The Christmas season is upon us. Christmas is an interesting time of the year here in the United States. Mention the word, “Christmas” and automatically it stirs images of nativity scenes, beautifully decorated homes with lights and tinsel, and Santa with precious little children on his lap reciting their “wish lists” for Christmas morning. Christmas, on the surface, is a sanitized, serene, and sweet celebration. We tell the story on Christmas Eve with candles lit. We hold our little ones and sing “Away In A Manger” with a lump in our throats. We wrap our presents in the most beautiful paper that we will see all year. We yearn to be with our family and enjoy the fellowship of those we love. Christmas, in the minds of many, is a Norman Rockwell canvas colored with sentimental strokes of satisfaction and security.
If you dig a little deeper in your survey of Christmas happenings you might find another picture painted before your eyes. We’ve heard of some of the secrets of Christmas already as Jo Fischer has been keeping us informed about some of the kids in our community who are going to wake up Christmas morning knowing that their mom or dad is in jail. We’ve had funerals over the past several weeks that remind us that Christmas, for many, will be sorrow-filled rather than the sweet celebration that is portrayed on the television or in Hollywood movies. There are many other secrets of Christmas that we don’t like to be reminded of because we don’t want our celebration ruined.
If we will take the time to study God’s Word we will find out that there have always been “Christmas secrets,” things that others would have rather had left out of the story. All we have to do is take a look at the Christmas story recorded for us in Matthew’s Gospel and we will learn that Christmas secrets existed before Jesus was ever born. Take a look with me at Matthew 1 and you will see what I mean. Matthew has included Jesus’ family tree in his telling of the Christmas story. Tucked away in the branches are where the Christmas secrets begin. Matthew says,
1A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of
Abraham: 2Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob
the father of Judah and his brothers, 3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram,
4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the
father of Salmon, 5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz
the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6and
Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother
had been Uriah’s wife, 7Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father
of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, 8Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, 9Uzziah the
father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the
father of Josiah, 11and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the
time of the exile to Babylon. 12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the
father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13Zerubbabel the
father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor,
14Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of
Eliud, 15Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan
the father of Jacob, 16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary,
of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:1-16 NIV)
Isn’t it interesting that the genealogy of Jesus is the beginning of the Christmas story as far as Matthew is concerned? How many times have we heard the genealogy shared at Christmas? Christmas secrets, remember? Things we had rather not talk about. Things that don’t fit with our picture of Christmas so we leave them out. Let’s take a look at some of the Christmas secrets hidden for us in Matthew’s account.
There are those in Jesus’ family tree, who, if they had been writing the genealogy, would have left some folks out. I mean, each of us knows from attending our own family reunions, that there are some members of our family who just complicate things. There are limbs in our own family trees that stick out for all the wrong reasons. I learned this lesson several years ago without even prying into my own family’s genealogy.
Some folks are really into genealogies. They research their past and it seems like they always come up with some famous person that they can claim as their kinfolks. There is always a relative like a William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Graham Bell, Louis Pasteur, Claire Barton, or Frederick Douglas who left their mark on the history books. That is not the case with my family tree.
When my dad’s father passed away I was asked to speak at his funeral. I went through the same process with my own family that I do with every family that I speak at their loved one’s funeral. We all gathered around and I asked them to tell me my grandfather’s story. They began talking and told me that my grandfather’s family was originally from Kentucky, but they moved to Oklahoma. I asked why they moved to Oklahoma and my grandmother told me that they had to move out of Kentucky. The story is that my grandfather’s dad had five brothers who were really rambunctious. There was one brother who was more than rambunctious. He and a buddy of his had a moonshine still in the hills of Kentucky and he caught his buddy siphoning off their brew. Uncle John warned the man that he had better not do it again. When the man did it again Uncle John killed him. The “Law” let him off for some reason, but later on Uncle John killed another man with an axe. Uncle John’s family knew that there was more than moonshine brewing, trouble was on its way, so the family packed up in the middle of the night and headed to Oklahoma. I learned that day that I really didn’t have any desire to do any further digging around the roots of my family tree.
When I called my mom and dad this week to make sure that I had the story straight mom said, “Well, we’ll have to talk to your dad since that’s his side of the family. We don’t have any killers on my side of the family, we just have drunks.” Why couldn’t I have a William Wallace, Martin Luther, or Harriet Tubman in my family tree? The fact of the matter is that we all have crooked branches in our family tree don’t we? As a matter of fact, some of us are those crooked branches.
Jesus was no different than you or me. Jesus had his own share of folks in His family tree that members of His family would have rather not have had mentioned, but God chose to include them for you and me to learn from this morning. Let’s take a look at some of those folks.
First off, you have to realize that the biblical genealogies, by nature, are male dominated. Women are not listed for the most part. In 1 Chronicles 7, we read of the “sons of Tola,” “the sons of Benjamin,” “the sons of Asher,” and on and on. The men are listed as the head of their homes and only occasionally will you find a woman’s name listed.
In Jesus’ genealogy listed in Matthew’s Gospel, we find the names of four women: Tamar, Rahab, the mother of Solomon, who was Bathsheba, and Mary. Each of these women, for one reason or another, had questionable reputations in their day, but God used them for His glory and included them in Jesus’ family tree.
We don’t have time to go through each of these women’s lives, but I would like to introduce you to one. Most of the women who are listed in Jesus’ family tree can be cleaned up if you will just work a little. For example, Bathsheba had a one-night stand with King David that led to all kinds of horrible things in her life, but after all — she gave in to the King’s request. You only deny the King at the risk of losing your life. Tamar was called a “prostitute” before her father-in-law knew her true identity and why she had done what she had done. In the end she was proven to be more righteous than Judah, her father-in-law. Mary? Well, when the true story came out she wasn’t involved in any illicit sexual tryst; she was with child by the Holy Spirit, carrying the Savior of the world. Alongside of these women is another woman, Rahab.
We first run into Rahab in the book of Joshua. She is living in Jericho and carrying on business as a prostitute in that town. We don’t know why she has sunk to selling her body to the men of the city. The Bible doesn’t describe to us her situation – we are just told that she is a prostitute.
Joshua and his men were preparing to attack Jericho, but they wanted to get a better idea of what was awaiting them in the city. Joshua sent two spies to spy out the land. When the men got to Jericho they went to Rahab’s house. They didn’t go there for services. They went to Rahab’s house because they wouldn’t be noticed. There were always men running in and out of Rahab’s house so nobody would think anything about their presence there. Joshua 2:1 tells us,
1Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over
the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house
of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. (Joshua 2:1 NIV)
The men find a place to stay, cover if you will, for their covert operation. They are safe among the other men who frequented Rahab’s house of ill repute. The first night that the spies were bedding down they went up on the roof to try and find some peace and quiet. Just as they were dozing off, Rahab appeared to them. She said,
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said
to them, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great
fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are
melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the
water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to
Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you
completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and
everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in
heaven above and on the earth below. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the
LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness
to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and
mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you
will save us from death.” (Joshua 2:8-13 NIV)
Now that is a smart woman. She knows what God is doing and she is willing to help the enemy because God is with them. How does she know that? How can a woman who has such a bad reputation, who is involved in such a horrible profession, and who willingly allows men to use her to satisfy their own sexual desires say that she knows anything about God? How, or why would Matthew put this woman in the family tree of Jesus? Why didn’t he just jump from Salmon to Boaz and be done with it? The story of Rahab’s life is not a pretty story wrapped in Christmas bows and perfumed paper. It is a sordid tale. It is a sad tale of how a person, who has been fashioned with the tender hands of the Creator, can stray and slide to depths that she would never dream. The story of Rahab is the embodiment of the truth of Christmas. Christ Jesus came to save those who were lost. Stop and think with me for a moment. Who among us has never strayed? Who among us can stand before a holy and perfect God with clean hands, unblemished by sin? Who among us has never been in a situation where we stopped and consciously thought, “How did I end up here? How did I get myself in this mess?” It is so easy for us to condemn Rahab, to write her off, or to leave her out because of the mess she had made of her life, but God left Rahab in the story for you and for me. I told you about Christmas secrets when we began and I want you to know that there are still many today who would rather Rahab be a Christmas secret that is left untold. There are still others that recognize that God has allowed her to be included, but they have decided that they would like to give her a makeover. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I am talking about. In Matthew’s genealogy, he says in verse 5,, 5 “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.” Rahab was the wife of Salmon and together they had a son named Boaz. Boaz, if you will remember, was the “kinsmen redeemer” of Ruth, the Moabitess who has a book of the Old Testament named after her. Of the people listed here only Rahab has an obviously spotted past. Salmon was a Jewish Prince, Boaz was a real hero in the story of Ruth, and Ruth demonstrated such a tender heart for her broken hearted mother-in-law that her story has been told over and over again. In the midst of such heroes as these there is that woman again – Rahab. Commentators have tried to deal with the problem of Rahab in different ways. Some have said that the Rahab mentioned here is not the Rahab of ill repute. Others, like Adam Clarke in his commentary, say that the Hebrew word translated, “prostitute” should really be translated as “innkeeper” or “tavern keeper.” Now I bet Jesus’ family would have felt much better knowing that great, great, great, great grandma was a bar maid instead of a prostitute! Adam Clarke also says that if Rahab were what she was portrayed as, a prostitute that is, then it would have been highly unlikely that someone like a Jewish Prince would desire her as a wife. We don’t know what came of Rahab after God used her to help His people. We don’t know if she continued as a prostitute or if she saw God deliver her from her life of sin. We do find Rahab mentioned in the New Testament. In James 2:25-26, we read, 25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:25-26 NIV)
Again, Rahab’s name is found in Hebrews 11, where the writer of Hebrews lists several names, heroes of our faith, people like Abraham, Moses, Sarah, Gideon and others. Alongside of these heroes of our faith we read, in Hebrews 11:31,
31By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not
killed with those who were disobedient. (Hebrews 11:31 NIV)
That’s all that is said of her – “by faith the prostitute Rahab…” Isn’t it interesting that in the New Testament, each time Rahab is mentioned, so is the fact that she was a prostitute? Why couldn’t they have just left that out? Would it have sounded better if the writer of Hebrews would have just said, “By faith, Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”
I am so glad that God, in His Sovereign will, decided to include the mess of Rahab’s life. I am so glad that Jesus’ family tree wasn’t full of people who were bigger than life, possessing the devotion of a monk, and not a moral stain to be found anywhere. There are lessons you and I can learn from Rahab this morning during this Christmas season.
First, I want you to know that Rahab is the reason why the first Christmas came. God saw the plight of His people and their helplessness to do anything about the sin that held them in its grip and He acted on their behalf. Rahab isn’t the only person we find in the Bible who had a spotted past. She isn’t the only sinner who was desperately in need of a Savior. On every page of God’s Word you find men and women whose sin was crippling them and they knew they didn’t have the power to regain their strength. David cried, “My transgressions are always before me!” when he was confronted with his sin. Paul’s pained voice echoes to today as he confessed, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of sin?” Even today, perched in pews, sitting on bar stools, beaten down in their beds you can still hear the faint cries of those who choose to get honest with God and cry out, “Lord Jesus, help me! I am a sinner without hope without You.”
Second, Jesus, God’s gift to you and me at Christmas, will never use us or mistreat us. If you have ever known a woman who has been involved in prostitution then you know that Rahab had been used up. Sex is a powerful force. When a man and woman share their bodies with one another they give a little of themselves to one another. In the marriage relationship this is a beautiful thing, but outside of marriage this giving of oneself only depletes and diminishes the person. I have known young people who were so promiscuous, so ready to have sex with anyone who would promise to love them that they ended up not even knowing who they were. They thought that having sex would fill the void of their lives, but it only left them more empty.
Rahab was having sex to make a living. Her full time job was making money off of men who were looking for love in all the wrong places. At the end of each day there was a little less of Rahab until she ended up a shell of who she once was, a mere shadow of the woman God had created her to be. So many of these women who look to sex to fill their emptiness end up hating men when they finally realize that sex won’t quiet their emptiness and that the promises of passion are empty indeed.
Whether we are involved in prostitution or not there are many of us who have been used for whatever reason. The experience of being used sours us on people and causes us to shrink back from ever trusting and truly loving those around us. We, like Rahab, desperately need to learn that Jesus will never misuse us or mistreat us. We can totally trust Him with our lives and we will never be disappointed.
Last of all, we can learn that regardless of where we have been, regardless of what we have done, Jesus desires us more than life itself. If you will remember Adam Clarke’s statement about Rahab’s blue blood husband, Salmon. He said, “If Rahab was really who she was reported to be, a prostitute, then it is highly unlikely that anyone like a Jewish Prince would have desired her as a wife.” You know, Adam Clarke is right. In normal, everyday human relations this is absolutely the truth, but what Adam Clarke fails to take into account is the metamorphosis that takes place through the eyes of faith. Salmon was a man of God. He saw something in Rahab that no “John” ever saw – He saw what she could be and not what she was.
I love the movie “Shrek.” There is one scene in the movie that will always be my all time favorite scene of any movie. Shrek was an ogre; a big, ugly, green ogre that nobody could ever love. Everyone was afraid of Shrek because he wasn’t like them. Shrek was given the mission of rescuing Princess Fiona, a drop dead gorgeous woman who had had a spell cast on her that caused her to turn into an ugly ogre when the sun went down. The King wanted to marry Princess Fiona, but he didn’t want to risk his life in rescuing her from the dragon.
At the end of the movie, Shrek rescues Princess Fiona and in turn he falls in love with her not knowing that she is an ogre as well. Finally, Princess Fiona is standing at the altar before the preacher and her soon to be husband, the King. Shrek is convinced by his friend that he needs to interrupt the wedding and oppose the union. Shrek walks into the church and says, “I object.” The dragon and Shrek’s friend break through the glass in coming to the rescue. It is a wild scene, but in the distance the sun is going down and Princess Fiona begins to change permanently into what she will look like forever more. When the metamorphosis is complete she is an ogre.She looks at Shrek in disbelief and says, “But, I thought I was supposed to be beautiful?” Shrek looks at her through eyes of love and says, “But you are beautiful!” Oh, that’s what the eyes of faith will do for you! That’s what real love will do for you! That’s what Jesus has to say to those like Rahab who have seen their lives become an ugly, mangled mess! Jesus came at Christmas to rescue us from our sins, to restore our trust, and to reassure us that He can take the mess of our lives and change us into the beautiful creation that He intends for us to be.
The secret of Christmas is that the packages of our lives are mangled and tattered, but Jesus can take the ribbons of even Rahab’s life and transform it into something beautiful. Won’t you invite Him in?