Our Tragedy, God’s Tragedy

MATTHEW 2 of 12

Matthew 1 today. Last week we jumped into the middle of Matthew a little. We said that Matthew is less like an action movie and more like a drama with dynamite dialogue.  Matthew’s story has got a lot of talking—a lot of teaching.

And so that was the way we began last week. We started by jumping straight into some talking, into some teaching—into a big block of teaching in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 that we often call “The Sermon on the Mount.” Matthew is the only gospel-writer to record Jesus’s famous words about the road being narrow and the gate being small. And that’s something of the point of Matthew’s gospel—the reason he tells us the story of Jesus packed with talking and teaching and dynamite dialogue.

We wanted to start with crystal clarity last week: The story of Jesus is always a summons from Jesus.

Matthew is summoning us to follow Jesus. He wants to make sure that we’re not fooling ourselves. That we don’t just admire Jesus, don’t just respect Jesus, don’t just learn about Jesus. Matthew wants us to obey Jesus. To follow Jesus. To learn a new way of life from Jesus. If we’re not captivated by Jesus, if Jesus isn’t course-correcting our lives on a weekly or daily basis, then we’re probably just fooling ourselves. That’s central for all of the earliest Christians, but especially for Matthew.

We began last week in Matthew 7, but that’s not where Matthew begins. Matthew begins in a different place. Matthew begins in Matthew 1. So let’s look at that:

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah 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 Abihud,
Abihud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Elihud,
Elihud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

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 Messiah.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet 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 conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Matthew 1v1-23

I thought about not reading the genealogy… but then I was I like: “We study the Bible here. How often do we preach on Matthew 1? You gotta read the genealogy.”

Matthew begins with something that most of us are very familiar with. You settle in with popcorn for your favorite TV show, and what comes on the screen first? “Previously on LOST…. Previously on BREAKING BAD.” And then you quick reminders of what’s gone on before in the story. You get flashes of scenes to remind you—to catch you up—for the story you’re about to see.

That’s part of the reason why Matthew includes this genealogy: “Previously on GOD AT WORK IN THE WORLD.” And then Matthew give us a quick reminder—he flashes people and names and stories in front of us to remind us what has gone on before Jesus. He flashes the entire Old Testament before our eyes.

The story of God’s relationship with the family of Abraham. That’s the story the Hebrew Scriptures are telling. The Old Testament is not a collection of short stories with moral endings, even though we frequently read it that way. The Old Testament is not Aesop’s Fables.

The Old Testament is the long, messy story of God creating a people through whom God is going to be bless the world.

Go back to the beginning of the Genesis, and the first eleven chapters describe how God’s good world begins to fall apart. And it’s because of us. Because of humanity. The story that God had begun to tell—his good story—is taken off course by the characters in the story.

History has barely begun when history becomes a tragedy. Adam and Eve refuse to believe God—they eat the fruit—and in quick story after story we get Cain killing Abel, the world so evil that it needs to be flooded in the time of Noah, and humanity coming together to defy God at the Tower of Babel. From very early on in the Bible the human experience begins to look like the tragedy that we see unfolding in headlines. Murder and evil corrupting the human heart and entire cultures going off the rails.

What will God do?

And then we come to Genesis 12. We come to the beginning of Abraham’s story. And so Abraham led to
Issac and Jacob and his twelve sons (v2) and Amminadab in time of Moses (v4) and Ruth and Boaz when the judges ruled and there was no king in the land (v5).

When a king does arrive in David but he and his descendants don’t seem to be blessing the world. They’re a tragedy themselves. David kills a guy named Uriah (v6) and takes his wife, Solomon (v7) institutes slavery, his son Rehoboam watches the nation collapse, and then—despite all the warnings of the prophets—descendants from Ahaz (v9) to Manasseh (v10) do terrible terrible things not least of which involved sacrificing children.

They’re not exactly blessing the world. Not exactly turning the tragedy around.

And so God put the nation of Israel in timeout. It’s a little more severe than sending them to their room—God sends them to Babylon (v12). The people of God are decimated—almost destroyed. They’re homeless and humbled.

And so from around 500BC to the 1st century, the people of God have been waiting. Waiting on their God to do something. Waiting on their God to restore their fortunes and fulfill the promises of the prophets. One day—maybe just maybe—God is going to turn the tragedy around.

The great tragedy of human history.
That the world is falling apart.

That everything dies.

The great tragedy of the people of God. That the great sickness of sin and rebellion even infects the world’s doctors. Abraham’s family was supposed to be blessing and healing the world, but they need healing as much as the rest of the world. This is what Matthew invokes as he begins his story. Previously on GOD AT WORK IN THE WORLD, the whole thing has fallen apart. From the promises to Abraham (v17) to the grand hopes of David to the terrible timeout of exile in Babylon—the tragedy grown ever more tragic.

The people of God themselves have been walking the wide road that leads to destruction.

Is human history ultimately going somewhere good? Will the tragedy be turned around? Or will the whole thing continue to unravel? This is what we all feel to a greater or lesser degree all of our lives. When the symptoms come back. When we feel like we’re utterly alone. When we’re struggling to make the numbers work. When we can’t shake the addiction. When death takes one our loved ones. When the daily grind of holding things together feels too much. We quietly wonder: are our lives a tragedy? Will things always be this way? Do pain and sadness and loneliness and death have the last word?

And even when our individual lives are full of sunshine—when the car starts, and everyone is healthy, and everything seems to be working well—we look at the world news and… ugh. Is this world a tragedy? Where is this thing headed? Is there anything like hope? And as Matthew begins his story, he’s saying that the story is going somewhere. The story looks tragic—it actually is a tragedy up to this point—but take heart. The story is going somewhere.

Which story? All of them.

The Old Testament. The people of God. Human history. World news. Even our individual lives. Our families and loved ones, and our hopes and longings, and our rebellion and sin. It’s going somewhere.

Matthew says in verse 17, that there were 14 generations between all of these things: between Abraham and David and the exile and the Christ—the Messiah. But according to the Bible itself, there were more than fourteen generations between Abraham and David and exile and the first century. If you go back and carefully read other genealogies in the Old Testament, Matthew has picked and chosen people and has left some people out. He’s picked and chosen the highest highs and the lowest lows of Israel’s story. 

Highs like the sweeping reforms of King Josiah (v10). Lows like Judah sleeping with his daughter-in-law Tamar (v3). And by framing history this way—fourteen and fourteen and fourteen—Matthew is saying something about history. Scholars disagree on the details of what Matthew is saying, but it’s something like this: When you “add up” all of history, it all adds up to Jesus. Everything leads to Jesus. Jesus the Messiah. The long awaited king.

When you look back at the story through the person of Jesus, the story suddenly makes more sense. Matthew wants to make sure that we recognize that the story of Jesus is the climax of the story of Israel. This is where the Old Testament was headed. That’s probably why Matthew was put first in the New Testament—even though Mark was almost certainly written before it. Matthew summarizes the story up until now and then brings us into something new.

The gospel isn’t a brand new story. The gospel is that same story. The gospel of Jesus transforms the way we see everything that’s happened before now. And I think Matthew starts his story this way so that we’ll recognize that his story really is gospel—it really is good news.

The reason why a summons to a new life can be good news is because God meets us in our current life. We’re never invited to a new way of life so that God will be near us, so that God will love us. No, in the coming of Jesus, God has already chosen to be Immanuel (v23). God is already with us. Before we do a thing. While we’re still on the wrong broad path. God already always loves us. God already always is with us. And God is always meeting us in whatever kind of life we’re living. Whatever the story looks like. Whatever the tragedy. That’s the news. That’s the story Matthew is telling.

God always quietly enters our lives—our tragedies—and he makes them his own. Historically, God became one of us—became an actual human being—through a girl named Mary (v23). God does not wear white gloves. God does not shy away from scandal.

That’s the way he quietly entered the world—in scandal. An unmarried girl is having a baby. According to a plain reading of the law in Deuteronomy 22, Joseph should have had her stoned. Joseph wasn’t going to do that… he was going to put her away quietly (v19). But after a vision—a dream—he takes her in and raises Jesus as his own. He’s told that this pregnancy—this baby—is actually God’s way of wading into the world.

God enters into all of the highs and lows that have come before now. The highest hopes and longing of the human experience. But also the lowest, most hopeless parts of the human experience too. Things like exile, despair, child sacrifice—they’re all here too. And where is God in all of this? Where is God when our hearts hope for the best and break because of tragedy? God is with us (v23). That’s why Matthew’s story is good news.

If you’ve ever felt like all roads lead to tragedy, the Matthew has good news for you. With a quick recap of the Old Testament, he says that you might not be far off. The entire world—even the people of God—gravitate to walking the wide road that leads to tragedy. But God meets us there. In that sin. In that tragedy. In that exile. In that hopelessness. God is there. God is not the cause of the pain. God did not cause that evil, that suffering. But God meets us there.

That’s how Matthew begins the story of Jesus. That’s what Christians believe the life of Jesus is. God taking our sin on himself. God bearing the world’s pain in his own body. God implicating himself in the world’s darkness. That’s how God blesses the world through Israel. He himself becomes an Israelite. God makes our sin his own, our death his own, our tragedy his own. Whatever scandal or sin or heartache or addiction or brokenness or suffering it is…

It’s not our tragedy anymore. It’s God’s tragedy now. That’s what God has chosen to do. He’s chosen to make it his own. He’s chosen to be God beside us—God one of us, God with us. And that’s the groundwork—the foundation—that’s always the reason we’re invited into a new way of life. To a narrow road.

Obedience to God—the narrow road—doesn’t make God love us. When finally obey, that’s not us securing God’s love. We’ve already always got it. God’s love is already always as secure as it will ever be. God has already chosen to carry a cross down the road that leads to destruction. God has even filled that broad destructive road with his presence. God loves us and God is with us. Whoever we are. Wherever we are. Whatever we’ve done. That’s the gospel. That’s the story of Jesus. The narrow road is just Jesus summoning us a better kind of life.

Jesus invites us into something better—he’s here to save us from our sins (v21). Not just from the consequences of our sins. Not just from the punishment of our sins. That’s what we want most of the time. We want to keep living that way we’ve always lived but to be saved one day from the consequences of sin, from the aftermath of sin. We want to be saved from the fallout of sin, but Jesus is here to save us from sin itself—from that broad path itself. He’s summoning us to something new—something better—something true and good and beautiful—and something today.

Most of us don’t believe it.

Somewhere deep within us, we don’t believe that things can change. That sin, that darkness, that tragedy—that thing in my life—it’s always going to be that way. Matthew says “hogwash.” You’re living in a genealogy before Jesus. You’re living in a world before Jesus.

Tragedy has been crucified with Jesus, and only one of them walked out of the tomb.

We don’t live in a tragedy—it’s a great and glorious comedy. And Matthew invites us to live like it—that’s what the narrow road is all about. “Come and follow me,” Jesus says. “Things can be different. A new kind of life is possible.”

May we believe the good news that God is already always with us. In the highs. In the lows. May we be filled with hope that God makes it all his own. May our deep desire—as a community, as families, as individuals—be to follow Jesus into the good and beautiful life.