It has become very popular to look into your genealogy. I have a friend who is really into this, and for a while, every time I saw him he had a new discovery about his heritage.
Of course, most of us would like to think we are related to someone important, like a member of a royal family, a celebrity, some great intellect, or a hero from American history.
But what if you were researching your family tree and discovered you had some unsavory characters in it? Would you want to let others know? Let’s say that you found out you had a number of prostitutes in your family tree. Is that something you would tell people about? Imagine hanging around with some friends, and one person says, “I’m a distant relative of George Washington.”
Another says, “Well, I have royal blood flowing in my family.”
And you say, “Well, I have three prostitutes in my family.” Is that something you would be proud of?
You may be surprised to know that the most famous family tree in human history had some unsavory characters, including liars, cheats, adulterers, and prostitutes. I’m talking, of course, about the family tree of Jesus Christ. He knows all about having relatives who might be embarrassing.
Yet in his family tree, we can see the amazing grace of God clearly on display, long before Bethlehem, showing us that God gives second chances.
Now, when we tell the Christmas story, we usually cut to the chase. We usually go straight to the beautiful narratives that are found in Matthew, and especially in the gospel of Luke. We often skip over what precedes that story, which is another lengthy genealogy, because we think it doesn’t mean anything to us.
Yet this genealogy affects every one of us. It is as much inspired by God as any other passage in the Bible.
And for the Jewish people in Jesus’ day, genealogies were a big deal for a number of reasons. A genealogy would determine whether someone was related to the priesthood. It also would determine if a person was in the royal line. And, it would influence how the family inheritance would be passed on. Therefore, they were sticklers for genealogies.
The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 reads like a biblical soap opera. There is David, who was plucked from obscurity and became the greatest king in the history of the nation Israel, the man after God’s own heart. David’s name is usually associated with two others, which represent both his greatest victory and his greatest defeat. The name Goliath reminds us of his greatest victory when he killed the 9-foot-6-inch Philistine in the valley of Elah. And then there is the name Bathsheba, with whom he fell into the sin of adultery. And not only was David guilty of adultery, but in his attempt to cover it up, an innocent man lost his life. The repercussions of that sin were repeated not only in David’s life but also in the lives of his children. Yet David made it into the most exclusive family tree in human history.
Then there is Abraham. Though he was a great man of faith and is considered the father of faith, he had his flaws and shortcomings. We know that he lied about his wife, Sarah, out of fear for his life and a lack of trust in God. Yet God established Abraham as the father of the Jewish people and clearly placed him in the Messianic line.
Tamar is named in this famous genealogy, which is really shocking. In Genesis 38, where we read about her prostitution and deception, there is no redeeming value, no silver lining to her story. She is pretty much a corrupt character. Yet amazingly, by the grace of God, Tamar is in the messianic line.
Then there is Rahab, who also was a prostitute. She was a Gentile and an inhabitant of Jericho. When Israeli spies were sent in to check out the land before the Israeli army occupied it, they were hidden by Rahab in her home. Because of her act of kindness toward the people of God, the Israelites spared her and her household. And then, even more amazingly, she was brought into the messianic line as the wife of Salmon and the mother of the godly Boaz, who was David’s great-grandfather.
Next we come to Ruth. She, too, was a gentile. She married one of two sons born to a woman named Naomi. When Naomi’s husband and sons died, she decided to return home to Israel. This prompted Ruth to make the famous statement, “For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16 NKJV).
This is amazing when you consider the fact that Ruth was a Moabite, and the Moabites were among the worst enemies of Israel. Yet here was this Moabite, this pagan woman, who came to faith in God. Then she married Boaz and became the grandmother of Israel’s greatest king, David.
It certainly gives hope to those who have failed in life. In this genealogy we have God, in his mercy, doing for sinners what they can’t do for themselves: mending their broken lives and putting together their shattered hopes.