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Deeply, deeply loved

by Sandy Shaffer, Entrust, Austria

The gospel writer Matthew begins his story with the family tree of Jesus, tracing his ancestors back to Abraham. While it was unusual to include  women in the family genealogy, Matthew includes four mothers —Tamar, who  fathered twin boys by Judah, after pretending to be a prostitute;  Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute who married an Israelite; Ruth, a Moabite woman, from a people group often in conflict with Israel, and Bathsheba, who had an adulterous relationship with King David and later married  him after he had her husband killed.

Listing these women, and quite a few men with some very shady pasts, in the family tree of the Savior of the world, raises some serious questions. If you’ve made any attempts to check out your  own ancestry, you may have found a few surprises as well. You may enjoy a  proud heritage, or you may have some characters in your ancestry who may have brought pain or disgrace to the family. Why did Matthew start  his gospel by reminding his Jewish readers of their messy family heritage?

As a Jewish tax collector, Matthew knew what it felt  like to be despised and considered an outsider. The Romans used him to collect taxes from their Jewish subjects; the Jews considered him to be trash as he worked for their oppressors. Yet he writes mainly to a Jewish audience, as one familiar with their culture, their history, their national pride and their struggles as an oppressed people. The news he proclaims is good news: the gospel. In spite of their messy past, in spite of the failures and disappointments of their families, in spite of the fact that they never lived up to the expectation of being a light to the nations around them, God steps into human history, born of a virgin and given a name, Jesus —because he will save his people from their sins. He will save them from the shame and guilt they bear as part of the fallen human race, and as part of a family tree that was both messy and blessed.

What Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba had in common was that they were rescued — rescued from the shame of childlessness and widowhood in the case of Tamar; rescued from the shame of prostitution in the case of Rahab; rescued from a hopeless situation as a poor foreign widow in the case of Ruth; rescued from the shame of an adulterous relationship in the case of Bathsheba. God stepped in and poured out his grace on these women, forgetting their past and elevating them to the status of appearing in the family tree of his own son. They are forever blessed as those who are deeply loved by God and invited to  be part of his family —with their names recorded in the family Bible.

Some of us have a messy past. Some have grown up in painful circumstances. Some have experienced sorrow and loss too deep for words. Some have patterns we find impossible to break. Some of us live with guilt and shame, loneliness, fear and disappointment. Like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth or Bathsheba, we can be lifted up. We can know that God loves us with an everlasting love, a love not dependent on our performance. Jesus found Matthew, the rejected tax collector, and invited him into his family, and Matthew invites us to experience the good news that changed him. God offers us a sense of security so desperately needed in these insecure times, a sense of belonging. We can know that we are forever a child of God, adopted into his eternal family, and deeply, deeply loved.

For further study and discussion

Read Genesis 38 and 44, the story of Judah and Tamar, and of Judah before Joseph in Egypt. What impressions do you get of Judah in chapter 38? In 44?

Why do you think the line of Judah was the chosen line for Jesus’ ancestry?

Read Joshua 2, the story of Rahab. What do you think motivated Rahab to hide the spies?

Read 2 Samuel 12:1-24, the story of the prophet Nathan’s confrontation of David after he had an affair with Bathsheba. What do you learn about consequences in this story? About the grace of God?

In what ways have you experienced a messy past? How have you responded to the good news of God sending his son to save you from your sin and your messy past?

Read Ephesians 1:1-14. What does God say is true of you if you have believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior?

On a daily basis, how is this identity part of your thinking?

Do you “live loved”— with a sense of God’s delight and his love for you? Why or why not? What can you do to keep these thoughts uppermost in your mind?

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