Our eyes probably glaze over when we read the Bible’s genealogies, but I show in this sermon that the genealogy of Jesus teaches us a great deal about the gospel of Jesus Christ, about God, and about ourselves.
Sermon Text: Matthew 1:1-17
[To listen on the go, right-click here to download and MP3.]
Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father, author of most of the Federalist Papers, and man who served as our nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, grew up poor in the British West Indies, an illegitimate child who became an orphan. I only know that because I’ve heard the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton.
And of course we learn from the musical that the main thing that drives Hamilton to succeed is his desire to prove to himself and the rest of the world that he’s so much more than where he came from, or who his parents were, or the scandalous circumstances surrounding his birth and upbringing—so that, if someone gives him a shot, well, as he says in the musical, he is not going to throw it away. Hamilton eventually makes his way to the thirteen colonies, to New York, where he discovers that he can be a “new man”—and not be judged by his family tree.
And isn’t that the promise of America—who you are isn’t determined by how much money you have, or the family you were born into, or the circumstances of your birth? In America you have the power to invent yourself out of whole cloth. You have the power to determine who you’re going to be.
The ancient world—even more than the world of the 18th century—wasn’t like that at all! Everything you needed to know about someone you could learn by looking at his or her family tree. Which is why genealogies were so important. Genealogies served the same purpose to ancient people as résumés do for us today.
And Matthew wants us to know at the beginning of his gospel that Jesus the Messiah has a very impressive résumé. He is descended from royalty through his adoptive father, Joseph. This is the kind of résumé, for example, that a future king of Israel would need to have. You may recall that Israel hadn’t had a true king for 600 years. And the king that they did have—King Herod—not only wasn’t descended from King David, he wasn’t even Jewish! And by the way, nothing made Herod more jealous than when his subjects went around bragging about how they were royalty. Herod had spies everywhere, and that sort of talk could get yourself killed. That’s why when the magi show up asking about the newborn “king of the Jews,” it does get a lot of people killed. But that’s a story for another time.
My point today is that these first seventeen verses of Matthew’s gospel are a powerful and important résumé of Jesus Christ, from which we can learn a great deal about him, his gospel, and the very first Christmas.
And just think: your mind was probably wandering as I was reading these verses—your eyes were glazing over as you were reading it on screen… I know! But not anymore. By the time I get through this morning, today’s scripture will be one of your favorite parts of the Bible! You’re going to wonder why no one’s written a Christmas song about this genealogy! Or maybe not…
Well, if genealogies are like résumés, the first thing we need to notice about Jesus’ résumé is that, unlike résumés that we’re familiar with, it doesn’t make any attempt to embellish the truth, or conceal embarrassing details, or try to spin failures in the most favorable way possible.
We know this first of all because it does something most ancient genealogies don’t do: It mentions women—specifically four mothers—before we get to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Did you notice that? Why these four mothers—and not any other?
Look at verse 3: “and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar.” It’s a very interesting story in Genesis 38, but there you will learn that Tamar passed herself off as a prostitute in order to sleep with her father-in-law Judah, in order to get pregnant and have sons. So she and Judah literally had an incestuous relationship. But they’re in Jesus’ family tree. Then, speaking of prostitutes, we learn in verse 5 that Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab. Rahab, you may recall, was a prostitute who protected Israelite spies who went to do reconnoissance work in Jericho before battle. She’s in Jesus’ family tree. And next we have Ruth—who, not only was a Gentile but a Moabite, an enemy of Israel. She’s in Jesus’ family tree. All three of these women are Gentiles, by the way, which means that, technically, they were all excluded from God’s presence. Yet they’re a part of Jesus’ family tree.
And finally, we have, in verse 6, “the wife of Uriah,” by whom David had Solomon. The wife of Uriah is Bathsheba. The fact that Matthew doesn’t call her by name isn’t intended as a slight against her; rather, it serves to remind us that she was someone else’ wife—before David and her had an adulterous affair. And she got pregnant while her husband was off fighting a war for the man who slept with his wife! And then King David has the man killed and quickly marries Bathsheba to keep their secret safe from everyone. So the fact that Matthew refers to Bathsheba as the “wife of Uriah” serves to shine a bright spotlight on King David’s sins, which are greater than any sexual sin—he murdered someone.
But there where was plenty of wickedness mixed in among kings after King David: “Wicked Rehoboam was the father of wicked Abijah, who was the father of good king Asa. Asa was the father of good king Jehoshaphat, who was the father of wicked king Joram.”
What does this all mean? It means, as pastor Tim Keller said, that
in Jesus Christ, prostitute and king, male and female, Jew and Gentile, one race and another race, moral and immoral—all sit down as equals. Equally sinful and lost, equally accepted and loved. In the old King James Bible, this chapter is filled with “the begats”—“So and so begat so and so…” Boring? No. The grace of God is so pervasive that even the begats of the Bible are dripping with mercy.
This genealogy gives us a sneak preview of something Jesus himself would later say in this gospel: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before” all the so-called “righteous” people. Why is that? Because prostitutes and tax collectors knew they were sinners; they knew they were lost without the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. It’s the people who don’t know they’re lost—who are too proud to admit they’re sinners who are completely unable to save themselves—who find it impossible to enter God’s kingdom.
But if you confess that you’re a sinner and that you need the saving grace that Christ offers, guess what? Hebrews chapter 2 tells us that Jesus is “not ashamed” to call you his brothers and sisters.
Some of you right now think you’re not good enough to be saved—or at least you worry that you’ve sinned too much to be forgiven by God and to be part of God’s family. Look at genealogy: it says otherwise. Let’s see… Murder, idolatry, adultery, incest, bearing false witness, coveting… It’s all here! All ten of the Ten Commandments have been broken in spectacular ways throughout this family, yet none of these people are excluded from Christ’s family. This sends a powerful symbolic message to us: if we repent of our sins and accept God’s gift of forgiveness and grace that he offers us through Christ, we will not be excluded from Christ’s family, either. He is not ashamed to call you and me his brothers and sisters.
Think of the so-called thief on the cross in Luke chapter 23. I say “so-called” because he was probably much worse than a thief: he was probably a violent terrorist who killed innocent people. And here he was, nailed to a cross next to Jesus. He literally can’t do anything at this point to save himself except confess that he’s a sinner—which he does—turn to Jesus in faith and say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And what does Jesus say? “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Jesus Christ longs to say those words to you—if he hasn’t already. Or to say them to you again if you need to hear them.
So the first thing we learn from this “résumé” of Jesus is that you are not too big a sinner to be part of his family. What else?
We learn that God’s calendar is not at all the same as our calendar!
The genealogy begins with Abraham. Why? Because God promised Abraham that through his offspring the world would be blessed—a prophecy that was fulfilled by Christ. But notice how many centuries—how many millennia—it took: about 2,000 years between Abraham and Jesus Christ! And then notice the final third of the genealogy: verses 12 through 15, after the kingdom of Judah was overthrown and Jews were deported to Babylon. God had already promised David, through the prophet Nathan, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” It had been six hundred years between verse 12 and verse 16—no king in sight! Where’s the promised king? Where’s the Messiah?
Everything God does, he does at the perfect time, but let’s face it: It’s often not as soon as we’d prefer. “God virtually never operates on our time frame, on a schedule we consider reasonable.” In Mark chapter 5, a desperate father named Jairus asks Jesus to come to his home and heal his fatally ill daughter. And Jesus agrees to do so. On his way the man’s house, however, Jesus stops to heal someone else first—whose need wasn’t quite as urgent. In the meantime, Jairus’s daughter dies. If only Jesus hadn’t stopped to do something else! If only he’d gone right away. The girl’s life could have been saved! That must have been what Jairus was thinking.
It seemed like Jesus’ timing was all wrong—until it wasn’t and he raised the man’s daughter from the dead. But Jesus tells the man, “Just believe! Don’t be afraid.”
In his new book on Christmas, Tim Keller says that it was as if Jesus were saying to the man, “If you want to impose your time frame on me, you will never feel loved by me, and it will be your fault, because I do love you. I will fulfill my promises.”
This genealogy reminds us that Jesus has not forgotten you and me. He hasn’t forgotten his promises. We can trust him!
Also notice in this “résumé” of Jesus how important it is to connect Jesus to David. Jesus is Israel’s true king—and the world’s true king. And of course, he’s the world’s king, whether we acknowledge him as king or not.
So here’s my question: Is Jesus king of your life? I’m not asking if you believe in Jesus. I’m asking if he’s king. Have we, in other words, surrendered our life to him? Or do we treat Jesus as if he’s merely our “consultant” or our “assistant”—someone who can help us out when we need him? Tim Keller said that he was at a conference one time many years ago, and the speaker at the conference shared this analogy:
If the distance between the Earth and the sun—ninety-three million miles—was no more than the thickness of a sheet of paper, then the distance from the Earth to the nearest star would be a stack of papers seventy feet high; the diameter of the Mill Way would be a stack of paper over three hundred miles high. Keep in mind that there are more galaxies in the universe than we can number. There are more, it seems, than dust specks in the air or grains of sand on the seashores. Now, if Jesus Christ holds all this together with just a word of his power (Hebrews 1:3)—is he the kind person you ask into your life to be your assistant?”… [I]f he really is like that, how can I treat him as a consultant rather than as Supreme Lord?
Brothers and sisters, we can trust him to be king of our lives!
So there’s an emphasis her on Jesus being the “son of David,” but there’s also an emphasis on Jesus being the “son of Abraham.” Those are the two characteristics of Jesus mentioned right there in verse 1: Jesus is son of David and son of Abraham.
Why “son of Abraham”? Well, as I mentioned earlier, God promised that through Abraham’s offspring the world would be saved—a promise fulfilled in Jesus. But there’s something else here… Theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that this reminds us of that other son of Abraham, Isaac. And what does God tell Abraham to do? To offer his son as a sacrifice. And Abraham loves his son more than life, but he loves God even more. So this father is willing to sacrifice his son. And of course this foreshadows the cross—when Jesus’ heavenly Father would offer his beloved Son, and Jesus would willingly offer himself, as a sacrifice… for us.
Scripture says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ paid the penalty for our sins that we are unable to pay ourselves—and in so doing to make us part of God’s family.
So this “résumé of Jesus” not only tells us that we can be part of God’s family; it also hints at how it’s going to happen.
Finally, if Jesus is the “son of Abraham,” and God’s promises to Abraham will be fulfilled, that means we have a mission as a church… [Share Matthew’s story.]
1. Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 66.
2. Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas (New York: Viking, 2016), 33.
3. Matthew 21:31
4. Luke 23:42-3 NASB
5. Keller, 35.
6. Ibid., 36.
7. Ibid., 91-2.