matthew was making for him.  Matthew was claiming that Jesus as the son of Abraham and the son of David had brought about all that was promised to both the great patriarch and king.

What were those promises?  We do not have the time nor the space to deeply go into this so we can only have a cursory consideration of the covenants.  Abraham was promised that through him all nations would be blessed.  And how did this happen?  Did it happen through Israel?  No!  It happened when Christ came, for as the seed of Abraham through him all nations were offered salvation.  Not just Israel could come to know Christ but all people.  In him could Paul declare “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)  David was promised that his throne would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16). One does not have to look far however to see that this does not appear to be the case.  Where has Israel’s king been?  Where is her royal head?  This promise was only realised in Christ, for he has been seated at the Right Hand of God.  Enthroned on high, he is he Lord of Heaven and Earth, all power has been given him in heaven above and on earth below.

But what does this mean for us?  Dear reader, it means you are faced with a simple challenge, by fulfilling the Abrahamic and Davidic covenant, Jesus Christ he opens up a way for you to enter into a covenantal relationship with him!  He says, come to me all who are heavy laden and I shall give them rest!  He says, behold I knock at the door if anyone opens up I will come in!  So the question you must answer is if you have not come to Jesus Christ, if you have hardened your heart, or turned away from the light of the gospel of Christ, will you come to him and receive the blessings of the covenant?  You see every blessing has a covenant, the blessing offered is that you will be at peace with God, you will be included into the family of God and he will cause his face to shine upon you and give you peace.  And there is only one way you can do this, by believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord.  I urge you, if you are reading this and you do not know the Lord do this now, for the truth is, this is a limited time offer.  Once the book of eternal life is closed no name shall be added.  Jesus’ genealogy is a covenantal genealogy he completed the covenants for you and me.

But his genealogy is also a gracious genealogy.  What do I mean by that?  When I say that it is a gracious genealogy I mean that God’s esteemable grace is shown in the lives of his ancestors.  The beautiful thing is that Son of God could have kept his genealogy pure. But he came into the world to be marked as one of us, he took on flesh, he took on ancestry and he therefore did not refuse to allow the sinful into his genealogy.  We cannot look at all of them but let us just briefly consider four of his ancestors; Tamar (vs. 3), Rahab (vs. 5), David (vs. 6) and Manasseh (vs. 10).

In Genesis 38 we have the story of Tamar.  She married the son of Judah, Er, but Er was wicked in God’s sight so God destroyed him.  So Judah gave her to his second son, Onan, in order to fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law.  Unfortunately this fellow was not much better then Er, you see he didn’t want to have children with her, so whenever they lay together he would waste his semen on the ground.  This was wicked in God’s sight so God put him to death also.  Judah’s other son was to young to be given he thought so he sent Tamar back to her Father’s house to wait.  Tamar, deciding to take things into her own hands dressed herself up as a prostitute and slept with Judah becoming pregnant in the process.  And giving birth to twins Perez and Zerah.  Tamar and Judah are the ancestors of Jesus by incest.  Sexual sin deserving of death according to the law of Moses.  Yet a part of the genealogy of Jesus, why?  Because even incestuous, fornicators are welcomed by God through his grace and mercy.

Joshua 2 starts the story of Rahab and the spies.  Rahab was a prostitute.  You know, those woman which many look down upon, consider to be the scum of society?  One of Jesus own grandmothers was a prostitute.  And what do we see in her story? We see a woman who is willing to refuse to do what the king of Jericho says.  Give me the slaves! He cried.  But she refused, she hid them, she saved them, why?

I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.  And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.

Her faith and trust was in the Lord.  The Lord had shown Rahab who he was.  And she was willing to do anything, all she asked was that God would spare her life.  And what did he do?  Not only did he spare her life, he brought her into the nation of Israel and chose to use her as an ancestor for his own Son.

David, David, David…murderer, adulterer, census taker, sinner.  If any Old Testament figure is not worthy of being listed it is him.  Yes, he was the promised king and he was a man after God’s own heart.  But look at the sins he committed!  It is amazing that Matthew doesn’t just write David the father of Solomon, but says “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah”.  No Jewish person could read that without painfully remembering David’s sin.  Why was it included here?  To remind us that being accepted by God has nothing to do with our performance, but everything to do with the grace of God.  David is included in the genealogy of Christ not because he was a good man, but because God loved him in spite of his sinful life, because he was forgiven, washed clean by the blood of his descendant.

The last is probably the most poignant example out of any of them.  King Manasseh, have a read of 2 Chronicles 33.  “And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.” (2 Chon. 33:2)  In verse 9 it tells us that Manasseh led Israel to do more evil then the nations that were there before him.  He even sacrificed his own sons!  But yet, “when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.  He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.” (2 Chon. 33:12–13)  The grace of God is sufficient for any.

These four people have one thing in common, sinners in need of forgiveness.  So let me ask you, are you any different?  Maybe you are like Manasseh and have not yet turned to God, maybe like David and have disobeyed.  Either way you must do the same thing, repent and come to him when you have sinned.  He calls you to repent because when you live a life of sin you lose out on fellowship with him, assurance of salvation, you miss out on his delight, but you can also expect discipline.  Turn to him now and repent, for he is faithful and will forgive, we have seen that from his gracious genealogy.

We see in this passage that Jesus genealogy is also a sovereign genealogy.  When we look at the genealogy of Jesus we see that God’s sovereignty over the events of history, from the big ones down to the little ones is absolutely supreme.  That he is workings together in accordance with his plan.  Just a cursory glance over Jesus’ genealogy will show baron woman, disobedience, non Israelites, and political turmoil.  The stories of each person in Jesus genealogy probably all have tremendous hardships and difficulties, they face things they we do not even know, things not recorded in Scripture.  Yet God was working through all of those things to bring about the birth of his son.  In spite of the difficulties of history God has been working to bring about his perfect will.  He ordained from before the foundations of the world that Esau and Jacob would fight, that Babylon would take Judah into captivity, that Joseph would marry Mary and not divorce her.  And he did it all in order to bring Jesus out at the perfect time.  That when the fullness of time had come Christ would arrive.  And that is what we celebrate in a weeks time.

What does that mean for us?  Well I am unsure what you have gone through in life, whether you have suffered as part of a horrible upbringing.  We do not have to look far to find stories of children who have had the most horrendous upbringings that I dare not even repeat.  Maybe you have suffered from friends betraying you, maybe deaths in your family, some pain that you bury deep inside and never forget.  What Jesus’ genealogy declares to you is that you must  trust God with your history; past, present and future.  You see God is ordering all events, we may not understand why and we may never understand why, but if God can bring about the salvation for all of his people through some of the events that are seen in his genealogy, surely he can order your events for your good.  What does Paul declare?  God works all things together for your good.  What is that good?  That you would be made into the very image of Christ.  So let me challenge you to change your attitude towards your life, your situation, your past and your present, for God is sovereignly in control over it all.  I am not saying it is easy, in fact I know it is not.  Having faith in God and believing that He is sovereignly in control of all things allows you to hand all of your difficulties over to him.  It allows you to live a life of peace with God, knowing that he is doing what is right in his sight.

How can you do any of this?  How can you be expect to turn to see the  Jesus’ covenantal, gracious, sovereign genealogy and turn and act upon it?  Only by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Only by the inward work of God can you do this.