The Genealogy of Jesus
Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 1:1–1:17
As you noticed on your way in, the building feels a bit different than it did last week. Thanks to all the people who Christmasfied this place. We are starting our Advent series leading up to Christmas and as you may know, ‘advent’ means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival.’ For thousands of years, God worked to prepare the world for our awaited Savior or Messiah.
One of the most compelling cases for Christianity to me as a college student was the sheer number of prophecies made about the Messiah and that they all came true. When presented with this, some people have just said, “Well, couldn’t Jesus just have known the prophecies and just made sure He did those things?” Well, maybe for a few. But the majority of the prophecies are things, humanly speaking, you can’t influence. Things like where He would be born, what He would be called, how he would die, what would happen to his body after death and, as we will see in our passage this morning, what family line He would come from.
In fact, the prophecies are so compelling when you examine them that some have come to the conclusion that these Old Testament prophecies have to have been written after Jesus lived. The problem with this, of course the Bible. We have copies pre-dating Jesus. They couldn’t have been doctored. If they had been, don’t you think we would have Jewish people pointing this out?
There are sixty major prophecies and about 260 ramifications that were fulfilled in one person. You may have heard that the statistical chances of one person fulfilling all of these is one to the 157th power. That’s a one followed by 157 zeros. One way to illustrate how small of a chance this is is to imagine filling the entire state of Texas three feet deep with silver dollars, marking one with an X, blindfolding someone and have them roam the state and pick up that very coin on the first try. It’s just statistically impossible.
So, why would God do this? Simple. So that, if we have eyes to see, we would know the Messiah when He arrived. My hope this Advent series is that we would all have eyes to see Jesus as our greatest hope and that a deeper sense of awe would be cultivated in our hearts as we grasp the lengths God has gone to to pursue each of us.
So, for the next four weeks we are going to be in the first two chapters of Matthew. Matthew is one of the disciples of Jesus, but we can easily overlook who he was before he met Jesus: a tax collector. A tax collector in those days would pay all the taxes from a province himself and then have the right to tax the people whatever, whenever and however they wanted. These were reviled people. The Jews actually had laws making it ok to lie if you were talking to a tax collector. That’s the kind of person Matthew was, until he met Jesus.
And if you look for it, you can see that Matthew’s gospel is geared towards the Jewish people from the perspective of an outcast.
Ok, so the stage is set, the crook has been converted, the years of silence are over, you finish you Old Testament and turn one page and 400 years to the right to our passage and what do you see? A genealogy. Sort of anti-climactic isn’t it? I heard one pastor say it’s about as exciting as the Hebrew phone book. I mean, if you are going to write something to grab the attention of your audience at the onset, you probably won’t start with a genealogy. Let’s be honest, how many of us just skip the genealogy all together? Who gathers the kids together on Christmas and reads the genealogy? It’s just not something we connect to...because most of us aren’t Jewish and none of us lived 2000 years ago.
This genealogy, though, would have gripped the original audience at verse one. They would have read this passage and thought, “Can it really be??” An my hope is that we would have the same reaction this morning.
So, let’s dive in and look at three things: The purpose of the genealogy, the people of the genealogy and the promise of the genealogy.
- The purpose of the genealogy
The purpose of a genealogy in the ancient near east is to confirm claims of title, property and authority.
Genealogies are especially fun to talk about right after Thanksgiving. For many, going home and gathering with family is a positive experience. For others, though, it can be a frustrating or even an embarrassing experience. I have friends who spend their Thanksgiving thinking, “How am I related to these people?” I have friends whose parents fight the whole time or always manage to find something wrong them.
For all of us, are families affect us, but they don’t define us the way they would have in ancient Israel. Their families did define them. You were John, son of ______. And you took on the baggage of your family. In ancient Israel, you couldn’t take part in the temple worship unless you could prove your Jewish ancestry. We see in Ezra chapter 2 that the returning exiles, “sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. - Ezra 2:62
They couldn’t enter the temple because they couldn’t prove their family history through an official genealogy. You couldn’t even buy property in Israel without providing your genealogy. A genealogy in those days was like a driver's license or social security card. It validated you. Many historians of this period, like Josephus, would begin their books by providing their own pedigrees. Could you imagine if Curt opened his new book with is family tree? That would be so weird to us!
It wasn’t weird to them, though. It was a non-negotiable. Herod the Great was actually so embarrassed that, as a half Jew, half Edomite, that his name was not in the official genealogies that he ordered the destruction of the whole public record so no one could claim a pedigree purer than his own.
Genealogies were a big deal 2000 years ago and none would have been more intriguing than Jesus’. It would have grabbed them at verse 1! The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. - Matthew 1:1
It would have grabbed them because it establishes legal support to Jesus’ claim as the Christ, the Messiah. Everyone knew that the Messiah had to come from certain family lines. Most importantly, that of Abraham and David. And Matthew is saying in no uncertain terms, “Jesus does.”
So, why Abraham and David? First, Abraham is one of the most important historical and religious figures in the world. Three major world religions claim him as their father. All the gospels and eleven New Testament books talk about him. You can go read more about Abraham in Genesis chapters 12-25. Abraham is a pagan guy from a pagan people and God pursues him and makes him the father of a nation.
Now, Abraham is an interesting guy. The New Testament lifts him up in many ways as a true example of faith, but he didn’t start out this way. We have twice on record that in a moment of fear, he offered his wife to other men under the guise of being his sister.
Twice! I can only imagine the conversations that happened after that.
And then in Genesis 15, God makes Abraham an unimaginable promise. "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." - Genesis 15:5
Now, there was a big problem with this statement. Abraham and his wife were old and childless. Far beyond the childbearing years. But Scripture says that Abraham believed and that’s all it took. His morality was questionable at the very least, but he believed that God would do what he said He would do. Then, God made a covenant with Abraham in chapter 22 upping the ante. God says, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, (and here it is) 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." - Genesis 22:17-18
There would be an offspring one day who would bless all the nations of the earth. That offspring would come through Abraham, through Isaac and through Jacob. He would be of the tribe of Judah. All of which Matthew is confirming in the first two verses!
Something else big had to happen though. The King had to also descend from the line of David. This is made clear in a number of places, but my favorite is in Isaiah chapter 9. And by the way, if you have friends who value the Bible, but don’t believe in the deity of Jesus (like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons), this is very helpful verse to know. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of DAVID and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. - Isaiah 9:6-7
Now, this alone doesn’t qualify Jesus, but it is a big deal. This would have been THE very first thing people would have wanted to see when a Messianic claim is made.
The Purpose of a genealogy in the ancient near east is to confirm legal claims of title, property and authority. And this is exactly what Matthew is doing. But, it’s not all that he’s doing. And to see that, we need to look at the people of the genealogy.
- People of the genealogy
If you were an ancient near east Jew, something would have jumped out at you upon even a cursory reading of this text. There are women in this list! All family lines passed through the men. Women would never be included in a genealogy unless there was a very specific reason. And we are not talking about morally exceptional women either. These are not women you would expect to find in the lineage of the King of Kings. All of them were outcasts. If you left Thanksgiving feeling down about your family, get ready to feel a bit better.
And, if you are here today and you’re not a Christian and specifically, if you have trouble trusting in the reliability of the Bible. I want to say that of the most convincing aspects of the Bible to me is that it doesn’t whitewash things. If this were a purely man made document, there are so many places we would have edited and this genealogy is one of them. If a group of men got together and had to create the perfect genealogy for Jesus, it would not have included these women. But God operates differently than men. So, here is our family baggage.
The first woman in the list is Tamar. and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar.. - Matthew 1:3a . Do you remember the story of Tamar? It’s in Genesis 38 if you want to read it all, but it’s a sordid story of incest, prostitution and deception. Tamar was Judah’s daughter in law. Her husband died and the law dictated that the brother of the husband take her on as a wife. That might sound weird to us, but it was a way of taking care of widows back then. The brother decided he would accept the benefits of this arrangement, but not the responsibility of being a father and God struck him dead.
So, Tamar, being frustrated at being childless and unwilling to wait on the Lord’s timing for the right husband, decided to act like a prostitute to get her father-in-law to impregnate her. Yes, I promise you this is all in the Bible. Genesis 38. Twins were born and Perez, who was first, carried on the Messianic line.
I once met a girl and she introduced herself to be as Tamar. I think she could tell I had a funny look on my face so she added, “You know, it’s from the Bible.” I said, “Yes, I know.” And I was thinking, “I don’t think your parents actually read that story.”
At this point, some of you are waiting for that really redeeming part of Tamar’s life. It’s not there. Not until you get to this genealogy in Matthew. So, why would Matthew do this? Remember, Matthew is an outcast who has experienced extreme grace. The only possible reason for him to include this example of incest, harlotry and deception is to put on display to the religious self-righteous of the day that our God is a God of grace.
So, that’s Tamar. Now Rahab. My very first sermon was on Rahab. It has since been wiped from the internet:) Hebrews records Rahab and “Rahab the harlot.” The actual name ‘Rahab’ means, ‘pride,’ ‘insolence,’ ‘savagery.’ Rahab was a Canaanite, a mortal enemy of God’s people. Joshua 2 introduces us to her as an idolatrous, outcast, gentile woman and a prostitute. Her most redeeming quality was telling a lie.
After forty years of wondering in the wilderness, the Israelites were finally preparing to enter the Promised Land. Joshua sent out spies to scout out the city of Jericho and they happened upon Rahab, who hid in her home. When city officials came looking for them, Rahab lied to protect them.
Rahab, believing that the Israelites would destroy Jericho and everyone in it, she bargained with the spies to save her family and they did. Rahab abandoned the gods of the Canaanites for Yahweh and she became not only a true convert to the true God, but also a part of the messianic line. She was the great, great grandmother of King David.
Why would Matthew include Rahab? I think to show that this Grace is available to even the lowest in society.
Thirdly, we have Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite. The entire Moabite race was a product of incest! We see this lovely story in Genesis 19 when Lot was living in a cave with his two daughters after the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had been decimated. The daughters were fearful that there would be no one to marry them and give them children so they came up with a scheme to get their father drunk and to get him to fix their problems. Genesis 19: 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37
The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name
Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. - Genesis 19:36-38
So, Ruth was from a tribe of people who were the product of incest. Their very existence disgusted the Jewish people. They actually had laws concerning them. Deuteronomy 23:3 says, "No Ammonite (that was the line from the son of the other sister) or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever, - Deuteronomy 23:3
Ruth became the wife of Boaz. Like Rahab, she was converted to the true God and where she came from no longer mattered. She was the great grandmother of King David. And with Ruth, Matthew is proclaiming as boldly as he can that the Kingdom of God is for all types of people. Those from ethnicities that are prized in a culture and those from ethnicities that aren’t.
Lastly, there is Bathsheba. Matthew doesn’t actually name her. Did you notice what he wrote? And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah. It’s like he’s trying to point a neon sign at the immorality of the situation. He could have said, “David was the father of Solomon” or maybe even “David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba,” but he doesn’t. He says David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah. Imagine if you heard someone say, “Did you hear John got Dave’s wife pregnant?” However that hits you is how Matthew wants this to hit you.
Most of you remember that David was at home when he should have been fighting with his soldiers and watched Bathsheba bathing herself. Scripture says he lusted after her and had his servants bring her to him. She was soon pregnant and King David didn’t want to get caught so he had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, brought back from the front lines hoping Uriah would think he was the father. Uriah refused to cooperate while his men were still fighting. David even tried to get Uriah drunk, but he still wouldn’t cooperate.
So, David decided to make the jump from adulterer to murderer, He had Uriah put on the front line and told the commanding officer to have the line fall back, but not to inform Uriah. Uriah was left by himself and killed. David then married Bathsheba and their baby died.
David was eventually confronted about his sin and he repented and later he and Bathsheba had another child named Solomon, the next link in the Messianic chain. And in phrasing this verse the way he does, Matthew is communicating a lot. Not least of which is that it doesn’t matter how messed up of family of origin you have, God in Jesus Christ is creating a new family for all who believe in Him.
This genealogy in places reads like an episode of Maury Povich. You have four women, two of whom are harlots, a once cursed Moabite and an adulteress. Then you add Jeconiah and all the evil kings of Judah after him and it starts to look like Jesus’ line is full of sinners!...And that’s the point!
Remember that Matthew is writing his gospel for a Jewish audience. During the period of time between the testaments, so, in our English Bibles, between the books of Malachi and Matthew, there were 400 years of silence. 400 years when God was not speaking to His people and during this time, the religious leaders began to put their hope in their own obedience to God’s laws. They created law upon law to make them feel like they could achieve righteousness. They grew increasingly legalistic and judgmental to other races and cultures. How do you think they would have reacted to this genealogy? The very thing that stands in between them and their long awaited Savior is their self-righteousness and Matthew is throwing it in their face.
So, you see why I say that the people in the genealogy add to it’s historical reliability. If men were wanting to convince the rulers of the day of Jesus’ rightful claim as Messiah, this is not the genealogy they would have put together. Matthew does this because the people in the genealogy are not on display, the Grace of God is.
These women are not in the lineage because of their worthiness, but because of their unworthiness. This is why, nine chapters later, Matthew says, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." - Matthew 9:13
Matthew’s genealogy isn't just showing us that Jesus is King, but what kind of a King He is. He is a King who will accept, protect and love regardless of morality, ethnicity or success. All He requires is repentance. He simply wants us to say, “You are King and I am not.”
Have you said that? Our main problem is that we want to be the kings and queens of our lives. We want to dictate the terms of this life and as long as we do, we are no better than the Pharisees Matthew is writing to. And even as Christians, it is so easy to slip back into this mode where we want to be in charge. But there is no greater feeling than trusting that there is Someone infinitely more qualified to run our lives and allowing Him to do that.
That is the purpose and the people of the genealogy. Lastly, the promise.
III. The promise of the genealogy
Very simply, the promise of the genealogy is that God will do what He says He will do. Look at all the evil kings of Judah in this genealogy. How bleak did the future of Israel look at times? Yet, God made a promise to Moses, Abraham, David and Jeremiah that He will redeem this world and He will do it through a Savior and that Savior is Jesus.
If you were a 1st century Jew, you were very familiar with what we now call the Old Testament. And the Jewish ordering of those books is different than the way we order them. The substance is the same, but the order is different and Matthew new this. The Jewish sacred books ended with what we would call 1 and 2 Chronicles. Do you know how 1 Chronicles begins? With a genealogy. A genealogy that stirs in your soul the question, is he here yet? And that genealogy ends by saying no. And do you know how Chronicles ends? With a question. It’s a declaration from King Cyrus to the people of Israel who are still a mess. Who will save us from our sin? From our mess? And the answer: Judah. Send the tribe of Judah.
And how does the New Testament begin? With a genealogy. A genealogy that finishes what Chronicles couldn’t. The tribe of Judah has given us a truer warrior, A more perfect prophet, a sympathetic priest and an eternal king. Jesus.
Jesus came once to initiate the redemption of the world and He will come back to finalize the redemption of the world. So, if we are a Christian in this room this morning, our struggle may not be to believe that God will provide a Savior in Jesus Christ, our struggle is more likely to believe in our hearts that He will come back and create a new heaven and a new earth and that we shall reign forever with Him. The Israelites wandered in darkness waiting for His first coming and we wander in darkness waiting for His second coming. But this genealogy is one more way God is telling all of us that He will do what He says He will do.
Paul, writing about Abraham says exactly this - [Abraham was] 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." 23 But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, - Romans 4:21-23
It was written for ours as well.
The Christian hope is that He is coming back and we shall be with Him. That is why we come together on Sundays. And that is why we celebrate Christmas. We live in between the advents. In between the arrivals. But to enjoy the second arrival, we need to believe in the first.
This Christmas season, if you feel like your family is all messed up, so was Jesus’. If you feel misunderstood and or unloved, so did Jesus. At the foundation of the Christian message is the truth that Jesus came in His first arrival in a way that made Him fully able to sympathize with all of us, yet perfect and sinless in every way.
This is what Matthew, a reviled, yet redeemed tax collector, is wanting to put on display in this genealogy. Christ didn’t come for the righteous, but for the unrighteousness. He didn’t come for the healthy, He came for the sick. Our hope in the Christmas season is that our hearts and minds would be reoriented.