Monday, December 01, 2014

The Family Tree of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17)


Today marks the beginning of Advent, and with Thanksgiving just behind us, we know that Christmas is going to be here before we know it. For some, it is, as the old song says, “the most wonderful time of the year.” For others, it is a time of unparalleled stress and anxiety. For some the anxiety of the season is alleviated by the joys of spending time together with their family. For others, it is that time together with the family that is the cause of all the stress and anxiety. Do you come from a mixed-up, messed-up family? I will let you in on a little secret: most of us do! So, rather than feeling like you have to hide that fact or be ashamed of it, you can just be honest about it and know that plenty of other folks around you can relate to you. My daughter showed me a little pin in a shop while we were on vacation that featured the lovable Disney chipmunks Chip & Dale, which said, “Our family tree is full of nuts.” Is yours? Well if so, a simple glimpse into the family tree of Jesus might be all the encouragement you need to know that God specializes in using mixed-up, messed-up families to accomplish His work.

Usually, a writer wants to grab the attention of his readers right off the bat with something catchy, unique, and interesting. Matthew opens with … a genealogy. Yes, friends, here we have one of the infamous long lists of names that occur sporadically throughout the Bible. These are the passages people come to in their reading and say, “OK, this is just a bunch of names,” and then they skip over them. But we must remember two things before we just skip over sections like these. First, remember that, according to 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable.” This passage, therefore, comes to us not from the pen of a human writer who doesn’t know how to properly arrest our attention from the get-go, but rather from God the Holy Spirit, who has literally breathed these words into print through the use a human author. And, the Holy Spirit has given us this and every other passage of the Bible for our benefit and profit. There is something here that can teach us, that can reprove us, that can correct us, and that can train us in righteousness. Second, we must remember that our greatest hope for eternity rests in the fact that God relates to every member of the human race on an individual basis, and that He is even fond of recording their names in books. The Bible tells us that He has a book called the Book of Life, and only those whose names are recorded therein shall enter into the eternal heavenly city. So, when you come upon a list of names in God’s book, be encouraged, and seek the assurance through saving faith in the Lord Jesus that your name is also recorded in God’s book as well.

Now, as we look here at Jesus’ “family tree” if you will, there are many interesting features I’d love to point out. I am limited by time to focus on three today. Let’s think of them as the roots, the branches and the leaves of Jesus’ family tree.

I. The roots of Jesus family tree run deep into the soil of biblical prophecy.

Have you ever done any serious research into your family tree? For some it is a hobby, but for others it is much more than that. In ancient Israel, establishing one’s lineage was essential for a number of reasons. One’s genealogy could make a difference in a real estate transaction, the inheritance one received, and even how one was taxed. Genealogies also determined who was qualified to serve as priests or kings.

Matthew begins this genealogy, and indeed his entire Gospel, by asserting that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” These three titles are all interconnected. Many have come claiming to be the Messiah. But in order for one to really be God’s anointed Messiah, the Savior who was promised to come and deliver God’s people from bondage to sin, He must be both a descendant of Abraham and a descendant of David. It becomes apparent that Matthew is intent on establishing the link between Jesus, David, and Abraham. David and Abraham had one significant thing in common: upon both of these men, God had bestowed a promise that would affect the entire human race, and in each case, the promise was to find its fulfillment in a son who was to be born.

God promised that He would make Abraham to be a blessing and said to him, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:1-3). God clarified that promise later to Abraham, saying, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 22:18). So, the promise is that God will touch the entire human race across the planet through the life and work of one particular descendant of Abraham.

To David, something similar was promised in 2 Samuel 7. There, as David desired to build a temple for the Lord, God’s answer came to him. David would not be allowed to build the Lord a temple, but the Lord would establish a house for David (v11). God said that upon David’s death, a descendant would come who would build a house for the name of the Lord, and the Lord would establish His kingdom forever (vv12-13). Thus, through his promised descendant, David’s house, his kingdom, and his throne would be established forever (v16). When David heard these words, he said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was insignificant in Your eyes, O Lord God, for You have spoken also of the house of Your servant concerning the distant future.” And then David said something that English Bible translators have still not found a way to do justice with the Hebrew. David said, “And this is the (in Hebrew) torat ha adam, O Lord God.” What does that phrase mean? Well, torat is a derivative of torah – it means “law or contract.” The word adam – that’s the word we translate as the name Adam, but it also means “mankind” in general. So, what David is saying here as he responds to the promise of the Lord is, “This is the contract that You are making with the entire human race, O Lord God.” This son of David who is to come and reign forever will be king over all kings, and will reign over all nations.

Abraham had many sons, and so did David. But one after the other, each one managed to uniquely prove themselves to not be the expected son through a wide range of disappointments. But, God had determined from eternity past how He would send the promised Son into the world. “When the fullness of time came,” the Bible says, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). The promised son of David and son of Abraham was also to be the Son of God and the uniquely born son of a woman. Unlike anyone ever born in the history of humanity, God sent His Son into the world as a descendant of Abraham and a descendant of David, yet without a human father. He was born of a virgin. And this also represents the fulfillment of a great biblical prophecy. In Genesis 3, immediately after humanity was plunged under the curse of sin by Adam’s disobedience, God promised that a Redeemer would come as “the seed of woman” (Gen 3:15). And Matthew’s genealogy recognizes this in a very interesting way. Notice in verse 16 how he brings the line down to Jesus. After listing one link between father and son after another, he has finally come to Joseph. But rather than saying that Joseph begat Jesus or was the father of Jesus, he says, for the first time in the genealogy, that Joseph was the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born. He is clear that Joseph was not the father of Jesus, but Mary was His mother – the virgin through whom God brought the promised Son into the world.

There is one additional significant prophecy that the family tree highlights here as well. It concerns a man named in verse 11: Jeconiah. This king was the last of David’s descendants to occupy the throne in Judah before the Babylonian captivity. Because Jeconiah continued in the evil ways of his father and the evil kings who had reigned before them, God declared that Jeconiah would never have a descendant to reign upon the throne of David. In Jeconiah, the line of kings that began with David and extended through Solomon and his descendants came to an end. But almost immediately after that prophecy concerning Jeconiah in Jeremiah 22, there is another in Jeremiah 23 which says that God will send a Messiah who is the Righteous Branch of David. So, the line which extended from David through Solomon has come to an end in Jeconiah, but there will be a new line from David that will produce the Messiah. After all, God had promised in Isaiah 7:14 that He would not forsake the house of David, but would send a child into the world through David’s line who would be born of a virgin, and who would be “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (Isa 7:14). 

Now, notice, Joseph is a descendant of Jeconiah. That means that if Jesus is the biological son of Joseph, then He cannot be the Messiah who will inherit David’s throne forever. But Jesus is not the biological son of Joseph. He is the Son of God, born to the virgin Mary. But how then does He have access to the throne of David if He is not a descendant of David? Well, in fact, He is a descendant of David on His mother’s side. Mary is a descendant of David, not through Solomon and through Jeconiah, but through another of David’s sons, Nathan. How do we know this? We know it from Luke. Much has been made over the differences between the genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew and Luke. But the solution is actually quite simple. Matthew presents Joseph’s lineage, and Luke presents Mary’s. But Luke does not name Mary in the genealogy, he names Joseph. Why? Well, it comes down to sloppy reading on our part and imprecise translation on the part of our English versions. While Luke 3:23 seems to indicate on the surface that Jesus was “as was supposed, the son of Joseph”, and that Joseph was the son of Eli, there is good reason to understand this instead to read that Jesus was supposed by many to have been the son of Joseph, but was in fact a descendant of Eli. And who is Eli? He must be the father of Mary.

So, Matthew’s genealogy, together with that of Luke, shows us that the roots of Jesus’ family tree run deep into the soil of biblical prophecy to prove Him to be the Messiah.
Having examined the roots of Jesus’ family tree, we move to the branches.

II. The branches of Jesus’ family tree reach wide beyond all boundaries and barriers.

We recently had a dead branch cut off of a huge tree in our back yard. That tree stands right in the middle of the yard, but this branch extended out from it all the way across the back property line. Tree branches don’t bother to investigate land plats and survey lines, they just spread out and grow. And the branches on Jesus’ family tree have grown to exceed all boundaries and barriers, as we see here in the genealogy.

Notice how the branches reach wide beyond socio-economic boundaries. This is no list of blue-bloods here. Granted, there are 15 kings on this list, but of many who came before David, and those who came after Zerubbabel, we know very little. We know that some of them were simple peasants and blue-collar kind of folks. Before becoming king, David was just a shepherd as his father before him had been. Joseph was a carpenter. This list includes the rich and the poor, the royal and the peasant, the “Who’s Who” of Jewish history, and the “Who are you” of Jewish history.

Next notice how the branches reach wide beyond the boundaries of gender. In a patriarchal society, usually all that mattered in any discussion of genealogy was the relationship between father and son. Most written genealogies did not even include women. Matthew includes five of them here. Recently one of our college students asked me how I would respond to a statement made by a professor that Christianity had subjugated women throughout history. I can’t exactly repeat my answer here, because of the decorum of the hour. Friends, though you hear this nonsense on a regular basis, you need to know that Christianity almost singlehandedly revolutionized the way that women were treated, valued, and respected in society. And even within the early decades of the church we see that already taking shape in that Matthew is willing to break the customs of the day to include the names of five women in the genealogy of Jesus – something which, by the way, the Gentile writer Luke did not even do in his genealogy. Those five women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
Then notice how the branches of Jesus’ family tree reach wide beyond the bounds of ethnicity. The Hebrew peoples were, and still are, a very ethnically proud people. Consider how Paul says in Philippians 3:5 that he might boast of his heritage before he came to faith in Christ: “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” But Jesus’ family tree would be nearly scandalous to most thoroughgoing Hebrews of His day, even if the ethnicity of those represented herein were all that was considered. That scandal is multiplied by the fact that the Gentiles listed are all women. You realize that there is an ancient prayer, still prayed by Orthodox Jews, in which men give thanks to God that they were not born as slaves, as Gentiles or as women. Here in Jesus’ genealogy are several Gentile women! Rahab in verse 5 was a Canaanite – one of the idol-worshiping people that God had determined for Israel to supplant and eradicate as they repossessed the land of promise. Ruth was a Moabite. Moabites were particularly despised as a people because their origins were in the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. The Jewish law prohibited Moabites from entering the assembly of worship to the 10th generation (Dt 23:3). Bathsheba was most likely a Hittite, since that was the ethnicity of her husband Uriah.
As these branches of Jesus’ family tree reach wide beyond all these boundaries, there is a comfort and encouragement to be found. You may believe, for some reason or another, that Jesus cannot relate or identify with you. Friends, the genealogy of Jesus shows us that no matter who you are – male or female, rich or poor, or wherever you are from, the Lord Jesus can and does relate to you and identify with you. God’s promise to Abraham was that his seed would bless all the peoples of the earth. We see how God was preparing the world for the coming of Jesus, and preparing Jesus for the redemption of the world. And that brings us to the final feature of Jesus’ family tree. The roots run deep, the branches reach wide, and …

III. The leaves of Jesus’ family tree fall down upon the righteous and the sinful.
My next door neighbor doesn’t have many trees in his yard. What few were there, he cut down as soon as he moved in a few years ago. But, he has a yard full of leaves. There are trees in every yard around his, so he gets his share of raking duties every fall, even though not a single leaf that falls in his yard comes from his own trees. I feel kind of bad for the guy, and that’s one reason I try to keep my leaves under control. I have lots of trees, therefore I have lots of leaves. But in our neighborhood, everybody gets leaves. No one is disqualified from the “blessing” of spending every weekend in the yard with a rake and a blower, even those who don’t deserve it.
There is this notion that many people have that they are “not good enough” to come to Jesus. Friends, there is a sense in which none of us are good enough to come to Him. That is why He came to us. He came to save sinners. The fact that you are a sinner does not disqualify you from God’s grace in Jesus Christ; in fact, it qualifies you to be a recipient of that grace. If you weren’t a sinner, you wouldn’t need grace and wouldn’t need saving. But we are all sinners – even the best of us – and Jesus has come to save us from our sins.

Look at the line of people whom God used to bring Jesus into the world. Some of these folks belong in the Hall of Fame of godly people; others belong in the Hall of Shame of worldly people. But all of them were sinners in need of grace. Abraham and David are the pillars of Hebrew history, but both were deeply morally flawed men. About half of the kings named were men of faith, but nearly all of them made terrible judgments in their personal lives and as leaders. The other half of the kings listed were desperately wicked.

And then there are the women. Friends, it is not just that Matthew included women, three of whom were Gentile, but it was the scandalous nature of some of these women that would really raise the eyebrow of the original readers of this genealogy. Tamar’s story is recorded in Genesis 38. It is rated R. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute, seduced her father-in-law, and became pregnant with twins, one of whom is Perez, the ancestor of the Lord Jesus listed here. As John MacArthur writes of her, “Don’t bother looking for her redeeming virtues. … Scripture records no happy ending to her life.”[1] Then there is that Canaanite woman Rahab. All of Scripture refers to her as “Rahab the harlot.” Even when she is mentioned twice in the New Testament as a model of genuine faith, she is nonetheless referred to as a harlot. The most noble thing she ever did was to tell a lie. And yet God saw fit to include her in the family tree of Jesus as the great-great-grandmother of King David. Then there is Ruth. Though not guilty of a scandalous sin, so far as we know, she was of a despised line that was rooted in a drunken act of incest. She was a convert and a believer in the true and living God, and was rescued from the poverty and shame of her widowhood and childlessness by Boaz, the son of a prostitute. And then there was Bathsheba. The sin is not hidden here even in the genealogy: “David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.” Everyone is familiar with how David seduced Uriah’s wife into an adulterous liaison, and after a failed attempt to cover up his shameful deed, he resorted to murder of Uriah, who had been one of his most faithful and loyal soldiers.

Friends, you may think, “God would want nothing to do with me! He can’t save me. He can’t use me. In my past there is great sin!” Friends, there is probably no sin you could commit or imagine that was not represented in the very individuals whom God used to bring His Son into the world. What have you done, or what have any in your family done, that is any worse than what these had done? Jesus, the sinless One, identifies with sinners! He came from sinners, and He came for sinners. No matter who you are or what you have done – you are not so good that you do not need Him, and not so bad that He cannot reach you. He can save you from your sin and use you in His family tree even as He has used these.

The family tree of Jesus has roots that run deep in the soil of biblical prophecy. It has branches that reach wide across all boundaries and barriers. And it has leaves that fall upon the righteous and the sinful. And that family tree is still growing. In Matthew 12, Jesus pointed to those who trust in Him by faith and said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:49-50). Have you come into this family by faith in the Lord Jesus? God has promised to adopt as sons and daughters all those who receive Him. This Christmas season, we celebrate that God has come to dwell among us. He has come through the mixed up, messed up family tree that we read about here. What a wonderful time of the year to tell others that no matter who they are, where they are from, or what they have done, the promised Messiah Jesus can save them and set them free from their sins. He was born to do just that.







[1] John MacArthur, God With Us (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 31. 

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