Jesus, the Son of David

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 1:1

If you were going to write a book that introduced Jesus Christ to the world, you probably would not begin it the way Matthew does his.

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

Judah the father of Perez and

Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

Salmon, the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon,

whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa,

Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

Uzziah the father of Jotham,

Jotham the father of Ahaz,

Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah,

and Josiah the father of Jeconiah

and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

after the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

Zerabbabel the father of Abiud,

Abiud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Eliud,

Eliud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob,

and Jacob the father of Joseph,

the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile in Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.

Matthew 1:1-17, niv

If you wanted to write a book to introduce Jesus Christ to the world, I seriously doubt you would open it the way Matthew begins his gospel. I suppose that the average reader would approach those opening verses of the gospel of Matthew about the same way they would look at a page in the telephone directory: there may be some nice people in there, but most of them don’t mean anything to us. This must be the least read part of the Christmas story. This passage is never memorized by children in Sunday school, it is not sung in Christmas carols, it does not figure prominently in Christmas worship services.

The verses are, in fact, a genealogy, another of those long lists of difficult Hebrew names of which the Bible seems to contain an inordinate number. For most of us, a biblical genealogy is like the appendix in the human body – there’s no denying it’s there, but it’s hard to say what it’s good for. But this passage must have some useful purpose; God’s Word itself says that all Scripture is inspired and profitable for teaching (2 Timothy 3:16). Certainly Matthew believed Jesus’ genealogy to be extremely significant, or he would never have taken valuable space to write it down. What does this list of names have to tell us about the one whose birth we still celebrate at Christmas?

A CLUE TO JESUS’ IDENTITY

To Matthew’s first readers, these verses would have been full of interest, and would, in fact, have provided them with an important clue to Jesus’ true identity. Matthew prefaces his account of Jesus’ nativity in Bethlehem with a genealogy in order to demonstrate that, despite the humble and obscure circumstances of his birth, Jesus was actually the Son of David, the long-awaited Messiah, descended from Israel’s royal family. This is clear from the ancestors listed, and also from the list itself, for Matthew deliberately selected exactly fourteen names in each of the three sections of his list, and that number would have cued his Jewish readers to the name “David.”

Perhaps you notice that Matthew makes a special point of counting the generations, “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 the Christ fourteen generations.” That makes 42, but 42 generations from Abraham to Christ cannot be the actual number. The period from Abraham to David was roughly twice as long as the other two, and yet Matthew records the same number of generations for each. He does so by skipping some names and repeating others in order to tailor the list to fit his chosen dimensions. Why? Because in the Hebrew system, each digit had an alphabetical equivalent, so that a name could stand for a number and a number for a name. The most famous biblical example of this is the notorious number 666 in Revelation 13:18, which stands for the anti-Christ and represents a name unknown to us. Matthew chose to record fourteen generations for each of the three periods from Abraham to Christ because fourteen was the number of David’s name, and so the entire genealogy underscores the message that Jesus was the new David, King David’s promised son and heir.

The Jewish people took great interest in things like symbolic numbers and names and genealogies and family trees, and it was a matter of special pride and importance to be able to trace one’s line to a priestly or a royal ancestor. The rabbis had a saying: “God let his glory dwell only in families that can prove their pedigrees.” Herod the Great, the King of Judea who plays so notorious a role in the Christmas story, was himself not from the royal house of David but came of mixed ancestry, and his questionable background never ceased to gall him. Whenever he could, historians tell us, he burned Jewish family records to prevent others from proving their noble descent. How enraged Herod would have been had he lived to see this royal family tree of the child he tried to kill in Bethlehem!

GOD IS TRUE TO HIS ENGAGEMENTS

But the genealogy of Jesus is of more than just historical interest. If Jesus Christ is the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, then he is the fulfillment of all the ancient promises of God, and this long list of names, so seemingly devoid of value, is actually a powerful reminder of the way God keeps his promises. The very first time that God spoke to Abraham, he made him a promise: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to a land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing . . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). As time went on that promise to bless the nations through the seed of Abraham was made increasingly particular and specific – Isaac was chosen instead of Ishmael, Jacob instead of Esau, then the tribe of Judah was singled out, and finally the house of David. God repeated his promise, focusing it upon David’s line, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). And that was to be the fulfillment of the promise. It finally came when God caused the birth of great David’s greater son, Jesus.

God never lies; he always keeps his word. We may forget his promises or lose hope in them, but God never forgets; if he says something, it will come to pass. As the redoubtable English bishop J.C. Ryle has said, “True Christians should remember this lesson, and take comfort. Their Father in heaven will be true to all his engagements.” Isn’t that wonderful? God will always be true to his engagements.

IN THE FULNESS OF TIME

But in addition to the truth that God always keeps his promises, Jesus’ genealogy also reminds us that he keeps them in his own time. How long he waited to send his Son! Generation succeeded generation, and still the promises went unfulfilled. For two thousand years God’s engagement to send a Savior remained just a hope, and during all those years God’s people waited, just as their father Abraham had waited so long for the birth of Isaac. They waited through generation after generation, through times of blessing and of testing, through good kings and bad, through days under Solomon when it looked as if the promise must soon be fulfilled and through years of exile when all hope was nearly gone. But God always keeps his engagements. He never breaks them. He always remains true. Through all the centuries, God remained constant, never wavering, never faltering, never forgetting, until the moment when, to use the apostle Paul’s beautiful phrase, “in the fullness of time. God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:6).

This is precisely the time when God always keeps every one of his promises – in the fullness of time, that is, at the moment which he determines is just right. Christians call the weeks leading up to Christmas the season of Advent (which means “coming”). This is traditionally the season when Christians remember that we are waiting too, waiting for God to keep another promise. It’s Christ’s promise that he will come again. We have been waiting a long time, for nearly another two thousand years, and some have given up hope, and some no longer look up expectantly. But one day – perhaps soon – in the fullness of time, the Lord Jesus will keep his promise to return again and bring his work of salvation to its perfect completion.

WHAT GOD DOES IS RIGHTLY DONE

There one more thing to say. God always keeps his promises, not only in his own time, but also in his own way. Had it been up to us, I really don’t think we would have brought the Messiah into the world in this way; we would have been much more dramatic and direct. And if we had decided to employ different people over all these generations, I’m certain we would have been far more judicious in the selection of our candidates. I mean, consider some of the ancestors of God’s Son. Look at the people who contributed the social, historical, cultural, and, in the case of Mary, the genetic factors which made up Jesus’ humanity. Many of the names that appear here are questionable, at best. There are those in the genealogy, like Rehoboam or Manasseh, who were notorious scoundrels, and even many of the more virtuous people were very seriously flawed. (Think, for example, of Jacob and David; maybe you know the story of their lives.) Most of those mentioned on the list are merely insignificant. To us today, it’s a collection of unknowns and nobodies whom God took up into his purpose. Who were Hezron, Nahshon or Salmon? Who were Azor, Achim or Eliud? We tend to forget that God doesn’t have to use just famous people to do his work and accomplish his purpose.

And then there are the names that are simply shocking. No fewer than five women appear in a list which, according to the sensibilities of Matthew’s culture, should have been limited only to men. Matthew seems to have gone out of his way to specifically mention them, as if to draw our attention to them. And of those five women, four are not even Jewish! They were outsiders, Gentiles brought in among the chosen people. Tamar and Rahab were Canaanites, and to tell the absolute (though embarrassing) truth, Rahab was a prostitute. Ruth came from Moab, and the wife of Uriah (who presumably was a non-Israelite like her husband) was the notorious Bathsheba, the woman with whom David sinned. Jesus’ ancestors were definitely a mixed lot, no question about it. There is no racial purity or moral superiority in God’s family tree! Wherever we may have gotten our desire to exclude, to keep separate from other (lower) types, to persecute or even eliminate people who are different from us, to keep our families and communities pure and uncontaminated, we didn’t get it from God.

That’s not his way. It looks as though his way is to accept anybody and make use of anybody, even the most undeserving; a fact for which I, thinking of myself, am very grateful. Do you know that God will also accept you? Do you realize that the Lord Jesus wants to engage himself to you, to know you and be known by you, to forgive you and make a new person out of you, and then to use your life for good in his world. Whoever you are, whatever your life, God will have you, God will use you. God will make something wonderful of you and your life. After all, that’s why Jesus, the Son of David, came into our world.