[This is actually a reprint, somewhat edited, of a post from last March. However, it’s certainly relevant for this time of year. Now, it does mention Easter, but Easter would never have happened if it weren’t for Christmas.]
Matthew’s genealogy is important because it tells us that the story of Jesus doesn’t begin “once upon a time,” in spite of those who claim it should. It’s rooted solidly in Jewish history, in the Old Testament. However, Matthew’s purpose isn’t merely to show us that Jesus is Jewish. His purpose is to show us as well that Jesus is closely linked to two great covenants in Jewish history: the Davidic and the Abrahamic. Both covenants have national and global significance. Jesus’ life and death have national and global significance.
Part of the significance of that life and death lies in connection with another covenant essential to the founding of the nation of Israel: the Mosaic. Moses wasn’t an ancestor of Jesus so isn’t included in the genealogy. Nevertheless, there is a connection, though it’s spiritual, not physical. Israel was given the Mosaic Law as a standard of righteous living, with blessings or judgment based on either Israel’s obedience or rebellion.
The Old Testament is filled with stories of Israel’s disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant, and the consequences of that rebellion. Israel was never able to attain to the righteousness required by the Law. Though that Covenant was never made with mankind – there is no “Dispensation of Law” for mankind – yet according to Paul in Romans 2:1-16, Gentiles, that is, the rest of mankind outside the Jewish race, understand the idea of “right” and “wrong.” These may not agree with the Biblical definition of such things, but there is still that understanding. The OT Jew never lived up to the Law, and we never live up even to our own understanding of right and wrong. We can never attain the righteousness God requires if we are ever to stand in His presence uncondemned. The Lord Jesus came to procure and provide that righteousness. Hence, the Manger and the genealogies.
We see –
Importance of the genealogy.
1. It established Jesus as a descendant of Abraham through Jacob (Israel). This is important because only an Israelite could be king over the nation, Deuteronomy 17:15.
2. It established Jesus as a descendant of King David. Only a descendant of David could sit on his throne. [You might want to check out my post on “The Daughters of Zelophedad” for more about this.] I know there is a lot of discussion today, with “the kingdom” being considered only as some sort of “spiritual” entity which has nothing to do with the nation of Israel, but the Old Testament clearly requires something more than an invisible reign of the Son of David. Jeremiah 23:5, 6 says “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute righteousness and judgment in the earth. In His days, Judah will be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely. Now this is the name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Interesting things in the genealogy.
The genealogy is obviously incomplete. That’s because it’s designed to show connection, not chronology. Several names are left out, and the ones included are arranged in three sections of 14. Perhaps Matthew did this to make it easier to remember these 42 names. Perhaps there is also a connection with David’s name. In Hebrew, the numeric value of the letters in his name is “14”.
1. Each segment ends with a decisive event: the rise of the monarchy, the Captivity, the coming of the Messiah.
2. Each segment involves a different Covenant. The first segment involves the Abrahamic Covenant, as the promised line develops through Isaac [not Ishmael, who was rejected], Jacob [not Esau, who was also rejected], then Judah, and on down to the Lord Jesus. The second segment has to do with the Davidic Covenant, a covenant in which the Lord promised David that he would always have a son to sit on his throne. That the Lord Jesus ultimately fulfills this covenant is without doubt. The question is, how and when? The third segment introduces the New Covenant. Though it’s commonly understood that the New Covenant concerns the Church, we only enter into its blessing because of and through the Lord Jesus. It was actually made on behalf of the nation of Israel, Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:36-44; Ezekiel 34:20-31; 36:16-38 and others.
3. Each segment has something to do with the Davidic kingdom. The first sections tells of its establishment. The second refers to its dissolution. The third has to do with its re-establishment.
4. The genealogy is a microcosm of grace. Consider the names listed in it.
a. Some were famous. Who could ask for more illustrious ancestors that Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon?
b. However, some were forgotten. Who knows anything about Abiud, Eliakim or Azor, or many of the others in this list. To a church proud of its accomplishments, and forgetting its roots, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world, to put to shame the mighty, and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.
For most of us, any memory of us will die with us, except maybe for family and a few friends, and when they die, so will the memory. But those whom the world has considered worthy to be forgotten, God has remembered in His grace.
c. Some were foul. Consider Manasseh, for example. Though son to a godly father, he himself was so wicked that he single-handedly brought on the judgments which later happened to Judah, 2 Kings 21:10-16. Romans 5:8 says, God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Never make the mistake that God saved you because you were so wonderful, or that you had done something that impressed Him, or obligated Him. What is wonderful about it, is that God saved you, and me!
d. Some were feminine. Women were seldom included in genealogies. What is even more amazing in this genealogy are the women who were included in it. One had been a harlot; one had played the harlot. Two were outsiders, members of races under God’s judgment (aren’t we all?) One brought with her the scandal of adultery and murder. One was placed in a situation where she was, and is, considered by many to be an adulteress. Yet each was given her own special place of responsibility and privilege in producing a link in the chain from Abraham to Jesus.
In spite of the disdain for, and disagreement with, that many have for the Biblical role of women, it wasn’t Christianity that burned a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. It’s not Christianity that considers women as mere chattel or that requires them to walk several paces behind their husbands. It is Christianity that commands husbands to love their wives as themselves, or even more, to love them as Christ loves us, willingly, sacrificially and for their benefit.
There is one final thing, and this is probably the most important.
e. Some were forgiven. SOME, not all. Some people are very interested in their ancestors. Someone was kind enough to trace my own family back to the Old Country. There were five families he was tracing and his and mine intersected a few generations back. My daughter was Salutatorian of her class at the Christian school she attended. After the graduation, the wife of a pastor of a Baptist church in the area came up to me and asked me if I were the speaker’s father. I was. It turned out that this lady and I were (very) distant cousins. I guess it is a small world, after all.
Lincoln is quoted as saying that people who are always talking about their ancestors are like potatoes. The only good thing about them is underground. That’s a little cold, but the truth is, it’s more important what kind of descendant my ancestors have, than what kind of ancestors their descendant has.
The thing is, and these people would have been looking forward, not backward, mere physical relationship to Jesus means nothing, as wonderful as that might have been. Our Lord Himself taught that in Mark 3:31-35. His ministry was still its enjoying its early enormous popularity and His family, to put it bluntly, thought He was nuts. They came to try to talk to Him, and when Jesus was told about this, He said, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and My mother.”
Now Jesus wasn’t disavowing His family. One of the last things He did on the Cross was to provide for His mother, John 19:25-27. He was simply saying that physical relationship isn’t what gets it done spiritually. He mentioned “the will of God,” and in John 6:40, He said, “…this is the will of Him Who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life….” Then, lest someone object, “How can we see Him? He’s not here!?” He said to Thomas after the Resurrection and Thomas’ doubts about it, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” John 20:29.
There is only one religion (my, how I dislike that word!) in the world that has a Manger and a Cross, and that Cross is empty. Many deny the Resurrection, but those who came to the tomb on that Sunday morning found it to be empty as well.
Several of my posts have mentioned Easter, and that has really been unintentional on my part. Even when I started this post 1700+ words ago, I wasn’t thinking about it. But it’s a week from this coming Sunday [remember, this is a reprint of an earlier post. But without Christmas, there would be no Easter] – a reminder that Someone has broken the chains of sin, death and judgment that hold us all, apart from faith in Him. That Someone has come to make a way of access into the presence of a holy, righteous and just God Who must and will punish sin. That Someone has come and taken that punishment on behalf of those who believe on Him, not an academic or formal or “religious” faith, but an absolute reliance on who He was and what He did for sinners, to the point that if He failed, and He cannot! there is no other way of salvation, no other hope for you and me.
There is, or was, a TV program for children called, “The Neverending Story.” At least, I think it was for children. There really is a “neverending” story. With Luke and John, Matthew gives us its beginning.