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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Skeletons in the Closet?

Years ago one of my friends became interested in tracing his roots. Jason belonged to one of the founding families of our church and community; they still owned much of the property and businesses in our little town. After subscribing to an online service that provided access to records and spending hours researching his family history, Jason lost some of his initial enthusiasm. One of his first discoveries was an ancestor arrested for being a horse thief.

Genealogies and family histories were important to the Jewish people. So as a Jew writing to a Jewish audience, Matthew naturally opened his book with a genealogy. In order to introduce Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about Messiah, Matthew had to prove that Jesus was a direct descendant of David with a rightful claim to the throne. He traced Jesus’ ancestry through Joseph, his legal father, and ended at Abraham, verifying that Jesus was one of God’s chosen people. (Luke traced Jesus’ ancestry all the way back to Adam through Mary, also a direct descendant of David but through another son.)

Matthew condensed Jesus’ genealogy by skipping some generations, but he proved Jesus’ credentials. In the process, he also revealed something about God’s love and mercy. The list of 46 people includes a motley crew ranging from ordinary men to flawed heroes, to adulterers and evil kings. Even more striking, Matthew included the names of several women—something that Jewish genealogies normally did not do since ancestry was traced through men. God had Matthew include not only the name of Mary, Jesus’s mother, but also four women from the Old Testament. All of these women were either foreigners or of questionable character. (See Matthew 1)

From a human standpoint, some of these women had shameful blots on their life stories that made them unlikely candidates for being included in the ancestry of God’s Son.

Tamar was probably a Canaanite. After she was widowed twice, her father-in-law, Judah, failed to arrange her marriage with his surviving son as the Law required. Tired of waiting, Tamar pretended to be a prostitute and had sex with Judah. (See Genesis 38) Despite the immorality of the relationship, God allowed Judah’s line to be traced through one of Tamar’s twin sons.

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho, a city that God planned to destroy because of its wickedness. Choosing to believe in what she’d heard about Yahweh, Rahab saved the lives of the Israelite spies, who then promised protection for her and her family. (Joshua 2, 6) Rahab later married an Israelite from the tribe of Judah and had a son named Boaz.

Ruth came from Moab. According to Deuteronomy 23:3, no Moabite could be “admitted to the assembly of the Lord.” But Ruth accepted the God of her husband’s family. Later, when the widowed Ruth chose to follow her mother-in-law to Israel, Boaz married her. Their first son was King David’s grandfather.

Because Bathsheba was originally married to Uriah, she may have been a Hittite. The child born from her adultery with David died (2 Samuel 11-12), but they later had Solomon, who succeeded his father in ruling Israel.

God included these women in the Messiah’s line despite their backgrounds and mistakes. He wanted to make it clear that his mercy and grace extends to the entire world, not just to one group of people. God didn’t choose the Jewish nation as his special people to exclude anyone but to draw the entire world to himself. Nothing can keep us from being a part of God’s family if we choose to believe in him. There is nothing that can cut us off from his forgiveness—not our past mistakes, our questionable background, or our present failures. Only one thing can keep us from being a part of God’s family: our choice not to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ.

No matter how many skeletons in our closet, no one is outside God’s grace unless he or she chooses to be there.

God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. John 3:16 (God’s Word™ translation)

Copyright © Dianne Neal Matthews, used with permission.

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