The Story of the World in the Family of Jesus | Matthew 1:1-17

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

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 Christ fourteen generations.

Matthew 1:1-17 ESV

With Mark’s Gospel now concluded and with Christmas falling on a Sunday, it was only natural to take up a stand-alone Christmas-themed sermon today. Yet in doing so, I was reminded all the more why I so rarely deviate from preached verse-by-verse through a book or passage of the Bible: the choice is overwhelming! Everything I read calls for me to make it my sermon text. Choosing a book of the Bible restricts the choices down to dividing the text out week by week. Nevertheless, singular sermons are occasionally beneficial, and for this Christmas service, I decided to go with one of my favorite passages: the genealogy of Jesus, specifically Matthew’s account.

Note: I do not say that in jest. I truly do love genealogies and this genealogy specifically. Genealogies have a negative reputation for being boring to read, but this stems from our subconscious bias that worth is tied to entertainment value. You see, my love for biblical genealogies should not be misunderstood as me saying that I find them just as entertaining as 1-2 Samuel or Esther. Genealogies fail the entertainment test because they are not stories; therefore, they will never hold our attention in same way that a riveting story does.

Interestingly, while genealogies are not stories themselves, the reason I love them is because they are the keys to connecting the individual stories of the Bible into the overall Story that God is telling throughout His Word, the very Story that you and I are characters within at this very moment.

Jesus’ genealogy here in Matthew’s Gospel, I would argue, is the most important of the bunch, for it connects the Old and New Testaments together. It is the literary bridge between covenants that ties us to the saints before Christ’s coming and them to us. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. As we hold Matthew 1:1-17 before us, I would like us to simply consider four lessons in the faithfulness of our God that this text reveals.

GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO REMEMBER THOSE WE FORGET

The first thing that we often notice in biblical genealogies is the presence of difficult to pronounce names of people that we know nothing about. We have no accounts of the lives of Ram, Obed, or Eleazar. Did Obed live a God-fearing life like his father and mother did? Or did he depart into wickedness like Manasseh departed from the godly ways of his father, Hezekiah? We do not know. But God does. The preservation of names such as his ought to be a reminder to us that the LORD does not forget the past generations as we so often do. Ecclesiastes 1:11 is right to lament about life under the sun, saying, “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” Indeed, there is a high probability that each of us will be entirely forgotten by our descendants a mere two hundred years from now. But God knows.

He is still just as familiar with the details of Obed’s life as He is with the life of Obed’s grandson, David or even with the lives of you and me presently. We, therefore, ought to rejoice and tremble that there is no such thing as obscurity before our Maker. “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). The lowliest and most reviled beggar will be fully known, for good or for ill, before the face of God just as much as King Solomon in all his splendor. Let us, therefore, take both comfort and warning from the truth that God knows us.

GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IN THE MIDST OF GREAT SIN & SORROW

Of the many names that we do know in this genealogy, we ought to be shocked and marveled by their great sufferings and transgressions.

Abraham, of course, is the great man of faith, who journeyed to Canaan and offered up his son at the LORD’s command. It was to Abraham that God gave the very great promise that all the nations would be blessed through his offspring. Yet Abraham also deceived two different kings about his wife Sarah being his sister, which led to her becoming their concubine. Abraham also gave in, all too quickly it would seem, to Sarah’s suggestion that Abraham impregnate Sarah’s servant Hagar on her behalf.

As for his son, Isaac, even though Rebekah was told that their older son would serve the younger, Isaac still showed favoritism to Esau because he liked to eat the game that hunted. Thus, Rebekah and Jacob took by deception what Isaac ought to have freely bestowed.

Of course, Jacob had even more marital problems than Abraham by marrying two sisters and only loving one of them. Yet it was through the unloved Leah that the Christ would come, even though, like her husband, Leah deceived her way into the promised blessing of Abraham by pretending to be her sister Rachel. Jacob then apparently determined not to be like his father and showered so much of his favor upon Joseph that his other sons became murderous.

Passing over Reuben, Levi, and Simeon, Judah carried on the blessed promise of the coming Savior, and it carried down through his son Perez whom he fathered by his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Tamar is one of the four women mentioned in this genealogy, and each is a poignant example of faith in the midst of hardship.

Although Judah was content to forsake his duties to his daughter-in-law, Tamar evidently valued his family blessing more than he did, so she did what was necessary to be a part of it.

Likewise, the Canaanite prostitute Rahab brought her family, like Noah did with his family, through God’s judgment upon her city, which He enacted through the Israelites.

Although a young widow, Ruth’s steadfast devotion to her also widowed mother-in-law won her favor in the sight of the generous and godly Boaz.

Regardless of modern suggestions, the text is silent on how complicit or coerced Bathsheba was in her adultery with King David, yet like Rebekah before her, she secured the blessing for her son, Solomon.

Speaking of David, Matthew does not bypass the great king’s sins, but explicitly acknowledges it by simply calling Bathsheba the wife of Uriah. Of the kings who followed David, some were devoted to the LORD, while others were wicked and rebelled against Him. Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah were overall righteous kings, but kings like Rehoboam, Ahaz, and Manasseh were just as sinful as the nations surrounding Israel were.

Indeed, Manasseh is probably the best example of God’s faithfulness to this list of sinners. We are explicitly told that Manasseh led Judah into committing worse atrocities than the Canaanite nations that God originally commanded Israel to destroy. Manasseh erected idols within the temple and burned some of his sons alive as sacrifice to the pagan god, Molech. Yet for all of Manasseh’s sins, toward the end of his reign, he was captured and imprisoned in Babylon, where he repented before the LORD. For presumably only a few more years, Manasseh was restored as king and attempted to destroy the altars that he had established. Thus, Manasseh’s repentance stands forever as a monument to how even the most wicked may still be transformed by God’s grace while there is still breath in their lungs.

Manasseh may have been a particularly vile sinner, yet even Abraham and David, faithful as they were, were still infected by the serpent’s cursed lies. This list of generations is a list of sinful men and a handful women who had a desperate need of grace. We are meant to see here the faithfulness of God throughout each generation. We are meant to see the wondrous way in which He used sinful people to bring into the world His sinless Son, how He uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.

GOD’S FAITHFULNESS OVER THE STORY OF HIS PEOPLE

Again, this genealogy particularly gives us the ability to see God’s faithfulness over His people throughout the lives of individuals in each passing generation. Matthew explicitly breaks the genealogy into three eras: from Abraham to David, from David to exile, and from exile to Christ. This is Matthew’s way of calling his readers to see the history of Israel within the family of Jesus.

Beginning with Abraham, God promised to give the patriarch a multitude of children, an offspring who would bless all the families of the earth, and the land of Canaan. Although Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob only ever owned a burial plot, they each died believing God’s promise would be fulfilled. And after four hundred years multiplying as slaves in Egypt, God did fulfill His promise. They conquered the Promised Land during the generation of Salmon.

But once they were in the Promised Land, the people were without a king and did what was right in their own eyes. So, God eventually gave them David to be their king, a man after His own heart. Yet, as we already said, David was far from being a perfect king. He could not conquer the sin within his own heart let alone the sins of all the world! Even so, God made David a promise that his throne would be eternal and that one of his descendants would be the everlasting king. The reign of his son, Solomon, proved the highest point in Israel’s history, yet it too was marred by sin. The wisest man to ever live gave in to the folly of sin, and, as we said, all of his descendent did likewise to lesser and greater extents.

Eventually, the LORD’s anger bubbled over, and Jeconiah’s generation was taken into exile by the Babylonians. Seventy years later, his grandson, Zerubbabel, led a handful of the Jews back to Jerusalem, where they rebuilt the city and the temple. Zerubbabel was established as the governor of Judea but never did he become the king of Judah as he ancestors were, nor would his own descendants. The throne of David was vacant. The kingdom of Judah was nothing but a memory. The Jews were ruled by the Babylonians, then the Persians, followed by the Greeks, the Syrians and Egyptians wrestled for control for a time, and then came Rome. Thus, while the generation of Joseph and Mary lived in the Promised Land, they were still exiles to some extent. Like Abraham, they did not own the very land that God had promised to them.

Indeed, that is the overall message of how Matthew structured this genealogy. The long sojourn of the patriarchs, in some sense, truly ended with the coronation of David, yet David, his descendants, and all the people of Israel were ultimately unable to keep God’s law. They were then plunged back into another time of sojourning through the exile, waiting for God to fulfill His promises, waiting for the Son of David to take up the throne of his father, waiting Yahweh to place the Lord’s enemies beneath His feet.

Jesus is that Son of David, the offspring of Abraham, the Christ, the One to whom all of history pointed. Though the offspring of Abraham, Jesus is the greater Abraham. Where Abraham’s faith faltered, Jesus remained steadfast in obedience to His Father. Though the Son of David, Jesus is the greater David. David, indeed, was a man after God’s own heart, yet the king’s heart was no less sick with sin as anyone else. Jesus, however, perfectly reflects the Father’s own heart, for Christ is the radiance of God’s glory. He is the exact imprint and image of God made visible to us. He is the Savior of the world who, by the cross, crushed the head of the serpent and brings us back to the garden.

GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IN EXPANDING HIS FAMILY

This brings us to the fourth and final instruction in God’s faithfulness here. The capstone of this genealogy with Christ ought to remind us that the building of Christ’s family is not yet complete. Although Jesus never married nor had children, His family extends throughout the world and is always expanding into the unreached corners of the globe. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:14-17 about we who have confessed Jesus as Lord and are being renewed through the Holy Spirit:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The great prize of our salvation in Christ is our adoption into His family, into the family of the living God. This also includes the Old Testament saints listed here in Jesus’ genealogy. Galatians 3:29 tells us, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Thus, by adoption, this is now our family tree. These men are our forefathers, and these women are our foremothers. Though we increasingly live in an unmoored time, a time when almost all of us are historical orphans who likely do not even know the name of only one of our great-great grandparents, here is an anchor of our identity and lineage.

That is why Ephesians 2:19 calls the church “the household of God” and why the New Testament calls us brothers and sisters. Through faith in Christ, we have been grafted into God’s family. And the lives, both in their victories and failures, are a witness and testimony to us to follow hard after Christ. To trust in Christ like Abraham. To strive to enter the kingdom like Jacob. To prize our inclusion as foreigners like Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. To be zealous like Josiah. To repent like David and even like Manasseh.

It is fitting that on this day of feasting with family that we should come to the Lord’s Table. Though it is certainly a feast for our souls as we look upon Christ and proclaim His death, this simple bite of bread and sip of the cup is by no means a physical banquet.

But it is not meant to be. Feasts are held at home around the family table. We are not yet home with all of our family. That feast comes later, when the earth is remade and so are we. For now, we are pilgrims on the homeward road, and this bread and cup that we are sharing together as brothers and sisters in Christ is only a foretaste of that great feast that we will share with the whole, collected household of God. For now, we taste and see by faith, but then we will taste and see by sight. Therefore, let us eat and drink with thankful hearts to Christ our Lord that He is not ashamed to adopt us and nor to give us a seat around His family table.


Note: The title of this sermon is a nod to Keller’s book on Mark’s Gospel, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus.

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