So you are excited to read about Jesus. You open your copy of God’s word to the Gospel of Matthew and you are introduced with a long list of names. Who would start the good news of Jesus with a genealogy? Why do we have a sea of names and why do we have to wade through them? Why not just start in verse 18? The Gospel of Matthew is establishing the identity of Jesus in these first four chapters. He wants you to know who this Jesus person is. Rather than skipping the genealogy, we should consider what Matthew wants us to see about Jesus from this list of names. This will be a two part lesson as we look at Matthew 1 today and next Sunday morning, Lord willing.
A Covenantal Genealogy
The first verse sets the tone for what Matthew wants to see in Jesus. The genesis of Jesus begins with him described as the son of David and the son of Abraham. You will even notice that in verse 2 that Jesus’ genealogy starts with Abraham. So why are we pointing to David and Abraham? Why are they so important to Jesus that he must be identified as the son of David and the son of Abraham? These designations are pointing back to promises that were made more than a thousand years earlier.
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12–13 ESV)
God told David that he would have a son whose kingdom and throne would be established forever. This is why the term “son of David” became a messianic term. God was going to raise up a descendant from David’s lineage who would establish an eternal throne and eternal kingdom. This is what Israel was waiting for and Matthew is saying that Jesus is that person. Further, God made a promise to Abraham.
All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3 CSB)
These blessings and promises would not be to Israel alone. The whole world would be blessed through the offspring that would come from Abraham. Matthew again is stating that Jesus is the one who has come to be king, to establish God’s rule and God’s throne, and through his kingship every person who ever lives will be blessed. Since this is the last genealogy recorded, it shows that the purpose of these records was to get to Jesus.
A Difficult Genealogy
This list of names is broken into segments to reveal the difficult days that existed when Jesus arrives. Matthew 1:17 tells us that these generations are broken into three sections. The first group of names is from Abraham to David. In this section we have a list of patriarchs which picture the rise of God’s kingdom. But the second group of names is from David to the deportation to Babylon. These are the days of the kings which we just studied in our Sunday evening lessons. This time frame pictures the collapse and demise of God’s kingdom because of Israel’s sins. The third group of names is from the deportation to Babylon to the King, the Messiah, the Christ. This final section of names are the dark days. We have a list of names that are mostly unrecognizable. These are the dark days that await the restoration of God’s kingdom. Matthew is telling us that he has used a selected, incomplete genealogy to show where we are in the history of the world and the history of Israel.
A Relatable Genealogy
Perhaps one of the more shocking aspects of this list of names are all the people that are listed and all the people that are not listed. When you go through the list of names you are not reading about all the Bible heroes. Look at some of the names that are listed. Jacob’s name is listed in verse 2. Jacob spends much his life as a deceiver. Judah’s name is listed in verse 3 and he sleeps with prostitutes. Rahab and Tamar are listed and they are prostitutes. Look at the words of verse 6. Notice it does not say that David fathered Solomon. No, the text brings the sin to full light. David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah. The adultery of David is highlighted and remembered. Hezekiah’s name is listed in verse 9 who was a righteous king. But the very next name is Manasseh who was the worst king of Judah and the reason why the nation never recovered from its sinful ways. This is a lineage that reminds how these people were the worst because the result is recorded in verse 11: they were deported to Babylon. There was no intention of hiding the black sheep in this family line. There was no washing over the bad and only remembering the good. This is a messy genealogy that culminates in verses 13-16 with a list of nobodies. There is nothing special about any of those names until we land on the name Jesus.
It is a relatable genealogy. You probably have a genealogy like this. You have the black sheep in your family. You have a list of sinners in your family line. Deceivers, sexually immoral, adulterers, and scandals are all in Jesus’ lineage. Nobodies are listed in his family line. He has a family line just like yours. This sets the tone for why Jesus came and what he came to do. Look at verse 21.
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21 ESV)
He will be called Jesus. His name means “The Lord will save.” Call this son “The Lord will save” because he is going to be the hope of the world: the king who saves his people from their sins.
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17 ESV)
The genealogy is showing us that Jesus is just like us in every way so that he can do his work: to save his people from their sins. How is Jesus going to save people from their sins? How is this even possible? Look at verses 22-23.
The Hope of the King
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:22–23 ESV)
We will consider one aspect of this quotation in this lesson and the other aspect in next week’s lesson. But for today let us talk about what all of this is supposed to mean. Sometimes we can disconnect verses 22-23 from verse 21. But this is an important connection. Jesus is going to save his people from their sins. How is that possible? The answer is given in this prophecy from Isaiah 7. The name of this son is not only Jesus (meaning the Lord will save), but his name is also Immanuel which means “God is with us.” The reason he is able to save is because he is more than just another human born to another woman. Jesus is God with his people. God himself has come to rescue and he has the power to do what no human can ever do. Only God can save. Only God can be the hope for all people.
Friends, this is why the virgin birth of Jesus matters. Did you notice that Matthew hooks this part of the quotation in with his point? Please notice the point of the virgin birth is not about sinlessness. The text says nothing about his own freedom from sin. Rather, the text is emphasizing his ability to be the savior from sin. The point of the virgin birth is that salvation cannot come from inside humanity. Salvation can only come from God himself. Peter Leithart wonderfully makes the point: “Our salvation does not come — it cannot come — from inside humanity. We are not capable of saving ourselves. God has to come in from the outside if we are going to be saved” (The Gospel of Matthew Through New Eyes volume 1). This is the only way the arrival of Jesus can be the arrival of God living with us. This is the only way that salvation can come because the history of the world and the record of scriptures reveals that there is no hope and no salvation in humanity. Our hope for salvation, our hope for a king who can sit on an eternal throne ruling and eternal kingdom of peace can only come from outside of this world: only from God himself. This is picturing how we can have hope. Listen to how the Gospel of John said it:
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11–13 ESV)
How can we be children of God? We cannot be children of God by tracing our human lineage. We cannot be children of God by our works because that has been lost in our sins. We cannot be children of God by our own desire because our desire does not overcome our sin problem. We only can be children of God by being born of God and only by the will of God. God is doing in Jesus what no human can do. The virgin birth is a symbol of this key salvation truth. God is overcoming our sins. God is overcoming our family line so that we can be children of God. Salvation must be outside of ourselves. The world tells us that hope and salvation can only come from within ourselves. But this is not working and we are not any better. Hope and salvation can only come when we look outside of ourselves.
A Reversal Genealogy
We need to see one more thing from this genealogy. You may have noticed that there are women listed in Jesus’ genealogy which was certainly uncommon in those days. You may have also noticed that these are Gentile women listed until we get to Mary’s name at the end of the list. So we have Gentile inclusion into God’s promises. You may have also noticed that most of the names are scandalous by naming Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba. So we have the inclusion of sinners into God’s promises. But Ruth and Mary do not fit that theme of scandalous sin. So why are these names here? What is the consistent message found in Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary?
All of them contain the reversal of their circumstances that lead to their vindication. Tamar, though a prostitute, is declared “more righteous than I” in reference to Judah in Genesis 38:26. Her sinfulness is overcome. Rahab is also a prostitute but is repeatedly vindicated for her faith by knowing God’s purpose against Jericho and hiding the spies so that she becomes part of Israel. Her sinfulness is overcome and she becomes part of Israel’s heritage. Ruth is a Moabite whose condition is reversed because of her faithfulness. Her hopeless situation is reversed and she is redeemed, becoming part of Israel’s heritage. Bathsheba experiences reversal in that, though she is a Hittite, she has a son whose name is Solomon, who builds temple to the Lord and typological models what the Messiah will do. The shame of her sins and her scandal is reversed and she becomes part of Israel’s heritage. Then we come to Mary who is going to have a child though she is a virgin. This would be a scandal, which we will talk about next week. But she is going to be vindicated for her faith and bear a son that will be the savior of the world.
So it comes to you. Your hopeless, sinful, scandalous circumstances can be reversed. You can be redeemed. You can have the stain of sin erased and belong as a child of God, only by the power and will of God. This is the meaning and message of the arrival of Jesus. God is with us. He has come to save us from our sins. He will do what no human can do for you. God flipped the script of these people listed in Matthew 1. He will flip the script of your life if you will belong to him by faith. If he can and will make these people listed part of his kingdom family, he can and will make you part of his family also. This is the hope of the king.