Someone told me not long ago that they have a relative who is really into researching their family genealogy, but this person does not share that interest. They said, you know I hate to admit it, but whenever my relative starts going into all this detail on the genealogy, my eyes just kind of glaze over, and it is hard to stay awake!
I have a suspicion that many of us might feel that way about the genealogies of the Bible, like the one found here in Matthew 1. How many would admit that when they read their Bibles, they just kinda skip or skim over the genealogies?! And yet II Timothy 3:16 tells us that “ALL scripture is inspired by God”! This scripture is here for a reason, and there are some very important things that we learn from the genealogy of Jesus here in Matthew 1. We are going to be studying some of the passages about Jesus’ birth and early life as we move into December and Christmas season, but we should not skip the genealogy of Matthew 1:1-17 and some of the lessons it holds for us:
I. The Historicity of Jesus and Christianity
:1 begins this great book: “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
You know the first thing this teaches us about Jesus, and what we find in God’s word? That what this is describing is something REAL; that is rooted in actual historical fact. There were real people who lived in a real land called Israel, and they had real parents, and children, and grandchildren, and other ancestors which can be traced in real history. They have found historical artifacts which bear the very names the people which are listed in this genealogy. They really lived in a real place in real history!
That is something that many of us Christians take for granted; that what is taught here in the Bible really happened; with real people who really did all these things. But we shouldn’t take those things for granted, for it is not so with many of the religions of the world.
For example, you can take the Greek gods and goddesses: like Zeus and Athena, who supposedly live on Mt. Olympus, or in the sea like the god Poseidon. You don’t find any historical records of them actually visiting with anyone, or talking with anyone; you will never unearth any ancient artifact which proves that they really lived and walked here on earth, because they didn’t. They are merely myths. They have no basis in reality. And most of the other religions of the world are the same way.
Mormonism is a religion founded by one man, Joseph Smith, who was supposedly given the book of Mormon by revelation from an angel — but there is no basis in history or archeology for all the claims he makes to what happened in history. Smith’s Book of Mormon details how Hebrew ancestors supposedly migrated to the Americas thousands of years ago and established cities here and fought battles and finally killed each other off. But there is absolutely NO historical evidence or artifacts of archeological findings of these cities or battles, or anything which supports the claims he made in the book. Nothing. Writing in the independent Mormon scholarly journal Dialogue, Mesoamerican archaeologist Michael Coe of Yale University wrote: “… there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing [that Hebrew immigrants build a civilization in ancient America as described in the Book of Mormon] to be true, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group.” The Book of Mormon’s claim of Hebrew cities in America is nothing but a myth. There is just no history or archeology to support it whatsoever.
And there are some who would criticize Christianity as being just another one of those “religious myths”. But it is NOT. Myths don’t have real genealogies. Myths don’t have archeological artifacts that are left behind, that tell us that they really lived and walked right here on earth. And that is exactly what Christianity DOES have: historical records, archeological finds, which continually support what the Bible teaches as historically factual.
Sir William Mitchell Ramsey was a Scottish university professor who lived in the latter half of the 1800’s and the early 1900’s. He began his career as a critic of the Bible, and especially of the Book of Acts. Agreeing with the scholars of his age, he said the Bible was a book of myths that had been put together years after it claimed to have been. Ramsey’s studies took him to what is now Turkey to demonstrate that what Luke supposedly described in the Book of Acts could never have happened the way it was written. But the more he studied; the more he followed in the steps of Paul the way that Acts describes, the more Ramsey was amazed. He later wrote: there are four kinds of history that are written: there is historical romance, there is legend, there is second-rate history, and there is first-rate history. His conclusion, after his years of first-hand, onsite study, is that the Book of Acts as contained in the Bible is first-rate historical fact, written by a man who was intimately familiar with the details of the world he described. Ramsey’s conclusions are contained in a book you can read today: St. Paul the Traveler & Roman Citizen, by W.M. Ramsey. But what this tells us is that history and archeology do not disprove the Bible; they confirm it. And there is example after example of this same thing.
Listen: there are indeed a number of religious myths in our world: Mormonism is a myth. The Greek and Roman gods were myths, with no basis in historical fact. The millions of gods of India and all their fanciful stories are myths. They never really existed in history. But Christianity is not one of those myths. Myths don’t have archeological facts behind them. Myths don’t have genealogies. Our son Paul is on his way to the Holy Land next week where he’ll visit the Garden Tomb. Myths don’t have an empty tomb! The first thing we discover about Jesus here in Matthew 1 is the absolute, historical reality of His life and ministry. Christianity is not a myth. It is well-grounded in reality and in historical fact.
Listen: if you are considering Christianity today; if you are considering Jesus, pay attention to what the Bible says about Him. There are a lot of people who make a lot of claims about what the Bible supposedly says, who have never really studied what it says, and how it corresponds to historical fact, like William Ramsey did. Consider the BIble. Read it for yourself. Come to it with an open mind and heart, and ask God to speak to you through it — and He will! And the most important thing He will show you in it is His Son Jesus Christ, who came to earth to be your Savior & Lord, to bring you back to Him.
II. The Prophecies About Jesus
What is significant about this phrase in verse 1: “the son of David, the son of Abraham”? It refers to promises which were made in the Old Testament, and which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ:
When God first called Abraham in Genesis 12, He told him him to leave his family and go to the land He was setting before him, and that He would make him a great nation. And He told him: “In you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Later in Genesis 17 God told him that through his “seed”; one of his descendants, there would be “an everlasting covenant” that would save multitudes of people and make God their God forever.
And then in I Chronicles 17, when King David wanted to build a temple to worship God, the Lord told him that he was not the one to build that temple. But He said to David in :11, “I will set up one of your descendants after you, who will be one of your sons; and I will establish His kingdom. He shall build me a house, and I will establish His throne forever.”
So God had promised both Abraham and David that someone who was going to come, who would be one of their offspring, and who would fulfill the promises that He had made to them, to bless the earth, to save His people, and to establish through Him a throne that would last forever. These are some of the basic promises in the Old Testament about the Messiah who was to come. He was prophesied to be a descendant of both Abraham, and of King David.
And so it is significant that here in Matthew 1 the Bible says that Jesus was “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” It’s teaching that He came in direct fulfillment of the prophecies made in the Old Testament about the Messiah. This is important. Jesus did not just “appear” one day, and decide that He was going to be proclaimed as a Messiah. He didn’t do what Joseph Smith did, and just “pop up” with some radical claims which are unsubstantiated in history. No, Jesus fulfilled numerous prophecies which were made about Him, hundreds and thousands of years in advance. Scriptures like:
— Micah 5:2, written over 700 years before the time of Christ, which prophesied: “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.” This was such a clear prophecy about where the Messiah was to be born, that when Herod heard that the Magi were seeking the newborn Savior, he asked the Jewish chief priests and scribes where He was to be born, and they were immediately able to tell him: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written in the prophet …” and they quoted that scripture from Micah 5:2. Every learned Bible scholar knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem because of Micah 5:2, and Jesus fulfilled that scripture, being born in Bethlehem. Then there are other prophetic scriptures, like:
— Psalm 22, which we studied a couple of Wednesday nights ago, which describes in uncanny detail how the Messiah would have His hands and feet pierced, while He was surrounded by His enemies; how His garments would be gambled for, and how He would cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus totally fulfilled this scripture, written 1000 years before He ever went to the cross and died in this exact way.
— And then there is Isaiah 53, which as we have seen, contains such a detailed and dramatic portrayal of Jesus’ death for our sins on the cross that even lost people who read that chapter, not knowing where it comes from, immediately recognize that it is describing none other than Jesus Christ — and yet it was written 700 years before He was ever born!
As the Apostle Paul said to King Agrippa in Acts 27:26, these things “did not happen in a corner.” Jesus didn’t just “pop up” and say, “Here I am; I am the Christ; everybody follow Me!” He came at the perfect time in history, fulfilling all of the predictions of scripture regarding the Messiah contained in Genesis and Psalms and the Prophets — including what we read here: that He would be “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham”, just like Matthew 1:1 says.
So when we see the scriptures that Jesus has fulfilled, it gives us confidence that He really IS the Messiah that the Bible predicted. It also gives us confidence that He will fulfill all the other prophecies about the Messiah: that one day He would return, and judge the living and the dead, and take those who have followed Him to heaven, to live with Him there forever, but consign those who have rejected Him to eternal condemnation in hell. Pay attention to the prophecies of the word of God. Jesus spoke in Luke 19 of a man who was in torment in hell, who asked that someone could go to his relatives and tell them of the horrors of that place, so that they might avoid it. But he was told, no, they have Moses and the Prophets — these Bible prophecies — let them listen to them. And so I tell you today: listen to Moses: listen to what he predicted about Jesus; listen to what the Psalms foretold about Him. Listen to these prophecies. Listen to what this genealogy is telling you about who Jesus really was, and what He came to do!
III. The Family Background of Jesus
Finally, I think it is important for us to note something about the actual characters in Jesus’ genealogy as well.
If you look closely here, you will find that the Lord Jesus Himself had some pretty “unsavory characters” in His family genealogy: Verse 3 speaks of Tamar who played a harlot with her father-in-law; Verse 5 tells of Rahab, who was a harlot. Verse 6 describes the adultery of David & Bathsheba, then :7 lists Solomon, who had many wives, and whose heart turned away from the Lord — and many others. Not the kind of family genealogy that will get you on the registry of The Daughters of the American Revolution! And yet there are some significant lessons we can learn from reading about these far-from-perfect people in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:
First of all, your family’s background doesn’t disqualify you from God working in your life and using you. Jesus had adulterers and murderers in His earthly family background, yet it didn’t keep Him from being the Messiah. And what some people might consider to be a “dark family history” won’t disqualify YOU from being used by God, either.
One of my favorite stories in this regard is of about group of men known as “The Sons of Korah” who are mentioned several times in the Psalms. Unlike some of the ascriptions in Psalms, we do know the background of these men. Numbers 16 tells us that their forefather, Korah, led a rebellion against Moses’ authority, and that God opened up the earth so that it swallowed up Korah and all the rebels. But Numbers 26:10-11 tells us that Korah’s children were spared. Now, you might imagine that these people might have been looked down upon because of what their father had done. But not only were the sons of Korah spared their forefather’s fate, but they actually went on to serve the Lord as Levites. I Chronicles 9:19 says “Shallum the son of Kore, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah, and his relatives of his father’s house, the Korahites, were over the work of the service, keepers of the thresholds of the tent; and their fathers had been over the camp of the Lord, keepers of the entrance.” This actually sheds some light on one of the most beloved passages in the Psalms, Psalm 84:10, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” The Sons of Korah knew very well of what they wrote there: they were “keepers of the thresholds of the tent … keepers of the entrance”! And they wrote this Psalm which has been immortalized in the word of God. And they wrote a dozen Psalms altogether: (42-49, 84-85, 87-88) These unlikely authors give us an important spiritual lesson: just because their father died in rebellion against God did not mean that God held it against THEM.
Some of us today may need to hear this. Some of us may feel as if we are “doomed to failure” due to a sin our parents committed, or because of something unsavory in their family background. The story of the sons of Korah, and the genealogy of Jesus here in Matthew 1, remind us that you & I are not consigned to failure because of our family heritage. In Jesus Christ, you can “break the chain” of whatever your family background was, and be used by God in a great way in this world.
Second, we see that the personal sin of the people in this genealogy did not permanently disqualify them from being used by God. He still used them in His ultimate plan to bring the Messiah to earth.
Some of us need this application today. You may have sinned in some great way, and you are wondering if God could still use you. This passage reminds us that He can — but we also need to realize a couple of things. First, you need to make sure that your sin is in your past. If you are currently continuing in something which you know is a sin against God’s word, then you need to ask God to help you to get that right: stop taking that substance; move out from the person you are living with, sever ties with the person you are immoral with; don’t watch the movies or read the books or hang out with the friends who are bringing you down spiritually. Stop cheating people on the job. Deal with the sin in your life. You can’t just purposefully continue in sin and hope that God will use you because He is gracious to sinners. God IS gracious to sinners; but He gives His grace to those who humble themselves and repent of their sin and ask Him to forgive them and change them — not those who just continue in their sin and presume on His grace. II Timothy 2:21 says “If a man therefore CLEANSE himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master.” If you want to be used by God, you need to cleanse yourself from sin. Don’t let a false application of this passage teach you otherwise. God takes sin seriously, and so should we.
But this passage teaches us that if we DO take our sin seriously, and bring it to God, there IS forgiveness with Him. He can and will take you back, and use you, no matter what your sin was. Rahab and Tamar and Judah and David & Bathsheba and Solomon and others here were involved in immorality. Others were murderers. Others were liars and deceivers. But the Bible teaches that there is forgiveness for all these things, for those who take them seriously and bring them to Christ. I Corinthians 6:9-11 says: “Do not be deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor … homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revivers, nor swindlers, will inherit the Kingdom of God. Such WERE some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified the name of the Lord Jesus Christ …”. Just about every sin you can think of is in that list — and as we have seen, God takes those sins seriously. Paul said you can’t just continue on in those sins and think you will inherit the Kingdom of God — you won’t! — but he also said there is forgiveness and cleansing for EVERY ONE of those sins available in Jesus Christ. If you will repent of your sin; if you will seek forgiveness for it; and ask God to help you change it — you WILL find forgiveness and cleansing, and God can use you in a great way in His kingdom work.
Last Monday morning, many news outlets focused on the headline that Pope Benedict had issued a decree that the sin of abortion could now be forgiven. They misunderstood the Pope; what he actually did was decree that it no longer took a bishop (a “higher up” official in the Catholic Church) to absolve the sin of abortion; that now a “regular” priest could do it. But folks, NONE of that is Biblical. A priest cannot forgive sins; a bishop cannot forgive sins. Sin of every kind: abortion, homosexual practice, adultery, murder, coveting, pride, and anger — can ALL be completely forgiven through repenting of the sin, and putting your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. I John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” ALL. Repent of your sin. Bring it to Jesus. And you will be forgiven — and made useful for His Kingdom and His glory.
This is what Jesus came for! As we will see later here in Matthew 1 in a couple of weeks, Jesus didn’t come to save His “good people who had never sinned” — that would have been NONE of us! No, it says He came “to save His people from their sin.” He came to forgive us and save us and change us. And just like Jesus came in real history, as the descendant of real people, Jesus will really come into YOUR life, into your real history, and save and change YOU, if you will follow Him. Jesus didn’t come to be just a “history lesson” about genealogy — He came to save real people like you & me, in real history. If you have never done it, why don’t you turn and follow the Jesus of Matthew 1 as YOUR Lord & Savior today?!