Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 15, 2013
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
— Matthew 1:1-17, ESV
Most people are curious about where they came from. Many years ago, author Alex Haley parleyed his curiosity into a best-selling novel and ground-breaking mini-series entitled “Roots.” Today, ordinary people can use websites like “ancestry.com” to find out where, or from whom, they came.
The New Testament begins with the Gospel of Matthew because of the way Matthew begins. It begins with a beginning, not unlike the first book of the Old Testament. It’s first two words are “Biblos geneseos,” a book of beginnings, in this case a new beginning for a New Covenant. And this New Covenant begins with a genealogy, a family tree. The gospel has roots.
Some find the long list of names boring and skip to start reading at verse 18. Others find holes in its accuracy, noting the difference that exist between Matthew’s account and Luke’s. While Luke’s is admittedly more accurate, it is only because Matthew was writing poetically, not literally, reducing the line to make it fit into three sets of fourteen, or six sets of seven, and sometimes used the names of royal heads rather than biological fathers.
Matthew’s aim, leveled primarily at the Jewish people and secondarily to all people, was to plant his Gospel firmly in Old Testament soil in order to bear New Testament fruit. He aims to prove that Jesus of Nazareth appeared in human history to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham and David. These gospel promises are for the Jewish people and for all people. They are fulfilled, historically and perfectly, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel is Rooted in People
Before Jesus came to earth as a historical person, historical people preceded Him. In some cases these historical people were hysterical people. Most of us have nuts in our family tree, and the flaws of Jesus’ family are flagrantly apparent in this genealogy. I think this demonstrates the honesty and historicity of the gospel.
Jesus’ genealogy contains mostly Jews and some Gentiles, a majority of males and a few females (though the mention of any is certainly significant), paupers who became kings, good kings who did bad things, and bad kings who did worse things. Forty-two men are named and there are two allusions to their other brothers. Five women are named, four by their name, and the other by the name of the husband to which she was unfaithful.
And speaking of that unfaithful episode, King David was front and center in the adultery and subsequent murder. Father Abraham once impregnated his wife’s maid. Judah sired twins through his daughter-in-law, who at the time was pretending to be a prostitute. Rahab, another famous prostitute, was apparently a favorite girl’s name among the Hebrews. The good kings mentioned, like David and Solomon and Uzziah and Hezekiah, did sinful and stupid things. The bad kings mentioned, like Manasseh and Amos (Amon) and Jechoniah, went beyond bad to the border of heresy and infidelity.
What does all this mean? It means that God works with flawed people, because all people are flawed at some level. It means that God’s word is honest and true, not some made up fairy tale. It means that we the people, historically and personally, are sinners, and something must be done to save us from ourselves and our sin. It is the gospel that saves, the gospel rooted in history and people.
The Gospel is Rooted in Promise
Two historical people are prominent as Matthew prepares to preach the gospel: Abraham and David. These two are prominent because it is to these two that God made two particularly precious promises: a seed and a son. Tracing the seed and the son gives us an outline that is filled in by the particular person promised in the gospel.
The Old Covenant really begins, after an eleven chapter prelude, with Abram/Abraham in Genesis 12. God’s first words to Abraham compose a promise: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (ref. Genesis 12:3). God was preparing Abraham a place at the head of the family table, a family named after his grandson Jacob, or Israel, and eventually known by a derivative of the name of his great-grandson, Judah, from whence we get the name of the Jews. The grace that fell upon and around this table would eventually feed every race and tribe and tongue, by faith in one particular, peculiar descendent or “seed.”
The New Testament, which in many ways explains and in every way fulfills the Old Testament, speaks of this promise in this way: “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (ref. Galatians 3:16). It was a long time coming, but finally a descendant, or seed, or offspring of Abraham came to earth who would give the special blessing of salvation to all who believe. And so, the Christ was born.
This Christ is also Lord, according to the promise made to the other prominent person in the genealogy. Consider this word given by God to David, shortly after his inauguration as the King of all Israel: “Your throne will be established forever” (ref. 2 Samuel 7:16). In other words, a descended of David would ascend to the throne as the King of God’s people and His reign would last forevermore. This Lord, from the house of David, would rise above David as King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus affirmed at the end of His earthly ministry that David’s son would also be David’s, and all other’s, Lord (ref. Matthew 22:41-46).
David did not accomplish this himself, for his tomb is in Jerusalem. Neither did Solomon nor the succession of the other, ordinary kings mentioned in this text or elsewhere in the Bible. But there is One who sits on the throne now, spiritually, and will one day be revealed, visibly, and He will reign, eternally. And so, the Lord will come.
This historical genealogy gives to us the hope of Abraham and David. It gives to us the promise of the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior to free God’s people from sin and death. It gives to us the promise of the Lord who will rule over nations with justice, mercy, grace, and peace. It gives to us the promise of the gospel, and the gospel is rooted in the people, the promises, and the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel is Rooted in a Person
If the pronunciation of all the names is confounding, or the textual criticism of Matthew’s literary style is confusing, then perhaps a second look at two key verses containing familiar names will make sense of the whole scenario.
Allow me to offer an expanded translation of verse 1: This is the true story of the historical life of Jesus the Messiah, the promised descendant of King David who is the King of kings, and the promised descendant of Father Abraham who is the Savior of the world. And how did the Christ come into the world? Consider this expanded translation of verse 16: from all of these rulers over the nation of Israel and the tribe of Judah, came a man named Joseph who married a woman named Mary, a miraculously impregnated virgin who gave birth to a son named Jesus, who is the Messiah.
More than a mere family tree, this genealogy proclaims the gospel. It starts with the roots, Abraham and David and the others, and goes to the top, the Lord Jesus Christ. It makes a passing reference to Mary and the virgin birth, and important subject that will be elaborated upon in the next paragraphs. Most of all, it provides a tree, not for man to climb up, for for God to come down, and gift the greatest gift of love, the gift of Himself in His Son for eternal salvation.
The Christian gospel is not hearsay, it is history, and there are people to prove it. Yet the Bible is not primarily a history book, it is promise book, and not one of its promises will ever fail to come true. And most of all, the gospel and the word of God are centered around God, who He is and what He has done to show His love and share His salvation with mankind.