Saturday, September 30, 2023

Reversal in Matthew 1: Shame Need Not Apply

Matthew chapter 1 is one of many examples where the Simple Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is the utter opposite of this world's order, values and way of thinking. 

We have looked at the genealogy and found some pretty unsavory characters among the descendants of Jesus--oh, yeah...they are like you and me. Think of it like this:  If the list of biblical predecessors in Jesus' lineage was filled with wonderful, holy people, you could argue, Why did You come, Jesus?  There's enough good people in the world--look at Your family tree--we'll (of course I am in that group!) get by. 

But no.  Everyone is fallen: people in the past, present and future: 

"None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    in their paths are ruin and misery,
    and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9-20)

Paul got it--he was a murderer after all, and so to be forgiven, freed and restored to do Kingdom work, was for him (and the rest of us) beyond comprehension. But it was true. Jesus came for people like us: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32-34)

So, after seeing Jesus' genealogy as a rollcall of fallen humanity, let's go the next part of Matthew:  the birth of Jesus.

The reversals here jump out.  A young nondescript girl:
  • Calls herself a humble servant (in Luke) 
  • Hails from a small town ("Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" asks Nathaniel in John 1:46) 
  • A virgin (Physically impossible)
  • Pregnant before marriage (seriously sinful)
OK. That right there would be enough to remind us that His ways are not our ways: 

"Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God." (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

But Mary stands alongside her predecessors, Sarah and Hannah.  

Sarah was in a similar situation: She was barren due to her old age.  Perhaps, when she was younger, she could have had a child, but she didn't and now her age made this impossible. But God miraculously allowed her to conceive.  

Hannah was barren and could not have a child. She was of the right age, and prayed year after year for a child. God allowed her to miraculously conceive.

Mary was not married yet and hadn't had conjugal relations with her husband.  God allowed her to miraculously conceive. 

All three were in a world of shame.  But in the Kingdom of God, shame has no part in who we are. God allows us to become, in His power, all that we were meant to be. 

Even Joseph was filled with shame at what he perceived his wife had done (relations with another man) and was desperate to save her from "public disgrace" and so he was planning "to divorce her quietly."  Joseph's shame, however, did not blind him with such hurt or rage that he would allow Mary to be scorned or punished in her hometown--in his hurt, he still wanted to protect her.

In fact, Matthew calls Joseph, "righteous," and in the KJV, the word is "just."  That's a Kingdom word.  When the world tells you that you have every right to be angry, offended, hurt or misunderstood, and that you ought to fire all cylinders and punish those who have done this to you, a man like Joseph reminds us of the Kingdom way.  Look at the meanings of the word, "just," according to Strong's concordance: 
  • "righteous, observing divine laws" 
  • "in a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God"
  • "innocent, faultless, guiltless"
  • "used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life"
  • "only Christ truly"
  • "approved of or acceptable of God"
Wow.  Those are Kingdom definitions and what a lovely world it would be if these qualities were operating in everyone, all the time.  But wait!  Aren't we being made to be like Jesus?
  • "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)
  • "And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph. 4:24)
  • "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29)
So, even if the Kingdom of God is here, but not in an all-pervasive way (yet!), we can still operate with its qualities in our actions.  We can be the conduit for Jesus' love that pours love on shame, forgiveness on sin and hope on despair. 


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