Women of Promise
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Bible Passage: Matthew 1:1-6
We are still technically in our study of 2 Samuel this morning, but I’m not going to read from 2 Samuel today. Instead, I’m going to preach from the first part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter 1.
I’m doing this because we are between two very difficult stories in Samuel. Both stories describe episodes involving the exploitation and abuse of women – Bathsheba by David and Tamar by Amnon.
If you only had those two stories, you might conclude that the Bible doesn’t assign a very high value to women. You’d be wrong, but I feel the need to get ahead of that assumption and equip us as a church to answer those questions.
This is no small thing to me. I want to be absolutely clear about how God sees women. And I want to provide an opportunity for us to repent this morning, myself included, of the way the world devalues women. So, I’m pausing today for that purpose, and we will look together at Matthew 1.
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.
Then, Matthew lists all the generations between David and Joseph – skipping now to verse 16:
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
This is how the Gospel of Matthew begins and you need to know that this Gospel was probably written to convince Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah. It is the most Jewish of the Gospels and they were probably Matthew’s target audience as he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
But from a Jewish perspective, it makes no sense to include women in the family tree of Jesus. Jews did not trace their lineage by women, but by men. The only woman that makes sense in this list is probably Mary, because of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth.
But Matthew lists four other women that he could have easily left out. They didn’t really matter in terms of proving the royal lineage of Jesus or his connection to Abraham. In fact, from a Jewish perspective, the four women included by Matthew all have questionable backstories.
Also striking is that Matthew leaves out the names of more celebrated women in Jewish history – women like Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel. Instead, Matthew seems to be making a different kind of statement by including these other women.
This is like a neon sign. The attention of everyone reading this would have focused on those names. He must be trying to tell us something about the ministry of Jesus by introducing Him in this way. Who is the Messiah? What is He like? What did He come to accomplish? Somehow, these names give us a clue.
All five of these women — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary — they have something in common. Each of their stories involved some situation that could have been considered shameful, but instead God provided some form of redemption.
The first woman mentioned is Tamar. This is not the Tamar from 2 Samuel. We will look at her story next week. There are some similarities, but this is the Tamar from Genesis. She was probably a Canaanite woman who married Judah’s oldest son. But God put her first husband to death because he was wicked, making her a widow.
Then Judah appointed another son to be her kinsman redeemer and take her as a wife, which meant he was to provide children for her on behalf of the deceased brother. But that son refused to fulfill his duty, and instead only used her for self-gratification. If you want to know the details of that story, just go back and read about it in Genesis 38. God then put him to death also for his sin.
Then her father-in-law, Judah, decided she was cursed and told her to remain a widow so he wouldn’t lose all his sons. But then Judah mistook her for a prostitute and took advantage of her also. When Judah found out she was pregnant, he ordered her to be burned alive. But she provided proof that Judah was the father and escaped death. It’s a crazy story! And this is the line of the Messiah.
It’s easy to read a story like that, which is told in just a few short verses, and miss the emotion and intensity of the situation. What would you have felt like as Tamar? Probably tossed around and rejected. How might the rest of the women in that culture have viewed you? Your husbands keep dying and your only children were born out of wedlock… I don’t imagine Tamar was family favorite, and yet God was not ashamed to be called her God. Both of her sons are mentioned in Jesus’ family tree.
Then we have Rahab. Matthew 1 is basically the only place in the Bible where Rahab is not specifically described as “the prostitute”. Do you remember the story? She was the Gentile resident of Jericho who hid the spies of Israel. Because of her kindness, the Lord spared her family from death, and she was brought into the covenant community. We would consider that to be amazing grace by itself, and yet the story goes on. She is mentioned twice in the New Testament as faithful, and God chose her to be included as an ancestor of Jesus. But I would imagine that in her day she likely experienced some difficulty being accepted by the Israelites – both as a foreigner and as a former prostitute.
Third, we read that Ruth was part of Jesus’ family tree. We studied Ruth last March. Ruth was a Moabite woman, also not a Jew. But she married a man from Bethlehem who then died along with his father and brother, making Ruth a widow. With no husband and no heir, she abandoned her own culture to follow her mother-in-law back to Judah and caught the eye of a man named Boaz, who happened to be a close relative of her deceased husband. Boaz fulfilled the role of kinsman redeemer and took Ruth as his wife in a stunning act of grace. And now we have our third Gentile woman included in the family history of Christ.
Bathsheba is the fourth woman. Her name is not actually given. Instead, she is simply called “Uriah’s wife” to intentionally remind the readers that she was married to another man before David had him killed. She was the object of a king’s lust. She had to watch her first child die because of David’s sin. Imagine the hurt in her life as a result of all this! And she had no idea that her next child would be an ancestor of the King of Kings. Remember, David had many wives and many children, but God chose Bathsheba – the one David most wronged – to carry the seed of Christ.
Finally, we have Mary, the mother of Jesus. Joseph is mentioned, but of course Joseph was only the father of Jesus in a legal sense. Mary was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to the Messiah. Because of that, we tend to think of Mary as pure and innocent. But put yourself in her shoes for a moment.
She knew the truth about how she became pregnant. But imagine trying to explain it to Joseph, her fiancé! Joseph at first did not believe her and he drew the natural conclusion that some other man had gotten Mary pregnant, and he intended to divorce her quietly. This was the kind approach. He had a legal right to have her publicly disgraced. In the old days, she could have been stoned. But an angel appeared to Joseph and explained the situation changing his mind. Mary was spared of shame she had not earned, and Jesus was born to legal parents.
Now, looking at the stories of these women, we have to ask the question: why would Matthew want to include these women as the obvious focus of his introduction to Jesus when he could have easily left them out? Remember, he is trying to convince Jewish people that Jesus is the Messiah that their whole religion was about! How does adding these women help him make that case? What is God saying to us by having these names included in Jesus’ family tree?
I think it reveals to us, very pointedly, the faithfulness and grace of God to unexpected people. In other words, Matthew snuck the Gospel into the opening words of His manuscript. I’m not just going to tell you who Jesus is by telling you who He came from. I’m going to tell you who Jesus is by telling you who He came for!
Jesus came to save his people from shame and rejection. And what do find in the stories of these women? They were victims of unfaithfulness. They were disgraced and cast aside. They were all in need of redemption. And these are the people Christ Jesus came for, the ones he chooses to be involved with.
And of course, this applies to men and women. He came for the men in His family tree as much as He came for the women. And yet, I do think there is a special message of grace here, in particular, for women with painful memories. And I believe that, because Matthew intentionally included the women with hard stories and not the women we might expect.
Throughout human history, women have been treated as less valuable than men by culture after culture. Some more than others perhaps, but there have been historically less options for women than men when it comes to the kind of circumstances surrounding the lives of the women whom Matthew mentions.
And our own culture is no different. Women are still being objectified by the media we consume every day. In some ways, it is worse than it has ever been. And a promiscuous man is still more acceptable in our culture than a promiscuous woman. That’s not some kind of political statement. It’s just an observation.
And that’s just scratching the surface. By far, the people who are the victims of violent and sexual crimes are women. Statistically speaking, there are almost certainly people in this room who have been victims of terrible things and I cannot imagine the hurt you have experienced.
Even as the victim, not responsible for the crime in any way, you have felt rejected, violated, and ashamed. And if this is not your story, you are living in a culture that objectifies women and that’s sinful and it’s wrong and we are all affected by it.
And I want you to know that God sees it. He grieves it. And He is absolutely doing something about it.
In giving us this list at the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew is confirming the legitimacy of Jesus as Messiah not just as royal heir to David’s throne, but also in the sense that His incarnation was for the hurting people of this world. Whatever rejection and pain you may have felt in your life, whatever you may have in common with these women, you can be sure that God understands. Your story matters to Him.
He knows your pain and He is not ashamed to be called your God, just as He was not ashamed to be called the God of Tamar, the God of Rahab, the God of Ruth, and the God of Bathsheba. He wanted them in His family, and He went to great lengths to get them in His family and the same is true of all the people Jesus came to redeem.
And the best part is, God does not wait for us to come to Him. He came to us. Jesus is the only person born in the history of the world who got to choose his own family and he picked a bunch of people we wouldn’t pick.
But I want us to consider this morning: In what ways are we being affected by the sinful culture around us? Have we perpetuated the hurt some have felt with further rejection, or have we reached out to them with a hand of grace? How might we welcome Rahab or Bathsheba into our church family? How patient are we with people whose stories we may not understand? Do we move toward people with difficult pasts or away from them?
But I also want to speak to those with difficult pasts… Have you allowed those insecurities to suppress the reality of God’s love for you? In other words, do you think your mess is too big for God to clean up? Do you believe it is too good to be true? Or have you become so comfortable playing the role of the victim that you don’t want to be redeemed from that mess?
The world around us believes that the solution is to completely erase the distinctions between men and women. But that devalues us all, because God intentionally created us with differences. We are equal in value, but we are also uniquely created by God male and female. The world’s solution will only create more problems. God’s solution is the Gospel.
Brothers and sisters, all of us are more sinful than we think we are, but we are also more loved than we could ever imagine if we belong to Christ. God did not make a mistake when He offered you the blood of His only Son. He wanted You in the family just like He wanted these women in the family. Their stories matter and so does yours. He will never use you or abuse you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. We, the church, are the bride of Christ. And one day, the Bible says that a great multitude of God’s people will be shouting these words:
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
It was granted us to wear white – not because we earned it, not because our deeds were righteous, not because we lived a life of purity – but because God has declared us righteous in union with Christ.