Often times, we look forward to Christmas with great expectations. But frequently, Christmas comes and goes and leaves us feeling empty; like we missed out on it. Part of the reason for that stems from what we're looking for and how we're trying to obtain what we want at Christmas.
Imagine being the first readers of Matthew's gospel. You have never seen Jesus. You've never heard him preach. Through the writing of one of Jesus' disicples, you're going to experience Christmas for the first time. What would you expect to be the first words Matthew would use to help prepare you for Christmas? You probably wouldn't expect it to be the genealogy of Jesus.
If we're going to avoid missing Christmas; if we're going to find Christmas, we need to do two things according to this genealogy in Matthew 1.
1. Grasp the historical reality of Jesus
One purpose the genealogy serves is to demonstrate Jesus is a human being. He’s a man. He’s a Jewish man. He’s a 1st century, Jewish man. He’s a 1st century Jewish man with certain genetic and legal descent. That means he speaks certain languages and not other languages. He dresses certain ways and not other ways. Not every religion makes these kinds of historical claims.
I don't know how, but if one could prove Gautama the Buddha or Krishna never existed, neither Buddhism or Hinduism would be impacted. The sustainability of both isn't dependent on any historical claim made about Gautama or Krishna. Not so with Christianity. If one could prove Jesus never existed, Christianity would cease to exist. This makes Christianity very historical.
Islam makes more historical claims than either Buddhism or Hinduism. Go down the street to your friendly Imam and ask: "Could Allah have given his final revelation through someone other than Mohammed?" He would reply, “Of course! Allah is sovereign. He can give the revelation through anybody. We’re not claiming Mohammed is the revelation. We’re claiming Allah gave the revelation through Mohammed.” In that sense Mohammed is incidental to Islam. So if you could somehow prove the revelation came through someone other than Mohammed, nothing in Islam is jeopardized because it is the revelation Mohammed gave that is ultimate, not Mohammed himself.
Could God have given his final revelation through someone other than Jesus? The question is incoherent because Jesus doesn’t give God’s final revelation he himself is the final revelation.
Christianity is a profoundly historical revelation. Its historical truthfulness is more important than any other religion out there. We have access to the truths of Christianity only through the channels of history. Our access to the truths of Christianity come through historical methods: witnesses, texts, multiplicity of sources, exegesis, word studies. The revelation God has given is an historical revelation.
Christianity is the most concretely historical religion in human existence. Establishing this is one of the purposes of this genealogy.
2. Discover the amazing grace of Jesus
In the ancient world, genealogies were like a resume. When you think about a resume, what is it? It’s really an attempt to truthfully put forward the reasons why you should be considered for the position you’re applying for.
Ancient genealogies acted like resumes. So if Jesus’ genealogy is a kind of resume, what do we learn about him through what’s mentioned in it? What kind of genealogical line would we expect the King of the Universe to come from?
This list of names is quite a collection. There are some really good people mentioned here and there are some really troubled people mentioned.
Jacob was a conniving man who deceptively tricked his brother Esau into giving him their father’s blessing. David we know well. While he was called a man after God’s own heart, he was also an adulterer and murderer. Solomon was extraordinarily wise, but somehow his wisdom didn’t translate into curbing his polygamous lifestyle. Reheboam rejected the wisdom of his elders and instead took the foolish counsel given to him by his college frat buddies.
In the genealogical run up to Joseph and Mary, there are four women mentioned.
The four women are: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Of all the women within the genealogical line of Jesus, why are these four mentioned? Three of them have sordid pasts.
Tamar enticed her father-in-law into an incestuous relationship. Rahab was a prostitute. Bathsheba was complicit with David and engage in an adulterous affair. Ruth was a godly woman, but as a Moabitess, she had her origins in incest.
If the ancient genealogy is a kind of resume, this isn’t the most flattering list to be a part of. It’s unexpected, even shocking, the King of the Universe would come from a line that looks like this. The Jewish King, Herod, deleted some names from his genealogy. Some of his ancestors were Edomites and for someone who aspired to be a Jewish King, that would not have played well with the Jewish public. So he got rid of them from his family line. The biblical writers leave in Jesus’ genealogy names that Herod would’ve gotten rid of.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but learning about one’s ancestry has become a huge deal today. Commercials advertising DNA research to learn more about your ancestry run on primetime television. Which tells me, this is big business. Americans have a vested interested in learning about where they came from. People have pride when they discover something about their ancestry that conveys greatness or prestige. I remember being at a gathering and we played one of those games where you share some fun fact about yourself. One of the people in my group had a rather detailed family history that traced back to Abraham Lincoln. You could tell that individual was pretty proud of that.
How many would take pride in being the descendants of deceivers, prostitutes, adulterers, and murderers? These are the types of people in Jesus’ biological ancestry. This is really good news.
“On the street” people often have a view of Jesus that says: "Jesus is for the moral people and the people who have it together. Jesus wouldn’t be interested in me because I have a past.” The very first words of the NT convey a vastly different message; an unexpected message. Jesus isn’t ashamed to be associated with messy people. He identifies with them.
If you have a past, or you know someone who has a past, or you think about the people in our community who have a past, Jesus came precisely for people like this. Just 4 verses after Matthew completes Jesus’ genealogy, he introduces Jesus as the one who “will save his people from their sins.” Jesus came into our world with the expressed purpose of saving people like the ones in his own genealogical line. He’s not ashamed to be associated with sinners. He came to associate with them. Love them. And ultimately die for them.
There are aspects to our lives current and past that show our lostness and sickness. Jesus isn’t ashamed of you. He’s not going to avoid you. He’s not going to run from you. He so identifies with our lostness and sickness that he came into the world through the line of sick and lost people in order to find and heal them. If you want to experience Christmas, don’t try to clean up your act and then approach Jesus. Come to Jesus as you are. Come with your mess. Come with your sickness. Let him be your Savior and physician.