Elim Lutheran Church December 30 2018
text: Matthew 1:1-17
DNA research has become the thing to do for many of us. It is interesting and fun to discover a bit more of who we are and where we come from. Sometimes though we discover things we do not expect. Family secrets that no one told us before, like your ethnic origins being different than you thought; like you have other siblings you have never met; and maybe you are related to someone famous—or other things that are more scary to think about.
There are a few surprises in Jesus’ ancestral history too. Jewish people over the years have kept better track of their history than most of us.
Jesus’ family tree includes some pretty colorful characters. Some good guys. Some pretty shady bad guys. Jehoshaphat was an okay king. Josiah became king of Judah when he was nine years old. He was mostly a good king and accomplished a number of good reforms. Hezekiah was one of the best kings.
Manasseh was one bad king. He shed a lot of innocent blood and led the people of Judah in idol worship. He did have a turn around late in life. But he was one of the worst. He is part of Jesus’ lineage.
The most amazing part of Jesus’ lineage is the women Matthew lists. Amazing because Jews seldom would list the women. Yet Matthew lists four, five if you count Jesus’ mother, Mary.
What is amazing about these four women is their parallel story to Mary’s story. All had sexual ambiguity and shadowy stories surrounding them.
Tamar played the part of a prostitute with her father-in-law Judah. She had good motives, she was trying to perpetuate the family line of her deceased husband, Judah’s son. But still she played the part of a prostitute and conceived a child out of wedlock.
Rahab was the prostitute from Jericho who took in the Israelite spies and hid them. She supported herself and her family through the age old business of selling her body. She becomes the mother of Boaz who ends up marrying the Moabite widow Ruth. Jews traditionally have despised the Moabites. And yet Ruth becomes the grandmother for King David.
The fourth woman in Jesus’ family tree is not even named. She is referred to as the wife of Uriah, the noble soldier whom David had killed in battle in order to hide his adulterous affair. Her name? Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother.
It seems as though Matthew is deliberately helping his Jewish readers see that Mary is not alone in their suspicions of her sexual purity. Mind you, Matthew is not putting any of these women down, but maybe he is deliberately helping us to see Mary in a different light. At the same time he re-affirms that the baby she bore was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Not every Christian believes in what we call the virgin birth. I do. And I believe that Matthew believed it and taught it through his gospel account. And through that gospel account he makes a very clear point that Jesus, our Messiah was human with a very human ancestral line—connecting Him to both women and men.
Looking at that line Matthew takes it all the way back to Abraham, making Messiah Jesus to be a son not only of King David, but also of Abraham—making Him a son of the Promise to bless all the peoples of the world. Jewish readers would get the point that Jesus is in the Messianic line of King David, and thus understood to be Messiah—Savior of the Jewish people. He is the Savior of the world.
Thank you Matthew!
Another thing Matthew does is his use of numbers. He lists fourteen generations from Abraham to King David, fourteen generations from King David to the Babylonian Exile, and fourteen generations from the Exile to Jesus. This deliberately pivots by centering on David. The point? Jesus is the “son of David” who will sit on the throne of David forever. Jesus is David’s royal son. He is Messiah.
Three sets of fourteen generations is interesting because fourteen generations is not necessarily accurate by our western standards. Matthew did not feel it necessary to list everybody, even though he deliberately lists women with suspicious histories. He seems to be intentionally using fourteen generations to make a point.
Also interesting is David’s name in Hebrew has a numeric value. The Hebrew language gave letters of their alphabet numeric value, like the Roman Numeral system. The numeric value of David’s name? Fourteen. So, again, Matthew is making a very strong point to his Jewish readers that Jesus is Messiah, the son of David promised by God long ago to sit on David’s throne.
David’s throne today is not a throne in the Jewish capital city of Jerusalem—just recently this year being so designated by President Trump. Jesus’ throne is better understood as Him being Head of the Holy Christian Church, the body of Christ.
More than that Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, chapter two, reminds us that “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).
The last thing to say about Jesus’s family tree is that through Mary Jesus takes on our humanity. According to John’s Gospel Jesus is the “logos” — the Word who was with God and is God from before the beginning of time (John 1:1). Jesus is God who came to us in human flesh to bring us back into fellowship and life with God.
Jesus joined our family tree. He became human and stepped into our broken world, so that we could be brought back into God’s family tree.
God made us children of God through Christ Jesus. We lost that connection through our rebellion and sin. Jesus—through His life, death and resurrection—brought us back into the family again.
Thank You Jesus! Amen.