We’re going to spend the next several weeks studying the birth of Jesus. Of the four gospels, only Matthew and Luke give us specific historical information about his birth, so we’ll be looking at their accounts. You might want to read ahead in Matt. 1,2 and Luke 1,2.
Let’s begin with Matthew’s account, which begins with Jesus’ family tree (read 1:1-17).
By the way, Matthew is not claiming that there were only 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus. The Old Testament records from which he is quoting contain more generations. Rather, he is selecting 14 generations to separate the three major sections of Jesus’ ancestry.
Why is Jesus’ genealogy so important? Was Matthew a “family history buff” like some people today? I have interest in my own family history—but not much in other people’s, and I don’t expect people to be much interested in mine. Why does Matthew expect us to be interested in Jesus’ family tree? There are two answers to this question—one more obvious than the other. Let’s start with the more obvious one . . .
Verse 1 is a tip-off. Matthew wants to show specifically that Jesus is the descendant of David and of Abraham. The point of this is far greater than just that Jesus has a couple of celebrities in his family tree. It is to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of tremendous promises that God made to Abraham and David—promises that are profoundly important for the whole world, and for you and me personally.
Over 2100 years before Jesus was born, God made a tremendous, multi-faceted promise to Abraham that was the heart of God’s plan to rescue humanity. Read Gen. 12:1-3. This is a virtual table of contents for the rest of the Old Testament.
God would bless Abraham by multiplying his descendants into a great nation (Israel), and by providing this nation with its own land (Canaan). The first part of the Old Testament narrates the fulfillment of the “nation” and “land” portions of this promise (Genesis – Joshua).
But God’s blessing on Abraham and his descendents was not to be an end in itself. He was blessing them so that they could be a blessing to others. In fact, through Abraham’s descendants God would one day extend a tremendous blessing to all of the “families” (ethnic groups) in the world.
God makes clear through Abraham’s grandson Jacob (1800 BC) that a king will arise from the tribe of Jacob’s son Judah who will bring the blessing of God’s good rulership to all the nations (read Gen. 49:10).
About 1100 years after Abraham, God fired the king that Israel wanted and gave them the king he wanted. They wanted a king like Saul, who was tall and good-looking—but who didn’t trust God or advance his purposes. God chose a young man from the tribe of Judah—David—who trusted God and lived for his priorities. When David became king, he decided to express his devotion to God by building a temple for him. But God sent the prophet to tell David he had a different plan—a plan to bless David beyond his wildest dreams. Here’s what God told David . . .
Read 2 Sam. 7:12-17. When David dies, God will establish his son Solomon as king and allow him to build the Temple. Even though Solomon will be subject to God’s discipline when he sins, God will not fire him like he did Saul. In fact, God will establish the throne of David forever. This can only mean that one of David and Solomon’s descendants will be the everlasting King who ushers in God’s eternal kingdom. This is the Messiah!
Read 2 Sam. 7:18,19. David understands that this promise pertains to the distant future and that it is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham to bless all nations.
After David, the Old Testament prophets began to elaborate on this “Son of David” and on the blessing he would bring. The greatest of these prophets was Isaiah (700 BC), and he gave this amazing picture of the world-wide blessing to be brought by David’s descendant (read Isa. 11:1-10).
They supplied many additional details (e.g., BIRTHPLACE; UNIQUE CONCEPTION; TIME; REJECTION BY ISRAEL; EXECUTION BY CRUCIFIXION; DEATH AS ATONEMENT FOR ALL NATIONS), some of which we will be studying over the next few weeks . . .
God’s promise to David resulted in a line of kings that lasted until Judah was carried away into exile by Babylon around 600 BC. God’s plan seemed to go into eclipse at that point: the land was conquered, the nation was carried away into exile, and the line of kings was deposed. But God’s faithfulness to his promise was not eclipsed. He brought them back from exile into the land 70 years later, he kept track of David’s descendants over the next 500 years, and he brought forth his promised Son at the right time.
This is why the New Testament begins with this genealogy—to demonstrate the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament and to announce the fulfillment of God’s promises. God went to all this trouble so that we could know that Jesus is God’s unique Messiah!
Some people say they feel like God is playing hide and seek with them. But God says it is often us who hides from him while he seeks us out in many ways—including what we just studied. Some say that all world religions are equally valid. But while there is much that is true and beautiful about many of the world’s religions, none has anything like what we just studied. Jesus doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere (like all of the other founders); he alone is predicted in detail and arrives in perfect fulfillment of God’s previously announced plan—a plan that was written down and preserved, so that even today, 3,000-4,000 years later, we can read it and verify its fulfillment.
God doesn’t want you to have to wonder what he is really like—he wants you to know. God doesn’t want you to be confused about what kind of salvation you need—he wants you to know. God doesn’t want to be confused about how to get to him—he wants you to know!
But there is something very strange about this genealogy. Not that it was selective (normal in biblical genealogies), but who Matthew chose to include. When assembling their family trees, Jews would normally feature their best ancestors. But in assembling Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew deliberately includes people that would normally be excluded—outcasts and big-time sinners!
Specifically, he includes four women—all four of whom were Gentiles and had a cloud of suspicion (valid or invalid) surrounding their sexual behavior.
Tamar was the Canaanite widow of Er, who disguised herself as a prostitute and solicited her father-in-law Judah and bore a child by him. Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute. Ruth was the Moabite widow of Mahlon whom Boaz marries. Bathsheba was a Hittite who committed adultery with David and bore Solomon—the one predicted in 2 Sam. 7 above.
Many rabbis of Matthew’s day taught that Gentiles and sexual sinners were ineligible for God’s kingdom. They taught Jewish men to thank God daily that they weren’t born women or Gentiles—but Matthew points out that these very people were the ancestors of the Messiah!
Even the “heroes” of this genealogy have serious moral failures. Abraham twice lied about being married to Sarah and exposed her to violation to save his own skin. Jacob lied and manipulated to steal his brother’s birthright. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband murdered to cover his tracks. Solomon lost his spiritual moorings for many years because of his sexual compromise and materialism—yet he returned to God late in life to write the most powerful testimonial on the emptiness of life without God (Ecclesiastes).
Why did Matthew include these seedy people? Certainly not for popularity! What’s the point?
He did it because (like all the biblical authors) the Bible is utterly realistic about human nature. Yes, humanity is great in many ways—but humanity is also deeply fallen and broken and sinful. No one is exempt from this—not even the greatest humans, not even those who had great faith in the one true God. And instead of hiding this fact and whitewashing its heroes (as other religions and nations and “Christian” biographies do), the Bible is utterly honest about this. God works out his rescue plan through broken people. There is only one Character in the Bible who stands out in stark contrast to all of this seediness . . .
The good news of the Bible is not how good and great people are, but how gracious and merciful God is in spite of our sin and rebellion and depravity. Humanity needs much more than a role model—it needs a Savior. Jesus came from such people because he came for such people.
That’s why when he was born, God ordained that he be named “Jesus” (“God saves”)—because he would save his people from their sins (1:21). Sin is a real barrier between you and God. It doesn’t matter that the majority of Americans don’t believe in absolute morality or divine judgment. To violate the laws of the one true God is to commit cosmic treason that is rightfully punished by death. A loving God does not say “Whatever—it’s no big deal.” He says “I hate your sin so much that I will judge it. But I love you so much that I sent my Son Jesus to take your judgment for you by dying in your place.” And since this was his mission, what could be more fitting than to begin his story by pointing out that his ancestry was filled with people like this?
The question, then, is not: Is Jesus the unique Savior? or: Can Jesus save big-time sinners? but: Are you willing to admit to Jesus that you are one of these people? Jesus didn’t come to congratulate the religious and self-righteous people; he came to forgive and transform broken, sinful people who called out for his help. Matthew was an outcast, big-time sinner—and admitted it—and had his life completely transformed by Jesus! How fitting that he begin his gospel in this way!
Jesus said to another outcast tax-gatherer, “the Son of Man came to seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:11). Are you lost? Or do you claim that you know where you’re going?
Jesus also said to the religious leaders, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Are you a sick sinner? Or do you claim that you are healthy and righteous?
If you view yourself as a good, righteous person, Jesus will be of no benefit to you. But if you will admit to him that you are such a person—and cast yourself onto Jesus as your personal Savior—he will come into your heart and enable to you to experience God’s forgiveness and begin to gradually transform your life. What is your decision? Would you like to tell Jesus right now?
Copyright 2003 Gary DeLashmutt