At Christmas time a veteran confided in me that he had done things for which he could never be forgiven. Was it something he had done in the context of war? As a veteran? As a teenager? Troubled by his conscience, he moved around, unable to hold a job, establish a family or live a normal life.
He is not alone. Counselors at a mental health center told me the number one issue their clients struggle with is guilt, shame and regret over things they did wrong which no amount of restitution, apologies or even time in prison can ever make right.
Strangely enough, on the branches of Jesus’ family tree hang answers to the questions “Can God ever forgive me for what I have done? Can I ever be free from my own terrible guilt?
If so, how?”
You might expect Jesus to come from a long line of godly ancestors. The genealogy that Matthew lists at the beginning of the Christmas story reveals something different.
There are a few godly ancestors on Jesus’ family tree, and the Bible commends some of them as models of the faith. Their biographies reveal that even the best were deeply flawed. King David loved God and had an extremely close relationship with Him. Yet in a time of weakness, David committed adultery with a married woman, arranged for her husband to be killed in battle and married her to cover his infidelity when she became pregnant. God was outraged and David was miserable, plagued with guilt (Psalm 32). What changed everything is when David made a heartfelt confession to God (Psalm 51). God forgave him, once David acknowledged his sin and asked for forgiveness. David never ceased to praise God for His mercy.
Jesus had ancestors no one would want to admit having. Manasseh was chief among them, and I have always regretted not telling that veteran about him. Manasseh’s biography (see 2 Kings 21:1-18 and 2 Chronicles 33:1-20) begins with the words, “Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Manasseh worshiped other gods, worshiped the stars, sacrificed his sons in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, consulted mediums and spiritists—all sins the Lord detests. “Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood, that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused [the nation of] Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord”
(2 Kings 21:16, NIV). If ever there was a person God could not forgive, it would have to be Manasseh.
Manasseh’s deeds were so evil that God brought disaster on him, and rightly so. The King of Assyria took Manasseh (who was also a king) prisoner, “put a hook in his nose, bound him with a bronze shackle and took him to Babylon”
(2 Chronicles 33:11, NIV). We might think the story would end, there. Instead, it takes a dramatic turn. Manasseh sought God’s forgiveness. “In his distress [Manasseh] sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (v.12, NIV).
Astonishingly, God, not only forgave Manasseh, He gave him another chance to turn his life around. “When [Manasseh] prayed to Him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so He brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God” (v.13, NIV). Manasseh spent the rest of his life trying to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord to make up for all the evil he had done (vs.14-20).
Individuals are not the only ones in Jesus’ genealogy who demonstrate humanity’s need for a Savior and for the salvation that comes only through the forgiveness of sins. Matthew arranged his genealogy around the exile of the Israelites from their land. The entire nation had become so persistently sinful that God brought judgment on them all. God abandoned His people because they had abandoned Him (Matthew 1:11-2, Micah 5:3). Yet God did not abandon His plan and His promise to send a Savior, Jesus Christ, whose very name means salvation.
Why does Matthew remind us of David’s sins by cryptically mentioning the woman with whom David committed adultery, and her husband Uriah, whom David arranged to have killed (Matt. 1:6; 2 Sam.11:1-27)? Why does Matthew include Manasseh in his genealogy of Jesus, when he could have excluded him? Why highlight such a shameful time in Israel’s history when the entire nation angered God so greatly?
Could it be for the sake of all who wonder whether God can forgive their sins? What God asks of us is what He expected of David and Manasseh: That we be truly sorry for the things we have done wrong. That we humbly acknowledge our wrongs before God and seek His forgiveness and His mercy. That we receive by faith the Savior, Jesus, who died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. That we commit, with God’s help, to spend the rest of our lives striving to do what is right in God’s eyes and all that we can to further His kingdom.
The genealogy of Jesus foretells the story of the Savior none of us deserve but all of us desperately need.
May you find forgiveness in Him.
Nancy Overgaard of Albert Lee, MN, holds a Doctor of Ministry from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.