Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Forgiving Their Past (Matthew 1:18-25)

Last time, we talked primarily about how we all have a mixed bag of good and bad in our family trees. But what if, because of the evil perpetrated by one or more of these ancestors, you were never allowed to reach your potential...and not just your potential, but your God-given right to lead your nation as their king?

Many of us may be able to identify with the first portion of that last question, but few in history would understand the unfairness of being stripped of a title you rightfully deserve. Joseph, step-father of Jesus, husband to Mary, was just such a man.

I recently heard Rabbi Johnathan Cahn say that if the Davidic line would have remained on the throne, if there had never been an exile to Babylon and the slow trickle of the Diaspora returning to Jerusalem, the first son of the first son of the first son...left to reign on the throne of Israel, would have been Joseph. Yes, that Joseph. I don't know why we are not taught this in Sunday school or church, but there it is. Just read the first chapter of Matthew.

This may seem insignificant, but as I dwelt on this for several weeks, the beauty of just exactly what this means was not lost on me. Instead of sitting on a throne, pampered, served and filling his coffers with treasure and wives, Joseph is a carpenter, trying to survive and start a family in a backwoods portion of the former glorious Israel. The calloused hands of a woodworker, should have been dipping in water bowls before tucking into a feast. The threadbare tunic of a commoner should have been exchanged for purple robes of royalty. And the king that should have had dozens of wives and concubines (although this practice wasn't condoned by God, it was "normal" for the era), was instead attached to a faithless teenager who has now turned up pregnant by another man (or so Joseph thought).

Best of all, Joseph can fully blame his ancestors for having the opportunity to rule Israel ripped out from underneath him. Yes, there were great, godly kings like Josiah in his family line, but the kings of Judah who wholeheartedly followed YHWH were few and far between. Instead, Joseph can give thanks to progenitors like Manasseh for ruining his life of ease and comfort. Manassah was so evil, that we are told he was more wicked than all of the Amorites before him. He not only participated in, but led his subjects in, the practices of child sacrifice, witchcraft, and divination. The depth of his depravity is maybe best exemplified in this one statement: "Manasseh shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another." (2 Kings 21:16)

Fast forward a few hundred years, to a man who would be king...if it weren't for his horrific ancestors who led all of Judah into some of the worst debauchery mankind has ever known. Royal blood flowed through Joseph's veins and the people around him had to have known it. Matthew surely wasn't the only Jew who knew the names and whereabouts of the descendants of David. It would have been an honor for Mary to be betrothed (promised) to such a man.

You want to talk about depression? This man had earned the right to curl up and hide away from the world, incessantly licking his wounds and blaming his distantly removed family for his current circumstances. He could have himself chosen to become an evil tyrant, lashing out at anyone and everyone that crossed his path. Add to all of this, the disgrace of having picked the wrong woman to bind yourself to, and there are few people today who would say that Joseph wasn't entitled to be just a smidge angry.

Instead, we are told: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was a follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly." (Matthew 1:19, emphasis mine)

The man who had every right to have Mary executed by stoning, is described as "righteous", which is a succinct way of saying he lived out YHWH's justice. How could he not want vengeance, retribution and the proverbial "pound of flesh"? I think the answer lies between the lines of what we have never been told.

Joseph must have been the living embodiment of humility. A family that was fallen from the throne to the woodshed would either be consumed with bitterness and rage or overflowing with grace and humility. There really is no third option. Joseph chose grace.

After forgiving your ancestors for ruining your present because of their unseemly past and doing it in such a way that the entire kingdom had to suffer the consequences..."sending (Mary) away secretly" was really the only option for a man who had come to terms with this pain. I call it a "humbling".

When you've lived through something, that through no fault of your own, drags you down into the quagmire of human depravity and shame, only by the grace of God, can this "humbling" wash over you and help you stand stronger and resiliently above the muck of this world.

How can I prove that Joseph had long ago forgiven his messed up ancestors? Because someone arrogant enough to believe they would never do the exact same thing if they "were in Solomon's shoes", can't possibly put away any offense quietly. Someone who fills their days accusing others for every wrong and unjust thing that has happened to them, misses the beauty of grace all around them. And someone who believes others could be below or beyond redemption or belongs in a future without the favor of God...will miss seeing the face of their Savior.

In the Old Testament, people were told they could not see the face of YHWH because it could kill them, Joseph's prize for living a humble life though was not only to see His face, but also to live the rest of his life in the Presence of the One sent to redeem us all.

Joseph taught YHWH incarnate how to walk, how to talk, the lengths a protective father would go to save his child. He taught Messiah the Torah and took Him to Jerusalem at the appointed times. He broke bread with Him daily and showed Him the living example of a righteous, humble man.

We all know that YHWH in flesh walked among us and was brought low...humbled...so that after His death, He would be exalted and raised up to sit at the right hand of His Heavenly Father. What we often neglect to remember is that this infant God, who now rightfully sits on His throne, was permitted to live because another king, who lost his own throne, didn't resent it.

**If the goal is to "Live a Life Like Jesus", then here's my homework: Who's choices am I blaming for my present situation? I need to ask YHWH for the humility to see them through grace-filled eyes. Pray for release from the bondage of blame. And pray these things in the Name of Jesus and by the power of His Blood.