Matthew 1:1-17 The Lineage of the Promised Savior (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Rev. Erik Veerman
The Lineage of the Promised Savior
Given that it’s advent season, this Sunday and next Sunday we’ll be considering the book of Matthew, chapter 1. You can find that on page 977 in the pew Bibles.
As you are turning there, let me give you a quick background. Matthew was one of Jesus’ disciples and he wrote this account of the life and ministry of Jesus. We call it the Gospel of Matthew. It’s one of four testimonies about Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each was written for a different purpose and audience. The Gospel of Matthew was written to a Jewish audience. One reason we know that is there are roughly 40 direct Old Testament references. That’s a lot more than the other Gospel accounts.
We’ll begin with the first 17 verses. Please stand.
Reading of Matthew 1:1-17
Once upon a time there was a kind and beautiful girl, whose name was Cinderella… and you know the rest of the story.
Or, once upon a time there was a poor widow and her son Jack… who had 5 magic beans. … and you know the rest of the story.
Or how about this one: Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away… and you know the story. I can’t say you know the rest of the story, because it seems to be never ending!
We hear those word, “once upon a time” and we know, it’s the script of fairy tales… of fables with far-fetched plots, or other fictional stories. We’re transported to far-off lands, other worldly settings, wicked witches, magic bean stalks, light sabers, elves, and dwarfs.
“It’s the stuff of dreams” as the saying goes. There’s no illusion about them. They are fun, made-up stories that stir our imagination.
What a contrast to the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. Really a contrast to all of the Gospel accounts, but especially Matthew. It doesn’t begin with “once upon a time.” In no way does it set the stage for some mythical tale. No, rather, Matthew begins with real people, real history. Fathers and mothers, sons and daughter.
One of the underlying messages is that this is true. It is history. It’s legitimate. Matthew is saying that this is not a contrived story about a fictional man. No, Jesus’ birth, his life, his death, his resurrection are real events. Let me put it this way, they are the center of all of history.
Now, some of you may not be familiar with many of these names. Others of you may very well know their stories. I’ll touch upon some of their situations as we work through this.
But I want you to put yourself in the mind of first century Jew. Imagine you are living somewhere in the Mediterranean region. You know the history of your forefathers. You’ve studied Moses and the prophets. You are intimately familiar with the God’s promises. You’ve read the accounts of the judges and kings over and over. And you believe in the coming of a Messiah – a promised king.
But maybe… maybe you’ve never heard of Jesus before. Or perhaps if you have, it’s only been in passing. Something about a wise Rabi who caused a stir.
Then someone gives you a scroll. It contains this Gospel account. And you begin to read it. And from the very first words, you are captivated.
You see, our 21st century, non-Jewish eyes tend to gloss over when we read lists of names in the Scriptures. Am I right? …but to a faithful Jewish audience, each word and each name here is full of meaning and history.
And my goal this morning is to explore some of that meaning and history and how it relates to Jesus and to us.
Before we begin, though, let me try to answer a common question. What’s the difference between this genealogy, and the genealogy listed in Luke chapter 3?
This genealogy in Matthew chapter 1 is a genealogy of Jesus through Joseph. Joseph was Mary’s husband. Mary, the mother of Jesus. Even though Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ father by blood, yet Joseph was considered Jesus’ earthly father. And the paternal line was very important in a Jewish family, so Matthew begins there. Some call this the royal line of Jesus. It includes the formal kingly descendants leading to Joseph. That’s different from Luke chapter 3. There, you will see the genealogy diverges after king David. It tracks the legal descendants down to Jesus. In other words, the first-born sons leading to Jesus versus the royal descends in Matthew. There are often multiple paths in a family tree to an ancestor. Some believe Luke gives us the maternal ancestry through Mary. That possible as well.
I didn’t want to leave that question unanswered
But let’s get into this family tree. And to give us some structure, let’s consider three points.
1. Trust the Sovereign Lord
2. Believe in the Promised King
3. Behold the Savior of Sinners
All of these have to do with what God is conveying in these opening verses.
•Trust the sovereign Lord – God ordained it all from the beginning
•Believe in the Promised King – God promised a son would be born. He would be an eternal king and a blessing to the nations.
•Behold the Savior of Sinners – There’s a lot of messiness in these generations and it demonstrates the kind of salvation that Jesus brings.
1. Trust the Sovereign Lord
So first, trust the sovereign Lord.
To the astute Jewish reader, even the opening five words had significance. It says, “The book of the genealogy.” Sound a little boring, but that phrase is very similar to the phrase used in Genesis chapter 2 verse 4. Genesis is the first book of the Bible and deals with creation. In Genesis 2:4, it reads, “These are the generations [and it continues] of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” In fact, Matthew’s opening words in Greek are identical to the early Greek translation of Genesis 2:4. Matthews’s readers would have known that translation. And it’s not just Genesis 2:4. Genesis 5:1 also begins with the same phrase. “This is the book of the generations of Adam.”
So, even though Matthew begins his genealogy with Abraham, the opening words are an allusion to the creation account.
Let me put it this way: these first 17 verses summarize the history of God’s people up to that point. From creation to Israel’s forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) to the kings (David and Solomon), and to the exile, when Babylon overthrew Judah and Jerusalem.
In other words, the birth of Jesus connects to all of Israel’s history up to that point.
And if you jump down to verse 17, it tells us that there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David… fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian exile… and fourteen generations from the exile to Christ.
That number 14 is significant because it represents the number 7 times 2. The number 7 in Scripture is the number of completeness. That also goes back to creation – the seven creation days. And when you add multiples to any significant numbers, it merely emphasizes the message. 7 times 2, 7 times 2, 7 times 2. Matthew is saying, God’s plan is being fulfilled in Jesus.
Now, some may argue that it’s not exactly 14 generation between each. For example, notice Jeconiah is listed as last in the generation before the exile (verse 11) and he’s listed again as first in the generations in the exile (verse 12). Well, the reason he’s included in both is that he belongs in both. He was the last generation of kings before the exile, and he was the first generation in the exile.
Here’s the point: Matthew is conveying that it was all planned out; It was all in God’s sovereign plan from creation; it was a perfectly complete plan. Each step, each generation, worked out precisely in the way that God intended in sending his Son.
That plan was established before creation, and it reached it’s climax in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
What Matthew is doing is pointing us to God, to Yahweh… pointing us to the one true God, who oversees and superintends all things.
Jesus’ birth wasn’t a reactionary decision on God’s part. Rather he planned it all and he is accomplishing that plan through Jesus. For Matthew’s readers and us, this is not a human invention, it’s not a “once upon a time” fictional story, but rather, the very God of the universe worked in history to fulfill his plan in his perfect time.
Isn’t that amazing to consider? We worship a God who works everything according to his perfect plan in his perfect time. We’ll see in a minute that God plan is worked out even through the struggle of sin and suffering. God is sovereign over it all. Trust the sovereign Lord.
2. Believe in the Promised King
And that brings us to point number 2 - Believe in the Promised King. That is the second thing that these verses highlight. So, we’re going from God’s sovereignty in orchestrating it all, to now how God communicated his plan.
You see, the coming of Jesus was not something out of the blue. No, God had been preparing his people for generation upon generation. God communicated over and over that he would send a savior. And he revealed that plan to his people.
He did that in multiple ways, but one of the main ways that God communicated his plan was through promises. Scripture calls them covenants. A covenant is an agreement that God established with his people. They defined his relationship with them. You could say they are relational contracts. God’s covenants with his people include future promises that God would fulfill. And God established these covenant promises through representatives.
Now, the reason I’m telling you all this is look again at verse 1. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Those words speak directly to Jesus fulfilling God’s covenant promises.
•Notice it doesn’t just say, the genealogy of Jesus. Rather, the genealogy of Jesus Christ. The word Christ is a title. It is the word for the anointed one, or the promised one. Matthew is stating right up front that Jesus is the promised Messiah.
•And add to that, Matthew calls Jesus, “son of Abraham” and “son of David” (referring to king David). The reason that’s significant is that Abraham and David were two of the primary covenant representatives. Abraham was the patriarch of Israel. The father of God’s people. And David was king of Israel. Not Israel’s first king. That was Saul. But rather David was the king after God’s own heart.
And through both Abraham and David, God vowed that he would send a descendant who would fulfill his covenant promises.
Earlier in the service we read parts of those covenant promises. In Genesis 12, God promised to Abraham that he not only would make Abraham’s descendants a great nation, but God promised all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. Later in Genesis, we read that a promised descendant of Abraham, would bring this great blessing.
Again, that was the Covenant promise to Abraham.
The Covenant promise to David was similar. We read it in 2 Samuel 7. It’s that king David would have a great descendant, in his line. This king of kings would be an everlasting king. His kingdom would have no end. In several Advent and Christmas hymns, we sing of Jesse’s lineage. Jesse was the father of David. You see that right there in verse 6. He’s the promise of Isaiah 11. All the nations will come to the root of Jesse.
Imagine, again, that you are an Israelite living in the first century. Imagine that you are reading these words for the very first time. Your whole life, you have heard of the Messiah. You’ve read all of the promises in the prophets. You’ve read of God’s covenant promise to Abraham – that his descendants would be like the stars of the sky. And you’ve known of God’s covenant promise to David, that one of his descendants would sit on an eternal throne.
Put yourself in that situation. And imagine reading these words. Matthew is saying that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. He is the fulfillment of all the covenant promises. The son of Abraham, the son and David.
You see, for century upon century, God’s people had been waiting. They had been yearning for God to fulfill his covenant promises. And Matthew is writing to you. Matthew, a disciple of Jesus, who witnessed it all, is writing that you may believe. He wants you to know that Jesus is the one who would inaugurate the everlasting kingdom and be a blessing to all nations. He is the one. Matthew’s whole book was written so that you would see and know that Jesus is the Messiah. That’s why Matthew opens with that very clear declaration.
And you know this, Matthew’s Gospel is not just written for the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people. No, God’s purpose through Matthew is also for spiritual descendants of Abraham. He’s calling us to believe. To know that Jesus is the promise to the nations. Jesus is the eternal king. He rules and reigns over a kingdom that will have no end. God wants you to believe in the promised King.
3. Behold the Savior of Sinners
So, first Trust the Sovereign Lord – it’s was all worked out in God’s perfect plan and timing. Second, Believe the promised King. And now, point #3, Behold the Savior of Sinners.
Over the last few decades, there’s been a renewed interest in family trees. Several websites help you identify relatives and common ancestors. As of this year, the largest documented family tree has 27 million people listed.
There’s also a huge interest in DNA tests to better understand your heritage. You can even be connected with relatives you may not know. There’s been story after story of people connected with half siblings they never knew they had. Or stories of people finding out their dad isn’t their biological father. Family trees are messy. They’ve always been messy. When someone is drawing a family tree, there are all these symbols that indicate things like death, divorce, separation, infidelity. And the truth is, which many are finding out today, family trees can be messier than the known messiness.
Well, this family tree in Matthew 1 is no different. You may be tempted to think, “well if God sent his promised Savior into the world through ordinary generation, well then each and every ancestor must have been faithful and Godly.” I mean, right? That’s what we may be tempted to think.
But that is far from the reality. And one of the things that this genealogy clearly displays is a need for a savior. As Jesus himself said, “I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Some of you know the story of Judah for example. He’s listed there in verses 2 and 3. Judah was one of the 12 sons of Jacob. So, Judah was one of Joseph’s older brothers. Well, it says here that Judah was the father of Perez by Tamar. Tamar was actually Judah’s daughter-in-law. Judah had shunned her, and so she seduced him while he was travelling. She covered her face, and he didn’t recognize her. And she became pregnant. Judah, of course, was guilty himself, even more so. Judah, thinking Tamar was a prostitute. Yet Judah, Tamar, and their son Perez in the line of Christ.
Or take King David, himself. Verse 6. It says, “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” It’s speaking of Bathsheba. David used his position to take Bathsheba. He then committed adultery with her. She became pregnant, and when that happened, David had Uriah, her husband, killed on the battlefield. Solomon was their second son. And let’s talk about Solomon. He began his reign seeking wisdom from the one true God. But Solomon lost that faithful pursuit. He loved many foreign wives, and he came to love their idols and false gods. David, Bathsheba, and Solomon in the line of Christ.
The list of kings itself is a telling list. It includes godly kings like Josiah, the young king who tore down all the false places of worship and who restored worship of the true God. The list also includes Hezekiah who sought the Lord and sought the Lord’s protection and whom the Lord used to protect Jerusalem.
But the list also includes Ahaz and Manasseh, two of the most wicked kings of Judah in Jerusalem. Devoid of any heart desire to please the Lord and serve him. No, these kings sought their own worldly power. They displayed no interest in the Scriptures or in seeking God. That ultimately led to the nation’s downfall. Ahaz and Manasseh in the line of Christ.
This is all reality. Difficult circumstances, sin, evil, and shame. Yet God demonstrated his faithfulness through their failures. It reveals that God works in the fallen world to accomplish salvation.
The very reason that Christ came was to save sinners. Jesus own family tree demonstrates that. He entered into the miseries and sin of this life to redeem those who live in the miseries and sin of this life. Yet he was without sin. A savior of sinners.
But there’s a second thing that this genealogy also highlights. It demonstrates that salvation is for all. Or maybe it’s better to say, salvation is offered to all. There is a diversity in this genealogy.
First of all, you would expect Jesus’ lineage to be exclusively Jewish. But that’s not the case. Rahab, for example, verse 5, was a Canaanite… an inhabitant of Jericho. In fact, Rahab had been a harlot. A prostitute. Yet, she faithfully helped God’s people. The Lord redeemed her and brought her into the family of faith.
Or take Ruth, King David’s great grandmother. Ruth was a Moabite. Moabites had been cut off from the blessing of God for their false worship and cursing of the children of Israel. Yet God redeemed Ruth and brought her into the family of faith.
It’s likely Bathsheba was a Hittite. She is referenced as the wife of Uriah the Hittite.
The diversity in Jesus’ lineage is also seen in the number of women referenced. For a patriarchal society, it would have been very uncommon to list so many women. And if a lineage did include women, you would expect to read of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, or Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, or Rachel, Jacob’s wife. But no, they are not referenced, rather, Tamar and Rahab and Ruth and Bathsheba, and, of course, Mary.
Besides Jesus’ lineage highlighting that he is the savior of sinners, Jesus’ lineage highlights that he is the savior of the world. Salvation for all peoples and all nations.
As God had promised Abraham, through his lineage, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And this family tree demonstrates God’s blessing to all people.
Beloved, it is a real-life history... not just of any man, but of the promised Messiah
And in it, may we:
•Trust the Sovereign Lord
•Believe in the Promised King
•Behold the Savior of Sinners
In this advent season, may you wonder in awe at this savior! Amazed at his family tree… Instead of skipping down to verse 18, may you take heart in how God orchestrated it all, how God fulfilled his promise in history, and how we have been given a king and a savior. A savior of the world. May you believe in him.