I’m excited today because I get to give a whole sermon on a Scriptural genealogy! Now, of course, I’m aware that this may have the exact opposite effect on you, as you think, ‘What could be more boring?’ Right? But it’s my hope that today, as we look at Jesus’ family tree, you will find this interesting. And even more so that it will build up your faith.
Overview of Matthew 1:1-17
If you will look at your handout: Matthew 1 Genealogy let me point out a few things –
1. The title of the section is in v. 1, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus.”
2. This section has two bookends (an inclusion with a chiastic structure) made up of the names – Abraham, David and the Messiah in 1 and v. 17. These bookends mark this off as a distinct section from the rest of chapter one. This was a common writing technique in that day.
3. Notice that it’s divided into 3 sets of 14 generations. As v. 17 points out, “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah fourteen generations.”
There are some additional notes on the handout for you to look at, if you’re interested.
A word about ancient genealogies
They can be quite different than modern ones. And I share this with you because if you start really digging in and taking a close look you might ask, ‘Well, what about this?’ or ‘What about that?’
First of all, there isn’t the same kind of focus on technical accuracy as we have today in genealogies. Let me give you two examples. 1) Names can be left out. For instance in the second section, v. 8 three kings are left out. Now these kings may have been left out for a reason (because they were under a curse?). But the point is they aren’t listed.
Now, leaving out names was not uncommon in ancient Jewish genealogies, so it’s not a big deal. Matthew may well be working with some common assumptions of the time about who should, and who shouldn’t be listed. And given these common assumptions he points out the symbolism of 3 sets of 14’s.
2) Another example of less technical accuracy is the alternate names that show up at points – Asaph for Asa, Amos for Amon, the former being alternate spellings for the latter.
Second, with ancient genealogies, you can be creative to make a point; to highlight certain people or things. For instance, the three time periods that are delineated highlight Abraham, David and the time of exile. Others could have been highlighted. And as we will see in a moment, this genealogy is set up to highlight Jesus’ connection with King David. Also, as we will see in a bit, Matthew adds in several women, which is quite unusual. But they are there for a reason, to make a point.
What do we learn from Jesus’ family tree?
1. Jesus is a descendant of king David or “the son of David” as v. 1 says. This is a royal genealogy. It traces Jesus’ lineage through Joseph to the royal line of David through Solomon. The point is that Jesus, by being adopted by Joseph, is a descendant of David, and is thus qualified to be the Messiah and to sit on David’s throne.
Now there are other things going on in this genealogy, as we will see. For instance, there is also a concern with Jesus’ connection to Abraham. But clearly the main focus in on David.
- He’s the only person in a list with many kings, who is given the title – “the king” – v. 6
- David’s name shows up five times in this genealogy – v. 1, v. 6, v. 17
- For this next point a little background. In alphabets of languages that don’t use numerals, the letters become numbers. This was the case with Hebrew. This means that you can take a word and count up the numerical value of it letters, and that is the number of the word. And this number can be used for symbolic purposes. Who can tell me the most famous example of this? Revelation 13:18 and the number “666.” I said all this to say that David’s name in Hebrew has 3 letters, which equal the number 14. (d = 4; w = 6; d = 4). This is certainly a part of the structure of this genealogy – 3 parts with 14 in each part. The whole genealogy, as it is put together here reflects David’s name.
- Also, David’s name is found in the 14th spot. (For this emphasis on David – Davies & Allison, Matthew, v. 1, p. 163-165)
In all of these ways David is highlighted among Jesus’ ancestors to show that Jesus has the credentials to be the Messiah and to sit on David’s throne.
2. A virginal conception isn’t that strange. This genealogy does teach that Mary was a virgin when she conceived. Throughout, the pattern is X is the father of Y. But when it comes to Jesus it reads, “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born” – v. 16. The language has to change to account for this different kind of event.
Now the circumstances of Jesus’ birth could certainly seem scandalous. A young woman who is pregnant, while not yet with her husband. And, in fact, the only reason she isn’t divorced as an adulteress is that an angel told Joseph not to do this. But this genealogy points out that there have been several irregular unions between men and women that seemed scandalous to outsiders, which were used by God in the royal lineage. (Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, p. 73)
The addition of the following women makes this point:
- Tamar – v. 3. She bore a child to Judah, under highly scandalous circumstances. But she is in the chosen line.
- Rahab – v. 5. She was a Gentile and a prostitute at one time, but she is in the kingly line of Israel.
- Ruth – v. 5. She was a Moabite who was not to be a part of Israel up to the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:3). But she was the mother of David’s grandfather.
- “The wife of Uriah” or Bathsheba – v. 6. She committed adultery with David, but Solomon came from this union.
Mary is the other woman in this genealogy. We know that many at the time and afterward slandered her by saying that she was involved in sexual immorality (e.g. John 8:41). And so the point is that a virginal conception may seem scandalous, but it has been used by God.
3. Jesus fulfills God’s promises to his people. The way the genealogy is set up in three sections, highlights three periods of time, all of which have key promises for the future of the people of God, which Jesus came to fulfill.
From the time of Abraham: Genesis 12:2-3 – God said, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. . . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 17:19 – God said, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises. He is the offspring of Abraham and through him God’s blessings are received.
From the time of David: 2 Samuel 7:12-13 – The Lord said, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. . . . I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” This promise is applied to the Messiah in the prophets. Isaiah 11:1 – “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Jeremiah 23:5 – “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises. He is the promised Messiah who will reign.
From the time of the exile: Ezekiel 36:26-27 – the Lord promises that after this time – “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 – “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. . . . I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises. He has brought true salvation – forgiveness of our sins, the giving of the Holy Spirit and the provision of a new heart for everyone.
As Paul says, “all the promises of God find their ‘Yes’ in Jesus Christ” – 2 Corinthians 1:20. He comes at the end of this lineage to bring to fulfillment all that God has promised before.
4. Finally, we learn that God is faithful through the ages. A lot of time is covered in these generations. And all this time God was working toward his own end, the coming of Jesus. Through good times – David, Abraham, and very bad times – wicked kings and exile, God has been working to bring about his plans and purposes.
And a God who can do this can certainly be faithful to us in our lives – in our good times and in our bad times. And God can bring about his purpose for our lives as well.