“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.”
Here we are in the third message and we have not yet gotten past the beginning of the book. I was not joking when I said that it is the nature of these thoughts to have a great depth.
So let us talk today about what is left, what is required? Why Joseph’s genealogy is traced (who had nothing to do with Christs birth), we have already mentioned one of the reasons. But there is another reason that is more mysterious and secret than the first reason. What is that then? The author did not want it to be made clear to the Jews (at the beginning) that Christ was born of a virgin.
Do not be troubled by how strange that may sound. It is not my saying, but of our fathers, wonderful and illustrious men. Christ disguised many things from the start, calling himself the Son of Man for example. Yet everywhere else He clearly laid out to us His equality with the Father. Why do you wonder at the fact that he disguised this for a short time, for he had a specific and marvelous purpose?
- But what kind of purpose might He have had it may be asked. That the Virgin would be preserved and delivered from evil suspicion. If the Jews had known about her from the beginning, they would have stoned her to death, using the presumption of her wrongdoing as an excuse for mischief and condemned her for adultery. If you consider how they treated Christ in other matters you will see how they were shamelessly ignorant of the truth. When Christ cast out demons they called Him possessed, because He healed on the Sabbath they assumed him to be an adversary of God (even though this was clearly not the first time the Sabbath and been broken). Given the clear precedent in the Old Testament and the Law imagine what they would have said if they had been told about Mary? Especially since all of human history was on their side that nothing like this had ever happened before. If after so many miracles they still called Him “son of Joseph”, how, before learning of his miracles could they believe that he was born of a virgin?
This is the reason that both Joseph’s genealogy is traced and the Virgin is betrothed to him. If Joseph, who is shown to be a just and wondrous man, required many things in order to accept what had come to pass (the angel, a vision, dreams and the testimony of the prophets) how could the Jews, being dull, depraved and so unfriendly in spirit towards Christ, even admit this idea into their minds? The strangeness and unfamiliarity of this would certainly been greatly disturbing to them. Also the fact that they had never heard of anything like this happening in the time of their forefathers. If someone is finally persuaded that Christ was the Son of God, afterwards they would have no reason to doubt the nature of his birth. But someone who was already convinced he was a deceiver and an adversary of God, how could he not be even more offended by this idea, driving him even farther from the truth? This is why the apostles do not say this from the start. But His resurrection they mention often and in depth (because there were examples of this in times before, although none quite like this). That He was born of a virgin they do not always say, not even His mother herself ventured to utter this. For instance, even what she says to Him herself, “Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for you”. Luke 2:48 If this suspicion had been allowed to be known (that He was not the Son of Joseph) He would no longer have been accounted to be descended from David, and this opinion no longer being held, many other evils would have arisen against Him. This is the reason that the angels did not say this to everyone, but to Mary and Joseph only. When exclaiming the good tidings of what had just come to pass to the shepherds, they left this off (His being born of a virgin).
- So why is it that the author mentions Abraham saying “he begot Isaac, and Isaac, Jacob” but did not mention his brother (Esau). But when he gets to Jacob he remembers both “Judah, and his brethren”? Some would say it was because of Esau’s wickedness (and the rest that came before him). But I don’t think so, if it was why just a little bit later mentions the women of poor reputation? It is the contrary notion here that manifests His glory. Not by having great forefathers, but being descended of the low and little account. To the lofty One it is a great glory to be able to abase Himself exceedingly. So why were they not mention them? Because Saracens and Ishmaelite’s and Arabians and all those who sprung from Esau have nothing in common with the Israelites. This is why he passes over Esau in silence and moves on to Christ’s forefathers (and those of the whole Jewish people). And so he says “And Jacob begot Judah and his brethren”, because here the line of the Jews begins to have its unique mark.
“Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar” Matthew 1:3 I hear you saying “What are you doing? Reminding us of history that contains unlawful intercourse?”, but why would you say this? Since if we are recounting the history of a mere man, you might naturally skip over such things. But if you are speaking of God Incarnate, far from being quite, you ought to make a glory of it, making evident his tender care and His power. THIS is why He came, not to escape our disgraces, but to bear them away! For this reason He should be admired even more, not only that He died, but crucified (even though it was shameful and abusive, as bad as it was it shows how much love He possessed for us), this is also like His birth. Not only did he take on human flesh, becoming a man, which we are rightly amazed at, but because he graciously allowed such people to be his relatives, in no way being ashamed of our evils. This He proclaimed from the very beginning by his birth that He is NOT ashamed of any of the things that belong to us. By this He also teaches us to never hide from our forefather’s wickedness, but to seek after one thing alone, virtue. Any man, if he has a foreigner for an ancestor, a prostitute for a mother, or whatever you will, should take offense as a result. If the adulterer or fornicator himself, being changed, is not disgraced by his former life, how much less power will the wickedness of his ancestry have to bring shame to someone born of a harlot or an adulteress if he is virtuous.
The author did not write these things merely to instruct us, but also to bring down the self-importance of the Jews. Since they were negligent about the virtue of their own souls and were parading about the name of Abraham, as if they had claim to their forefather’s virtue. Here the author shows from the very beginning that your decent is not where a man should hold their honor, but in their own good deeds.
Besides this the author establishes another point, that all are subject to sin, even their forefathers. As a single example their patriarch and namesake (Judah) is shown to commit no small sin, Thamar stands against him to accuse him of fornication and whoredom. David too had Solomon by the wife who he corrupted. So if the great men of the past could not fulfil the law, how much less will the lowly? And if the law was not fulfilled and all have sinned then Christ’s coming is necessary.
This is why the author mentions the twelve patriarchs, once again knocking down the Jews pride in noble birth from their forefathers. Many of these were born of women who were slaves, but the station of the parents did not make a difference in the children. For all were patriarchs and the heads of their tribes. This is the precedence of the Church, the privilege of the nobility among us, being shown from the beginning. So whether you are slave or free, you are not more or less than any other. The only thing that matters is the mind, and the disposition of your soul.
- Aside from all this there is another cause for why he has mentioned these histories. To be sure, Zerah’s name was not thrown out at random (or Perez for that matter). It would seem to be superfluous and unnecessary to mention Zerah after tracing the lineage through Perez. So why was he mentioned? “Moreover, it took place while she was giving birth, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” But it came about as he drew back his hand that behold, his brother came out. Then she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” So he was named Perez. Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah. ” Genesis 38:27
Do you see the dark expression of mysteries? It was not without purpose that these things are recorded for us. What the midwife had to say or who stuck out their hand first or was born second hardly seems worth telling, let alone studying. What then is this mysterious lesson? The first clue is held in the name of the child, “Perez” means ” a division or a breach”. And what’s more, from the birth itself what took place. It certainly is not normal for a child to thrust out their hand and draw it back again during birth. This was not what you would normally expect to happen nor does it seem to have a natural cause. After one child was near enough to be birthed, to withdraw and allow the other child to be born first is not the manner of natural birth, but the grace of God was present ordering these things and sketching out for us a sort of image of things that were to come.
It can accurately be said that these children are a foreshadowing of the two nations to come (Israel first. To illustrate that the Law of the latter people was known before the origin of the former, the child that stretched his hand out does not show itself entirely, but draws it back in again. After this his brother glided out completely and only then does the other come and appears entirely. This is what happened with our two nations. I mean to say, after the body of the Church was manifested in the times of Abraham, it was then withdrawn and the Jewish people came to be, along with the Law and afterwards a new people (the Christians) appeared whole with their own laws. To show this the midwife says “What a breach you have made for yourself” because the old law broke in upon the freedom of the future law. The Scripture in many places likens the law to a wall or barrier. As the prophet says, “Why have You broken down its hedges, So that all who pass that way pick its fruit?” and, “I have set a hedge about it:” and Paul, “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall”. Yet some others say that the saying “What a breach you have made for yourself” was spoken to the later people (the Christians), for this at its coming put the law aside.
- Do you see now that it was for no small cause that he brought the whole history concerning Judah to our remembrance? This is the reason the author mentions Ruth and Rahab as well, (one a foreigner the other a harlot) that you may learn that Christ came to do away with our ills. He has come as a Physician, not as a Judge. In a similar fashion as those men of old who took harlots for wives, even so God espoused Himself to the nature which had played the harlot. This also the prophets declared from the beginning with respect to the Synagogue. But that spouse was ungrateful towards her husband whereas the Church, once delivered from the evils that plagued our fathers, continued to embrace her Bridegroom.
Now take for instance, what happened to Ruth and how it relates to our lives today. For she was born an outsider, reduced to the utmost poverty and yet Boaz did not despise her poverty or low birth when he saw her. In the same manner Christ has taken His Church, who is both a foreigner to God and utterly impoverished and given her great blessings to partake in. But Ruth, if she had not left her Father, renounced her household and culture, country and kindred, would not have entered into this alliance. So the Church too must forsake the customs of men handed down from their fathers before she will be lovely for her Bridegroom. The prophet speaks about this to her saying “Forget your people and your father’s house; Then the King will desire your beauty”. Ruth did this and because of her obedience became the mother of kings (even as the Church would later), David being her decedent. So the author, in order to shame them and urge them to not be prideful, has composed the genealogy and mentioned these lowly women. For Ruth, through her descendants was mother to the great king and David is not ashamed of her. It cannot be that a man should be good or bad, obscure or famous by the virtue or vice of his forefathers. You might say (somewhat paradoxically) that someone without worthy ancestors shines all the brighter if they still become excellent.
- Let no one be prideful on account of his birth then, but let him consider the forefathers of the Lord, and put away all his haughtiness and let him take pride in his good deeds, and really, not even these. It was because of this kind of pride that the Pharisee became inferior to the Tax Collector. So, if you would show your good works to be great, take no pride in them and you will have proved it so much greater. Consider that you have done nothing, and then you will have done all. If being a sinner, when we accept ourselves to be what we are (that is a sinner) we become righteous, as certainly the Tax Collector did. How much better, when acting righteously we account ourselves sinners! Since sinful men are made righteous by a humble mind (although I do not mean humble as in simple, but to be right-minded), if being right-minded avails so much in the case of sinners, consider what the humility of mind will do in respect to righteous men.
So do not spoil your labors, or cast away the fruits of your effort. Do not run in vain, frustrating all your labor after all the work you have done. Your Lord knows your good works better than you do. Even if you only give a cup of cold water, even this He does not overlook. Even if you only contribute a single dime, even if you have nothing to give but your voice, He receives it all with great favor and remembers it, assigning to you great rewards.
Why then do you look to do your own deeds and make a show of it before us continually? Don’t you know, if you praise yourself, God will have no need to praise you Himself? But if you deplore your own works, He will proclaim you before all without ceasing. In no way does He wish for your labors to be depreciated. And why do I say depreciated? He is working and engineering all things, so that even for a little work He may crown you. He goes about seeking every excuse by which you may be delivered from hell. This is the reason that even if you start work at the very end of the day He gives you the entire wage. And even though you have no grounds for salvation, He says, “I do it for my own sake, that my name will not be profaned” Ezekiel 36:22. Even if you only sigh, though you should only weep, all these things He quickly catches ahold of as a reason to save you.
Let us declare ourselves unprofitable rather than lifting ourselves up, so that we will become profitable. For if you call yourself approved you have become unprofitable, even though you were approved. If you are useless you have become profitable, even though you were wicked.
- So is it necessary to forget our own good actions. “But how is it possible to not know the things which we are fully aware of?” you might say, but how can you say this? Offending your Lord perpetually, you live daintily, laughing, and do not so much as know that you have sinned, but have consigned it all to oblivion, but of your good actions you can’t put away the memory? On one hand we offend each day and do not so much as think about it at all, on the other, if we give a little money to a poor person over this we obsess. This way of life is utter madness and is a great loss to the one that lives this way. The secure storehouse of good works is to forget them. If you were to wear fancy clothes and gold openly in the market-place, we attract many ill-meaning people. But if we put them away at home and hide them, we will be certain they are secure. This is the way our good deeds are to be treated. If we continually replay them in our memory, we provoke the Lord and arm the enemy. We invite him to steal them away! But if no one knows about them, besides Him alone who should know, they will lay in safety.
So do not go around constantly flaunting them, lest someone should take them away. This was the case with the Pharisee, while bearing them always on his lips, the devil caught them away. But it was with thanksgiving that they were mentioned and referred everything to God. But even this did not suffice. For it is not a thankful heart that reviles others, to be vainglorious before many or to exalt yourself over those who have fallen. Rather if you are giving thanks to God, be content with Him only, and do not publicize it before men, or condemn your neighbor, this is not thanksgiving. Would you learn what true thanksgiving is? Listen to the Three Children, saying “We have sinned, we have transgressed. You are righteous, O Lord, in all that you have done unto us, because you have brought all things upon us by a true judgment”. To confess your own sins, this is giving thanks with confession unto God, implying guilt to numberless offenses, yet being saved of the due penalty. The one who does this is most of all the giver of thanks.
- Therefore let us beware of saying anything about ourselves, for this will render us odious with men and abominable to God. This is why the greater the good we do, the less we should say of ourselves. This is the way to reap the greatest glory with both men and God. And not only glory, but a reward also, in fact a great reward. So do not demand a reward here so that you may receive an eternal reward in heaven. Confess yourself to be saved by grace, that Christ may profess Himself a debtor to you. Not only for your good works, but for such rightness of mind. When we do good works, we have Christ as a debtor for those good works only. But when we do not so much as think we have done any good work, then also we will gain for this character and all the more than for just the good deed. Unless we do this, none of our deeds will appear great. In the same way, when we have servants, don’t we appreciate them all the more when they do their service with a good attitude and do not act as though they have done anything great? So if you would make your good deeds greater, do not think that they are and they will be great. Luke 17:10
This is the way that the centurion said “I am not worthy for You to come under my roof”. Because of his humility he became worthy and was “marveled at” above all the Jews. Matthew 8:8 In this way also Paul says “I am not fit to be called an apostle” 1 Corinthians 15:9 and because of this he became first of all. John as well said “It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” and was called the “friend of the Bridegroom”, the hand he considered unworthy to touch His shoes, Christ drew to his own head. Peter as well said “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” Luke 5:8 and for this he was made the foundation of the Church.
Nothing is so acceptable to God as to consider yourself with the least of men. This is a first principle of all practical wisdom. He who is humbled and wounded in the heart, will not be vainglorious, not envious of his neighbor and will not harbor any other passion. When your hand is wounded, though you try ten thousand times you cannot lift it up high. If we likewise bruise our own heart, though it is stirred by ten thousand swelling passions, it cannot be lifted up, even a little bit. For if a man, by mourning for things pertaining to this life, drives out all the diseases of his soul, how much more he who mourns for his sins enjoy the blessing of self-restraint.
- “But who is able to bruise his own heart this way?” you might say. Listen to David, who became illustrious mainly because of this, and see the contrition of his soul. How After ten thousand good works, on the point of being deprived of his country, home and life itself, at the very moment of his calamity, he sees a vile and outcast common soldier trample on his poor fortunes and revile him. David, so far from returning the favor, utterly forbad one of his captains who wanted to slay him and said “Leave him alone, for the lord has bidden him. 2 Samuel 16:10 And again, when the priests desired to carry the ark of God with him he would not allow it. How did he respond? “Let me set it down in the temple, and if God delivers me from the dangers before me, I shall see the beauty thereof; but if He says to me, I have no delight in you, behold, here am I, let Him do to me as seems good to Him”. And what was done in regards to Saul, over and over, even frequently, what excellent self-restraint is shown? Certainly he surpassed the old law and came close to the apostolic injunctions. For this reason he bore with contentment all that came from the Lord’s hand. Not contending with what happened to him, but aiming at one thing alone, that is, in everything to obey and follow the laws set by Him. And when after so many noble deeds on his part, he saw a tyrant, guilty of parricide, murderer of his own brother, an injurious and frenzied man possessing the kingdom in his stead, even then he was not offended. But “if this please God that I should be chased, wander, flee, and that one such as he should be in honor, I acquiesce and accept it, and do thank God for His many afflictions”. Not at all like one of the many shameless and impudent ones, when they have done nothing good, not even a fraction of the good of David, when they are enduring a small discouragement see anyone else prosperous, ruin their own souls by ten thousand blasphemies. But David was not one of these, rather he exhibited humility. This is why God has said “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart.”
Let us seek to acquire a spirit like this as well and bear whatever we may suffer without complaint. And before the Kingdom we will reap the reward accruing from lowliness of mind. So Christ tells us, “learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” Matthew 11:29 In order that we may enjoy rest both here and hereafter, with all diligence implant in your souls humility, which is the mother of all good things. In this way we will be enabled to pass over the sea of this life without waves and end our voyage in that calm harbor. By the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might for ever and ever. Amen