The King’s Humility

Below is the text from the message I gave last night at our Christmas Eve service.

A few years ago I listened to Walter Isaacson’s masterful biography of Albert Einstein. I am not really scientifically inclined, but I thought the story would be interesting. It was — Einstein was a fascinating character. Along with the story of Einstein’s life, Isaacson includes long explanations of many of the scientific theories developed by Einstein. Though I suppose Isaacson tried to use small words, I didn’t comprehend then and sure don’t remember anything of significance now. I just don’t get the theory of relativity, quantum theory, or anything else Einstein explained.

Explaining significant (eternal and infinite) concepts about God in small (and finite) words is also the task of the biblical writers. Consider the task of trying to explain the union of the God-Man in the person of Christ, something Paul explains in three short verses in Philippians 2: “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6–8; NASB)

We are talking about the union of the infinite greatness of God in the humble form of a man. The greatness of the great King of eternity in humble manhood. One writer puts it this way:

He had all of the essential characteristics and defining attributes of God. He had the very “godness” of God (Phil. 2:6; cf. John 1:1). He was “the radiance of the glory of God” (Heb. 1:3), the total reality of who God is (Col. 1:15; cf. John 10:30). It was he who set aside all of this glory in order to carry out a very costly act of service. That he would strip away his bright glory to become not only incarnate but someone of little account, unrecognized for who he was, disparaged, rejected, and laughed at by those in power, a person of no status though he was the very center of the universe and its Creator, is an expression of humility so deep that words are inadequate to grasp it. Yet this is only a part of the picture.
…Christ obscured his divine attributes, putting them into abeyance, and took on the life of an inconsequential servant. He entered our life with all of its quarrels and discord, its arrogance and deceit, all of its godlessness, its self-serving spiritualities and misleading religions. He was met, not with the worship which was his due, but by great “hostility against himself” (Heb. 12:3). [Wells, God in the Whirlwind, 93.]

While he offers no explanation with it, in his account of the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew points to the immense humility of King Jesus. For the past two months we have been examining various attributes of the Kingship of Christ. This evening let’s see an anomaly about His Kingship — his humility. From the genealogy in Matthew 1, let’s observe three attributes of the humility of the great King, Jesus.

1. The Humble King Redeems Sinners

We don’t know the particulars of all the people in this list. But what we do know about many of these ancestors of the Messiah is sobering. Sin — even extraordinary sin — is common in this list:

  • Judah (2) is the brother of Joseph that instigated him being sold to Ishmaelites (and Egypt)
  • Tamar (3) was the daughter-in-law of Judah who pretended to be a prostitute to get someone to provide her with a child to carry on her lineage — and ended up being impregnated by her father-in-law, Judah. (Yes, incest is in the genealogy of Christ.)
  • You know the story of Rahab (5), the woman who didn’t pretend to be a prostitute, but actually was one!
  • And you know the stories of David & Bathseba (6) — a sordid tale of adultery, cover-up (attempting to get Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, drunk), and murder.
  • Then there is Solomon (7, and his thousand wives, many of whom were foreign and pulled his heart away from God — 1 Kings 11:4).
  • And following Solomon, the nation rebelled against God, the kingdom was divided, and there was one evil king after another (the Northern kingdom might have had one good king).
  • Then there was another rebellion against God that led to the Babylonian captivity.

One writer has said of this list —

“A careful look at the descendants both of Abraham and David (vv. 2-16) reveals people who were often characterized by unfaithfulness, immorality, idolatry, and apostasy. But God’s dealing with them was always characterized by grace. Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, was sent to overcome the failures of both those men and of all their descendants, and to accomplish what they could never have accomplished. The King of grace came through the line of two sinful men.”

We, also, come from a long line of sinful men who all come from one sinful man — Adam. We have inherited his sin nature. And we and our ancestors have proven that Romans 3 is very true.

But the story of God is the story of redemption. God takes that which is worst about us — our sin — and uses it to glorify Himself and to make it good in our lives.

Yes, you and I also are sinners and have family members that have sinned and do sin. But that’s not the end of the story. The end of the story terminates in the humble King who redeems every kind of vile sin and liberates us from that sin through His humility.

2. The Humble King Associates with the Outcast

It has been said that “the average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but will brag a little if he discovers that his great grandfather was a pirate.”

There’s not too much bragging about this list. Not only were many of the identifiable people conspicuous sinners, but they were also outcasts. They were the kind of people you would not want to identify yourself with — we’ve already mentioned incest and prostitution and murder.

Beyond that are the people that no one in Israel would want to identify with —

  • Rahab (v. 5) was a Canaanite — an enemy of the nation of Israel.
  • Ruth (5) was a Moabite — a race of people that was the product of an incestuous relationship between Lot and daughters. The very existence of the Moabites was repugnant to Israel — “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord” (Dt. 23:3).
  • Four women are mentioned in this lineage — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba — all were outcasts because they were women, they were tainted by sexual sin (either because of their own choices or because of their “heritage”) and two of the women were foreigners, outside the covenantal promises to Israel; they were (from Israel’s perspective) women and people to be shunned.

Who would want to be identified with these women? God would. And God not only identified Himself with them, but He folded them into the Messianic line. Astounding. Why does God do that? He does it only because of magnanimous grace that gives what is undeserved to the unworthy.

And you and I are also recipients of a similar kind of grace. God made a promise to the nation of Israel that they would be His people. He made no such promise with Moab, or Babylon, or Greece, or Rome (or America). We, like Rahab and Ruth were outsiders, outside the plan of God. And in grace, he grafted us into the branch of Israel (Rom. 11); we who were far away were brought near (Eph. 2:12-13).

Yes, God brings in the outcast and puts them in the lineage of the Messiah (who is both truly God and truly man) and also makes those outcasts His children. And you don’t have to look far away to see some outcasts. You and I are the outcasts. And we also have been adopted into His family.

3. The Humble King is a Great King

There are two genealogies of Jesus in NT — here and in Luke 3.  The two genealogies are different — Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage to David through Joseph, demonstrating that He has the legal right to reign, while Luke traces His lineage to David through Mary, demonstrating that Jesus is a blood descent of David and had a human right to rule.

That’s somewhat interesting, but the differences become even more significant.

Notice v. 12 — the name Jeconiah (or Jehoiachin) may not be familiar, but he was the last Davidic king to rule and such an exceedingly evil king that in Jer. 22:30 God says, “Write this man down childless, A man who will not prosper in his days; For no man of his descendants will prosper Sitting on the throne of David Or ruling again in Judah.”

In other words, no physical descendent of Jeconiah could ever take the throne of Israel.  And Joseph was a descendent of Jeconiah. Neither Jeconiah nor his physical off-spring (like Joseph, the step-father of Jesus) could be Israel’s king. But Jesus was not a physical descendant of Jeconiah, though He was still descendent of David.

How would that be resolved?

  • Mary had a regal connection (Lk. 3) but not the right to rule;
  • Joseph had the legal right to rule except he was under the curse.
  • So as the physical son of Mary and the adopted son of Joseph, Jesus had the right to rule while not being under the curse of Jeconiah.

In other words, Jesus avoided the curse on the Davidic line and still has the right to  be King. But there is also something more in this text.

While Jesus avoided the curse of Jeconiah, He also avoided the curse of sin, didn’t He? That is, He never sinned, so that He could rightly absorb the wrath of God in our place as the perfect substitute. But more…

  • Jesus was not born into the curse of Jeconiah and Jesus was not born into the curse of Adam, though as a human being He also was in that lineage (Lk. 3).
  • Yet in grace, Jesus took on the curse of Adam (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:16-18). He stood in our place and took what was rightly meant for us so that we might be spared the eternal wrath of God.
  • This is Paul’s very point in Gal. 3:13-14. Because of the unique manner of Christ’s birth, He avoided two curses so He could absorb the one great curse to redeem men and fulfill the promises made to both Abraham and Moses.

He is humble King, born in humble circumstances to a humble family.

But He is a great King who alone can provide redemption from sin and have authority to sit with God on David’s throne.

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