August 11, 2013
God is THE master at working a plan (to give us a covenant king).
I. Abraham to David (Matthew 1:1-6)
II. David to the Exile (Matthew 1:7-11)
III. The Exile to Jesus (Matthew 1:12-17)
Wow! It’s been so long since I preached, I’m almost nervous. I do want to thank you again for the privilege of accompanying the Slovakia team. It was a joy, and our young people served God in a way that should cause us to give Him praise.
This week we’re starting a long series in Matthew. We’re going to go through all 28 chapters between now and next Easter, but with a break at Christmas. We’re not going to touch every verse, but we will study at least one passage from each chapter. We’ll skip some of the best known passages in favor of those less well known or more difficult. We’re calling the series ‘Hidden Gems in Matthew’ and we’re going to look especially for Matthew’s emphasis on Jesus as the promised messiah king who was much more than the people expected.
Matthew begins with a genealogy, which might seem tedious to modern ears. But the purpose of this list and its structure are both so clear that it leaps off the page. He begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus and reaches a climax with King David and the other kings of Judah. His point seems to be that Jesus is the rightful culmination of God’s plan to send a Messiah King. As we read this list we realize that God is THE master at working a plan. Generation after generation he shaped the leaders of his people to bring the king they needed.
All of this reminds me of some of the stories we’ve heard in in Slovakia. God has been working a plan there for many years, and has allowed us to be part of it. What we know of this plan is first seen in Jozef Abrman’s father and others of his generation. Jozef’s grandparents were traditionally Catholic, but Jozef’s father came into contact with the Word of God and then with a few believers in a nearby town. He was saved at 15. He soon faced opposition from his family: leaving the Catholic tradition was considered an unforgivable sin. In fact his family seriously considered hiring someone to kill their son, in hope of sparing him eternal judgment. But a wise priest, discovering that the boy had good character and respected his parents, counseled against the murder.
Then came the war. Jozef’s father was 18 or so when Hitler took over. He fled from service in the German army and joined a Czechoslovak battalion attached to the Russian army of liberation. He was a war hero, and when the communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1947 they tried to woo him into the communist party. But he would not join. Instead he became a leader in the underground church, hosting meetings in his home, distributing Bibles, and eventually buying a retreat house where believers could study the Bible and pray. All this carried great risk, and the eyes of the communists were always on them.
This is what I’m calling the first generation in Czechoslovakia. I’m confident there were many believers there in earlier centuries, but this was a new beginning, lived out in the face of an overbearing Catholic church, then of war, then of communism. So Jozef’s father’s generation, which established a number of Brethren churches, and Peter and Iveta Surovcek’s parents, who were Baptists, were in many ways the first generation of a plan God was working.
In our text God is at work in multiple generations, starting with Abraham and moving first to King David. Matthew 1:1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6and Jesse the father of David the king.
The words ‘book of the genealogy’ are literally ‘a book of Genesis of Jesus.’ Just as the book we call Genesis began the story of the Old Testament, so this list begins the story of Jesus. Matthew’s first assertion is that Jesus is the Son of David and the son of Abraham. These are the two most important figures in God’s Old Testament promises of a Messiah King. To Abraham God had said “in your offspring, singular, shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” And to David he had said, referring both to Solomon and to Jesus: “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
So it’s not surprising that the first list runs from Abraham to David. These first fourteen names are drawn directly from the Old Testament record: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and then Judah, because the kingly line came through Judah. Then ten more generations, in Egypt and the desert and Canaan, during which the promises to Abraham are sustained by God until they find a first glorious fulfillment in David ‘the King.’ Matthew’s readers would already have a great nostalgia for David’s reign; he wants them to recognize Jesus as ‘great David’s greater son,’ the fulfillment of the promised messiah king.
In this genealogy Matthew mentions four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and later, Bathsheba. This wasn’t common in Jewish genealogies. Each of these women were either involved in immoral circumstances or were foreigners or both, we have to conclude that Matthew saw the Messiah as coming from sinful fallen humanity for sinful fallen humanity. Only Jesus, the culmination of God’s plan was free from the sin that the rest of mankind cannot and will not avoid.
In verse 17 Matthew will tell us that the genealogy is divided into three groups of fourteen. He’s likely done this in order to accentuate how Jesus fulfills God’s plan – fourteen generations from Abraham to David, then fourteen generations of kings, then fourteen generations from the last king to the great King, Jesus.
But in limiting himself to fourteen names, Matthew has been forced to create some gaps in the genealogy. This isn’t a problem in Greek or Hebrew because the underlying word that connects one generation to the next does not mean ‘father’ exclusively, but can also be used of ‘forefather’ or ancestor. So Matthew covers the approximately four hundred years from Perez to Amminadab in only four generations, and also shortens the line between Amminadab and David, probably between Rahab and Boaz.
We could say more about each generation in this list, but the point is that God was working a plan, not only to fulfill his promises to Abraham, but to bring about the kingship of David, who became the model for the Messiah. Over and over in Scripture we are told that the promised Son of David will be a king like no other. In Isaiah 9, the verses we quote at Christmas we read that “to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
God is the master at working a plan. Even now we applaud the fact that he did not abandon his people at any point in their long journey, but rescued and cared for them. Any one of these generations could have been the last. God’s people could have perished in Canaan when famine stalked the Middle East. They could have perished in Egypt under the cruel hand of Pharaoh, or in the desert as they wandered, but God kept making provision for them to go on.
And he still does these things today. Jozef Abrman was born in 1961, and grew up during the height of communism in Czechoslovakia. But Jozef’s parents, in defiance of the law, recorded messages from Trans World radio on a reel-to-reel tape recorder and played them for believers. God used these messages to convince Jozef, that he need to trust Jesus, which he did at the age of seven or so. Jozef grew in faith and was discipled in the Slovakian underground church, especially through serving a godly disabled lad named Jane. Soon he knew that he wanted to serve God with his life. But as a believer in Slovakia, he knew that he could never expect a university education or opportunity in his own country. And when he was nineteen he felt the Lord leading him to defect.
In 1980 he miraculously got permission to go to Yugoslavia to see his mother’s birthplace. From there he escaped to Austria and sought political asylum in the United States. The first things he did here were to get a job and finish learning the language. But after only a few years, he was offered a chance to work with Trans World Radio, the same people he had listened to as a child. Soon he was living in Monaco and sharing the Gospel with Slovakia by radio.
God works from generation to generation. He does not forget a plan, whether it is to send the Messiah or to save people in Slovakia, or to work in your family or to care for you personally. His plans are usually complicated and subtle, but Matthew 1 shows that if he can work through 42 generations of Abraham’s descendants to bring Jesus, he can work in our situations as well. In the time of the exile he promised this, and I think it applies to all of us: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” God is the master at working a rescue plan.
In the middle of this genealogy we see him working through the various kings of Judah. Verses 6 to 11 And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
The names in these verses seem to have been taken from 1 Chronicles 3:10-14. Some of these kings were good kings, some evil. wicked Rehoboam was the father of wicked Abijah, the father of the good king Asa. Asa was the father of the good king Jehoshaphat, who sired the wicked king Joram. Good or evil, they were part of Messiah's line. Three kings have been omitted between Joram and Uzziah: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. The three omissions not only secure fourteen generations in this part of the genealogy but are probably dropped because of their connection with Ahab and Jezebel, renowned for wickedness. Two of the three were notoriously evil, all three died violently.
The end of this section, the exile to Babylon marks the end David's line. Fourteen more generations have passed, many kings have reigned, but the promised messiah who would rule the nations has not come. Instead God’s people have been torn from their land and exiled. God is working a plan, but his plans rarely go the way we would expect. His king would not be born in a palace as heir to a throne, but would be born in a stable as a carpenter’s son.
In the same way, God used unlikely events and people to move forward his plan for Slovakia. In the same generation as Jozef’s father, Peter Surovcek’s parents were involved in the first Baptist church in Slovakia. Like Jozef’s father, they remained faithful right through the Communist era, facing numerous obstacles. Iveta Surovcek’s parents, who lived in the Czech half of Czechoslovakia, were also faithful to Jesus and had a church in their home as she grew up. Both of these churches not only preached the word themselves, but brought in others to preach the word, even from the West, difficult though that was under communist rule. Thus both Peter and Iveta came to faith in Christ, in different churches, under the ministry of revival preachers.
I’ve told Iveta’s story before, how she came to faith at 13 and became convinced Jesus wanted her to escape to the west. Her escape was an amazing adventure. Peter’s escape was a bit less eventful. He became a believer in his early teens and had a fruitful ministry to his peers. But because he was a known Christian, he was not allowed to join the army. Instead he spent two years in a labor battalion moving rocks and dirt. Even there, he listened to a secret radio and heard a young man preaching and teaching in Slovak - Jozef Abrman.
Peter didn’t plan to defect when he applied to visit his grandmother in Canada. In fact he had no expectation of getting a visa; only old people got them. But because he’d been in the labor gang rather than the army, he wasn’t automatically rejected as a security threat. Miraculously he not only obtained a visa but a U.S. entry stamp. In the U.S. he attended a Slavic Baptist Association meeting, and there he met the guy he’d once listened to on the radio. Jozef had moved to Houston to focus on translation and recording for Trans World. He asked Peter to come help, which meant defecting to America.
Peter sensed God’s call, and on the plane down to Houston he also sensed God’s promise that he would not have to do this alone, but would be given a life partner. Not long after Iveta, having escaped under harrowing circumstances, joined them in Houston. She had listened to Jozef on Trans World while in a refugee camp, and wanted to help with the ministry. It wasn’t long before she and Peter began to see each other as God’s provision of a marriage partner. And only a little while later Jozef famously asked his family to find him a godly wife in Slovakia who would be willing to come, almost sight unseen to minister with him. That lady, of course, is Jozef’s wife Anna, and she was willing, partly because she too had heard Jozef’s voice on Trans World Radio.
So the first generation was the parents, faithful under communist rule despite great hardships. The second generation was their children, coming to faith and then escaping communism to minister to their own people while living in Houston.
Who could have predicted that a piece of God’s plan for Slovakia would unfold 8000 miles away in Houston? Or that he would use a voice on a radio to connect the pieces of that plan. But for that matter, who would have predicted that God’s messiah would come from a people whose country had been taken and destroyed and whose families had been sent on a journey of 900 miles to live in the foreign land of Babylon? But that was God’s plan.
Verses 12 to 18: And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. 17So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
The final list of fourteen begins with a further mention of the Exile. 1 Chronicles 3:17 records that Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel. Later Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai describe Zerubbabel as the key leader in the restored nation of Judah. He was never a king because Judea never regained fully independent status, but he was the key leader, and himself a picture of the Messiah.
The next names from Abiud to Jacob are not otherwise known to us today. But each was a link in God’s long plan leading to Jesus. Each was a real person whose hopes and dreams probably included the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Only some of these names appear in Luke’s genealogy. The best understanding of the differences seems to be that Matthew’s list is oriented toward the legal transmission of the kingly line: who would or could have been king, from David to Joseph to Jesus. In other words if the kingship had continued, Joseph the carpenter might have been a king. But Mary was also a direct descendant of David. Luke’s list is probably the ‘natural’ father to son to daughter list leading to Mary, but recognizing Joseph as Heli’s son by marriage. Verse 16 says clearly that Jacob was the father of Joseph, Joseph was the husband of Mary; Mary was the mother of Jesus. Legally Jesus stands in line to the throne of David; physically he is born of a woman, and Matthew further explains in verse 18 that she was "found to be with child through the Holy Spirit"
Verse 17, recapping the genealogy as three fourteens, reminds us that Matthew’s structure is symbolic. The simplest understanding of this symbolism is that it sets Jesus apart as the ultimate Son of David longed for by the prophets.
Fourteen generations to the first David, then fourteen generations of kings, then fourteen generations to Jesus, the promised king, the second David. The fact that Matthew skipped some generations to make this work would highlight the symbolism to his readers, not take away from it. “I’m about to write a book about Jesus, and our history, read correctly has Jesus at its culmination”
What Matthew is saying is that God is the master at working a plan. With all its twists and turns, with its Tamars and Rahabs, with its sinful kings and evil men, with its exile and return, this plan inevitably leads to Jesus, to promises fulfilled and rescue achieved. Nothing derails it, nothing can stop it, nothing can slow it down or speed it up. I think of God’s words to the prophet Habakkuk, who was impatient for the fulfillment of God plan “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” And then he says to Habakkuk, “the righteous man shall live by his faith.” In other words you’ve got to trust God’s plan, you’ve got to trust God’s timing.
And that is true of us as well. Almost everyone in this room is in the middle of something. You’re waiting to see how it will work out. “Will I get the college degree I want?” “Will my life make a difference?” “Will God give me a life partner?” “Will God ever give us children?” “Will my kids walk with the Lord?” “Where will they live, and will I stay involved in their lives.”
Scripture teaches us, over and over, that God has a good plan, and nothing will make it fail. But it’s easy to doubt when you are in the middle of a plan. If you were in Egypt or in exile or in the silent years before the birth of Christ, you might doubt that God was going to make his plan work. But Matthew is here to say ‘the Messiah King has come, God has succeeded.’
In the same way, if you grew up under communism, you might doubt that God would ever do anything powerful in your country again, or might ever have a public voice other than a remote radio station. But God had a plan. Even as Jozef and Anna and Peter and Iveta worked together in Houston, God was bringing about the miraculous fall of Communism. We’ve talked about this: the Berlin wall came down in 1989; Poland and most of the Soviet bloc states abandoned communism by 1990, the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. The changes in Czechoslovakia were particularly peaceful: it is called ‘the velvet revolution,’ and by 1992 the country was divided into two republics, Czech and Slovak.
As Jozef and Peter watched from Houston they saw that God had answered their prayers and opened the door for a return to Slovakia. Jozef and Anna went first, and worked to establish the church in Nove Mestro that is now pastored by Jozef’s brother. Later they moved to Trencin and planted a new church.
Some years later, in 2008 Peter and Iveta moved to Slovakia, ministering to several Baptist churches in Liptovsky region, including the oldest Baptist church in the nation, where Peter was saved. So whose plan was this? It was God’s. Just as he brought his people back from Egypt and from exile to the promised land, so he brought this generation of faithful believers back to their country.
But the story isn’t over yet. In Matthew we’ll learn about God’s messiah king, his acceptance and rejection and passion and resurrection and his call to be part of his kingdom work. That story isn’t over yet, and the story of his work over several generations in Slovakia isn’t over yet. Jozef and Anna’s two children Mark and Matthew, as well as Peter and Iveta’s four, Noelle, Naomi, Philip and Lukas are the next generation in the plan God is working.
And we are part of that plan. For seven years Michelle and Darra have led a team that has ministered primarily to the next generation of Slovakians. Many of them have a heritage of atheism, or works oriented Catholicism, and even those who moved back from America feel spiritually alone and isolated in a country and a generation with so few believers. So the ministry of the Slovakia team has been not only to reach young people for Christ but to fellowship with the believers and model authentic life in Christ. We have become part of God’s plan for Slovakia – and God is the master at working a plan. We’re in the middle of it – we don’t know the final results of this generations work. But we can look back at his faithfulness to Jozef’s father’s generation and to Jozef’s generation and expect a good God to bring good in this generation.
And we can look further back to the way God worked to sustain his promise through generation after generation of his people; he preserved, he rescued, he restored, he sustained, until finally, in his master plan, the time was right to send his Son, born of a woman, born under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law that we might receive the adoption as sons. We’re studying the Gospel of Matthew so that we can see how God kept his promises in Jesus, and so that we can grow closer to the promised messiah King.