Genealogies form some of the hardest passages of the Bible to appreciate. For a long time, I saw them as boring lists of hard-to-pronounce names that I would have to struggle through when my family took turns reading Scripture aloud. Then, during my pastor’s sermon series on Genesis, I began to realize the meaning and value of these recitations. Just like the rest of God’s Word, genealogies point to Christ and the Gospel. In particular, God’s grace and providence shine forth in Jesus’ unlikely lineage as described in Matthew 1:1-17.
Many names stand out in Matthew 1, and Jesus’ genealogy is indisputably full of faithful, godly, and kingly men. Nevertheless, it is also a list of sinners and people with surprising backgrounds. Abraham lied out of fear (Genesis 12:10-19; Genesis 20:1-2), and his sons Isaac and Jacob showed favoritism toward their children and tried to override or control God’s plans (Genesis 30:37-43). Judah committed incest with his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar, and their son Perez was the ancestor of Boaz. Boaz’s mother Rahab was a Canaanite and former prostitute, yet her faith led her to help and then join with God’s people. Boaz’s wife Ruth was a Moabite; however, she faithfully stayed with her widowed mother-in-law Naomi and made Israel her home. David committed adultery and murdered Uriah, yet his son by Uriah’s wife became part of the lineage of Christ. The books of Kings and Chronicles detail the lives of Solomon and his descendants, the best of whom were imperfect and the worst of whom committed abominable deeds.
While focusing on the worst aspects of these Biblical characters’ lives paints a dark and disheartening picture of sin, I see in it hope and grace. Christ came to save sinners just like these people. Their stories of brokenness remind us why they and we need redemption, why Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection are necessary. This lineage also reminds us of the mightiness of God, who chooses to use sin-broken men and women to accomplish his purposes, and who can use what is meant for evil to accomplish good (Genesis 50:20). Studying Christ’s genealogy reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1:26-28, where Paul writes, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise…And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.”
Christians are part of a mighty throng of people, full of faith, sin, strengths, and weaknesses, who needed their divine descendant and his redemptive work just as much as the rest of the world needs him. Deeper comprehension of the reality and weightiness of sin is not something we should shy away from, for the more we realize the darkness of the world, the more we grow in our appreciation of what the LORD has done. Only once we acknowledge the darkness in which we walk, will we recognize our need for the Light. As we read of Jesus’ birth, let us not pass over his lineage and its redemptive message. As we burn candles and light Christmas trees, may these be reminders of the Messiah who declared himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12), and let us also remember Zechariah’s words: “The dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79) and “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (1:68-69).
The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Oxford Edition: 1769; King James Bible Online, 2008. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/.