Hope Hangs on One Branch
When I was 6 years old, our family moved to a new house. I remember the excitement of visiting the home-site as it neared completion. But it was landscaping day that made waiting nearly impossible.
(Photo by Jennifer Grace)
The landscape architect planted a magnolia tree in front of the house, and a fig tree beside it.
I immediately pictured the majestic magnolias at my maternal grandmother's house, and the abnormally large fig tree at my paternal grandmother's house. I could not WAIT to climb these two new trees in my very own yard. Childhood hopes and dreams had blossomed, and the new heavens and new earth had arrived for my 6 year old self.
There were two small problems: my underdeveloped sense of time and ignorance of basic botany. My expectation was for both of these trees to rapidly grow and bloom. "Surely it wouldn't take THAT long."
It did take that long. When I left for college, both trees remained pathetically small. My hopes for these family trees were crushed under the weight of comparison to other trees. They never measured up.
Is this how the people of Israel felt about their own family tree? God's promises to Abraham and David held out hope to an entire family, people, and nation. Yet for years and years: nothing. Exile. Pain. Suffering. Personal and corporate failure.
Yet, the New Testament begins with Matthew's rallying cry to the people of Israel. The Messiah they had longed for, the fruit of their family tree, had arrived in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He was the son of Abraham. He was the son of David. He was the shoot of Jesse (Isaiah 11). The tree finally bore fruit.
The promise had arrived, and Matthew chose to communicate it first through...
Admittedly, genealogies are not fun to read. And they are not often preached. But the genealogy of Jesus is the story of how the Holy Spirit transformed a family tree by sending a child. One branch changed the entire tree. And we rest our hopes on that same Branch.
In the first chapter of Matthew, we are shown Jesus' family tree. It is majestic and beautiful. But once we move closer, this tree's warts and thorns are impossible to ignore.
Abraham began as a pagan, and proved himself a coward when he lied about his wife. We are reminded of the awful Tamar situation. Rahab - a gentile woman without a godly reputation - is included. And then there is the family's namesake, David, who became a murderer and adulterer, yet he remained a man after God's own heart.
The thorns of this family tree remind us that God became flesh. Christ entered a real family. The story of redemption shows us that God chooses and uses broken, sinful people. In Jesus' genealogy, we see redemption at work in the lives of real people.
How many genealogy projects have stopped short as the family tree proved shameful? I once heard a pastor ask, "If you could hand pick your own family, would you choose a family like this?" God chose a family like this.
Our hope is not in sentimental platitudes that say, "God can use your imperfect family! He has a wonderful plan for your life! Just follow these 3 easy steps to healthier family relationships."
He does have a wonderful plan. But that plan is accomplished in the form of a Person. Our hope comes in the form of a child. Redemption is accomplished when the Holy Spirit engrafts Himself into this family tree and the Messiah is born.
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit" (1:18).
We must not forget this part of the genealogy. God's promise through Isaiah was for a Messiah (11:1) upon whom the Holy Spirit Himself rested with the result of fruit (11:2-6). By the Spirit, thorns become fruit and a barren land becomes a fruitful field (Isaiah 32:15).
Is there hope for your family? Are your kids too far gone? Is your relationship with your parents beyond repair? Is there no redeeming value in your family tree?
Christian, your only hope hangs on One Branch. The Gospel gives you hope that now, in Christ, you have been engrafted into a better family. The Covenant that was given to Abraham and his family is for you by faith, through grace. What does this mean for your family?
1) If you are in Christ, there is no question: the Spirit has changed your family tree
Horrible things happened within my family a few generations ago. By the grace of God we are what we are. Not having arrived at some blissful state of family harmony (far, far from it), but experiencing healing by the grace of God in the truth of the Gospel.
Our identities are not bound up in what has been done to or by our family. Those thorns were driven onto the Head of our family in the form of a crown. He bore our grief and endured our shame that we might stand in a fruitful field. (Isaiah 53:4-6, Hebrews 12:2, Isaiah 32:15).
The Spirit, by entering Jesus' family, changed the very ground in which we are planted, the fabric of reality. This is how He changes our family tree. The work of the Spirit is not done as He works in and through our families to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our hearts (Gal. 5:16-26). The reconciliation we have found with God the Father through Christ results in the possibility of reconciliation with each other (Eph. 2).
2) For those with family struggles, remember that you have an eternal family
This is true whether you are married, single, divorced, widowed, childless - regardless. For Christians, we know that often water IS thicker than blood: the covenant community (signified in baptism) runs deeper than the blood of family. The unity we have as the Church binds us tighter than family bonds (Matt. 10:35). This does NOT mean we abandon our biological families in favor of the church. In fact, it means we run TOWARDS family, secure in our standing as children of God.
I pray that our churches become places of refuge for those without biological families and those with broken families (a.k.a. all of us), as we all bow our knees before the Father, from whom every family on heaven and and on earth is named" (Eph. 3:14-15).
Today, I go back to my childhood home and see what I was too impatient to see back then. The trees are growing. They are even bearing fruit.
So it is with the people of God. God used a dysfunctional family to grow new life in his creation by sending His Spirit. That same Spirit bears fruit in the hearts and lives of believers as the Holy Spirit works to grow us into His own family tree.