Sunday, October 9, 2011
THE UNEXPECTED CHRISTMAS--WEEK ONE
How many of you have taken photos at Christmas of the whole family? Such photos usually include grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, sometimes gathered around the family Christmas tree or in front of some Christmas icon. The picture represents our immediate genealogy. In our Sunday School lesson this week, Andy Stanley begins a series titled "The Unexpected Christmas."
Andy begins a study of the writing of Matthew. He reminds us that Matthew was a tax collector, considered by the Jews to be one of the lowest of the lowest in the social heirarchy of the day. This is a man who paid the Roman government for the privilege of taxing the citizens at his own established tax rate, which offered him a handsome income! Yet, Jesus chose Matthew as one of his followers--one of his disciples--one of the writers of the Bible.
Matthew's writing starts off with the genealogy of Jesus. He was writing to a Jewish audience making the case that Jesus is the Son of God--answering the question of who is Jesus ultimately related to? Matthew makes the obvious connections in Jesus' linneage, Abraham, Isaac, King David those whom God chose to carry the line of Jesus. However, he also includes some other characters who were found in the linneage of Jesus. Some of the characters underscored by Matthew were similar to him in their standing among others, some had reputations that were as odious as the reputation of Matthew the tax collector, and some of the linneage of Jesus were as unexpected, undeserving, and unrighteous as he.
Matthew spent three years with Jesus. He heard Jesus teach. He saw Him perform miracles. He saw Jesus die on a cross and he stood next to an empty tomb. As he wrote the story of Jesus, he knew that shady characters carrying baggage were the point of the story he was about to tell. Sin was the issue Jesus came to address. Jesus didn't just come for sinners. He came FROM sinners. Jesus was the light coming into a world of darkness. He represented life coming into the element of death. He was the story of forgiveness in a world of condemnation. For Matthew, this story was also his story. These shady characters from the linneage of Jesus were like his people, like his friends.
When Jesus' followers questioned his relationship with Matthew, Jesus responded in Matthew 9:12, "...It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." While this statement could have offended Matthew and his friends, Andy Stanley points out that people who are far from God know they are far from God. This was the case with Matthew. Andy says the story of Christmas is about God leaning towards those who had leaned away from God. Jesus changed the rules about who could approach God. The religious culture suggested that those who approach God must do so under the guise of what they have done. Jesus debunked this requirement for approaching God. He made it clear that we could approach God based on what HE did for us and NOT based on what we have done. The story of Christmas is about this GIFT that God gave to us. The greatest gift ever given...the Savior of the World who came from sinners, and people who could never qualify as part of Jesus' family. This Christmas, let's remember the GIFT God gave to each of us.