Two Reasons Jesus’ Genealogies are Worth Reading
When my family opens the Bible to read the Christmas story on Christmas morning, tradition and habit influence which passages to read. Most often we start in Luke 1:26, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin…” A brief argument can arise about where to end. For some, their favorite part is Anna and Simeon in the temple, taking us up to Luke 2:38. Others (read: children) prefer to end earlier to get on to the presents (of course). Sometimes we read the prologue in John. Other times we read from Philippians 2:5-11 and prophesies from the Old Testament. When we read from Matthew, we start in Matthew chapter 1, verse 18, “Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way.”
Yet, there are passages giving light to Jesus’ birth we often leave out or skim over quickly. One of those is the place Matthew actually starts the story of Jesus…at the very beginning.
The Christmas Story Starts with a Genealogy
When we open our bibles to the first book of the New Testament, we arrive at a list of names. Growing up in youth group, we made fun of genealogies. We always skipped them in the Bible reading time or made up funny ways to say the names. Even today I can skim them during my Bible time and have been guilty of doing so in Matthew chapter 1. But, there is an important reason Matthew begins here. He is teaching us several things about Jesus. Here are two points we should remember.
1. The first one is probably the more obvious one, since Matthew wraps his entire structure around it. Go look at Matthew 1. It will only take you a minute.
The first verse begins “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” From the first words Jesus is called the Christ. That means Jesus is the Messiah! He is the anointed one. This may not mean very much to us right off the bat, but for the people of Israel, this was the Son they had been waiting for—this is him!
Do you see the paragraph breaks? Matthew gave us three sections in his family tree, each having 13 or 14 names. Although not every name from history is mentioned, we don’t need to fret about omissions in the genealogy. “Father” can be used in speaking of any descendants, thus he leaves some people out to provide the structure. (He points to this in verse 17.) Even if you don’t have paragraph breaks in your Bible, you can see the clear transition points starting with Abraham, the lingering on David, and then the mention of the deportation into exile. Each of those begin a section of the genealogy. This is his emphasis. Matthew wants you to know that Jesus is the son of Abraham, the son of David, and the fulfillment of the exile hope.
Abraham received the covenant promise of a people set apart as the people of God, and he was told of a descendant who would bless all the families of the earth. (Gen. 12:2-3) Therefore, the Messiah must come from Abraham. David is mentioned as king (vs 6), and he was also promised the descendant who would be the Messianic King (2 Sam. 7:12-16), a fact the prophets would reference in hope to the people going into exile. The people of Israel sent to a foreign nation waited for the Son of David who would bring his reign, justice, and righteousness. (Jer. 23:5) This was their hope.
From this list of names, Matthew wants us to see that Jesus is that Son. He is in the line of Abraham and David. The arrival of Jesus means the coming of the Messiah King.
2. Another important thing to note is that Jesus has a family tree that mentions women- some suspicious, accused, and Gentile women at that. It was not normal to find women in a genealogy. And if women in Jesus’ line were to be mentioned, one might suspect the revered Sarah or Rachel or Leah. Instead Matthew writes of Tamar and Rahab whose early sexual reputation were questionable at best. Tamar slept with her father-in-law when he thought she was a prostitute, and Rahab… well, she was a prostitute before her conversion into the people of God. Bathsheba isn’t mentioned by name, but instead by reference to her first husband (Uriah), reminding the reader of the adultery and murder that occurred in David’s house! And then there’s Ruth; she was a Moabitess who was not to be admitted into the congregation (Deut. 23:3). One can only imagine the rumors that went around about this woman who arrived in Bethlehem during the time of the Judges.
Without saying it overtly, Matthew is communicating that the message of this baby is for all people- for men, for women, for Jews, for Gentiles. It is for a sinful, corrupt, needy world. Jesus' being for all these people is set off by the fact that he himself comes from a line of needy sinful people! He comes from a line with outcasts, Gentiles, and those with a colorful past. And this is demonstrated by referencing a few women whose reputations were more than suspect. Those names are a reminder that the ancestors of Jesus were not triumphal and perfect. The people of the Messiah always have a story of grace rather than of their own glory- his forefathers and his followers. Jesus would live the sinless life and bear their sin in his death, so the Jews, Gentiles, men, women, and the outcast could have life. The arrival of Jesus means grace for us sinful people.
The Family Tree Speaks to Us
The first readers, along with readers today, needed this foreword before they read the scandalous next scene of the story,. You see, the next thing that happens is that a young Nazarene woman claimed to single-handedly become pregnant. Of course, her claims were true…but how many people would believe that?
But her outwardly dubious story isn’t an isolated one. She is bearing this baby into a grand story—into the line of Abraham, of David, of the kings. And she comes from a line of biblical women who have walked through bad reputations and rumors. Their past and questionable reputations (deserved or undeserved) have not kept women from the grace of God. For a baby was born of a family tree that meant he was the long awaited Son and the bringer of grace for sinful people. He was not just for Israel, but for us as well. He is our long awaited hope. Our Messiah King as we sit in our truly dubious sinful state.
There are many places in the Scripture where you can read about the coming of Jesus. We’ve been waiting for the Messiah since Genesis 3. But when you read the Christmas story this year, don’t forget the genealogies and miss the beautiful significance of the Messiah’s family tree.
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