A Christmas Family Tree: Comprehensive Kin (Lk. 3:23-38)

I’ve read a lot of articles and heard a lot of reports in the past few weeks about the holiday blues.  This time of year is a tough time for many.  In that light, I want to point us this morning to a blues song.

A band called Casting Crowns sings a tune called “Every Man.”  The first part of the song is a lament.  Casting Crowns moans about how every man and every woman experiences hopelessness in life.  It doesn’t matter our race, our gender, our age, our income, our political affiliation, our religion, or our nationality.  We all have this in common.  Every man and every woman experiences hopelessness.  Here’s how Casting Crowns puts it:

I’m the man with all I’ve ever wanted

All the toys and playing games

I am the one who pours your coffee, corner booth each Saturday

I am your daughter’s favorite teacher

I am the leader of the band

I sit behind you in the bleachers

I am every man

I’m the coach of every winning team and still a loser in my mind

I am the soldier in the airport facing giants one more time

I am the woman shamed and haunted by the cry of unborn life

I’m every broken man, nervous child, lonely wife

Is there hope for every man

A solid place where we can stand

In this dry and weary land

Is there hope for every man

Is there love that never dies

Is there peace in troubled times

Someone help me understand

Is there hope for every man

Seems there’s just so many roads to travel, it’s hard to tell where they will lead

My life is scarred and my dreams unraveled

Now I’m scared to take the leap

If I could find someone to follow who knows my pain and feels the weight

The uncertainty of my tomorrow, the guilt and pain of yesterday

The man with all the toys.  The one who pours your coffee.  Your daughter’s favorite teacher.  The leader of the band.  The one behind you in the bleachers.  The coach of the winning team.  The soldier in the airport.  The broken man, nervous child, and lonely wife.  Everyone, at some point in life, experiences hopelessness.  Everyone experiences hopelessness.

A late 15th century morality play takes this one step further.[1] The play is called “The Summoning of Everyman.”  It explores the hopeless which is common among us when it comes to spiritual matters.  The central character in this centuries-old play is called “Everyman.”  He is represents every man and every woman.  What he experiences spiritually in the play is what the author of the play believes everyone experiences.  And here’s the point of the play: Everyone experiences hopelessness before God.

The play opens with God.  And God is singing the blues.  Why?  Because humans have turned away from him.  They no longer seek to please Him.  They are no longer grateful for all God has given them.  So God sends Death to the character called Everyman.  God tells Death to bring Everyman to Him so that Everyman can give an accounting for his life.  The point is that God is calling every man and every woman to give an accounting for their lives.  God will call you to given an accounting for your life.

Death finds Everyman and tells him that it is time to die, and go to God, and explain why he’s done what he’s done with his life.  Everyman protests.  He says that he needs more time to gather what is necessary to give an appropriate accounting of his life.  Everyman even tries to bribe Death.  But Death denies his request.  Still, Death does tell Everyman that he can bring a companion with him to testify on his behalf before God.

So, one by one, Everyman visits a number of companions, asking each one to consider joining him on this journey to God.  Asking each one to consider putting in a good word with God for him.  First, Everyman approaches an individual called Fellowship.  Fellowship stands for Everyman’s friends.  Fellowship explains that he’s happy to eat, drink, and be merry with Everyman in this life.  But he does not wish to follow Everyman into the next life.

Next, Everyman approaches individuals called Kindred and Cousin.  They represent the family members of Everyman.  Everyman begs them to stand by his side when he meets God.  But they refuse.

Third, Everyman asks an individual named Goods.  Goods represents all the wealth and resources which Everyman accumulated during life.  Goods replies that he will not accompany Everyman before God.  Why?  Because, he explains, his presence would only infuriate God.  Everyman never shared Goods with others.  So Goods actually has nothing good to say about Everyman

Fourth, Everyman approaches an individual named Good Deeds.  This is the incarnation of all the good acts Everyman did during his life.  Unfortunately, Good Deeds is not strong enough to even make the trip, because Everyman did not do enough good deeds.  Still, Good Deeds is sympathetic with Everyman.  He wants to help.  So, they shore up the weaknesses of Good Deeds and eventually Good Deeds is able to join Everyman on the journey to God.  Everyman dies and ascends to God with Good Deeds by his side.

As the play closes, the Doctor, representing a scholar, enters and provides an epilogue.  He explains to the audience the moral of the story: In the end we will only have Good Deeds to accompany us beyond the grave.

I’m not certain of the original author’s intention.  But I do know how this production plays today—it’s a tragedy.  The play is suggesting that our only hope before the holy God is our good deeds.  The play is stating that the only witness to testify on behalf of every man and every woman is Good Deeds.  And I don’t know about you, but my Good Deeds are not strong enough to make that journey.  My Good Deeds offer little in the way of a heaven-earning testimony before God.  If Good Deeds are our only companion, then everyone is facing hopelessness before God.

That’s the context in which we must listen to the genealogy of Jesus found in Luke’s Gospel.  On Sunday mornings we’ve been listening to the genealogies, the family trees, of Jesus found in Matthew’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel.  We’ve heard several times that Luke and Matthew are not just interested in chronology.  They are interested in theology.  There are not just trying to explain something about grandmothers and great grandfathers.  They are trying to explain something about who God is and how God works.  The genealogies are windows into the heart of God.

There are significant differences between Matthew’s genealogy, which was the focus of our first two Sundays, and Luke’s genealogy, which is our focus this morning.  The one difference I want to draw your attention to is how far back these genealogies go.  Matthew, like a good Jewish writer would, begins his genealogy at the end—in his case with Abraham and King David—and works forward toward Jesus.  Luke, however, like a good non-Jewish writer would, begins with Jesus and works backward.

And Matthew’s genealogy traces the lineage only as far as Abraham and David.  Matthew only traces Jesus’ family tree back to the two heroes of the Jewish faith—Abraham and King David.  He stops there.  Why?  Because what Matthew most wants us to know about Jesus is that he descended from Abraham—the father of the Jewish faith, and from David—the great warrior, poet, and King of the Jewish faith.

But that might cause some problems.  After all, how many of us are Jewish?  If Matthew’s genealogy is the only one we had, those of us with no Jewish roots might feel left out.  We might think, “Oh, so Jesus is for the Jews.  Jesus descended from the heroes of the Jewish faith.  He stands with the Jews.  But that makes Jesus sound exclusive.  He belongs to one nation.  He belongs to one ethnicity.  He belongs to one religion.  What about the rest of us?  Does Jesus stand with us?”

This may be why Luke offers a complementary genealogy.  Luke’s family tree keeps going way beyond where Matthew’s stops.  The last branch in Matthew’s Christmas Family Tree is Abraham.  But notice how many more branches Luke provides: 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. (Luke 3:34-38 ESV).  Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy only back to Abraham and David.  But Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam, the very first human being.

Now, your first reaction to that may be “So what?  What’s the big deal?  Aren’t we all descended from Adam?  What’s so special about Jesus being a descendant of Adam?  Isn’t every single human being, according the Bible, descended from Adam?  Doesn’t everyone have this one thing in common?”  And Luke would say, “That’s the point.”  Luke would say, “What I want to show you about Jesus is not something that makes him stand out.  What I want to show you about Jesus is something that makes him blend in.  Something that makes him just like every man and every woman who has ever lived.  What I want to show you about Jesus is that according to his family tree, he stands for all of us.  He shares what all of us share.  Just like all of us, his family tree goes all the way back to Adam.“

Scholars are nearly unanimous in their conclusion about why that would be important to Luke.  It was important because Luke, above all other writers, wants to show that Jesus is the hope not just of one racial group, one nation, one gender, one tribe, one ethnic group, or one religion.  Luke wanted to show that Jesus is the hope for every man and every woman.  Luke’s message was this: Jesus is the hope for everyone.

This tune is sounded again and again in Luke’s gospel and in his Volume 2, the Book of Acts:

  • And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  (Luke 2:10 ESV)
  • …and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:6 ESV)
  • and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:47 ESV)
  • But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)
  • “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17 ESV).
  • And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2:21 ESV)
  • To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43 ESV)
  • For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:47 ESV).

What Luke wanted us to know is that Jesus is the hope for everyone.  Not just one nation.  Not just one gender.  Not just one religion.  Not just one ethnicity.  Jesus is the hope for everyone.  Every man and every woman finds hope in Jesus Christ.  Because of him “all the people” can receive great joy on Christmas.  Because of him “all flesh” may see the salvation of God.  Because of him “all nations” can repent and be forgiven.  Because of him, God’s Spirit is poured out on “all flesh.”  Because of him “everyone” who calls upon God will be saved.

And that’s why Luke traces Jesus’ family tree all the way back to Adam, the one ancestor whom we all share, the one from whom  we are all descended.  He wants us to know that Jesus is not just the son of Abraham and the son of David.  Jesus doesn’t just stand with the Jews.  Jesus is also the son of Adam.  Jesus stands with all of us.

And thus the lament sung by Casting Crowns turns on its head and becomes a note of joy.  For they sing:

There is hope for every man

A solid place where we can stand

In this dry and weary land

There is hope for every man

There is Love that never dies

There is peace in troubled times

Will we help them understand?

Jesus is hope for every man

Jesus is the hope for everyone.  That’s Luke’s Gospel.  That’s what he wants you to know about the birth of Jesus and the family tree of Jesus.  Jesus is your hope.  Jesus is your salvation.  Jesus is your joy.  No matter what race you are.  No matter what gender you are.  No matter what religion you are.  No matter what the rest of your family tree looks like.  Jesus is hope for every man.  He is therefore hope for you.

Now, for just a second, let me put the emphasis on the word Jesus: Jesus is the hope for everyone.  There’s something challenging about Luke’s Christmas Family Tree.  Because when he says that Jesus is the hope for everyone, he’s saying that there is no hope but Jesus.  Your family is not your hope.  Your Good Deeds are not your hope.  Lots of presents under the tree are not your hope.  The name on the church building is not your hope.  Your job is not your hope.  Your income is not your hope.  Your racial heritage is not your hope.  The U.S. government is not your hope.  The City Council is not your hope.  Your boyfriend or girlfriend is not your hope.  Buddha is not the hope of the world.  Muhammad is not the hope of the world.  Abraham is not the hope of the world.  David is not the hope of the world.  Your only hope, and the only hope for every person on this planet is Jesus Christ.  To put hope in anything else is to remain hopeless.  That’s the challenge of Luke’s Christmas Family Tree.

But the good news is that Jesus is the hope for everyone. In his book Deserted by God? Sinclair Ferguson shares this story:[2] The first physician to die of the AIDS virus in the United Kingdom was a young Christian. He had contracted it while doing medical research in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. In the last days of his life, his power of communication failed. He struggled with increasing difficulty to express his thoughts to his wife. On one occasion she simply could not understand his message. He wrote on a note pad the letter J. She ran through her medical dictionary, saying various words beginning with J. None was right. Then she said, “Jesus?”  That was the right word. He was with them. That was all either of them needed to know. [And] that is always enough. What Luke wants you to know is that hope is spelled with the letter J.  Even in the worst of situations, hope is spelled with the letter J.  That’s all you’ll ever really need.

National Geographic researchers recently worked to figure out what Everyman looks like.  If you could take the physical qualities and characteristics most common among the most people in the world today, and combine them, what would it look like?  Watch this video:

Some of us may be surprised that Everyman is Chinese, speaks Mandarin, has no car, and is a Christian.  In the same way, we may be surprised about Luke’s claim regarding the hope of Everyman.  What does the hope of Everyman look like?  He’s not a warrior.  He’s not political leader.  He’s not flamboyant.  He’s easy to miss in a crowd.  In fact, he was born in a stable, to an unwed mother, and he died the shameful death of a criminal.  But he is the hope of Everyman.  He is Jesus.

Please stand.  I want to guide us in a few seconds of prayer and reflection.  Close your eyes.  “Father, we struggle with hope.  We so often put our hope in the wrong thing or the wrong person.  This morning Father, we want to admit one wrong thing we’ve put our hope in.  Hear us right now as each of us silently completes this sentence: I have put my hope in ____________.  But God we want to put our hope in Jesus.  No matter who we are, we know he is our true hope.  Hear us right now as each of us silently says this to you: I now put my hope in Jesus.  Thank you Father for filling us with hope.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everyman_(play)

[2] Sinclair Ferguson, Deserted by God? (Banner of Truth, 1993), 51.

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