The Faith of Our Mothers
Happy Mother’s Day!
As a pastor I’m aware enough to know that when I say “Happy Mother’s Day,” it will mean different things to different people. Some of you are like me and Mother’s Day brings you joy. If I can brag on my own mother for a moment, no one’s had it better than me. My mom has given the totality of her energy for my whole life to a singular goal: that her children love Christ. I thank God for her every day. I only ever knew one of my grandmothers, my mom’s mom, and all I ever remember from her was a love and witness for Christ. Even though I didn’t know my dad’s mom, all I’ve ever heard about her is that she loved and was faithful to Christ. Beyond all of that, I have the honor of watching the mother of my children, my wife Bethany, model gospel-centered motherhood daily.
But I also understand that that’s not the case with everyone in the room. Some of you had awful mothers. Some of you never knew your mother. Some had mothers that chased sin, some had mothers that abused them, and some of you may have had moms that were, or even now are, openly hostile to the gospel of Jesus. Some of you have had miscarriages, or trouble getting pregnant. We all come from broken backgrounds and a day like Mother’s Day can bring out the best and the worst of our feelings.
There are ways in which the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ is distinct from the rest of humanity. St. Matthew labors to reveal to us that he is indeed the promised king of Israel; he is the son of David and the son of Abraham. Jesus of Nazareth is the serpent-crushing son of Genesis 3.15. But there are ways in which the family history of the Lord Jesus Christ is similar to any other human who’s ever lived. Because Jesus is truly human, he comes from a human family. The lineage of Christ is filled with saints and scoundrels; it’s littered with royalty and outcasts. On this Mother’s Day 2018 our focus is on the five women that are mentioned in Matthew chapter 1 – the mothers of the faith, if you will.
The first note of worth among these five women is that they are, in fact, women. Now this is one of those instances where our familiarity with the Scripture can domesticate our reading of and reaction to the Scriptures. My guess is that when we read the text this morning you had one of two reactions to these five names. Either (1) you’re so used to them from women’s Bible studies on Ruth, Esther, and the like, that you simply view them as run-of-the-mill. Or (2) you’ve heard a preacher talk about how unique this sort of description of women was that you agree with what I’m about to say and yet you don’t feel the weight of it.
The fact that these five women are mentioned in the royal genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ is a radical statement. It is not an understatement to say that women in the ANE and in STJ were not viewed as equal to men. I mean, women didn’t even have equal voting rights with men in America until the suffrage movement. It’s not hard to imagine how women were treated in the ANE, look at the way that women are mistreated in Muslim theocracies even today. Women weren't viewed as equal to men. They didn’t have the same rights as men. Women were legally, politically, and economically oppressed, and that doesn’t even mention the psychological, physical, and sexual abuse that accompanies that sort of worldview.
It is in the midst of this sinful patriarchal system, that the Bible has always honored women. From the opening pages of the book of Genesis, the Scripture takes a very high view of women. Eve is created in the image of God, just like Adam. Not only is she an image bearer, but she is also the one through whom God perpetuates the human race. After the fall, it is not Eve, but Adam who is view as primarily responsible for sin. This does not absolve Eve of her sin, for she indeed fell short of the glory of God, but the primary issue in Genesis 3 is that Adam didn’t protect his wife from the evil one. While she is culpable, she is also a victim. She was left unprotected. When God speaks the good news to Adam and Eve, the gospel promise is given through Eve. It is through childbearing that the Christ would come. Eve is an active participant in God’s promise to redeem sinners.
We see something similar happen with Tamar, who is mentioned in verse 3, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar. Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law; she was married to his son, Er (Gen 38.6). Tamar was abused. Her husband was wicked in the sight of YHWH so YWHW put him to death (vs.7). Judah then told his other son, Onan to “perform the duty of brother-in-law” to Tamar. Remember, in the ANE women had little to no rights, so if a woman was left without a husband and a son, she was doomed to starve. “Performing the duty of brother-in-law,” meant that Onan would take care of her and try to impregnate her with a son, so that she had a future.
At this point it’s important for us to pause because we can fall into the trap of believing that because the Bible describes these practices that it also condones these practices. That is not true. God’s plan from the beginning has always been the marriage covenant between one man and one woman. Because of our sin, God has had to provide procedures like this to protect the vulnerable. And Onan doesn’t protect his sister-in-law; he abuses her. He uses her for sex and then the Bible says he would “waste his semen on the ground” (vs 9). Then Judah does the same thing. He thinks that she’s a prostitute and fornicates with her. Three months later he finds out she’s pregnant and wants to burn her for her sin. When she reveals herself to him, he responds, “she is more righteous than I” (vs 26).
I don’t think veggie tales ever did the story of Judah and Tamar. It’s ironic that her name is Tamar because the story isn’t very tame. But it is through this mistreated woman that the kingdom of Christ perpetuates. It is through her son Perez that we continue to get to King Jesus. Tamar is honored. She is called righteous. Her name is left in these eternal words. Faith of our mothers.
We see the same thing with Rahab. Rahab didn’t pretend to be a prostitute; she was a prostitute. She was a social outcast. But she hid the spies in Joshua 2 and her family was saved (Josh 6.24). The Bible reveals to us that Rahab met an Israelite named Salmon who was the great great great great grandson of Tamar. Rahab and Salmon had a son named Boaz who married a woman named Ruth. Rahab is honored and remembered for her faith; faith of our mothers.
Ruth was also an outcast. She was an idol worshipper from Moab. The Moabites were descendants from Lot’s incest with his daughter after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Israelites were commanded not to marry idol worshippers because they would lead them to worship other gods. This is what Ruth’s ancestory.com profile says. Her father-in-law left Israel in rebellion because of famine, brought his family to Moab, and married one of his sons to Ruth. After her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law died, she followed Naomi, her mother-in-law, back to Israel. She did so because she believed God’s promise. Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (Ruth 1.16-17)”
God had opened Ruth’s eyes to see the futility of her way of life and the beauty of the promise of the Christ. In Israel she met a man named Boaz and they were married. She had a son named Jesse and a grandson named David, who we know as king. Ruth was an inbred heathen to Israelite sensibilities, and yet God was pleased not only to save her, but also to make her the grandmother of Israel’s highest nobility. The faith of our mothers.
But just because King David was the highest of Israel’s nobility, doesn’t mean that he was always noble. Verse 6 goes on to say and David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah. Feel the weight of that statement. Alex is the father of Alex Jr., Jack, Haddon, Sophia, and Anastasia by his wife Bethany. David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah. Bathsheba’s name isn’t used in Matthew 1; she is identified as the wife of Uriah. This highlights the sad fact that David took that which wasn’t his. The man who was supposed to lead the nation of Israel to believe and obey thou shalt not commit adultery was an adulterer.
Yet even in the midst of David taking advantage of Bathsheba, she gives birth to Solomon, who continues the line of Christ. She is the mother of the 2nd wisest man who ever lived. She is a picture for us of God using a broken situation, a situation of manipulation and betrayal, for the redemption of his people and the glory of Christ. The faith of our mothers.
This list of kingdom women find their goal in the final woman listed in this family history - and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ (vs 16). The Holy Spirit doesn’t merely say that Joseph was the father of Jesus, but that he was also the husband of Mary. Again we need to retain ourselves to the shock of this statement. The RCC has basically deified Mary as an overreaction. Mary was not sinless. In Luke 1.46-47 Mary says, my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Only sinners need a savior. Mary was not a perpetual virgin. The Bible says that Joseph did not know Mary as his wife before Christ was born, but he did after and they had other children.
While I think the RCC is wrong in this specific dogma, I do think there is a sense in which we ought to honor Mary more than we do as Protestants. We honor Abraham, David, Peter, and Paul. Not because they’re sinless, but because God used them to accomplish tasks of redemptive significant for the kingdom. Mary is no different. She will forever be the mother of King Jesus. The faith of our mothers.
I don’t want you to mishear this sermon as an absolution of these women or all women from sin. While these women were abused, manipulated, or mistreated to one degree or another, they were all sinners who needed the grace of God that is exclusively revealed in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every name on this list – male or female – is literally signification. They are all signposts leading us to Jesus who is called the Christ. Jesus lived and died to save sinners like those on this list. He lived a sinless life appeasing the wrath of God. His sinless life stands in the place of all of our sinful lives. He was actively righteous in our place. Every good thing that these men and women did all point to the only truly good man. He also died vicariously in our place. He paid for our sins on the cross. Every bad thing that these men and women did was paid for at Calvary. But Jesus didn’t just live and die – that’s what antichrist wants you to think – he also resurrected from the dead, ushering in the kingdom that God’s people have longed for since the garden.
All five of these women had commendable faith because their faith was in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the call of the gospel this morning. Repent of your sins and believe that this is true. If you’re not a Christian, the call is to do this for the first time. If you are a Christian, the call is to continue to believe this good news. The message for this Mother’s Day is the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for sinners.
Maybe you had a godly mother, maybe you didn’t. The truth is that if you’re trusting in the gospel of Jesus, you have these five godly mothers and many more. Just as father Abraham had many sons, so do Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary have many sons and daughters. The faith of our mothers. Because their family line led to Jesus and we’ve been adopted into his family. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has become our elder brother and God has become our Father. The gospel brings you into the family of God, it’s a family reunion of a great cloud of witnesses with knees bent and tongues confessing that Jesus Christ is lord to the glory of God the Father. This is the gospel, the good news, and this is what I mean this morning when I say…
Happy Mothers Day!