When you open up the New Testament to the very first chapter, you are greeted with a list of names, the genealogy of Jesus Christ. At first glance, this looks like a boring way to start the story of the most important person to have ever lived. As you glance over the names, you notice some predictable heroes on the list — like Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1). Other names, however, are embarrassing once their stories are known — like Judah and Tamar (Matthew 1:3).
In fact, once you notice there are women listed in the genealogy, you wonder why in the world they are included, because most highlight the embarrassing nature of some of the folks in Jesus' genealogy — Rahab and Bathsheba in particular, the latter clearly mentioned on purpose to highlight the hero David's indiscretions and failures (Matthew 1:5-6).
If you were looking for a sanitized version of Jesus' family, your only response would be, "You've got to be kidding me! Why in the world are they included on the list?"
So what's with the skeletons in Jesus' closet? Matthew shakes Jesus' family tree and out fall all sorts of embarrassing stories, weird relatives, outsiders, and sinners. Why are they a part of the story? And the answer is pretty simple once you read the whole story: these fallen, weird, embarrassing, non-Jewish, or sinful family members are part of the story because they are the point of the story! Jesus came to save sinners and to be God's presence among them, among us!
Life is messy and full of surprises. None of us is perfect. Most of us have had "complicated" passages in our lives as a consequence of failures, mistakes, character defects, and sins — if not our own, then those caused by the people close to us and related to us.
Matthew's gospel is full of these "You've got to be kidding me!" moments. Matthew himself wants us to notice them, because he, as a sinful tax collector, was a living example of Jesus' "You've got to be kidding me!" style of grace (Matthew 9:9-12). So when we come to the story of Jesus' birth, we shouldn't be surprised at the "You've got to be kidding me!" moments in His story.
Mary is betrothed to Joseph and turns up pregnant after spending several months away at Elizabeth's house — Elizabeth was her relative. But Mary's pregnancy was not due to her unfaithfulness, but due to a miracle of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-19). What other response could you have in such a situation if you were Joseph other than, "You've got to be kidding me!" How do you believe such a thing?
The angel reveals this truth to Joseph — after Joseph has already decided to honorably divorce Mary as quietly as possible and not enter into full marriage with her — and explains, in what has to be another one of those "You've got to be kidding me!" moments:
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" (Matthew 1:20-21 TNIV).
How do you understand this? How do you believe this? One month Joseph and Mary were planning for the biggest event in their lives, their wedding, and suddenly they are trying to get ready for a baby without ever being intimate with each other!
The amazing thing about all of this, however, is that Joseph doesn't say, "You've got to be kidding me!" Instead, he "did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him" to do! He trusted Mary. He believed the angel. He obeyed God and traveled down an unknown road trusting in the Lord's faithfulness and mercy. In the process, he fulfilled prophecy and honored God (Matthew 1:22-25).
The journey that Joseph and Mary traveled was full of wonder and hardship. There would be other "You've got to be kidding me!" moments — the visit of the magi, the escape to Egypt, the return to Nazareth, for example — but through them all, they journeyed in trust. Because of their faithfulness, we have a Savior named Jesus.
The Christmas season this year is full of uncertainties. With travel, visiting relatives, cram packed schedules, tight budgets, and unexpected emergencies, most of us will have our share of "You've got to be kidding me!" moments. And in the middle of our journeys, fraught with challenges and problems, let's remember that our Savior chose to make His journey to us through the same kind of confusion, stress, and uncertainty so that we could know Him as Jesus, the one who saves us from our sins, and so that we can experience Him as Immanuel, God with us!
The following questions are for your thought and reflection as well as for your use in small group discussions with your family, friends, small groups, or house church. I'd also love to hear from you on my blog about your reactions to the article or to the questions: http://thephilfiles.com
What are some of the "You've got to be kidding me!" moments you've had during the past Thanksgiving or Christmas seasons?
Have there been times when you've had one difficult surprise, then about the time you've gotten yourself together and then along came another "You've got to be kidding me!" moments.
- What have you done to overcome the discouragement or test to faith in these times?
When you read Matthew 1 and 2, which do you think would have been the hardest "You've got to be kidding me!" moment for you and why:
- Mary learning she was pregnant in a miraculous way?
- Joseph learning that Mary was pregnant in a miraculous way?
- Finding out you had to journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in the ninth month of pregnancy?
- Having the magi from the East bring your baby expensive gifts and proclaim your child as Messiah and worship Him?
- Having to escape to Egypt to protect your family from King Herod's murderous plot?
- Returning to Judea and being warned again in a dream that you and your family shouldn't live there, but live in the dumpy little town of Nazareth, in Galilee?
How do we keep the cumulative weight of the "You've got to be kidding me!" moments in our lives from swamping and drowning our faith?
What can we learn from Joseph and Mary and their journey with Jesus to help us in our own journey through life?