Scripture: Matthew 1:1-11
Other sermons in this series
- God Meets Us in Our Fear
- A Joyful Noel
- We See God in Each other
Genealogical research is a huge business these days. According to one website I looked at, in 2019, people spent about $460 million researching their family histories. MyHeritage, a genealogical site, has recorded about 80 million members performing ancestral testing every month. And that’s only one company among many which offer a similar service. No doubt, many of you have researched your family history.
Wanting or even needing to know one’s family history is not a new phenomenon. In fact, genealogies play an important role in the Bible. During Old Testament times, genealogies were necessary for making sure that future generations of Israelites remained within the bounds prescribed for them by the law of Moses. For example, by law, the role of priest was limited to those who could trace their lineage back to Jacob’s son Levi. Only Levites could be priests. Genealogies were helpful in identifying who these persons were and weren’t. Also, while royalty wasn’t always passed down from father to son, it was certainly the most common pattern for naming the next king. So, genealogies were included in the Bible to support the legitimacy of the succession of Israelite kings through the generations. It would be fair to say that lineage conferred spiritual and political authority.
The New Testament contains two genealogies, one in Matthew’s Gospel and the other in Luke’s Gospel. Both are genealogies of Jesus. It’s interesting to note that they’re not identical. There are similarities between the two lists, but their differences are readily apparent. There’s a reason for their differences, and it boils down to this: It wasn’t the purpose of Matthew and Luke to record an accurate history of Jesus’ lineage. That, of course, strikes our modern sensibilities as bizarre because we’re all about making sure the historical facts correct.
So, if getting at historical accuracy wasn’t their purpose, what was? Quite simply, their purpose was theological in nature. They were driven to provide theological accuracy, not historical accuracy. Regarding Jesus’ lineage found in Matthew, one commentator put it this way:
“The purpose of the genealogy is not to give accurate history, but to set the story of Jesus into the context of the ongoing story of God’s acts in [human] history that will (result) in the coming of God’s kingdom, and of the one who is himself God with us.” (known by name as Emmanuel).
In other words, both Matthew and Luke present their genealogies of Jesus such that he’s connected directly God as the Son of God, and also to affirm his role as Messiah by linking him ancestrally to King David from whom God said would come the anointed one of God—the Christ. Making these two theological points was important to Matthew and Luke.
So, with this in mind, here’s the genealogy of Jesus accord to the evangelist Matthew (exciting, I know!).
[READ Matthew 1:1-17]
This list of names of persons who make up Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham has 40 names representing 40 generations between Abraham and Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father. Some names you probably recognize and, for the most part, know their story. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon are the most well-known among them. Some of you might recognize the name Boaz; he was an important player in the book of Ruth. But my guess is that many if not most of these names don’t ring a bell. How much do you know about Salmon? Or Abijah? Or Azor? Or Zadok?
The fact is, when it comes to some of the people listed in Jesus’ lineage, the only thing we really know about them is that they’re a part of Jesus’ family tree. But our lack of knowledge about what they accomplished doesn’t mean they didn’t have an accomplished life. Each one of these persons experienced a lifetime of joy, sorrow, trauma, triumph, and so on. Many of these whom Matthew names did great things that will be remembered and talked about forever because the Bible recorded their achievements. And some of them did great things that were never recorded and have been long since been forgotten.
But what’s important for us to keep in mind is that each name on this list holds a personal story, and each of their stories give way to Christ’s story. God worked through the unexpected people and stories of the past to accomplish his plan of liberation from the power of sin. When we zoom in, we may not be able to see how each individual character propels the story of Jesus forward. But when we zoom out, we can see how each story is woven together into a larger tapestry.
That tapestry is not limited to the saints of old. The truth is, God works through the unexpected people and stories of the present to propel the life-transforming story of Jesus forward. I’m talking, of course, about you and me. Each of us is a vital part of this ongoing tapestry of God’s saving activity in our world.
The story of Jesus got its start long before the promise God made to Abraham about the future of his descendants. Although it’s not explicitly spelled out in the story of Adam and Eve’s fall, it’s there inconspicuously. From the creation story in Genesis, we know that all of creation, especially humanity, was created to be in intimate relationship with God. Death was not a part of the order of creation as God designed it. But what was built into the order of creation for humanity was free will. And free will gave rise to rebellion. And rebellion resulted in death entering into the human story. Through the rebellion of our original parents, depicted in Genesis 3, our relationship with God was forever broken. That’s when the story of Jesus Christ began—when sin entered the human story. When this happened, God initiated his plan of redemption – the story of Jesus.
Each of us is a vital part of this ongoing tapestry of God’s saving activity in our world.
The redemption of sinful humanity required God’s direct intervention. In his wisdom, God decided to intercede by personally entering into the fray of our broken world. This he did by sending the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, into our world as a human being. And, of course, the only point of entry into the human world is through a human being. In the case of Jesus, that point of entry was Mary.
During Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Elizabeth declared to Mary that the child within her (Mary’s) womb would fulfill God’s plan of redemption (see Luke 1:39-45). In response, Mary declares this song of praise:
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God” (Luke 1:46-50).
Despite the challenges she faced, Mary was able to glimpse the scale and scope of the good news she was part of bringing forth. She understood that she herself was a part of the story of Jesus when she said, “From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me” (Luke 1:48).
But just as importantly, she saw that this particular good news transcends time and space. It was—and is—bigger than just her. Christ was coming into the world to free from the power of sin not only God’s covenant people—the Jews—but every person stuck in the bondage of sin. And not just those alive at that time, but from that time on forevermore. God’s redemption would be at work for years (and years and years and years…) to come. This is a very important point. The promise of redemption, which Mary refers to as God’s mercy, is meant to be lived out and passed on from generation to generation to generation. In Mary’s own words,“[God] shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next” (v. 50).
Again, here’s the point—one I hope you take to heart: you and I are a part of the ongoing story of Jesus. The genealogy of Jesus goes both backward and forward in time. Which means we’re just as much a part of the story of Jesus as were those Matthew named in his list of descendants. Those who came before Jesus contributed to the coming of Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Savior in order to deal with the problem of sin. Those of us who came after Jesus contribute to the unfolding of that promise of redemption which will be fulfilled when Christ returns and defeats sin and death for all eternity. You and I not passively watching from the outside as this work of God unfolds all around us. No, we are a vital part of its unfolding.
Does that surprise you? Is it hard to believe that little ‘ol me has as much a place in the story of Jesus as Abraham? As King David? As Mary?
If this is true—and I’m suggesting that in God’s eyes, it is—how might that shape how you live out your faith? That is, how you put your faith into practice in your day-to-day life? If you’re able to see, as Mary saw in herself—if you’re truly able to see the important role you yourself play in God’s unfolding work of redemption, would that give you greater motivation to be even more intentional in your discipleship?
On Thursday, after our Thanksgiving dinner, I went for a walk with my nephew, Kevin, who, after graduating from college, was a missionary for four years with University Christian Outreach. During those four years, ministry was his job; ministry was what the job was all about. After that, he got his MBA and started working as an auditor in a CPA firm. It’s fair to say that ministry is not what his current job is all about. But knowing that ministry is what the disciple’s life is about, he kept his eyes opened and spirit attuned to where God might utilize him to be a part of the story of Jesus…at a large CPA firm. When the time was right, the Lord laid it on his heart to help start a weekly online prayer and sharing meeting. 30 minutes every Saturday morning. One of the participants observed that in all his years at that firm, nothing like their weekly gathering for prayer and support had ever been come about, and had come to really appreciate their weekly get-togethers.
Speaking for myself, I found my nephew’s story of looking for a way to be an active part of the ongoing story of Jesus to be moving. It’s got me thinking about ways that I could be an active part of the story of Jesus in a setting outside of the church. If my story is a vital part of Jesus’ story of redemption, then I definitely want to do what I can to live out my story in a more intentional manner. How about you?
One final thought, and then I’m done. The goal as I’m suggesting is to be intentional in what we do for Jesus, not necessarily big. My nephew told me there were 5 people in their weekly gatherings. Five people out of hundreds of employees. But the size of the group doesn’t really matter. What matters is being faithful to God’s call to be a light of Christ to whomever will benefit from it, whether than number be 5, 50, or 500. Keep in mind something Jesus said: “Everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded” (Matthew 10:42).
Every single day provides each of us with opportunities to intentionally and purposefully be the light of Jesus Christ for the sake of someone who needs that light. Know that what you do this coming week truly matters and may even have eternal effects! Let’s pray.