Advent Podcast Day 4: “Jesus’ Family Tree”

December 6, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Matthew 1:1-17

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 6, 2017, and you are listening to Day 4 of my new series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to Frank Sinatra’s version of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” from his 1957 album A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra, which was arranged by Gordon Jenkins. My copy of the record was renamed The Sinatra Christmas Album, but it’s the exact same album with new artwork. You can know that that song was from Side B of the album because all the songs on Side A are the classic “secular” Christmas songs—like Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song.” All the songs on Side B are sacred Christmas hymns and carols like this one. I prefer for them to be mixed together, but whatever… It’s a great album, regardless.

Our scripture is Matthew 1:1-17. I suspect when many of you read this in your Bibles you either skip over it or skim it quickly. It’s Matthew’s genealogy. So hang on, I’m going to read it very quickly…

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 will only give 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.

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 on that score, Jesus’ résumé is impressive enough. He is descended from King David, after all, as the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament say he must be.

But then we dig a little bit deeper, and we notice that Jesus’ résumé, unlike most résumés today, tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Notice, for instance, that this genealogy features four mothers before we get to Mary. This in itself is unusual: a genealogy is supposed to be about fathers, not mothers. 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.”[1]

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.[2]

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.[3] 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. This happens because, as Jesus tells Nicodemus in John chapter 3, you are “born again” by the Holy Spirit into God’s family.

As I said earlier, Alexander Hamilton strove throughout his life to be a “new man.” In Christ, this transformation can really happen. In Christ we become new men and new women.

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

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