by Rev. Adrian Dieleman
Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17
To the average Christian few things in the Bible are less meaningful and more boring than the frequent lists of descendants and ancestors. Those who read the Bible from cover to cover tend to develop an elastic conscience when they come, for instance, to the first nine chapters of the book of 1 Chronicles. The endless list of names and the endless repetition of "The sons of ...," "The sons of ...," "The sons of ...," is mind-numbing, to say the least. The more determined families may read through all the genealogies once, but very few will read them through a second time.
In the Bible, genealogies serve different purposes. Genealogies can help to establish identity. They can identify someone as coming from a certain tribe and a certain clan and a certain family. In the Ancient World extended family ties were important because a tribe cares for its members.
Genealogies are also used to establish status and legitimacy – especially in the offices of king and high priest where lineage is important. A king, for instance, can show his right to rule by pointing to all his royal ancestors.
Genealogies are also used to emphasize personality or character traits. A person is given a genealogy filled with people who have similar personality traits, or characteristics. For instance, if one is known for skill in battle, then included in his ancestry are those who themselves were great warriors. If one is wise, then included in his ancestry are those also known for their wisdom. This is done to show that the desirable trait or characteristic runs in the family.
Because genealogies can serve different purposes an individual can be given two or more genealogies – each according to the purpose for which they were drawn up.
My grandfather has traced his family tree back to the 16th century and includes only direct or immediate blood relatives. For him no other family tree is possible. But in the Bible it is possible to have conflicting genealogies of the same person if those genealogies have different functions.
The best illustration of this is the two genealogies of Jesus recorded in Scripture – one in Matthew 1 and the other in Luke 3. It is readily apparent that these two genealogies are very different from each other. Luke, for instance, allows many more generations than does Matthew; but, then, Luke's list goes from Adam to Jesus whereas Matthew's goes from Abraham to Jesus; but even in the time period where the two genealogies overlap, Luke's is much longer – some 56 names compared to Matthew's 41. Also, the two lists are in reverse order: Luke's starts with Jesus whereas Matthew's ends with Jesus. And furthermore, Matthew's list traces Jesus' ancestry through David's son Solomon whereas Luke's traces Jesus' ancestry through David's son Nathan.
The differences between the two lists are a problem only to the Western mind for we insist on biological accuracy and completeness when it comes to genealogies. Scholars have generally explained away the differences by suggesting that Matthew follows the family tree of Joseph, while Luke emphasizes that of Mary. Other scholars have suggested that Matthew traces the legal descent of the house of David using only heirs to the throne, while Luke traces the complete line of Joseph to David. Neither of the lists may be totally accurate in terms of Western family trees, but both of them are completely accurate in terms of the function or purpose they serve.
Matthew's genealogy is accurate because his intention is not to trace a direct blood-line but to show that Jesus is the son of David and the son of Abraham. Luke's genealogy is also accurate because his intention is also not to trace a direct blood-line but to show that Jesus is the Son of God.
I Jesus is the Son of David
A "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David ..." Matthew's genealogy first shows us that Jesus is the son of David.
Matthew elaborates on Jesus as the son of David in the Christmas story of verses 18-25. There we discover that Jesus is counted as the son of David through Joseph.
This requires some explanation. Matthew tells us twice that Jesus was conceived through the Spirit and not by means of sexual union between Joseph and Mary (Mt 1:18,20). Joseph is not even Jesus' natural father. So how can Jesus be the son of David through Joseph?
We have to understand Jewish custom and practice here. We note that Joseph took Mary, and the Child within her, into his home and accepted all responsibility for them. According to Rabbinic law, when a man does this he becomes the legal father of the child. Furthermore, we are told that Joseph, in obedience to the angel, gave the Child the name Jesus. According to Jewish law, he who names a child is reckoned as its father.
So, through Joseph, Jesus is a son of David.
B "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David ..." So what? What does this mean? What is its significance?
Matthew's Gospel was written by a Jew and for Jews. Matthew's Jewish audience understood immediately the significance of calling Jesus Christ "the son of David." They would think immediately of God's promises to David as we find them in 2 Samuel 7:
(2 Sam 7:11-16) The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: (12) When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, 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. (14) I will be his father, and he will be my son ... (16) Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me ; your throne will be established forever.
Though these promises had been fulfilled in the reign of King Solomon, every Jew was waiting and looking for an even more glorious fulfillment in the person of the Messiah. In fact, Matthew's Jewish audience thought of and used the phrase "son of David" as a Messianic title. So Matthew, in identifying Jesus as the "son of David," is stating that Jesus is the longed-for, hoped-for, and prayed-for Messiah – the Messiah Who fulfills all those glorious promises given to David.
The Messiah. The Christ. Every Jewish child of God was waiting for His appearance. For centuries they dreamed and spoke with longing of His coming. When the Messiah came all that is wrong in our world would be set right. God's people would be set free from oppressors. The rich would no longer tyrannize the poor. The lame would begin to leap and jump and dance. The blind would see a world of vivid color. The deaf would listen to the songs of birds and the music of harps. The deserts of Israel would be turned into fragrant gardens. Swords and spears would be hammered into plows and hoes. Enemies would become friends. Jerusalem would be at the center of the world, and all the kings and rulers of the earth would come there to worship Israel's God.
Can you imagine a perfect world? a world without crime, pollution, death, hardship? a world without war, struggle, injustice? a world without the threat of a nuclear holocaust or germ warfare? a world without floods, hurricanes, droughts, famines, earthquakes? a world of love, peace, joy, hope? That's the kind of world the Messiah would bring. His coming heralds the beginning of a glorious, wondrous, beautiful time for the people of the Lord. No wonder they could hardly wait for His appearance.
Matthew starts his Gospel with these words, "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David." In starting with these words, Matthew is beginning his Gospel with a message of hope and good news for his fellow Jews. He is saying, "The longed-for, hoped-for, prayed-for Messiah, the son of David, has finally come and established His kingdom."
II Jesus is the Son of Abraham
A "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ ... the son of Abraham ..." Matthew's genealogy also shows us that Jesus is the son of Abraham.
What does it mean that Jesus is the son of Abraham? Again, Matthew's Jewish audience would understood immediately the significance of calling Jesus Christ "the son of Abraham." They would think immediately of God's astonishing and wonderful promises to Abraham. Let me briefly review with you those promises:
(Gen 12:2-3) "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
(Gen 13:15-16) All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. (16) I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.
(Gen 17:6-7) I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. (7) I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
(Gen 22:17-18) I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, (18) and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed ...
What beautiful promises! How wondrous they are!
Though these promises were partially fulfilled in and through Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and those after them, a more glorious and complete fulfillment was expected. By the time of the New Testament, for instance, God did make of Abraham a great nation; his descendants did possess the promised land; and, nations and kings did come from Abraham. However, unfulfilled to date was God's promise that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." And, though Israel was a numerous people, they still were not as many as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore or the dust of the earth. Finally, God's eternal covenant with Abraham, though already established, was not yet fully established.
In large part, God's promises to Abraham would remain unfulfilled until the appearance of the Messiah. You see, it is only in Messiah Jesus that all the peoples on earth are blessed; it is only in Messiah Jesus that Abraham's descendants become as numerous as the sand on the seashore; it is only in Messiah Jesus that God has established an eternal covenant with Abraham and his descendants after him.
B "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ ... the son of Abraham ..." Matthew elaborates on Jesus as the son of Abraham in the story of the wise men (Mt 2:1-12) from the east who come to worship He "who has been born king of the Jews" (Mt 2:2). When we see those wise men bowing before and worshiping the Child, we see that Gentiles too are blessed through Abraham, even as God promised. When we see those wise men bowing before the manger we see them joining the throng of people who count Abraham as their father. When we see those wise men presenting their gifts and adoration we see them becoming part of the eternal covenant God first made with Abraham.
Matthew starts his Gospel with these words, "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ ... the son of Abraham." In starting with these words, Matthew is beginning his Gospel with a message of hope and good news for his fellow Jews. He is saying, "The longed-for, hoped-for, prayed-for son of Abraham, has finally come. He is Jesus Christ. And, it is through Him as the son of Abraham, that Gentiles too are blessed, that Gentiles too count Abraham as their father, and that God's eternal promises are kept and not broken."
III God's Plan
A Jew and a Gentile were studying the Old Testament together in preparation for a class at the university. The Gentile asked his friend, "What is your favorite passage?" His quick reply, "The first eight chapters of 1 Chronicles."
When asked why this passage was especially meaningful for him, the Jew went on to explain that a passage such as that shows in the clearest way how God's love for His people was shown throughout the centuries; it shows that God is continually at work in our world; it show that His faithfulness continues to reach to all generations and His covenant love goes from parents to children.
We can and should say the same thing about the genealogy of Jesus in the first seventeen verses of Matthew: it shows God's love for His people throughout the centuries; it shows that God is continually at work in our world; it shows that His faithfulness continues to reach to all generations and His covenant love goes from parents to children.
B The genealogy of Jesus teaches us that the only way we can get from Abraham to David to Jesus is because of God's providence. Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, is evidence of God's planning. That the promises made centuries earlier to Abraham and David are fulfilled in Jesus is proof that it is God Who is at work here. When it comes right down to it, the genealogy is not a record of man's biological productivity, but a demonstration of God's providence. The genealogy of Jesus, we can say, reflects the working out of God's plan of salvation in history.
"A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham ..." Congregation, let us listen to the Word of the Lord: Jesus Christ, by the plan of God, is the son of David and the son of Abraham.
The time of waiting is finally over. The son of David has come. The son of Abraham is finally here. Jesus, He is the Messiah. In Him the perfect Messianic kingdom has been established. In Him all peoples on earth are blessed, both now and forevermore.
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the Sunday Before Christmas (Genealogy of Jesus Christ)
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