Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sermon / Homily on St. Matthew 1:1-17

"Jesus' Family Tree"

by Rev. Adrian Dieleman


Genealogies are hardly spellbinding. Do you know what is worse than Matthew 1? The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles or parts of Ezra and Nehemiah. When I was growing up, my family read through all of the Bible for devotions every day another chapter. I remember the time my dad decided to skip the first 9 chapters of 1 Chronicles. Us kids were more than happy after all, what could possibly be more boring than a long list of names?

Last time, as we looked at Matthew 1:1, Pastor Godfrey reminded us that the genealogy in front of us teaches us that the baby Jesus is "the son of David, the son of Abraham," (Mt 1:1) and the son of God. There is a reason Matthew starts his Gospel with this claim. Matthew's Gospel is commonly known as the "Jewish Gospel." He was writing as a Jew to fellow Jews. He was writing to Jews who questioned everything about Jesus.

As our text mentions, the list of names are organized into three groups: Abraham to David, David to the exile, the exile to the Christ. The first group of names comes from 1 Chronicles 1 & 2 and Ruth 4. The second group follows the record in 1 & 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. As for the third group, nine of the names are not found anywhere else in Scripture and come from public and private records from the period between the Old and New Testaments.

I A Family Tree with Mistakes?

There are a couple of problems with the genealogy in front of us. First, someone who memorized the long list of Judah's kings told me after last week's sermon that some kings are missing in the genealogy. In fact, four kings are missing: Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, Jehoiakim. Which reminds me that a couple of weeks ago we were talking about the list of kings when we were eating Sunday dinner. Our David mentioned he thought it was dumb that he had to learn the list of Israel's and Judah's kings when he was in grade school. He saw no reason for doing this. Well, here is one reason why. If you don't know the list of kings, you wouldn't notice that four kings are missing. This is important in a Scripture that is infallible and inerrant and inspired by the Spirit!

Second, someone else told me they counted up the names in the genealogy. Our text in verse 17 clearly says, "there are fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ" (Mt 1:17). Yet, if you were to count the names, there are 14 in the middle group and 13 in the first and last group. The first and last group are both missing a name. This, too, is important in a Scripture that is infallible and inerrant and inspired by the Spirit!

Third, Matthew mentions five women in the genealogy of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. This is an uncommon practice to include women in a genealogy. And, as Pastor Godfrey mentioned, questions were asked about the moral purity of all five women; in other words, all five women were known more for their sin than for anything else. This, too, is important in a Scripture that is infallible and inerrant and inspired by the Spirit!

Fourth, the middle section contains a list of fourteen kings. Yet, only David is called "King" (Mt 1:6). Why not the other kings? This, too, is important in a Scripture that is infallible and inerrant and inspired by the Spirit!

What I want to ask this morning is, why did the Holy Spirit inspire Matthew to include these so-called mistakes in his genealogy of Jesus?

II The Kingdom

A Let's give names to each of the three sections. Section 1 ends with "King David" (Mt 1:6). Section 2 ends with the "exile to Babylon" (Mt 1:11). Section 3 ends with the "Christ" (Mt 1:16) which means "the Anointed One, the Messiah." Notice, the focus of each section is the kingdom. Section 1 - the Davidic Kingdom Established. Section 2 - the Davidic Kingdom Destroyed. Section 3 - the Davidic Kingdom Restored.

Now we are able to answer why names are missing. Now we know why Matthew tells us there are 14 generations when, in actual fact, there are 13 in the first section, 18 in the second section, and 13 in the third section. It all has to do with the name "David." In the first century, letters were used in place of numerals. The Hebrew letter for "d" was assigned a value of four. The Hebrew letter for "v" was assigned a value of six. As the Hebrew alphabet contained no vowels, the numerical value of David's name was the value of "d" plus "v" plus "d" which is 4+6+4 which equals 14. Matthew wants us to focus on David, or to be more specific, on "King David." So, it isn't a mistake that names are missing. Matthew's point is not the names themselves but "King David" and the Davidic Kingdom.

B Section 1 ends with "King David" (Mt 1:6) and the Davidic Kingdom established. King David was a highpoint in the history of Israel. In fact, the whole history from Abraham to David leads up to this point. It starts with God's promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 & 17:

-a father of many nations
-many descendants
-the land of Canaan

For a while, Abraham and his descendants lived in the Promised Land. But, then, came famine, the sojourn in Egypt, the wandering through the wilderness, the conquest of only parts of the Promised Land, the days of the judges when the people were oppressed again and again by foreign powers, the unfit reign of King Saul. It must have seemed that God's promises to Abraham were only words with no reality and no fulfillment. But then came David and the realization of God's promises to Abraham.

But there is more. What does Scripture say about David? Aren't we told that David was a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22)? Yes, he was also a sinner. But still the intent of his heart was to serve the Lord. We see that when we look at his beautiful prayers of confession (Ps 32 & 51). We see that when he took personal responsibility for his sins (2 Sam 24:17). We see that when we listen to the songs of praise he sang to God (many of the psalms). David was the standard by which all future kings were judged. This includes "King Jesus."

The Davidic Kingdom was also a secure kingdom. Under David, the land and people had rest rest from invaders, rest to enjoy the fruit of their labors, rest to enjoy the Lord and His blessings.

C Section 2 ends with "the exile to Babylon" (Mt 1:11) and the Davidic Kingdom destroyed. As Pastor Godfrey pointed out last week, none of the kings who followed David were like David. Solomon, for instance:

(1Ki 11:3-4) He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. (4) As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.

Rehoboam "abandoned the law of the Lord" (2 Chron 12:1). Abijah "committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been" (1Ki 15:3). Jehoram "walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD" (2Ki 8:18). Jotham "did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his fathers had done. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit" (2Ki 15:9). Ahaz, among other detestable things, sacrificed his own sons (2 Chron 28:1-4). Manasseh was probably the worst king; he erected altars to idol gods in the Temple, sacrificed his own son, practiced sorcery, consulted mediums, and shed innocent blood (2Ki 21:2-9,16). You get the picture? By and large, the kings after David were not like David. The family tree of Jesus has many godless characters.

Now, remember, names are missing from the list of kings so that only fourteen are listed. The Spirit could have inspired Matthew to skip over the worst of the bad kings and include only good kings like Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah in the family tree of Jesus. The Spirit could have inspired Matthew to list only those kings who are heroes of faith.

What is the Spirit's point? Remember how the section ends? With the exile to Babylon! What are we to see? We are to see the Davidic Kingdom destroyed on account of sin, evil, and covenant disobedience on the part of king and people.

D Section 3 ends with "Jesus, who is called Christ." "Christ" is a kingly title, a royal title. It means Jesus is the Messiah. In other words, He is the promised Ruler from David's line (2 Sam 7:16). In Jesus, the Davidic Kingdom is going to be restored. But in a way that is far better.

We look at the names after the exile. We are reminded of the sad and even pathetic attempts to restore Jerusalem and the Temple to their former glory. The people were small in number, discouraged, oppressed. The land was under foreign domination: Persia, Egypt, Syria, Rome. Was the kingdom gone, never to be restored, a forgotten blip in history? No, because the section ends with "Jesus, who is called Christ." Jesus the Messiah. Jesus the King. Jesus, Who is born the "son of David" (Mt 1:1).

Compare King David to King Jesus. Though King David was a man after God's own heart, he was still a sinner; King Jesus, however, was sinless and perfect. King David killed His enemies; King Jesus died for His enemies. King David rejoiced in his army and his soldiers; King Jesus rejoiced in God.

Not only is the King better, but so is the Kingdom. King David gave the land and people rest from enemies, but it was only temporary; King Jesus gives eternal rest. King David enlarged the land and territory of Israel so Israel went way beyond its original borders; under King Jesus, all of the universe is included. King David won his kingdom by military conquest; King Jesus won His Kingdom by way of the cross. In fact, when we look at the Sermon on the Mount, we see that everything about this Kingdom is upside down compared to the kingdoms of this earth. In this Kingdom, the blessed ones are not the powerful, the bold, the rich, the strong, the mighty, the aggressor, the heartless. Rather, the blessed ones are the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted (cf Mt 5:3-12). This is the kind of Kingdom that will be established with the coming of Jesus.

I left out the best part of the Kingdom Restored at least, the best part as far as you and I are concerned. The original Davidic Kingdom was meant for Jews and Jewish converts. The restored Davidic Kingdom includes everyone who believes in Jesus including you and me. The story of Christmas, then, means the story of a Kingdom Restored for your sake and my sake.

III The Gospel

A Isn't the listing of Christ's genealogy a sad story? What stands out when you look at the names? What stands out when you look at the list of wicked kings? What stands out when you look at Tamar and Judah, Rahab the harlot, Ruth the Moabitess, Bathsheba the adulteress, and Mary the woman with a questionable pregnancy. Doesn't the whole list scream of depravity. As I told the children, everyone of Christ's forefathers were sinners, deeply flawed individuals. Even the good kings were flawed as Pastor Godfrey pointed out last week. We cannot look at the list of Christ's genealogy and say, "What a noble ancestry!"

What does this tell us? That Christ descended from sinners. That Christ entered the sinful human race. That He Who knew no sin became sin for our sakes. That He humbled Himself. The Spirit pulled no punches in directing Matthew what to write. The Holy Spirit Who left off some names wants us to know that Jesus' family history includes wicked men, prostitutes, and other notorious sinners.

Let's go further. Isn't the story of Christ's genealogy also your story and my story? Our genealogy is no better. Look at the list of my ancestors (HOLD IT UP) everyone a sinner, including me. When the Spirit opens our eyes to this, we will confess, "I am no better than Rahab or Manasseh." We are all sons and daughters of fallen Adam. We are all heirs of corruption. Christ's genealogical record is a record of our guilt, our shame, our sin, our fallenness.

B Look again at the three sections of Christ's genealogy. Section 1 - the Davidic Kingdom Established. Section 2 - the Davidic Kingdom Destroyed. Section 3 - the Davidic Kingdom Restored.

Isn't this a replica of the story of salvation? Isn't this a replica of what we know as Creation, Fall, Redemption? Think back to Adam & Eve in the Garden. There, in the Garden, man enjoyed rest and peace. There, in the Garden, man enjoyed security under the providential rule of God. And then came sin, evil, and covenant disobedience and it was all destroyed. It was Christ Who had to pick up the pieces.


I said earlier that Matthew is the Jewish Gospel. Matthew wants to convince his fellow Jews that baby Jesus is the King, the Messiah.

But Matthew, under the Spirit's inspiration, also has a bigger audience in mind. Who does Matthew include in Jesus' family tree? Gentiles like Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah. In Matthew's Gospel, who comes to see the Christ child? The Gentiles in the person of the Magi. From the very beginning, those who are not physical descendants of Abraham play important roles in the Gospel.

Which tells us what? King Jesus restores the Davidic Kingdom to Israel and to the Gentiles. King Jesus fulfills the deepest longings of true Israel and of the Gentiles. Thank God, I say, that Gentiles like you and me are not a mere afterthought in the saving purposes of our God!

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the Sunday Before Christmas (Genealogy of Jesus Christ)

Malankara World Christmas Supplement (additional Sermons, articles, devotionals, etc. on Christmas)

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