Christmas 2018 A Surprising Family Tree
Matthew 1: 1 - 17
The names in this passage make up Jesus’ family tree. Actually, we could say that this is the very first “Christmas Tree.” As we jump into Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew that contains close to 50 names, we’re going see a surprisingly dysfunctional family tree. You would think Matthew would begin the exciting news of Immanuel’s birth with more of a bang.
There is great benefit in studying every part of the Bible. 2 Timothy 3: 16 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
The Genius of Genealogies
1. Greek word “genesis,” which means beginning or origin.
2. Genealogies substantiate historical accuracy. The Bible doesn’t begin with, “once upon a time.” Our faith is rooted in history, not in myth or legend.
3. Genealogies were records of family history - memorized because ancient people did not have access to written records.
4. The Bible contains numerous lineage lists. Genesis - 9 different genealogies; 1 Chronicles - 17 chapters of family trees; Ezra and Nehemiah record the names of people 9 different times. 51 chapters in the Bible contain genealogies.
5. Not all genealogical lists are complete. Matthew condenses the lists into 3 main sections of 14 generations.
6. Genealogies were used to prove one’s identity as a Jew - to decide inheritance rights, to make land allotments and to organize censuses. Luke 2:3: “everyone went to his own town to register.” Joseph traced his heritage from David and his family was from Bethlehem, the city of David.
7. Priests were determined by genealogy. They had to be from the tribe of Levi and the house of Aaron.
8. The credentials of the Messiah are linked to King David’s lineage. Jesus is the fulfillment of OT prophecies and promises.
Having said all that, this genealogy is not typical. Most biblical lists focus only on men; this one highlights 5 women. Typically, they contain only Jewish names; this one has Gentiles in it as well.
That leads us to Matthew 1: 1 - Matthew makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the main character in his gospel.
• His name is Jesus. Yeshua means “Yahweh is salvation!” Matthew 1: 21: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
• His title is Christ. Not Jesus’ last name but means that He is the “anointed one,” the one qualified for the task of saving sinners.
• He is the Son of David. Interestingly, David is listed before Abraham, even though Abraham came first in history. David’s name is mentioned 5 times because Matthew is establishing that first and foremost, Jesus Christ is a direct descendant of David and therefore qualified to be the eternal king. Every king has to have a royal lineage. 2 Samuel 7: 16: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”
• He is the Son of Abraham. Jesus was Jewish. Galatians 3:16 “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.”
Jesus is connected to the 2 great covenants in the Bible – the Abrahamic and the Davidic. Abraham places Him in the nation, and the line of David puts Him on the throne. Matthew emphasises that Jesus is the son of David and the son of Abraham.
Who God Uses
Look at this family tree, there are 3 types of people hanging from the branches – the faithful, the failures, and the forgotten.
1. God Uses the Faithful - at least 10 names stand out -
• Abraham - Hebrews 11: 17 “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.”
• Isaac - Hebrews 11: 20 “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.”
• Jacob - Hebrews 11: 21 “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.”
• Ruth - Ruth 1: 16 “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
• David - 1 Samuel 13: 14 “The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart…”
• Solomon - 1 Kings 3: 12 “Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.”
• Asa - 1 Kings 15: 11 “And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as David his father had done.”
• Jehoshaphat - 2 Chronicles 17: 3 “The LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David.”
• Josiah - 2 Kings 23: 25 “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.”
• Hezekiah - 2 Kings 18: 5 “Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel.”
God has always searched for devoted people to do His work - 2 Chronicles 16: 9 “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.”
God loves to use faithful people but if you look close enough, you will see that none of these individuals were perfect. In fact, some were greatly flawed. Abraham lied, Jacob was a deceiver, David committed adultery and murder, Solomon slacked off spiritually, Asa bailed on God at the end of his life and even Hezekiah became proud and was judged by God.
Here’s the lesson: Even the “good” need God’s grace. Actually, the Bible declares that no one is good or fully faithful. Romans 3: 12 “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
2. God Uses the Failures – Matthew makes no effort to spruce up this tree. He’s not hiding the sorry spots or the twisted twigs. There are names in the lineage of the Lord that are shocking, and what some of them did can make us blush. We don’t have time to go through all the bad apples, so I’ll pick just a few.
• Judah. Jacob had 12 sons, but for some reason, the lineage of the Lord ran through Judah, the 4th son. This is very interesting because he wasn’t the oldest like Reuben was, nor was he necessarily the favourite – that would have been Joseph or Benjamin. Genesis 49: 10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
This is traced all the way to the end of the Bible - Revelation 5: 5 “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” At the climax of history, Judah’s offspring is the only one that was found worthy.
Judah must have been a godly guy, right? His first step down the slippery slope of sin happened when he married a Canaanite woman. Their children become spiritually schizophrenic and the older one was so wicked that the Lord took his life. This son was married to a woman named Tamar, leaving her a widow and without children. The story goes from bad to worse at this point. Tamar becomes pregnant with twins and when Judah finds out about her immorality, he is ready to burn her in the fire because of the disgrace she has caused his family. As she was dragged away to be killed, and the flames crackled in the background, she calmly identified the father of the twins by holding up Judah’s personal property. Judah is humiliated.
The genealogy of Jesus not only goes through Judah and Tamar, but also travels through Perez, the child of incest. Listen. Through the broken, God breaks through! Through the twisted twig of Tamar, God’s upside down grace continues to grow.
• Rahab. Rahab was the prostitute, who provided protection to the Hebrew spies in Jericho. She is mentioned 8 times in Scripture, and in 6 of those times, she’s referred to as “Rahab the prostitute.” Because of her faith, she is listed in Hebrews 11. Amazingly the Redeemer comes through Rahab as well.
• Bathsheba. She is not mentioned by name - “the wife of Uriah.”She is the woman David committed adultery with. The son of their illicit union dies. Eventually David marries Bathsheba and they have another son named Solomon. The family tree of Jesus has Bathsheba as one of its branches.
• Rehoboam. This king, was the son of Solomon, who because of his love of pride and lust for power was responsible for the dividing of the kingdom. Yet, the Redeemer comes through Rehoboam.
• Ahaz. Ahaz worshipped pagan gods and eventually self-destructed. It was to King Ahaz that Isaiah initially made his prophecy of the promised Immanuel that would be born to a virgin. When he died he was buried without honor. Immanuel traces his earthly origin back to Ahaz.
• Manasseh. This king reigned 55 years, but was Judah’s most wicked ruler. He was an idol-worshipper, sacrificed his own son to the pagan god Molech, worshipped the sun and stars and killed anyone who disagreed with him. Thankfully, after being deported to Babylon, he humbled himself and returned to the Lord. Manasseh is an ancestor of the Messiah.
The Saviour of the world came from people that most of us would want nothing to do with. These individuals, who we could call failures, are in this upside down family tree, not for what they have in common with Christ, but for what they share in common with each of us. We are like them in so many ways…but isn’t that why Christ came? Jesus can take our failures and turn them into something fruitful.
3. God Uses the Forgotten - God uses faithful people with flaws, He uses those who feel like failures and He never forgets those who fear that they are forgotten. Look again at this list. There are some names here that we know nothing about.
Have you ever heard of Hezron or Ram? We don’t know if they were saints or scoundrels. Azor, Akim, Zadok? Good choices for baby names, right? They might not make the headlines but they are known in heaven. Do you feel forgotten today? Do you wonder if God even notices you? Don’t despair. You are never out of His mind. The lion of the tribe of Judah is about deliverance, not condemnation. He takes what feeble faith we have, coupled with our failures and redeems them for his glory, and in the process, never forgets us.
Lessons From the Tree
1. History is “His Story.” The hero of this story is God himself. Everything that has happened in the past, what takes place today, and what is yet to come, is part of His glorious and grand plan. In the family tree of the Lord, we see the Lord weaving His ways through the faithful, the failures, and the forgotten, in order to accomplish His purpose of bringing salvation to the world through the son of David.
2. Get in His tree today. None of us can appear in the blood-line that stretches back from Jesus through David to Abraham, but the good news is that the bloodline flows the other way too. No matter if you’ve been fairly faithful, or find yourself a failure, or feel forgotten, there’s a place for you in God’s tree today. You can join the family of faith by receiving the gift of forgiveness. John 1: 12 “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Every time we look at a Christmas tree, let’s remember that Christ died to make us free!
3. The glory of this genealogy is the grace of God. Jesus came not to redeem those who think they’re righteous, but to save those who know they are sinners. Maybe the reason Matthew includes this genealogy is because as a former tax collector, he knows what it’s like to be an outcast. The glory of God’s grace extends to the faithful, the failures, and the forgotten because grace glows through the branches and twigs of this Christmas tree. Through Jesus, the prostitute and the priest sit together with kings and commoners as equals.
Do you see how Matthew is careful to establish the virgin birth of Jesus right at the beginning of his gospel? Joseph is the husband of Mary, but not the natural father of Jesus. Jesus is no ordinary man. He is Saviour and Christ and Son of David and Son of Abraham…but He is also God incarnate. He can identify with us because He is one of us but He is not identical to us because He is separate from us.