Scripture Reference: Matthew 1:1-17
Jesus' Family TreeDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | December 2, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus has an impressive family tree. He’s related to the Jews and an heir to the throne of David. Yet He also has Gentiles in His lineage. Even in His family tree, Jesus broke down barriers.
Best of all, we are a part of His family too. We are part of a spiritual family which is even greater than our physical families.
If you’ve ever been to the city of London, most assuredly you’ve seen Trafalgar Square. And there in the square there is a very, very high column that seems to reach to the heavens, and on top of the column there is a statue to Lord Nelson, one of Britain’s great admired admirals. The problem, of course, is that you really can’t see his face. You certainly can’t see the features of his face because he is too high–too far away, so what they decided to do in England is to make a replica of that statue and to just leave it on eye level so that you can see him and to see what he looked like up close and personal.
When Jesus came to earth, God got up close and personal. The only begotten God in the bosom of the Father no one has seen, but the Son has revealed Him. Jesus is God at eye-level. When He said, “He who seen me has seen the Father,” He was saying, “This is what God is like. See Him now.”
In order for us to understand how Jesus indeed was at eye-level, it’s interesting that the Bible goes to great lengths to show His humanity. We, of course, are oftentimes very much desirous to prove his divinity, but Jesus was fully man–body, soul, and spirit, and in order for us to understand who his relatives were I am going to be preaching a series of four messages entitled, “The Family of Jesus.” First of all, we’ll look at His genealogy-His family tree-and then we’ll look into some of his relatives. We’ll look at Joseph and Mary and then the rest of us, which I think is going to come as quite a surprise, but today let’s look at his family tree.
If Jesus were to have a picnic and all of his ancestors could be raised, who would be at the picnic? Who would be considered part of the family? In order to understand that, please take your Bibles and turn to Matthew chapter one where Matthew wants us to understand immediately who Jesus really was from the standpoint of His family tree.
Matthew one verse one says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…” First of all, Jesus is obviously related to the Jews. He’s related to the Jews, and that’s very clear here, and when you read it you ask, “Well why does he put David first, because obviously Abraham chronologically comes before David?” The answer to that question is that Matthew wants us to understand right away that Jesus has a right to the throne of David, because you remember what God said to David. He said, “David, I’m going to give you a house.” That’s a genealogy. Then Jesus Christ said, “I am going to give you descendants, and I’m going to give you a throne, and I’m going to give you a kingdom.” “I’m going to give you a dynasty,” God said, and so all throughout the Old Testament the Jews are looking forward to the coming of Messiah who will sit on the throne of David, and the angel says to Mary that He will sit on the throne of David.
By the way, many of us think that Jesus has not yet sat down on the throne of David. He’s ruling in heaven today, but the throne of David is of an earthly kingdom that is still to come. Matthew is very anxious to show that Jesus has a right to be called the son of David, so that He has a right to be the king o’er the house of David.
And so, right out of the chute, Matthew says “The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham….” God promised Abraham a land, that he would become a great nation, that he also be great not only as a nation but personally great, and then that he would also be a blessing to others. Through him all the families of the earth would be blessed.
Who would show up for the picnic? Well, most assuredly Jesus Christ’s ancestors would show up, and among them would be David and Abraham. Jesus was completely Jewish.
Many of you perhaps know of a friend of ours–Marty Getz. Marty oftentimes plays in various venues. Rebecca and I were with him this fall at a conference, and he leads people in worship and plays the piano, and does so masterfully, but he was giving his testimony about how he was raised Jewish. He went through bar mitzvah and everything else, and somebody challenged him that Jesus was the Messiah, and he said (to his way of thinking), “That’s absolutely unthinkable.” He said that Jesus was for the Christians, not for the Jews. Then somebody gave him a copy of the New Testament and he began to read it and he said, “Jesus is more Jewish than I am.” Here it is, right here, and if you are of Jewish descent, Jesus is more Jewish than you are. Who is Jesus related to? First of all, He is related, of course, to the Jews.
Now, David Hume was that great philosopher, that great skeptic, and he made the statement that it would be immoral for God to reveal himself to one people in one small part of the world. He was, of course, referring to the Jews, and the Old Testament.
Well, what Matthew wants to show also is that Jesus is not just related to the Jews. He’s also related to the Gentiles, and now we come to a part in the genealogy that was mind boggling for the folks especially at the time that it was written. We read it and we read it very quickly.
First of all, no women were ever considered part of a genealogy. They just didn’t rate. Genealogies were always through men, and not through women. Matthew includes four women in his genealogy. That in itself is shocking, but when you think of the women that he included, it even becomes more shocking.
You’ll notice that he says that Jesus obviously is related to Gentiles. Let’s look at, for example, Tamar in verse three where it says, “…and Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah, by Tamar….” That’s the first woman who is listed. Now she’s a Canaanite, and who was she? Tamar has a very sordid history, by the way, in Genesis chapter 39. Let me review it so that you might know how radical it was to include her in the genealogy.
There was a man by the name of Judah who was the son of Jacob, and Judah had a son by the name of Ur, and he was evil and died, but Ur had married Tamar, this Canaanite lady. After he died she was married to his brother, and then the brother died, and so Tamar was a widow, but her father-in-law obviously was Judah. Now Tamar was angry at him because he didn’t keep a promise. That detail is not necessary to the story, but what she does is this. During the time when sheep are being sheared and she knows that Judah is in the vicinity she dons the garments of a prostitute. She covers her face, and Judah comes along and indicates that he wants a relationship with her, and she asks, “Well, what will you give me?” and he says, “A goat.” She then asks, “How will I know that I’ll get it?” and he says, “I’ll give you my staff as a surety, as a pledge.” She accepts the deal. They have a relationship together. She gets pregnant, and he still does not know that the relationship was with his daughter-in-law. Wow.
Three months later she shows up pregnant and he says, “Because of your immorality you ought to be burned.” Talk about a double standard. She says, “Well, I’m pregnant by the person to whom this staff belongs,” and if there’s any ray of hope in Judah’s life it is simply this. He says, “You are more righteous than I.” He was caught in his sin.
Well, that’s the story of Tamar. She has twins as a result of the relationship and the twins, of all things, are in Jesus Christ’s genealogy. There it is: Perez and Zerah, the twins that she bore.
So that’s the story of Tamar, a story of incest and immorality. Who’s next in the list here? Well, in terms of women you have Rahab, another Canaanite. Verse five says, “…and Salmon, the father of Boaz, by Rahab….” Rahab! Everyone knows that Rahab was a prostitute, and you know the story of how she is there in Jericho when the Israelite spies come and they want to spy out the land, and they come to her place. I guess it was kind of the meeting spot, because she was kind of the Heidi Fleiss of that particular generation, and she believes in Jehovah. She believes that Jehovah is the true God. She disbelieves in the gods of the Canaanites, and she misleads the secret service of Jericho, because they’re looking for these spies. She tells them, in fact, an untruth, and she sends the spies away and then says, “Remember me because I’ll have a cord that will come on the other side of the wall, and when you see me, spare my house when Jericho collapses,” and they kept that word. So that’s Rahab’s story–rather sordid I would say.
And then the next woman is Ruth. Now she’s a Moabitess. They were regarded as kind of cousins to the Israelites, but again, because they were cousins they were half-breeds, and generally despised by the Jews, and then we have Bathsheba.
Now Bathsheba isn’t specifically mentioned by name but look at verse six. It says, “…and David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah…,” and that of course indicates Bathsheba, because you know the story well, don’t you?
Now Bathsheba was an Israelite but she was one who had a mixed marriage, because her husband, Uriah, who was very loyal to David, was a Hittite. Who in the world are the Hittites? They were a tribe within the Canaanite population, so she’s in this particular marriage. David, of course, brings her over to the palace, and sometime later she sends him a note, “I’m pregnant; signed B,” and David realizes that what was supposed to be just a casual affair turns out to be very complicated. He ends up killing Uriah, and you know the rest of the story. Bathsheba, by the way becomes the mother of Solomon, and God says regarding Solomon, “…and the Lord loved him.” Isn’t God full of grace? He’s full of grace and mercy and forgiveness.
Now, in order to understand this, notice that there are two walls that are just smashed in this genealogy. The first wall is between Jew and Gentile. Right immediately Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus isn’t just the Messiah to the Jews. Jesus is the savior to the Gentiles. Matthew wants us to understand that, but more than that, another wall also goes tumbling down, and that’s the wall between men and women. God, through His Word, and through the inspiration of Matthew is saying, “Women can be included too in the genealogy,” and yes, these women, for the most part had a sordid past, but if God can include them, He can include anybody in His grace and mercy, and anyone can become a member of Jesus Christ’s family tree.
Jerome, the great Bible translator, looked at these women in the text, and said, “Everyone is a sinner, and that is why they are here. This is a chapter about grace. They obviously could not have saved themselves. In fact, no one can, and there it stands.” Talk about a skeleton in Jesus Christ’s family tree.
Luther said, “All these women are foreigners,” and he says, “We are all foreigners.” He says, “They are out of their country but they are included in God’s matchless grace and in his genealogy.”
Hendrickson, a commentator, says, “It is through such a channel of iniquity the savior, according to his human nature, was willing to pass on his way from the glories of heaven to the incarnation and the crucifixion.” It is through that channel that Jesus Christ has come to us.
So who would show up for Jesus Christ’s family picnic? Well, the Jews certainly would. The genealogy is clear, but so would the Gentiles. They also would show up, as we think about his family tree, and then we would also.
The Bible says in the book of Hebrews that Jesus is related to all of us. It says in Hebrews we have a savior who is not unable to identify with us because he was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin most assuredly.
Now, of course, God knows exactly what we are going through because He is God, but with the coming of Jesus you have an added dimension. Jesus can say, “I not only know all the details of your experience, but I have personally experienced it. I’ve experienced rejection; I know what it’s like. Injustice? I know what it’s like. Hunger? I’ve been there. And so He identifies with all of us.
There’s a verse in the book of Hebrews that I’ve often pondered. It says in chapter two, in effect, that God’s intention is to bring many sons into glory. God says, “I have one son, but I want more,” and it is through suffering that these sons and daughters are brought into glory along with Jesus who also had to go through suffering. And then it says, “Wherefore, because of this, he is not ashamed to call us his brothers.”
Do you have a relative that you would prefer to not attend the family picnic? You know, every family tree has a little bit of sap. Some have more than others. [laughter] There are some people who show up and you say, “I hope they won’t be here too long.” There are some people you don’t want to be identified with.
Here’s Jesus who says to you and to me, who are believers, “I’m not ashamed to call you my brother.” Wow! Thank you, Jesus, that he’s not ashamed to call us his brothers. As a matter of fact, because God has one son and He brought Him into glory, and He’s bringing us into glory, because of that, the Bible says that we are “heirs or God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.” Oh, think about it, because we’re going too fast this morning.
Just imagine. God says, “I make no distinction between the inheritance that Jesus will receive and the inheritance that you will receive. I’m not ashamed.” He isn’t ashamed to say, “You are my brother.” Wow!
So, Jesus is related to us too, and as we think about this genealogy I’d like to make two life-transforming comments.
First of all, it is obvious that there is more grace in God’s heart than there is sin in your past. You know, I read this and, of course, I’ve studied this genealogy before, and even preached on it many years ago, but I never realized until yesterday that Perez and Zerah are included in this genealogy. They are the children of Tamar, impregnated by her father-in-law.
You know we live in an age of dysfunctional families. Some of you, God bless you, don’t know who your father is. I’ve talked to some of you, and you don’t know that, and what a hole that creates within your heart; or maybe you never received the approval of your father, and on and on it goes.
The other day I was listening to a CD about a man who was telling how they adopted a little child whose father was a rapist, and they adopted that child because they said, “You know, he has no responsibility for what happened,” and so they are raising this child for the glory of God and the honor of His name. We live in a very, very broken world, but it’s not a new world. Just look at the genealogy of Jesus. There’s brokenness all over the place. We could go through and we could find out more skeletons in Jesus Christ’s closet–in His family tree, and Matthew is saying to you and to me, “Immediately, please understand that Jesus Christ is for everyone, and the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people.”
Let me talk to you for just a moment about the harlot, Rahab. Here she is; she’s a Canaanite and she’s living in Jericho. She’s running this brothel, and she believes in God Jehovah, and she invites the spies, you remember, to leave in another way, as I mentioned. What does the New Testament say about her? Hebrews chapter eleven, you know, the passage that has all the heroes of faith, is the one chapter that is like a gallery that you walk through and see Abraham and David, and of course, you also see Noah. In fact, it begins with Abel and goes all the way through, and she’s listed there as a hero of the faith. And then in James chapter two I was struck by this: James says, “Abraham was justified by faith.” We understand that, but then it says, “In the very same way, the harlot, Rahab, was also declared righteous by God.” Talk about hope. Hope for women–and yes, hope for lecherous evil men who misuse women. About a quarter of all baby girls born this year, will at some time be molested by evil people–perverted people. There’s brokenness all over the place, but in the midst of this, Jesus comes. He comes to darkness, but He gives light and He gives hope, and there is more grace in God’s heart than there is sin in your past.
So what are you bringing to Jesus today? I tell you, man to man, listen. He’s adequate for it. He’s adequate for it–for sinners like you and me.
And second, of course, and this will be the focus of my last message in this series, your spiritual family is even more important than your physical family. No matter what your genealogy may be, the fact is that Jesus invites you to be a member of His family – His family, so that you can look into the eyes of God and say, “Father.”
Unfortunately, when you live in the Chicago area you don’t have much of an opportunity to see stars here. Usually when we do they are stars of a different kind, but when you are out in the prairie (Am I going to fast maybe?) you can walk out in the night (I’ve often done this, particularly as a child growing up in Canada where it really gets dark in the night) and you can see the Northern Lights. You walk under this canopy and you look into the stars, and you say, “He is my father.” Wow! That’s what Jesus came to enable us to do through faith in Him.
I love to tell the story about a group of soldiers during World War I whose comrade was killed. That, of course, was in the days before bodies were shipped to be buried here in the United States, so they were looking for a place to bury their comrade. They went to a Catholic cemetery and asked the priest if he could let them bury their friend in the cemetery, and the priest said no, because he said, “This is a Catholic cemetery. If your friend wasn’t Catholic, he can’t be buried here.” Well, they felt very sad about that, but what are you going to do? Necessity is the mother of invention. They decided to dig a grave just outside of the fence and bury him there, close but not inside. The next day they came by because they wanted to bring some flowers, and so forth, and they couldn’t find the grave. They wondered what happened. They went past the fence and it wasn’t there, and then the priest said this to them. He said, “I couldn’t sleep because of what I told you. What I said wasn’t right. My conscience troubled me so much that this morning I got up very, very early and I moved the fence to include your comrade within the premises.”
You know, what Jesus is doing here in the first chapter of Matthew in this genealogy–His family tree? What He’s doing is saying, “Hey, I’m moving the fence. Am I Jewish? Absolutely. Those are my roots. Am I just the Messiah to the Jews? Absolutely not. Included are Canaanites, and Hittites, and a whole lot of other ‘ites’ and even megabytes.” [laughter] They are all included in God’s program and by God’s grace.
Now that doesn’t mean that we are automatically included. It doesn’t mean that God’s just taken the fence and moved it and now anybody and everybody is included. Listen, the opportunity of God’s grace is open for everyone, but the Bible even says that many are called but few are chosen. The Bible says that there are many people who walk by who do not avail themselves of the opportunity to receive God’s grace and forgiveness, and to become His child so that they can be members of God’s family and live with Him eternally.
What is Christmas all about? Christmas is God’s farthest reach. Christmas is God at eye-level, saying, “I love you. I care about you, and I’m here to redeem you. Will you let me?” The willingness has to do with you. The invitation is to everyone.
Let us bow together in prayer.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for this genealogy. Thank You for Jesus Christ’s family tree that right from the beginning opened up the gospel to all people. No one has fallen too far. No one is racially too disenfranchised. Everybody is here because You died for people in their sin and their brokenness, and all of us are thankful because we’re all there. Now, Lord, would you encourage Your people? For those who have never trusted Christ as Savior–you’re listening to this message maybe by way of Internet or right here in The Moody Church–would you at this moment say, “Jesus, I want You as my Savior. Thank you that I am included, but I want to specifically be included.” Would you tell Him that?
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name to save those who need to be saved, encourage those who need to be encouraged, and may all of us delight in the fact that Jesus came to rescue us from ourselves and our sins. We pray in His name, Amen.