Yesterday, I was presented with what initially seemed to be a difficult task: teach the genealogy of Jesus to a group of kids. Genealogies are hard enough for adults to be excited or even care about, let alone a group of rambunctious kids. I knew I would have to be prepared. What I discovered in my study of a genealogy—a seemingly meaningless list of names—was that in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus inaugurates his kingdom as the sovereign fulfillment of God’s promises. I left my study of Matthew 1:1-17 rejoicing, singing “Joyful, joyful we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love.” But the trick was going to be persuading these kids that this list of names is more than just a list of names. So, what are genealogies and why do they matter? More pointedly, what significance does the genealogy of Jesus carry?
“And he fathered, and he fathered, and he fathered…”
A genealogy is sort of like a family tree. It is a list of names that traces the heritage of a person. It shows a person’s parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great great-grandparents, and so on. Reading them can be taxing. Essentially it is a long repetition of the phrase “the father of” or “fathered” with names on either side. If you are not careful, your eyes may cross or start to gloss over while reading them. Since reading a genealogy is a much different experience than reading the battle between David and Goliath, it is tempting to skip it altogether.
“Ok, we get it, Matthew. Jesus has A LOT of ancestors! Can we please get to the miracle of the virgin birth?”
Although genealogies may seem boring and even unnecessary to you, the long list of names that records Jesus’ ancestry was not only highly significant to the initial Jewish audience, but it carries tremendous weight to God’ promises and purposes in his grand story of redemption. Is the list of Jesus’ ancestors in Matthew 1 important, or is it just information about who is related to Jesus? There are many reasons that Matthew began his Gospel with the “book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). And there is much debate over the details of the genealogy of Jesus found in both Matthew and Luke. If you are interested in these discussions, the best resource I have found on the issue of Jesus’ genealogy is J. Gresham Machen’s The Virgin Birth of Christ.
Our purpose here, though, is to seek and hopefully find the biblical and theological significance of the genealogy of Jesus. What does Jesus’ family tree have to teach us? I believe there are countless things to learn from this list of names, and it is more than a lesson on pronunciation of difficult Hebrew names! The genealogy of Jesus is no ordinary list. It is the inspired word of God that teaches us many things about the Word who became flesh. And it should lead us into worship of the savior-king who has come. I see six reasons why the genealogy of Jesus matters.
1. God came to earth as a man.
Matthew writes later in chapter one that Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus is God the Son in human flesh. Jesus was sent by his Father to live, die, and rise from the dead for sinners. Sinners like you and me are separated from God because of our sin. However, God the Son came to us as a man to reconcile us to God through the life he lived and death he died in our place.
2. Jesus came to fulfill the promises of God
Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. It is through Jesus that all peoples of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3) Jesus accomplishes God’s mission to bless people from every nation on earth. Jesus is also the fulfillment of the promise made to king David. Jesus is the king who came to reign on the throne of David for all eternity (2 Sam. 7:16). Jesus accomplishes God’s mission to inaugurate a kingdom that will never end.
3. Jesus came to save sinners and lead them into eternal life
The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of the name “Joshua.” Joseph was told to name his son “Jesus,” for he will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). Just as Joshua was chosen to lead Israel into the promised land, Jesus came to lead his people into eternal life.
4. God chooses his servants based on his grace, not their performance
See the sins of Rahab (the prostitute), Bathsheba the adulterer, David the murderer, and various kings who led Israel into sin. God does not choose servants based on the works of men, but on his own grace. If you think your family tree is crooked, look to Jesus’ to see many sinners who led to the birth of the sinless Savior. You are not too deep in your sin for the grace of God to reach you in Jesus. Jesus’ genealogy teaches us this.
5. Jesus came to eliminate barriers
Barriers between men and women, Jews and Gentiles, and the morally good and morally bad are demolished with the coming of Christ. Men and women are mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, as are both Jews and Gentiles, and saints and sinners. In Christ we find unity unlike anything else in this fallen world. All who are united to Christ by faith are united to others who are united to Christ by faith, regardless of their gender, race, or family heritage.
6. Jesus is the one worth waiting for
The Jews had waited for the Messiah for nearly a thousand years! This same Messiah is the one we are waiting for today. The people of God patiently waited year after year for a son of David to come to the throne and reign forever. However, year after year, the people of God were left waiting, as the Messiah did not come. Finally, the Messiah comes as Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The long-awaited King came to reign over his people. We are waiting once again for Christ to return as a conquering king and judge. We are waiting for our Savior to return to complete his defeat of sin and death. We should trust God to work in his own way and in his own time. The Messiah came. The Messiah will return. The genealogy of Jesus teaches us patience and celebration. While we must wait patiently, we should also wait expectantly. We pray with urgency, but with delight: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Will You Worship the King?
James Montgomery Boice once wrote, “Matthew is a bridge book linking the Old Testament with its fervent anticipation of the Messiah to the realization of the Messiah’s kingly rule over the new people of God, which is the church” (The Gospel of Matthew: The King and His Kingdom, vol. 1, 15). Matthew takes us to an inauguration of a king, but not just any king. This king who came was God the Son, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, who is the fulfillment of God’s promises and purposes. This king saves sinners by his life, death, and resurrection. This king is coming back. This king will reign forever. The questions the genealogy of Jesus present must be answered by every man and woman: Will you bow to the King? Will you enter his kingdom by faith?
Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.