This morning I considered doing something a little different. I considered taking a board, painting it and then we together could watch it dry. That would not be very exciting, would it? This morning we begin an Advent series of sermons looking at the first chapter of Matthew which begins with the genealogy of Christ. Perhaps you are thinking that a sermon based on a list of names is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Let’s admit that this is not the most gripping reading in the Bible. We do wonder at times about the value of such a list.
However, Matthew has a very good reason for beginning his gospel with this genealogy. In this list of names, we learn that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Messiah Savior and that this Messiah is truly for all people. There is some deep comfort in this list for in this list are names of people like us. Some are of dubious character and some are virtually unknown, but they are all part of God’s plan and his story to redeem the world. Let’s read Matthew 1:1-17.
I. Matthew’s first point is that Jesus is the son of Abraham.
Through this genealogy, Matthew is showing his Jewish readers that Jesus is THE son of Abraham and that Jesus fulfills in every way the covenant promises God made to Abraham. God had made many beautiful promises to Abraham. He promised that a great nation would come from Abraham and that had happened in the Israelites. But God also promised that through Abraham’s descendants all nations of the world would be blessed. Jesus is that son of Abraham who brings blessing to all nations of the world. In Matthew 8:11, Jesus says that many will come from east and west and take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom is not just for the Jewish people for Jesus is the one through whom people outside of the Jewish people will come to God and be a part of the kingdom.
Through Jesus, the whole world – and that includes us – continues to be blessed. Sometimes we may feel like we don’t belong. We may not feel like we belong to a family, to a church or in a community. Maybe it’s your in-laws or your workplace or even your family of origin. In 2003, there was a reality TV show called “Average Joe” where 18 average looking guys had the opportunity to woo a former beauty-queen/NFL cheerleader, Melana Scantlin. In the producers’ view, Melana was way out of these guys’ league and in fact, at first when Melana saw them, she didn’t even want to proceed with the show. Such average Joes didn’t belong with someone so culturally beautiful. We are average Joes and Janes and we all feel that from time to time. But watch how we average persons are part of the story and part of God’s family. Jesus was born not just so that the Jewish people would have a messiah, but that all nations and people would have a Savior Messiah whom we belong to. Jesus powerfully fulfills the promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all nations.
II. The second main point Matthew wants to make is that Jesus is the Son of David.
In this part of the genealogy in verses 6b-11 we find some peculiarities. People research their ancestry because they are curious about their family history. For example, I have a cousin who has done extensive research on my mother’s side of the family. From this research, I learned that I have a distant ancestor who was briefly married to and had a child with Wyatt Earp’s brother, Virgil. That may be of some curious interest, but it doesn’t really say anything about me and my family; it’s a curious historical fact but that’s it. Generally speaking the purpose of writing a genealogy in the Bible was not to establish an accurate record of names for the sake of curious historical fact.
That is evident by looking closely at the list of names. For example, the time between Rahab and David was far longer than the time that the few generations listed would cover; some names have been skipped over. In verse 8, there are three names omitted between Jehoram and Uzziah. There are three kings of Judah who are simply not listed. Not every person is listed in Jesus’ genealogy but that doesn’t make it inaccurate. Matthew’s point is that Jesus is from Abraham’s and David’s line.
In verses 6-16, Matthew shows that Jesus is the son of David. In this genealogy, Matthew follows the royal line of descent from David. The names listed in verses 6b-11 are all kinds of Judah. The list in verses 12-16 are all legal heirs to the throne of David even though they couldn’t reign because of the exile. This list concludes with Joseph, also a legal heir to the throne of David. But Matthew is not just saying that Jesus is an heir to the throne of David; he is saying that Jesus is THE heir to the throne. In 2 Samuel 7:12-13 God promised David that his offspring would rule forever as king. Jesus is the Son of David God promised to David many years before.
In fact, the structure of the genealogy itself shows this. In verse 17, Matthew highlights the fact that the genealogy is arranged in three groups of fourteen names each. In the Hebrew language, there are no separate symbols for numbers. Instead each letter of their alphabet represented a number. “A” would be 1, “B” would be “2", and so on. Now when you add up the letters of David’s name, the consonants “D-V-D”, you end up with the number 14. Matthew may be saying the whole genealogy of Jesus points to Jesus as being the final offspring of David, the one who will reign forever.
And so Matthew has established two very important things for his readers. Jesus is THE son of Abraham, the one who fulfills the covenant with Abraham. He is the one through whom the whole world will be blessed. Jesus is also THE son of David, who is the promised king who will rule forever. We elect a president who serves 4 years or 8 at most. Some countries have dictators who rule for life and they bring misery to thousands for their whole lifetime. Jesus is king forever and his perfect rule is bringing peace and life to us!
Women were not usually part of Jewish genealogies, yet Matthew includes five. Tamar, listed in verse 3, was not a Jew, but a Canaanite and an outsider. In Genesis 38, we read that she posed as a prostitute in order to trick Judah into fathering her children; not exactly the role model you want your child to follow. Rahab, listed in verse 5, was a Canaanite prostitute in the city of Jericho when the Israelites conquered that city, but she came to believe in the true God. She then married Salmon who was an ancestor of David. Ruth listed in verse 5 was also an outsider in that she was from the nation of Moab. She was not involved in any sexual scandal with her husband Boaz, although theirs was not the normal courtship and marriage within Israel. Bathsheba in verse 6 was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a Gentile. Anyone who married a Gentile was considered to be an outsider as well. She too was involved in sexual scandal when she committed adultery with David. Of course, the final woman is Mary, the mother of our Lord.
Now why are all these women mentioned in this genealogy? Three were involved in some type of obvious sexual sin. Matthew possibly includes these sinners because they are good illustrations of the kind of people Jesus came to save. Jesus didn’t come to save good upstanding and moral citizens. Jesus came to save people whose lives are messed up because of sin – like ours! These women are a graphic reminder of why Jesus had to come to earth. Yet all of them were used in a special way by God. These women highlight the fact that God worked in a very special way at times to bring about his plan of salvation. God can use unusual, sinful, and even tragic events in our lives as well in order to advance his kingdom. God, as Neal Plantinga says, can “hit straight shots with crooked sticks.” This genealogy teaches that throughout history God uses all kinds of people – even those who sin – to do his will.
But Matthew also highlights these women in order to show that already in the Old Testament, Gentiles were part of God’s people. Some of these women were outsiders, yet they were part of God’s plan to bring the Messiah. There is room for all types of people in the kingdom of Christ. We tend to think of only certain types are kingdom citizens but there are Christians of every color, every background, every ethnicity and social class. The genealogy shows how God always intended to expand his kingdom to include all kinds of people.
First, let’s remember today that Jesus is truly the King. Some people think that if we just get the right leaders in the right places today things will improve and God’s kingdom will come! To these things, we must say, “NO!” for Jesus is king and king alone! And Jesus as king is actively ruling today. Let’s thank God for sending his Son who was born a king. Let’s take comfort in the fact that even though this world seems out of control at times, our King is alive, ruling and is in full control.
Second, let us also remember this Christmas season that Jesus, who is King of all, must also be king of every one of us in our lives. Too often we are so busy with so many other things, our work, families and ourselves that we don’t really allow Christ to rule our lives and to be at the center of our lives. Scott Hoezee refers to the novel The Great Gatsby in his book Authentic. At one point in the story a character utters an observation along the lines of “It was all true and it didn’t matter.” We can celebrate Christmas and make sure Christ is in our Christmas, but if Jesus being king doesn’t matter in our lives, that’s a real problem. We can make sure we have all the truths lined up but if we are not living with the living Jesus as our Lord, it doesn’t really matter. Let’s make sure that Jesus is really at the center of our lives; not just symbolically there.
This is the Jesus whose birth we anticipate celebrating in four weeks on Christmas. Today we proclaim that not only was Jesus born, he is alive and ruling today as King, seeking to bring us peace. Will this be the central focus of your Christmas celebrations this year?