Advent Series: Four Christmas Trees
Part Two: The Family Tree of Jesus
A number of years ago, Lynann’s Aunt Dorothy began to study their family tree. One side of the family is the Kinnears (a Scottish name) and the other is the Brauns (the German spelling—BRAUN). She did the job, sifting through old country records, birth, marriage and death certificates, contacting genealogical services, the whole thing.
After a couple of years of research, she suddenly stopped. She said that she was done and that she wasn’t going to share what she’d found. She died a few years later, and sometime before she died she dumped all her research. We can only guess that she’d found some awful person or terrible secret among her ancestors and that she didn’t want anyone to know the details.
So I don’t know, maybe Lynann is descended from murderers or slave-traders or Nazis, I don’t know. I always thought I married up; maybe not! Maybe I was doing her a favor by marrying her.
Hmm, I doubt it. She definitely has done more good to me than I have to her, no doubt.
I wonder if Aunt Dorothy had been in charge of researching the ancestry of Jesus, what she would have done. I mean, there are some great people in His family tree, and there are some less than great people in there too. There are some embarrassments in there. There are some bad boys and bad girls in there.
Last time we looked at the story of God’s love in Jesus through what I called biblical Christmas trees. Can you tell the Christmas story through biblical Christmas trees? Here are the four Christmas trees I’m using:
· The Eden Tree: how we got into this mess
· The Family Tree of Jesus: the plan of God moves forward
· The Calvary Tree of Jesus: The Cross
· The Tree of Life: God’s Plan is fulfilled
So last week we looked at the Eden Tree: what Genesis calls the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When the first human beings disobeyed God and ate from the tree God had forbidden, this became the I’ll Decide for Myself Tree. Instead of looking to God for what’s right and wrong, we decided that we could do that for ourselves.
The Bible says that this was how sin, with all of its consequences, entered the world. In that same Genesis story, we got the first hint of what God would do about it. Genesis 3:15 says—with God speaking to Satan:
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.
The offspring of the woman would deal a death blow to the devil. Who is the He? He’s the virgin-born Jesus, who dealt the deathblow to the devil, but who suffered in the process.
Now, what’s the path between the garden and the cross? Well, that’s quite a story. And we could do a total Old Testament survey to get from the Garden of Eden to the cross.
This isn’t the first time somebody had to tell the story that goes from the garden to the cross. Matthew wrote his gospel for people who knew the Old Testament Scriptures. He wants to demonstrate that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. He does that through showing how many Old Testament scriptures Jesus fulfilled. A dozen times Matthew says that something that happened, or something Jesus said, fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy.
But there’s something else Matthew does. He provides a genealogy of Jesus—His family tree. In Matthew 1:1-16, Matthew, right from the start of the story, tells the family background of Jesus, starting with Abraham.
(By the way, Luke also does a genealogy. In some places it’s a lot like Matthew’s and in some places it’s way different. That’s probably because Luke’s seems to be traced on Mary’s side of the family.)
We’re going to keep it simple, and stick to Matthew’s family tree of Jesus. Here are the three things about the family tree of Jesus that really define it:
· It’s a ROYAL family tree
· It’s a REAL family tree
· It’s a REDEMPTIVE family tree
A Royal Family Tree
Let’s read the beginning and the end of Matthew genealogy, Matthew 1:1 and 17:
A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham…
Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
“Son” here can mean “descendant”, so when Matthew says that Jesus is the Son of David, it doesn’t mean the next generation; it can mean many generations later. Then Matthew says that there’s some symmetry in the story: 14 generations, says Matthew, from Abraham to David; 14 from David to the exile; 14 from the exile to Jesus. To get to 14, Matthew “shapes” his list a little—leaving out some ancestors. He also seems to count David twice, as the last one in the first 14 and the first one in the second 14.
Starting with David, the next 14 men on the list were kings of Israel (or later, the kings of Judah, the southern Kingdom).
David is the central figure in this family tree. Like I said, he gets counted twice. Not only that, the very form of the family tree seems to be derived from David’s name. In Hebrew, the name “David” has the numerical value of 14. (As a baseball fan originally from Ohio, I always think of Pete Rose with the number 14!) The three 14s are first, the origins of the house of David (vs. 2-6a), the kings of the house of David (6b-11) and finally the eclipse of the house of David—from the exile to the coming of the Messiah, the Son of David, Jesus Christ (vs. 12-16).
Anyone reading this family tree back in Matthew’s time would first be struck by the royal connection. Jesus, as far as His human origins, is descended from the Kings of Israel.
Most Jews in Jesus’ time believed that the Messiah had to be a descendant of David. “Son of David” became a title of the Messiah. Nine times in the gospel of Matthew Jesus is called the Son of David. Most of those times, it comes from people calling Jesus the Son of David, clearly meaning the Messiah.
When David was king, and he thought about building a temple for the Lord, the Lord spoke to him and said, no, that’s not for you to do. That’s for your son to do. Then God says something that seems to go way beyond His promises to David’s immediate son, Solomon. You’ll find it in 2 Samuel 7:13:
He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
A forever kingdom from the line of David? There are hints of this forever kingdom all over the Old Testament, and now, says Matthew, this is how this can be: through the Messiah, the final Son of David.
So it’s a royal family tree; it’s also a real family tree:
A real family tree
What I mean by that is that Matthew includes the very kind of people that Aunt Dorothy didn’t. Remember again that this genealogy is here to demonstrate that Jesus is the true Son of David, and the legitimate king of Israel. But Matthew seems to go out of his way to include four women who weren’t Jews and who had something shady in their past.
Let’s read vs. 2-6:
2Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife…
OK, let’s do the rundown. Tamar posed as a prostitute in order to sleep with Judah. Rahab was a pagan prostitute who ran a brothel. Ruth was a foreigner, a convert to Judaism—the least trouble of the group. Bathsheba (who is just called “Uriah’s wife” here) was a Jew, but she married a foreigner and then was involved in adultery with David. Who said that the Old Testament is boring?
Why does Matthew go out of his way to highlight these women? He could have not mentioned them at all, and just stuck with the male ancestors.
One reason is to establish that the Matthew is telling us that the Messiah isn’t just for religious people. He didn’t come for people who have it all together. Some of the people in the family tree of Jesus are people who definitely don’t have it together. Who do you find here? Gentiles, pagans, “working girls”, adulterers. Just the kind of people that Jesus came for.
Jesus said (Matthew 9:13), “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” There are a lot of wild monkeys in the family tree of Jesus. If you’re a wild monkey, you’re welcome in the family of God. That’s the message, that’s why these people are mentioned in the family tree of Jesus.
And also, the mention of non-Jews (like Rahab and Ruth) reminds us that Jesus didn’t just come for Jews, but for the nations. Remember how I said that Matthew was written for a Jewish audience? It was, but it’s amazing how much attention it pays to Gentiles, and this, right here, is the first place that does that. There are no less than ten passages in Matthew where Jesus has significant interactions with Gentiles, from the Magi who came to Him as a toddler to the centurion who witnessed His crucifixion and said, “Surely this was the Son of God.”
A redemptive family tree
Finally, this is a redemptive family tree. This is NOT the story of people getting their act together so that God comes to love them; it’s the story of human sin and tragedy and error and mistake, and God keeps at it to love us and win us and woo us back to His love and into His family.
A little later in Matthew 1, we have Joseph’s dream. Remember that when he found out that Mary was pregnant and that she claimed to be having a virgin pregnancy, well, that was a little hard to take. He decided to “divorce her quietly” as vs. 19 says. So God spoke to Joseph, and you find the account in Matthew 1:20-21:
20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
Even the name “Jesus” is tied in to His mission. It means “The LORD saves.”
Think of that. The Lord saves. His name doesn’t mean, “Save yourself.” It doesn’t mean, “God will meet you half-way.” It means, “It’s the Lord who does the saving. He’s coming to rescue you. God’s on a mission to find you.”
You can see that in the genealogy. It’s packed with people who God saved. Abraham, says Genesis, believed God and God counted that as righteousness. Rahab the brothel-owner became a believer in God. She told the Hebrew spies that came to check out the city of Jericho that what the Lord had done for them caused the people of Jericho to be afraid that she had come to believe that “the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:11). Ruth, the Moabite pledged her loyalty to the Lord, telling her mother-in-law Naomi that “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” On and on, the family tree of Jesus is a testimony, again and again, of the grace of God.
Back in August, I did the 401 CLASS and one of the participants was Cynthia Tooredman. She wrote out her testimony, and here’s what part of it says:
I grew up in confusion in a mixed sorta Jewish/sorta Christian home, feeling lost, unsafe. I’ll spare you the details but I didn’t know where my limits were and I tested them all. I kept trying to find ways to impose standards and morality on my life. I tried everything and I kept falling short. I was empty and I didn’t know why. I tried to fill my emptiness with drugs and alcohol, which led me to the opposite of what I had been seeking. In my mid-twenties, I found the structure I had been looking for in a twelve-step program and at least stopped actively trying to destroy myself. But I still felt empty and thought the imposition of more rules was the answer. By this time I had discovered that by Jewish law, I was considered fully Jewish. And if you’re looking for rules and structure, there’s nothing like Mosaic Law as practiced by Hassidic Jews. There’s a rule for everything, and I mean everything. As I look back now, I compare myself to the Pharisees, so caught up in legalism and outward observance, believing that I could redeem myself (!) by perfect obedience to the Halacha (Jewish Law). Of course I couldn’t. Nobody can.
And we don’t have to. It has already been done for us by Christ’s work on the cross. I am almost shocked now at how misguided I was, thinking that I could redeem myself. The first time I read the phrase, “I know that my Redeemer lives,” my eyes filled with tears and it struck me as the single most amazing idea I had ever heard, and I wasn’t even a believer yet. I’ve always loved to read and learn and a friend of mine had given me the first book in the Left Behind series. I was hooked and immediately ordered the rest of the books in the series. As I read them, I found myself weeping. I wondered: Could this be true? I wanted it to be true yet at the same time, I was terrified. If it were true, wouldn’t I have to abandon my heritage, turn my back on 6 million victims of Hitler? Were assimilation and conversion the Holocaust of the modern day? Or was Jesus really the Messiah? I wrestled with these questions and kept reading and studying. I remember wishing I had someone I could talk to about everything I was learning. I didn’t put my wish in the form of a prayer, but God answered me anyway. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by Christians. They were everywhere: in the political columns I read regularly, on the TV when I woke up in the middle of the night having left it on. I ran across old friends who knew the Lord. New friends all seemed to be born again, as were new hires at my job. I began asking questions and one night I was out at a business event with my colleague Sheila. I knew she was a serious, Bible-believing Christian, and would tell me the truth. We talked all the way home about the Lord and living a Christian life. I told her I was afraid that my heart was too hardened from waiting so long. She told me to pray that God would soften my heart. I think I made my decision that night by the time we got back to the office, but I waited a few more days, praying all the while for God to soften my heart, to make me ready. I knew there was a prayer called the Sinner’s Prayer and I looked it up online. But when I knelt I used my own words. I prayed “God you know how lost I am, you know all my terrible sins that I can’t forgive myself for. I’ve never been in so much pain. I believe you sent your son Jesus Christ to die for me, to separate me from my sin as far as the East from the West. I don’t understand why you would do such an amazing thing for me, for the whole world, but I guess I will learn. I want to give my life to Christ and I pray this in His name.” It’s astonishing to me, but I really remember exactly what I said.
Jesus’ family tree reminds us of this simple truth: there’s room for you in the family of God, and you don’t have to earn your way in. At Christmas, we give gifts. But Jesus gave the greatest gift of all: being made right with God, forgiveness, hope, a new start, redemption.