|Create Date||January 2, 2019|
|Last Updated||January 2, 2019|
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Redhill. 23 December 2018. Presented by Gordon Green
We need to see the manger in Bethlehem as a result of a promise that was plainly in process since Eden. To make sense of the birth of Christ we need to look at the geneology (“the Seed”) of Jesus. For approximately 4000 years the Seed of Adam and Eve lead to an expectant mother and father to a town called Bethlehem. Let’s look at how these generations prepared for the arrival of Jesus Christ – and see how some of the most famous Bible stories and some unfamiliar ones are connected to the Christ child.
In the Garden of Eden sin entered the world through Satan and the whole world was infected. What was God’s solution? A special Seed to break the death cycle. Genesis 3:15 is one of the most important scriptures in the Bible: “Right from the start, the promise is made that the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent. The only answer to man’s predicament is the destruction of the power of evil and a recreation of the bond between God and man. But if the first creation was the creation of man in the image of God, the recreation is through an act in which God condescends to take on himself the image of man. The whole movement of redemption adumbrated from the start is a movement of God coming to man in order to restore man to God, of God taking man’s place in order to give man God’s place – the principle of substitution and the principle of incarnation.”* God would take his time in doing this. Cain and Abel were the first children of Adam and Eve but neither were the Seed carriers. Adam and Eve later had a son Seth who kept the Seed alive as did his descendants such as Enoch and Methuselah. The Bible is largely focused on families that fall in the line of the seed. One thousand years after Adam, God saw that the wickedness on earth was so great (Genesis 6:5) that he vowed to destroy the earth by water. But would he abandon his plan? Never. There was no plan B. God’s words in Genesis 3:15 were a promise. Although he flooded the whole earth God spared one family – Noah’s family. God used Noah to keep the Seed alive and on track for the journey to Bethlehem. When Noah set foot on dry land after the flood he offered up a sacrifice to God - a foreshadow of Jesus’ sacrifice. As time continued the Seed was passed down through Noah’s son Shem. Later, down through the generations, Abraham was born. He was a faith giant. He was the father of the Jews, Christians and Islam. But most importantly he was the father to the Seed. Very few people had the personal favour and attention from God like Abraham. He had visits from angels, conversations with God, and gigantic favour - and tests. God told Abraham to take his family and leave the pagan city of Ur. God was preparing to birth a new nation and was moving them forward to a fresh new land where the Seed carriers could grow and thrive. Abraham’s greatest test came when God told him to sacrifice his son Isaac. In this story there are parallels with that of Jesus. Both were of divine birth, had to carry wood (Jesus carried his cross) and face their sacrifice. Isaac had two sons Jacob and Esau but the Seed would continue its journey through Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Israel had twelve sons who became the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. But only one of the tribes could transfer the seed. Joseph was one of the sons and one would have thought he would be the Seed carrier but it would be Judah (Gen 49:10 - the first hint that kings would come from the seed of Judah). This was not logical - from our perspective. God’s ways often seem strange to us – such as the strange story of another Seed carrier - Perez. He was conceived when his father Judah visited a “prostitute” who was actually his daughter-in-law Tamar!
As the years passed down through history, Joseph died and the new pharaoh enslaved the Israelites (who had settled in Egypt). Hundreds of years later they were delivered by another faith champion - Moses. But the Seed was not passed through him. Along with Joshua he escorted the seed carriers from Egypt and then into Canaan the Promised Land. The SEED was getting closer.
There are three famous mothers in the Bible who carried the Seed. Mary the mother of Jesus, Rahab and Ruth. Rahab was a harlot and Ruth was not an Israelite but a Moabitess. Ruth married Obed and had a son Jesse who was the father of one of the most famous ancestors of Jesus – David. He had a gigantic role. He became the king of Israel and was promised that his kingdom would last forever (2Samual 7:16). This was a reference to the divine Kingdom of God whose ruler would be Jesus Christ. One thousand years after David, Jesus was born king of the Jews. (Jesus came from a line of kings). But after David his son Solomon became king and centuries of forward progress (for Israel) were reversed in a single generation. From Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob… and all the way to King Solomon – were fifteen generations of fathers in the line of the Seed (approximately 1000 years). Along the way the Seed went from a small family, to a large family, to a collection of tribes, to a mighty nation. Just one man (King Solomon) triggered its downfall. But God always had a plan to keep the Seed alive. The kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms: the ten northern tribes (called “Israel” in Samaria) and two southern tribes (called “Judah” in Jerusalem). To carry out the Seed strategy, God preserved the tribe of Judah. And Judah possessed Jerusalem… and Bethlehem! The next sixteen fathers in line of the Seed were kings. From the reign of Rehoboam (Solomon’s son) when the kingdoms split, the kingdom of Judah lasted for just over three hundred fifty years (and about two hundred years for Israel). These kingdoms were led by mostly evil kings, with occasional good kings. God continued to have His way with the path of the Seed – seeking to fulfil His promise from Genesis 3:15. Keep in mind that these kings (even the most wicked ones) were ancestors to Jesus! It was a dismal decline for Judah - wars, conspiracies, assassinations, take-over attempts etc. Amazingly, the transfer of the Seed was never disrupted. Even though Judah was also taken captive and exiled to a foreign land… God had a plan for their eventual return. And why did God plan a return for Judah and not for Israel? Of course… the Seed.
The first half of the Seed journey contains a decorated faith legacy – men like Enoch-Methuselah-Lamech-Noah… and Abraham-Isaac-Jacob… and then men like Boaz and King David. Faithful. God-fearing. Spiritual giants. Yes, they were human and sinned. But grace and forgiveness flowed in and out of the lives of these God-fearing men. But as we enter the era of kings (after Solomon), it feels like a train-wreck for the Seed. It’s difficult to understand how some of these characters ended up in the line of Jesus Christ! Important: The real heroes during this kingdom decline were not the kings but the prophets (with a few rare exceptions i.e. Hezekiah, Josiah). These prophets were not in the line of the Seed. Most were not even from the tribe of Judah (Daniel was an exception). Their role was to warn and tell the kings what God was planning to do. The kings were mostly unreceptive and threatened to kill the prophets. Many prophets died gruesome deaths at the hands of wicked kings. So Judah was captured by Babylon and exiled from their land. The captivity would last 70 years. Babylonian exile was an unexpected detour for the Seed. How would the Seed advance while the people were exiled in a foreign land? There were prophecies of the Messiah… a special baby boy would be born in Bethlehem in about 590 years. But the Seed was stuck in Babylon! (Read Isaiah 7:14 as an example of one of Isaiah’s great prophesies of the Seed.) Important: While Satan was working fervently to destroy the Seed, God was building them for survival! After 70 years, God brought judgment on Babylon (conquered by Cyrus the Great of the Persian Empire) and a remnant of Judah returned to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 25, Isaiah 44:28) to rebuild the city. Enter Zerubbabel (his name meant “The Seed of Babylon.”). He was born in Babylon during Judah’s exile. (Zerubbabel was grandson to the wicked King Jechoniah.) Zerubbabel fell not only in line of the Seed – but also in a line of history’s famous travellers who helped to transport the Seed during various pivot points. The first was Abraham – transporting the Seed from Ur to Haran to Canaan. Later God used Moses – directing the Seed out of slavery in Egypt. Then roughly 1,000 years later, after an unexpected detour to Babylon, God used Zerubbabel – to get the Seed back to Jerusalem. The Seed was going back home…near Bethlehem. The Seed journey would continue.
After the prophet Malachi, there were 400 years of silence from God. There are no biblical accounts between the last prophet Malachi and the Gospels (between the Old and New Testaments.) No prophet stirrings. No angel appearances. Nothing. But Bible genealogies do give us some nuggets from this era. The Seed carriers! The only mention of the 400-years silence are fathers in line of the Seed! Matthew’s genealogy mentions nine fathers that carry the Seed forward from Zerubbabel. We know nothing else about these men. The fact that we have their names says something about God’s desire for us to have this precious Seed history. Luke’s genealogical account (Chapter 3) has different names mentioned for this “silent” period. That’s because Luke reports the genealogy for Mary, while Matthew reports the genealogy for Joseph. Mary was also from the tribe of Judah, child of King David – but her lineage traces to David’s son, Nathan. Because Joseph was in the line of the kings (Solomon), the Bible is focused on that path. Remember, Jesus comes from a line of kings. A thought for us today: I am sure that some of the Jews were waiting for God to say or do something. Some were looking for the fulfilment of various prophecies and expected a king to arrive in the line of David. What unfulfilled prophecies or promises are we still awaiting today? How might our waiting compare to that of the Jews during the 400 years of silence? What encouragement can we gain from their example?
But back to the Seed. The Bethlehem SEED was almost there! Our journey brings us to Joseph, father to Jesus and husband to the Virgin Mary. Joseph was engaged to Mary, whom he just learned was pregnant with child. This was very disturbing news. Thanks to an angel encounter, and Joseph being a faithful man, he stayed the course and made it to the Bethlehem scene. Naturally, Mary gets most of the attention in the Christmas story. A virgin teenage mother gives birth to the Christ child. Often Joseph appears as a tag-along character, with shepherds, donkeys and goats. But as we’ve learned throughout this Seed journey, Joseph’s role and unique ancestry was monumental. Joseph was from the line of the kings. Mary was not. Joseph’s position in the line of the Seed was crucial to fulfilling the Davidic covenant – Jesus would come from a line of kings so that David’s kingdom could endure forever.
Finally the Seed arrives. We know the story. The manger scene. Mary and Joseph. Shepherds. Perhaps donkeys and goats. There’s a star in the sky to mark this historic moment. But the real star of the story is down below, wrapped in cloth, sleeping comfortably on the hay as the song says. It’s Baby Jesus.
Let’s step back from the manger and look at the big picture. It’s a much larger story. It’s the story of two Adams. We started in Eden – where the 1st Adam appeared, formed by God’s hands from the dust of the ground. Four thousand years and sixty-three generations later, the 2nd Adam appeared in Bethlehem as a newborn child, born of a virgin mother, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Neither the 1st or 2nd Adam came from the seed of an earthly father. They were uniquely “sons of God” (Luke 1:35, 3:38). The 2nd Adam came to redeem a fallen world – to atone for the sins started by the 1st Adam. The Genesis 3:15 promise was one step closer to fulfilment. But the mission was not over yet. For four thousand years Satan sought to destroy the Seed. Even at the Bethlehem moment, the serpent was still at work. A king named Herod issued a decree to kill all baby boys. He had heard rumours about this King of the Jews. In a dream, an angel told Joseph to escape to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. THE Seed remained on the run from the enemy. After Herod died, Jesus and his family returned to Nazareth where he grew up a Nazarene. Then one day, after living a perfect life, he gave himself up as a living blood sacrifice, as a spotless lamb, for the sins of the world. The 4,000 years of animal sacrifices were over. All the previous sacrifices were a picture of THE Seed on the cross. A few days later, the unthinkable happened. Jesus returned to earth. THE Seed had been raised from the dead! Still today the battle with the Serpent is not fully over. Satan has dominion on earth. Sin is still alive. One day in the future THE Seed from Heaven will return … and at some point later still, there will be another dark encounter with the enemy. There’s an epic battle planned (Revelation 18). Then the “ancient serpent” will be captured and bound (Rev. 20:2). After a period of time, the serpent will be released and then put away into a forever-burning lake of fire. Remember the Genesis 3:15 promise? Then the seed of the women finally crushes the head of the serpent…forever. What a plan! What a journey!
Merry Christmas everyone!
*Thomas Torrance “Incarnation” p39-40
Thanks to Jeff Anderson for this sermon idea (An Advent Journey).