Son of Mary, Savior of the World

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

– Matthew 1:16

In the world’s eyes, Jesus is the illegitimate child of an unwed, teenage mother. Mary and Joseph are from Nazareth, a backwater town. They are poor and very likely uneducated. The names of Jesus’s ancestors from Joseph to several generations prior include no one of any particular importance.

This is unexpected. One would expect the King of Glory to have a royal lineage. Another surprise in Jesus’s lineage is the inclusion of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah. What do these people have in common?

They are all women? Sure, they are all women but other Old Testament genealogies include women. They are all sinners? Sure, but there are certainly plenty of other sinners in the genealogy.

The thing that is completely unexpected, especially for a Jewish Messiah, is that all four are Gentiles. Tamar and Rahab are Canaanites. Ruth is a Moabite. Bathsheba is the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

In verse one, Matthew calls Jesus the “son of Abraham.” When God spoke to Abraham, His promise was that through Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

When Jesus is born into the world, He is the son of Mary whose ancestors are Gentiles (people traditionally believed to be cut off from God). This Jesus is not only the Messiah of Israel or the Christ of Western culture, but the Savior of the world!

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Genesis 22

[1] After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” [2] He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” [3] So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. [4] On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. [5] Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” [6] And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. [7] And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” [8] Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. 

– Genesis 22:1-8

The Lord instructs Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Isaac was miraculously born to Abraham when he was 100 years old. He is very much the son whom Abraham loves. Yet Abraham obediently takes his son to Mount Moriah and prepares to sacrifice him there.

juan_de_valdes_leal_-_the_sacrifice_of_isaac_-_wga24224But why?  Is Abraham just resigned to the fact that he has to obey God since He’s God? Abraham is aware that Isaac is a gift directly from the Lord. Perhaps, he reminds himself of Job’s words: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b).

I believe Abraham is not driven by resignation, but by hope. Prior to Isaac’s birth, the following exchange between Abraham and God took place in Genesis 17:18-19:

[18] And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” [19] God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.

Abraham remembers the promise of God. He knows that God can be trusted. Abraham does not know how God can establish a covenant with Isaac if he is dead.  Abraham does not know how God can establish an everlasting covenant with Isaac’s offspring if Isaac passes away before he even has any offspring.  But Abraham knows that God is not a liar and He will do what He says.  Perhaps God will raise Isaac from the dead.  Perhaps God will provide a sacrificial lamb.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how God does it, but He is certain to fulfill every word.

Genesis 21

[1] The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. [2] And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. [3] Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. [4] And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. [5] Abraham was a hundred years old when his isaac3son Isaac was born to him. [6] And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” [7] And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

– Genesis 21:1-7

In Genesis 18, the Lord promised Abraham that Sarah would bear him a son. At 89 years old, Sarah found the whole idea ridiculous and laughed to herself. In remembrance of this incident, Abraham and Sarah name their miraculous child, Isaac, which means “he laughs.” Sarah declares that God has made laughter for her and all who hear of it will laugh as well. The goodness of God to his people is ridiculous. His promises are beyond too good to be true.  May we consider how many times He has been better to us than we would ever have imagined.

Genesis 20

[1] From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. [2] And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. [3] But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” [4] Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? [5] Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” [6] Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. [7] Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” …

[17] Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children.

– Genesis 20:1-7, 17

Abraham travels to the Negeb.  He has followed the Lord many years and trusted Him.  Abraham believes in the promises of God.  But he is afraid.  He says that Sarah is his sister, putting his wife as well as the people of the Negeb in danger.  Though he is the one who lies, Abraham’s prayer for Abimelech and his household is effective.  Amazingly, God uses the prayers of this fearful man.

We, too, can be used despite our fear and sin.  But it is best if we can put aside our doubts.  If we do not trust in the Lord’s provision, then most of our prayers and actions will be self-centered.  Our thoughts will be on ourselves and our worship will be distracted.  God is patient and will walk with us, but may we desire to be free to follow Him sooner than later.

Genesis 19

[1] The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth [2] and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the 00010353night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” [3] But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

[4] But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. [5] And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” [6] Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, [7] and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.”

– Genesis 19:1-7

The angels who had previously been hosted by Abraham come to Sodom, and Lot insists that they stay with him.  Lot more or less repeats the generous hospitality of his uncle, Abraham.  However, that evening, the men of the city arrive, acting in the exact opposite fashion and intending to abuse the visitors.

Lot is by no means perfect but he understands Ancient Near Eastern customs and to some degree understands the God of Abraham.  This God welcomes strangers.

Romans 5:8 tells us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus comes for those who are far off.  To those who He once did not know, He makes children of God.

Genesis 18

[20] Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, [21] I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” [22] So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. [23] 18.2.1Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? [24] Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? [25] Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” [26] And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” [27] Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. [28] Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” [29] Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” [30] Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” [31] He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” [32] Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” [33] And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

– Genesis 18:20-33

The Lord reveals to Abraham that He will go down to Sodom and Gomorrah to see if their wickedness is as great as He has heard.  Abraham pleads with the Lord to spare the city, first on behalf of fifty righteous persons, but ultimately for the sake of ten.  Abraham’s intercession is both compassionate and wrongheaded.

As the reader of Genesis soon finds, not even ten righteous people are to be found in these large cities, and God rains judgment on them.  This is tragic, disappointing, and unsurprising.  On the objective scale of a Holy God, “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11).

We cannot ask that God would spare the world for the sake of ten righteous people; they will not be found.  But, thankfully, we can plead that God would spare the world for the sake of His glory and for the sake of His Son.  We can call on God to be who He is: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  We can plead the precious blood of Christ, which is powerful enough to wash away sin and redeem a lost world.

Genesis 17

[9] And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. [10] This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. [11] You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you…”

[23] Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. [24] Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. [25] And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. [26] That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. [27] And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

– Genesis 17:9-11, 23-27

God dictates to Abraham the sign of belonging to Him – circumcision.  The sign is both permanent and painful, yet at 99 Abraham does not hesitate.  Abraham is not interested in delaying, calculating the cost, or taking time to pray about it.  He knows what it is to belong to the Lord, and he is eager to bear the mark, aware that it involves temporary pain.

We live in a culture that aims to get as much as it can for as little cost or labor as possible.  What we will hopefully learn before too many years pass is that there is very little worth having that involves neither cost nor labor.  The best things tend to have the highest cost.  Yet if they are truly everything they say they are, they make that cost forgettable.  One such thing is belonging to the One True God.  It is everything He says it is.

Genesis 16

In an attempt to provide Abram with a child, Sarai, his wife, gives Abram her servant, Hagar.  Hagar becomes pregnant and begins to view Sarai with contempt.  Sarai then mistreats her servant, who flees.

Genesis 16:7-13

[7] The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. [8] And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” [9] The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” [10] The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” [11] And the angel of the LORD said to her,

HagarAlone“Behold, you are pregnant
and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
because the LORD has listened to your affliction.
[12] He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
his hand against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

[13] So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”

– Genesis 16:7-13

Hagar is a servant.  In the Ancient Near East, this means she has no rights.  Sarai can abuse her however she pleases.  This is tragic, yet she is not a kind of Cinderella, noble and mistreated.  Hagar has been been sinfully arrogant toward her mistress, Sarai.

Yet to Hagar, the angel of the Lord appears.  When he speaks to her, he addresses her by name.  He promises prosperity for her descendants.  He tells her that the Lord hears her suffering.

Aptly, Hagar calls the name of the Lord who spoke to her, the God of seeing.  She may not be valued or known in her society or even by the family that she serves.  But Hagar knows that the God of heaven and earth knows her and looks after her.

Genesis 15

[7] And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” [8] But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” [9] He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” [10] And he brought Abrahamic-Covenant-890x713him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. [11] And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

[12] As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. [13] Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. [14] But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. [15] As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. [16] And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

[17] When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.

– Genesis 15:7-17

Abram trusts God and is following him by faith, but still he wonders how he can be certain that God will fulfill His promises.  If God’s promises were things that Abram could control or accomplish on his own, he might not have so many questions, but God promises things beyond Abram’s wildest dreams.

In response to Abram’s question, God instructs him to cut animals in half and lay them out on the ground.  To us this a strange response, but Abram would have readily recognized this to be a covenant ceremony, a common custom in the Ancient Near East.  In a covenant ceremony, two participants agree to stipulations (what they must do), rewards, and punishments.  They then walk between the pieces of animals torn in two, essentially saying, “If I am not faithful to the covenant, may I be torn in two just as these animals.”

After God reiterates His promises, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the pieces.  Abram does not walk through, only God.  God is saying, “May I be torn in two if these things do not pass.”  God does not make idle promises.  He has never spoken an empty word.  He will not be thwarted by human incompetence or rebellion.  God is certain to fulfill His promises because they depend not on Abram but on God.

Genesis 14

[17] After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). [18] And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) [19] And he blessed him and said,

Melchizedek_Abraham“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
[20] and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. [21] And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” [22] But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, [23] that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ [24] I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”

– Genesis 14:17-24

Genesis 14 begins with an epic battle – four kings versus five kings.  The four kings win, and, as is customary, they take the people, livestock, and possessions of the losers.  On the losing side is the king of Sodom, the city where Abram’s nephew Lot is dwelling.  Abram hears of his capture and with 300 servants, Abram defeats the four kings and rescues all the people and goods.

Following Abram’s victory, Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God, greets Abram.   Melchizedek’s name means king of righteousness.  He is the king of Salem, or the king of peace.  Abram recognizes Melchizedek’s association with God and gives to him 10% of the recovered goods.  The king of Sodom then offers all the goods to Abram as a reward for defeating the four kings, but Abram does not take anything for himself.  Abram’s reward for delivering Lot and the rest of the people is the ability to give something to God.

Many times, we serve or follow God to get a reward.  We do not understand that the greatest reward is the privilege itself of serving the one true and living God.