Climbing Jesus’ Family Tree
Matthew 1:1 – 17
Climbing Jesus’ Family Tree
There’s nothing like a good introduction
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. So begins George Orwell’s novel, “1984”
How a book begins is important isn’t it? The opening line sets the stage for what’s going happen, introduces the characters, Tries to grab our attention, so that we as the reader don’t want to put the book down.
See if any of these famous openings, are familiar to you:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids”
The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe – C S Lewis
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
One more, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone – J K Rowling
Those are good opening lines! Those are beginnings that make us think “I don’t want to put this book down!” What was Matthew thinking, when he opened his account of Jesus’ life, with paragraph after paragraph of genealogy?!
And what was the person who sets the preaching program thinking, when they set this as the passage for today?! This is to many of us, foreign, and strange, and seemingly irrelevant.
But actually, although the genealogy seems foreign to us, the very first line, those first 16 words, that’s much more the kind of opening line we’re used to.
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Straight away, Matthew introduces us to his main character,
He sets the context in which this story unfolds,
And then makes 2 significant claims, extraordinarily significant claims, about who this main character is.
And just so you know, we’re going to look at this opening line in a bit of detail, and then more or less skip across the rest of the genealogy.
So don’t panic if you think we’re only in verse 1, and there are 16 verses to go!
This is not really the beginning at all
Firstly, the context that Matthew gives us, in order to make sense of this story, comes from the way he describes what he’s writing. This is the genealogy of, or these are the generations of Jesus.
Matthew’s opening words, in his original language, are “book of generations”,
Or “book of genealogy”,
Which is language used throughout the Old Testament.
Matthew is deliberately calling to his readers’ minds, the stories, the history of the Old Testament, and using that language to say, what’s about to unfold in his book, has a connection to, is a continuation of, that history of God’s dealings with his people.
Each of the 4 gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, writes their account of Jesus’ life from a slightly different perspective.
It’s not that one’s right and the others are wrong,
Or that they contradict each other,
But they highlight different aspects of Jesus’ ministry.
So this morning we farewelled the Harris family. If I was to write an account of the Harris family’s time with us, that story would be different, to if one of the Kid’s Church kids, wrote an account of the Harris family’s time with us, wouldn’t it?
Same 5 years of history,
Different things that we’d want to highlight.
Matthew is writing primarily for a Jewish audience, and because they’re familiar with the Old Testament, he can use this language that’s immediately recognizable to them, to set the context.
Jesus has his origins, not in some insignificant vassal state of the Roman Empire in the first century AD, but thousands of years earlier, in the long history of God’s relationship with his people.
That’s where this story actually begins.
Meet the King of the Jews
But what are the 2 significant claims about Jesus’ identity that Matthew makes?
I’m sure you noticed them, Jesus is, the Messiah the son of David,
And he is the son of Abraham:
And if you wonder sometimes, What makes Jesus so different from any other religious leader, or prophet from history?”, these 2 claims about Jesus and his identity, might go some way to addressing those wonderings.
Or maybe you’re here this morning, you’re not a Christian, but you want to find out “who is Jesus?”
Well, you could not really have walked into a better place today, because here are 2 answers to that question, that I think will help you come to grips with who Jesus is.
Matthew’s first specific claim about Jesus’ identity, is that he is the Messiah, the son of David.
That’s unpacked a little in verse 6, where we can see where David, who was king of Israel around a thousand BC,
Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife and so on,
Why make mention of David, in the opening line? In Matthew’s original, the words “son of David” are only the 5th and 6th words in the whole book. He is putting this right up front!
It’s very important for him that his readers understand, that Jesus is a descendent of King David.
Some of you, I’m sure watch the TV show, “Who Do You Think You Are?” Some well-known person is taken back through their family tree, uncovering all kinds of secrets and mysteries about their ancestors.
The name of that show is particularly apt, for what we’re thinking about today, because although it’s a TV show all about ancestors, it’s not called “Who do you think your ancestors were?”
That’s not what it’s called is it?
There’s an implicit acknowledgment that who you are, is influenced in significant part, by whose family line you stand in.
And that is never more the case, than with this claim that Jesus is the Messiah the son of David
Now the Messiah, or the “Christ”, that’s just the same word in 2 different ancient languages, it means anointed one, and it’s a title for God’s chosen king.
God had promised his people for centuries, that one day this chosen king would come, and lead them.
And when David was king of Israel, God expanded on his promise, and said that it would be from David’s own family, that this king, the Messiah would come.
God promised that a king from David’s family line would reign forever.
You can see on your outline some words from 2 Samuel chapter 7,
God’s speaking to David, When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ ”
2 Samuel 7:12 – 13, 16
Now that’s a promise that was partially fulfilled in David’s immediate family, with King Solomon, and yet the people of Israel knew they were still waiting for these words to be fulfilled in their entirety.
They understood, that an eternal kingdom, a throne that lasts forever, that would only be realised when the Messiah came.
And clearly these words could not be spoken, of any ordinary king, could they?
And so God’s people longed for this king to come.
The arrival of the Messiah was the great hope of Israel.
The Messiah would rescue, gather, protect, Usher in a new era, of God’s relationship with his people.
Matthew says the Messiah has come.
Jesus is the Messiah, and the key authenticating factor, is that he is the Son of David,
Look, you can draw a line all the way from King David, verse 6, through to Jesus, verse 16.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
And so on, and so on, undeniably to Jesus.
He is the offspring, the flesh and blood, of David, the one from whom the Messiah will come.
In the United States, you can only be president, if you are, what they call, a “natural born citizen.” It means that I, having been born in Adelaide, can’t move to America and run for president.
That’s not the only thing stopping me, let me hasten to say!
You could not be the Messiah, if you weren’t born in David’s line.
Well, here Matthew shows, that Jesus has the necessary qualification.
He is no pretender to the throne.
Of course, being born in David’s line didn’t, on its own, make you the Messiah!
They were all descendants of king David, They weren’t the Messiah.
No, if we want to assure ourselves that Jesus is the Messiah, we need to read the rest of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and see how he exercises his authority as Messiah, God’s chosen king,
How he rules God’s kingdom,
That is the big theme of Matthew’s gospel; Jesus having rule and authority over God’s kingdom
But here Matthew sets up that claim. Jesus is the Messiah, with all the qualifications necessary, to hold that title.
The long awaited leader of God’s people has come.
Meet the source of blessing to the world
And maybe you think, “OK, Jesus is the Messiah, God’s king for Israel, I can accept that”
There are many people who don’t. I was in the Jewish synagogue in town a couple of weeks ago. Those people don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but maybe the evidence is enough for you.
But perhaps your question is, “So what? What relevance does an ancient king of Israel have for me?”
How is Jesus any different to the king of any other nation, who is irrelevant to me?
There are all manner of perhaps interesting but irrelevant foreign kings around.
I read just this week of Charles the 2nd of Navarre, in what’s now France and Spain. He was king in the 1300s. He got sick, and they treated him by wrapping him in a cloth, soaked in brandy.
Everything was going fine, until the nurse looking after him, by candlelight, tripped, dropped her candle, and whoof!, up he went!
But no relevance to you or me, who live outside that kingdom, except perhaps a cautionary tale about, about candles and flammable liquids!
But Matthew says “no.”
You don’t have to be a Jew, a member of the house of Israel, for this king, Jesus, to be supremely relevant to you.
Supremely relevant, to your family,
Supremely relevant, to your neighbours, colleagues, classmates.
Because Matthew’s second claim is that Jesus is, the son of Abraham
Abraham was a man to whom God made many promises, in order that Abraham could be a conduit of God’s blessing.
And all of God’s great promises to Abraham were summed up in this one, all peoples on earth will be blessed through you
Genesis chapter 12.
All peoples on earth, will be blessed through you.
And as God restates his promise to Abraham throughout his life, he adds more detail, saying it’s through your offspring, one of your descendants, that all the world will be blessed.
See God chose Israel, that one nation, to be the first recipients of his blessing.
They were the ones who would first know, what it was to live with the Creator God of the universe, as your God and king.
But it was never God’s plan, that the enormous blessing of relationship with the God who made us,
And loves us,
And knows what’s best for us,
And works for what’s best for us,
It was never God’s intention that that tremendous blessing of relationship, would be limited just to national Israel.
In fact part of God’s plan was that national Israel would demonstrate what it was like to live in that position of blessing, demonstrate that, to all the world.
Israel was to be God’s display home, if you like!
There are display homes all round here, aren’t there?! “Come and see what it’s like to live in the environment we create!” That’s the point of the display home, isn’t it?
But because of their rebellion against God,
Because they thought they could carve out an existence apart from God,
Because they threw out God’s pattern for life, and decided that life would be better if they pushed God to the edge and beyond,
What the Bible calls sin.
Because of their sin, the nation of Israel were not very often capable of being God’s display home, living as an invitation to God’s blessing,
But God never wavered in his plan, to bring blessing to all people on earth.
And for Matthew to show Jesus as the descendant of Abraham, is to say in enormous, flashing, capital letters, “God is bringing to fulfilment, the promise of blessing to all peoples on earth.
Matthew presents Jesus as the son of Abraham, not just a son of Abraham like all these others in the genealogy, Jesus is the son of Abraham, through whom the promises to Abraham, including that great promise of blessing and relationship for all peoples on earth, will be fulfilled.
Often, when an author writes a book, they dedicate it to someone, don’t they?
Printed there in the front page, “to such and such”, spouse, friend, colleague.
I’ve noticed in a few books recently, books about aspects of the Christian faith, the author has dedicated the book to their children, often young children, and the inscription says something like f “As you grow, I hope you understand that the message of this book is relevant for you.”
Well, if Matthew were to write a dedication for his book, he could say, “To everyone who’s ever lived, the message of this book is relevant to you.”
He’s writing to a Jewish audience first of all, but he’s very clear, that the story of Jesus, the person of Jesus, is for all peoples on earth.
If you pick up this book of the account of Jesus’ life, it’s like it’s got your name in the dedication,
Matthew wants you to know, that the message is relevant for you.
Of course Matthew didn’t just make these opening statements about Jesus. He gives us the genealogy as evidence. We can trace it through.
But verses 2 to 17 also teach us other things, other significant things about Jesus.
Let me highlight a few things for us.
The genealogy highlights God’s undeserved faithfulness
Firstly, the genealogy reminds us of God’s faithfulness.
These names represent 2000 years of history, and if we’re familiar with the accounts of these people’s lives in the Old Testament, as Matthew’s original readers were, we’ll know that they didn’t do anything to deserve God’s faithfulness.
Quite the contrary, generally.
Abraham passed off his wife as his sister, in order to save his own skin,
And following in the family tradition, so did his son, Isaac.
Jacob deceived his father, and cheated his brother,
Judah, verse 3, sold his brother!
We’re in about the 4th line, and there’s nothing yet intrinsic in this family, that would make God predisposed to offering himself in promise, and blessing, and relationship, is there?
Nothing to earn God’s faithfulness.
And yet that opening statement says, 2 millennia later, God is still bringing his promises to their fulfilment.
David Frost, the BBC interviewer, once asked Billy Graham about the genealogies like this, in the Bible, and he asked “Aren’t they difficult to read and rather boring?”
But Billy Graham’s response, was to say, “No, I find them fascinating” because he could see in these genealogies, how God was at work, bringing his plans towards their fulfilment.
The list of faithless, failed, and flawed members of Jesus’ family tree, says a lot to us about who can be included in those among whom God works.
There was nothing about Abraham,
Or Zerubbabel, that would make God predisposed towards them, that he would include them in this, his greatest act ever,
His plan for blessing all of humanity, through the person of Jesus.
They did not earn their way into Jesus’ family.
They did not earn their way into the experience of God’s blessing.
And if we don’t earn our way in to relationship with God?
Why would we think we can un-earn relationship with God
No, as he does today, God chose people for his purposes, entirely regardless of how they were esteemed or valued in their society.
The genealogy is filled with the kind of people God uses and blesses.
And perhaps this is highlighted most clearly of all in the names of the 5 women who take their place in the family tree of God’s king.
Look in your Bibles there at verse 3, where we find Tamar,
Rahab and Ruth, in verse 5,
Verse 6, Uriah’s wife, who we know was Bathsheba,
And Mary, verse 16, the mother of Jesus.
It wasn’t unheard of for women to be included in ancient genealogies, but in this case, there’s a common feature, linking them all;
With the exception of Mary, these women are probably all Gentiles, but the similarity is even greater than that;
Each of these 5 women, were tainted by scandal in some way, sexual scandal, although the degree to which that was deserved varies.
Mary, for example, was found to be pregnant, as a teenage girl, before she was married. That carried enormous social stigma, although we know, it wasn’t scandalous at all.
What we can say for sure, is that each of these women, were, at the very least, stigmatized with the suspicion of immorality.
Tamar, the first woman mentioned here, Judah was actually her father-in-law.
He treated her appallingly, and mistook her for a prostitute, which was understandable since she was deliberately dressed as a prostitute.
Which means, Judah’s son Perez, there in verse 3 of Jesus’ family tree, was conceived by Tamar with her father-in-law, while masquerading as a pagan prostitute.
There’s a skeleton in the royal closet!
Rahab, verse 5, another prostitute, one of the inhabitants of Jericho, the enemies of God’s people.
In the following generation, was Ruth.
The suspicion of immorality that clung to Ruth was in fact unjustified, but we all know that doesn’t really make much difference, does it?
But Ruth was undeniably, from the country of Moab, a nation so wicked and depraved, that they were excluded from the people of Israel.
Think of the person, who seems to you least likely to ever come to God, or want anything to do with Jesus.
If that person’s sitting next to you right now, don’t look at them, that would be awkward!
But whoever that person is, that was the Moabites.
And one of those, tarred forever with the suspicion of scandal, she’s in Jesus’ family tree.
Ruth is used by God to bring his blessing to the world.
Bathsheba doesn’t get mentioned by name. Matthew makes his point by mentioning that she was somebody else’s wife, when she conceived Solomon with King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, had been that is, until David had Uriah murdered.
I mean, I’m feeling pretty good about my family tree and my personal history right about now!
And of course Matthew’s aim isn’t for us to conclude that we’re so much better than these men or women, and in fact there may be some of us, who see our own experience reflected in the heartache and relational turmoil represented here.
But Matthew’s goal is for us to realise, that these are exactly the kinds of people whom God seeks to bless, through Jesus.
The blessing that this son of Abraham brings,
The way this king, the Messiah, acts for his people, is to save them, save them from sin,
Save them from sin that makes relationship with God impossible.
And these women,
And the men tainted by scandal along with them,
And the children born under a cloud of suspicion, these are the ones to whom Jesus’ gift of salvation is offered,
These are the ones through whom God brings his plans and purposes about!
Imagine God said to you, put together a team for me,
A group of people through whom I can work,
A people who will be the channel of my blessing to all peoples on earth.
Who do you pick?
Do you go down to Bible College SA, sit in the carpark, and look for the most impressive, morally upright theological types?
Head off to Ridley College in Melbourne, where Darren studied!, Find a few more there!
Maybe you’d sit outside a church,
A denominational office,
Look for the obvious leaders,
Those whom God would surely work through, to bring his blessing to others.
I don’t imagine our search would naturally take us, to the red light district,
To the homeless shelter,
To the support service for unmarried teenage mothers,
To the Centrelink queue, and the widows waiting for their income support,
I don’t think that’s where we would start looking for those whom God would use for his plans and purposes, or those whom we thought would be likely recipients of God’s blessing.
Which means, I think my question for us is, why not?
If we learn anything from this great long list of names, surely we see that there’s not much that could disqualify you from being part of Jesus’ family.
It’s open to all sorts of people with all sorts of skeletons in their closets.
Here are 5 different women, who sought refuge in the God of Israel.
And as the story of Jesus unfolds, we see it precisely for people like these, that Jesus was born into the world.
And ignoring words like “contribution to society”, and “value”, he offers the blessing of relationship and salvation, to those who recognise they have nothing to make him predisposed towards them.
The genealogy shows us the age of fulfilment has arrived.
The genealogy shows us also that as the story of Jesus’ life begins, the age of the fulfilment of God’s promises has arrived.
This genealogy is of a new and different kind
Even the very structure of the genealogy as Matthew has assembled it, says “old ways of thinking have changed.”
Old Testament and Jewish genealogies always started with someone’s name in the title, like “The genealogy of, say, Noah”, and then the list would begin with Noah’s name,
Then his children’s names,
Then his grandchildren’s names,
And so on and so on, the descendants of Noah. Because Noah’s the important one.
Matthew flips that on its head, doesn’t he?
The name in the title of this genealogy, the important name to focus on, is the last name.
A realignment has occurred.
“Things are now different”, Matthew says.
This genealogy is “complete”
Also, I’m sure you noticed the arrangement of the names, and in fact Matthew tells us specifically in verse 17 how he has arranged this family tree,
He counts slightly differently to us, but he says Thus there were fourteen generations in all, from Abraham to David,
fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon,
and fourteen from the exile, to the Messiah.
In the culture of Old Testament Israel, 7 was the number of completeness.
7 meant there was nothing left over, nothing still to be included.
And Matthew has arranged his genealogy in groups of 2 times 7;, double completeness.
And we know he’s making a point with his multiples of 7, because there were actually more than 14 generations in each of these time periods.
There were perhaps 42 generations between King David and Jesus, Matthew lists 27.
Now, don’t let that worry you,
Matthew didn’t make a mistake!
The Bible is not wrong!
It was entirely legitimate in ancient Hebrew genealogy writing, to call someone the father of, when they were actually a more distant ancestor of that person.
So look at verse 11 with me, Josiah was actually the grandfather of Jeconiah, not his dad.
But before we get all hot under the collar about Matthew being economical with the truth, think about Aunty Ruth and Uncle Bob.
Actually you can’t really think about them, because they’re my Aunty Ruth and Uncle Bob, but you quite possibly have an Aunty Ruth or Uncle Bob of your own.
See they’re not actually my aunt and uncle, they’re no blood relation at all, but they treated me like I was part of their family,
They’d known me longer than I’ve been alive!
They were always, to us kids, known as Aunty Ruth and Uncle Bob.
And many of you, I know, have those kinds of aunts and uncles, and you know that when I use that title, I’m not trying to deceive you, but I do use that language to make a point,
A point about relationship and connection.
Matthew’s using legitimate language to compress the genealogy, to make a point about completeness.
Everything that has to be done is done,
The period of preparation is finished,
Now is the age of fulfilment.
This genealogy is not just a list of people
You’ll no doubt have noticed also, that the third group of double 7, doesn’t begin with a name, like the first 2 sections do;, but with an event.
Verse 12, After the exile to Babylon:, Jeconiah, etc, etc.
It’s a funny thing to have in your family tree! The return from exile didn’t begat anyone!, and yet it stands here like the head of a family line.
God’s people were exiled to Babylon in the 6th Century BC, But God, as he had promised, brought the people back from exile.
And just as Jesus is the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham,
And just as he is the long awaited king from David’s line,
Matthew wants us to see that Jesus is also the fulfilment, the climax of the gathering and restoration of God’s people from exile.
What does it look like for God to gather people?
What does it look like for God to restore lost, sinful people into relationship with himself,
What does it look like for God to forgive the sin and rebellion of his people,
Painstakingly help sinful, lost people, who have made a mess of their lives, help them rebuild their lives, and guard against sin in the future?
What does it look like for God’s name to be honoured, through the lives of his people?
That’s what the return from exile was all about,
And yet there is no clearer place to find answers to those questions, than in the life of Jesus.
Jesus is the fulfilment of the particular blessing and restoration of relationship, that began with God returning his people from exile to Babylon.
The age of fulfilment has arrived.
At this time of year some of you may be looking for Christmas presents for children you know, or looking for ways to engage kids with the good news of the Christmas story.
One book that I can highly recommend, is “Song of the Stars” by Sally Lloyd-Jones, who put together The Jesus Storybook Bible.
It’s a Christmas story that seeks to capture something of the breathless anticipation of creation, awaiting the arrival of God’s king,
And the refrain that runs through the book is, “it’s time, it’s time.”
That’s the point of the very careful construction of this genealogy; The period of preparation is finished.
The time of promise, has come to an end,
God’s plans have reached their fulfilment,
It’s time, it’s time,
The extravagant promises to Abraham are on the cusp of fulfilment,
It’s time, it’s time.
The God’s people have been waiting for the king in David’s line to come,
It’s time, it’s time
The hope of restoration is about to be realised,
It’s time, it’s time.
See, despite the fact that I read those famous beginnings at the start, Matthew 1 is not really the beginning of a story.
It is a new beginning.
But it’s a story that started a long time before,
And the coming of Jesus says, “it’s time, it’s time”.
And maybe this Christmas, Matthew 1 says to you, “God’s king has come,
The promises have reached their fulfilment,
When are you going to respond to this king who brings blessing, and relationship, and restoration?”
It’s time, It’s time.