“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23 ESV)
Are you familiar with the show Undercover Boss? This past week’s episode the undercover boss was the Mayor of Gary, Karen Freeman-Wilson. I really enjoyed watching it because Mayor Wilson has been a very helpful partner with our Gary campus and the City Life Center. So it was fun to watch someone local on the show. She cleaned up the beach where we do our baptisms each summer. The way the show works is that the boss, CEO, or president of a company goes undercover and works alongside unsuspecting employees to see what it’s like to work on that level of the organization. Then in the end there is the unveiling of who he or she really is and they give out gifts or not depending on what the boss saw. Some are praised. Some are fired.
Imagine the waste treatment plant of Gary on Thursday, the day after the show. The mayor was here? Really? Or in the maintenance shed, the mayor drove the trash pickup? Can you believe it?
Why does the show work? Nobody expects the mayor to stir the human waste in the waste treatment plant. Mayors aren’t known for lowering themselves to do such things.
The manger was just like that only on a much grander scale.
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2 ESV)
Am I Like the Wise Men?
The wise men put to shame the Jewish Scribes and the King of Israel. How? They aren’t supposed to be here in the first place. They are Gentiles. They are the people group that destroyed the temple and kidnapped the nation’s leaders and wealth. They are pagan idol worshipers by birth, not good Jewish boys. They practice astrology, which is condemned in the Old Testament.
But who did Jesus come to save? Who flocks to him while the religious types resent him? It’s the prostitutes and the tax collectors and the Gentiles, and yes, the astrologers. The Gentile astrologers bowing before Jesus were a microcosm of all that Jesus’ story would unveil.
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah…” (Matthew 1:1-6 ESV)
The Repulsive Genealogy
What is most surprising about this genealogy is that Matthew does the opposite of what ancient genealogies tried to do. They glamorized the pedigree. Modern genealogies do the same. Hitler expunged certain aspects of his family tree to hide some Jewishness found there. People change their names if there is something unsavory in their family story. We want to highlight what makes us look good and hide what makes us look bad.
Matthew does neither. He highlights Jesus’ royal line but goes out of his way to highlight the distasteful and even repulsive parts of Jesus story. There are real skeletons in Jesus’ closet.
As we continue to live in the post-election grind of constant analysis and ongoing protests, it reminds me of a conversation I had with my neighbor some time ago. He was complaining about politics and politicians and the state of the country. This is a guy I don’t talk to that often but he knows what I do and a little about our church. When he got done with his rant and took a breath, I said to him, “It’s almost like the world needs a Savior.” He said, “Hmm…that’s good.”
How true. The world needs something or somebody different from the leaders it has known. All of the hand wringing flows from a real worry that our present or future leaders might not be up for the job.
In two months, it’s inauguration day. To remove present politics from this, let’s just say it’s a generic president-elect who is being inaugurated. The cameras are rolling. The nation tunes in to watch the spectacle. The new president-elect comes to Washington, D.C. by walking across the Potomac. General Washington needed a boat. Not this president. Before heading to Capitol Hill he strolls through the military hospital restoring soldiers’ lost limbs. He pauses at JFK’s tomb and raises him from the dead. As the rain starts to fall during his inauguration speech, he stops and says, “No rain. I want sun.” And out comes the sun. What happens to the national mood about the new president?
The Kingdom of God is an Immeasurable Treasure
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)
Have you ever had the fantasy of finding hidden treasure? Just finding a $20 bill in an old pants pocket will make our day. What about a real treasure? Finding treasure in a field was not unheard of in the first century. They didn’t have safety deposit boxes or home safes. So what do you do with valuables when the walls of your house are made of dirt? People would bury and hide valuables in their fields.
This man isn’t looking for treasure. Somehow he happens to find it. Maybe a little piece of gold was sticking up through the dirt. He uncovers it. He can’t believe it! He covers it up again and then goes and sells everything he has and buys the field.
“The ‘significant influence’ view says that Christians should seek to influence civil government according to God’s moral standards and God’s purposes for government as revealed in the Bible (when rightly understood). But while Christians exercise this influence, they must simultaneously insist on protecting freedom of religion for all citizens. In addition, ‘significant influence’ does not mean angry, belligerent, intolerant, judgmental, red-faced, and hate-filled influence, but rather winsome, kind, thoughtful, loving, persuasive influence that is suitable to each circumstance and that always protects the other person’s right to disagree, but that is also uncompromising about the truthfulness and moral goodness of the teachings of God’s Word.” (Wayne Grudem, Politics to the Glory of God, p. 55)
Significant influence means that the church must retain its prophetic role. Anything that smells like politicizing the church or the gospel must be avoided. So as an example, Billy Graham was an advisor to presidents but he didn’t endorse them.
But that doesn’t mean hiding in a bunker. Light influences darkness wherever it goes and Jesus called Christians the light of the world. We should do everything we can to influence society and government toward the light. God’s truth is light and governments that govern according to God’s precepts and principles are blessed by outcomes God built into the moral fabric of society. This is known as common grace.
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” (Matthew 22:15-22 ESV)
Pray for Caesar
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3)
It’s easier to pray for politicians you like. Those seem harder to find these days. What should we do? Pray for them. Pray for President Obama. Pray for our other leaders.