As I told you a while back, those two weeks last fall when we literally walked in Jesus’ steps during our visit to Israel…made me feel led to do a sermon series on the life of Christ. This morning we’re continuing that series. We started it with a four week study of Jesus’ birth during Advent and today we move on from there. Our study will take us three more months and will culminate with a look at the steps Jesus took during the first Holy Week. I hope you’ll pray for me as I study and prepare—and will also join us faithfully each Sunday. Pray that God will use our study of Jesus’ life to both better prepare us to share the good news of the Gospel—and also help us to become more like Jesus as we strive to develop our second nature of Christ-like service.
Today our journey through Jesus’ live takes us to His family tree, which is an important part of the study of anyone’s life because we can learn a lot about a person in that way. This fall Daniel got interested in OUR family tree and, with the help of a two-week free trial offer to ancestry.com he was able to go pretty far back and dig up a lot of interesting info. In fact, as a Christmas gift, he gave us a book with his research findings filled with some amazing pics. I won’t share every branch and leaf of the Adams lineage but I do want to tell you about two things that Daniel uncovered—something in my mother’s family tree and the other from my dad’s.
First, by digging into the history of my MOM’S side of the family Daniel discovered that we have FRENCH roots. That helped make sense of things. You see, my Grandmom Williams’ first name was ETOILE. I remember thinking it was an odd name but no odder than my Grandmom Adams’ name: Ora Belle. I just assumed that all women born in the south early in the 20th century had odd names. Well, I learned a few years back that it should not be pronounced “Etoyl” but “EEEtwah” because it is a French word meaning “star…” and Daniel’s research explained why grandmom had that French name. He discovered that my Grandmom Williams’ maiden name, “Maples” is French as well. Originally it was “Mahpoil” but when they came to the U.S. they Americanized it and “Mahpoil” was changed it to “Maples.” The first “Mahpoil” to come to America was my great, great, great, great, great, great, great…etc. grandfather and his name was Peter Mahpoil. He emigrated here in the late 17th century. He was born in Bernice, France in 1675 and died in 1720 in New Jersey. But the thing that interests me MOST about Peter is the fact that he was a French Huguenot and he didn’t just LEAVE France. He FLED it because of religious persecution. He came to America for religious freedom—which I find very cool because it means THEOLOGY is in my genes!
And then, as I said, Daniel also discovered something interesting on my DAD’S side of the family. The Adamses are from Mississippi and I always knew that my great-great granddad fought in the Civil War. In fact, there was a picture of him in his uniform hanging in one of the rooms of the Adams family farmhouse in Tomnolen, Mississippi. I remember seeing it whenever we would visit. Of course it was an old, somewhat blurry black and white picture so I couldn’t tell if Great Great Grandad was wearing a Union uniform or one from the Confederacy but because of my Mississippi roots I just assumed that he fought on the wrong side of that horrible conflict. However Daniel discovered that was not true. My great-great-grandfather, Robert G. Adams, was a private in Company F of the Kentucky 10th Calvary. His uniform was blue! He fought for the United States of America! Yes! He survived the war and died in Union, Kentucky in 1910. Robert’s son, John Adams, my great-grandfather, moved to Mississippi and purchased the family farm in Tomnolen—the farm my grandfather, Walter Adams, worked and the farm where my dad, Charles Adams, was born and raised. It would be interesting to learn why John Adams moved there from Kentucky. Why did he go south—instead of west like everyone else? I may never know. In any case I was very relieved and a little bit proud to learn about that little Civil War detail.
Well, ancestry.com does a booming business these days because ancestry is important to us. As I just shared, family trees can tell us a lot—and this is especially true when it comes to Jesus, the Christ. However I would imagine Jesus’ family tree is not a part of the Bible that you cherish. I mean, the verses that make up His family tree are not picked as memory verses in Bible School.
People don’t tend to turn there for help or inspiration. In fact, most people consider all the genealogies that are found in the Bible to be nothing more than a source of a big yawn—all those endless “begats” linking hard to pronounce names. Those lists probably warm your heart about as much as reading a Manhattan phone book. I mean, let’s be honest, when we come to these lists most of us skip over them so that we can get to “the good stuff” because even under the best of circumstances, we know that reading someone’s genealogy can be VERY boring, especially if we don’t know the stories behind all those names.
J. B. Phillips must have felt this way because when he first published his translation of the New Testament he left out Jesus’ genealogies in Matthew and Luke, thinking they were nothing more than trivia. But, he received so much criticism that he put them back in—and rightfully so because as 2nd Timothy 3:16 says, “ALL SCRIPTURE is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” which means that—as we’ll see this morning—even the genealogies in the Bible are filled with truth.
Now, in Jesus’ day a person’s family tree was a source of tremendous PRIDE. Back then everyone made it a point of KNOWING their genealogy. Those long lists of names gave them the opposite of a yawn. In fact everyone’s family tree was a matter of public record—carefully kept by the Sanhedrin. The Bible reflects this aspect of Jewish culture because it contains SEVERAL genealogies. Genesis 5 begins with the family tree that Adam started. Genesis 10 lists the “begats” of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And, Matthew not only BEGINS his book with Jesus’ family tree—In verse 1 he ENTITLES his gospel, “The Book of the GENERATION of Jesus Christ.”
If you and I were writing a book these days we would want to begin with something that would catch the reader’s attention and make them want to continue reading. For us—a genealogy would be the LAST thing we would START our book with but that’s what Matthew does because in his day people were VERY interested in genealogies. A list like this WOULD indeed get their attention and make them want to read the rest of his book. There were several REASONS they felt this way.
A. First, a person’s ancestry determined their CLAIM ON LAND.
This came out of the original tribal allocation of the land of Palestine. Remember? Numbers 26:52-56 records the fact that when the Israelites first settled in the Promised land, God divided it into parcels for each tribe. So, in order to prove you had a right to a particular piece of land, you had to know your genealogy—you had to be able to prove that you were a descendant of such and such a tribe.
B. Second, ancestry determined claims to the RIGHT OF INHERITANCE.
If a person said he had a right to property, an estate, crops, or other material possessions from a deceased relative, the validity of such claims had to be determined by the genealogies of all who were involved. That long list of hard to pronounce names even determined who got first dibs when it came to marrying a widow. You may recall that there’s a great example of this in the book of Ruth. Boaz became her second husband when her first died but had to give his next of kin first shot. And in chapters 3 and 4 we see that Naomi’s ancestry allowed for the transfer of her dead husband’s property.
C. Third, in Israel genealogy established the basis of TAXATION.
On Christmas Eve we read Luke 2 which tells that when Mary and Joseph went to be counted in the Roman census, they traveled to Bethlehem because that was the hometown of David, and they were both part of his family tree. Like any self-respecting Jew, I’m sure that Mary and Joseph were very aware of their lineage because from childhood their parents and other older relatives would have described how their family heritage went all the way back to King David himself. So, based on their family’s genealogical records, which were kept in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph made the journey there to be counted in the census a census that was the basis of taxation.
D. And then, last, and most important, any claim to the PRIESTHOOD or ROYALTY had to be verified by genealogy.
To be a priest you had to be of the tribe of Levi. I guess you could say you had to prove that you had Levi’s genes so to speak! And in the same way, any claim to be king—and ultimately MESSIAH—would be rejected if the one making the claim could not prove he was a direct descendant of the great king David himself. You see, in 2nd Samuel 7 God promised that He would establish a throne from David’s lineage that would last forever and everyone in Jesus’ day knew that promise was to be fulfilled in the Messiah.
So genealogies were important back then for a number of reasons—and because they were, the Jews took great care when it came to keeping very accurate family records. The fact that we have the genealogies of Jesus Christ in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is proof of this. I mean these gospel writers’ use of such records demonstrates not only that the Holy Spirit guided them, but also that they had ACCESS to actual, verifiable public records that proved the true and accurate genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1) And that leads us to the first thing we should note in this first stop in our study of Jesus’ life. His genealogy makes a crucial contribution to His CREDENTIALS as the Messiah.
If Jesus was to be recognized as the Messiah—as the King, David’s greater Son Who will rule forever, He had to prove His Davidic lineage. And that is what these two genealogies in Scripture did. They clearly demonstrated to first century readers that Jesus was in the COMPLETE sense a descendant of David.
Now, if you’ve read the gospels then you know that during His earthly ministry the Pharisees and Saducees did everything they could to discredit Jesus as the Messiah. Well, the fact is all they would have had to do to succeed in this would be to show that Jesus had no genealogy to back up His claim. But they never made this accusation because apparently they researched the public records and found that Jesus was indeed of the lineage of King David. Others must have done this as well and spread the word because on Palm Sunday as the people waved their palm branches and spread their coats on the ground before Jesus, they cried out, “Hosanna to the SON OF DAVID!” (Matthew 21:9) So everyone—not just Jesus’ enemies—everyone knew that He was the heir to the throne—and as such qualified to be the Messiah!
Okay—at the risk of losing your attention, I want us to READ one of the genealogies—the one in Matthew. If we had time I’d read both but we WILL refer to Luke’s genealogy repeatedly this morning so keep your Bible handy—one finger in Matthew 1 and the other in Luke 3. Follow along now as I read Matthew 1:1-17:
1 – A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 – Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3 – Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram,
4 – Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nashon, Nashon the father of Salmon,
5 – Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse,
6 – and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
7 – Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa,
8 – Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9 – Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10 – Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah,
11 – and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 – After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13 – Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor,
14 – Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Eliud,
15 – Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob,
16 – and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, Who is called Christ.
17 – Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
Now if you were to take the time to compare the genealogy in Matthew to the one in Luke you would see that they are different in a few ways.
A. The most obvious difference is that these two family trees trace Jesus’ lineage in different ORDER.
Matthew’s genealogy begins with Abraham and moves FORWARD in history to the Christ. But Luke does the reverse. He begins with Joseph and goes BACK in history through David to Abraham and then even further—all the way to Adam.
B. Also—some of THE NAMES in these two family trees are different.
A couple of Luke’s sections are identical to those in Matthew’s list but Luke’s FIRST section is completely different. He traces Joseph’s descendants back to David through Nathan, one of David’s sons, while Matthew traces what is apparently the same line of descent through Solomon, another of David’s sons.
C. But the BIGGEST difference is that Matthew and Luke seem to disagree about who is the FATHER OF JOSEPH, Mary’s husband.
At first glance it looks like Luke is saying that Joseph was the son of Heli while Matthew says he was the son of Jacob. Now, many people have looked at these seeming discrepancies and said, “Here is a flaw in the Bible. It contradicts itself so, it must not be the Word of God!” But actually these two genealogies don’t contradict each other at all because we don’t have two divergent versions of the SAME family tree here—WE HAVE TWO FAMILY TREES! Matthew gives us JOSEPH’s family tree and Luke gives us that of MARY— and this isn’t odd because of course everyone has two family trees—a maternal “tree” and a paternal “tree” and Jesus is no different.
The key to all of this is a proper understanding of Luke 3:23 so let’s look at it a bit. The NIV translates this verse in this way: “Now Jesus Himself was about thirty years old when He began His ministry. He was the Son, so it was thought of Joseph, the son of Heli.” Several reputable Greek scholars point out the phrase we translate as “SON of Heli” has a wide range of possible translations. Donald Grey Barnhouse says that verse 23 should be translated, “Jesus was the son, so it was thought of Joseph, the SON-IN LAW of Heli.” Hershell Hobbs, says the best way to translate this verse would be like this, “Jesus, as was supposed of Joseph, was the GRANDSON or DESCENDANT of Heli.” And then both Barnhouse and Hobbs say the genealogy that follows is that of Mary, the daughter of Heli, which would of course account for the differences between it and the genealogy in Matthew, which traces the family tree of Joseph—Jesus’ adoptive father.
Another thing—through both Mary and Joseph we see that Jesus was indeed an heir to the throne of David but it is amazing how this aspect of these two family trees works together. You see, through His mother, Mary, Jesus was a blood descendent of King David and since Joseph was not His physical father—only His adoptive father, through him Jesus received the LEGAL right to the throne. But a closer look at the genealogy in Matthew shows that if Jesus was Joseph’s PHYSICAL son, he would not have been in line for David’s throne. You see, in Joseph’s family tree there was a man named Jechonias, and according to Jeremiah 22:30 HIS blood descendants were disqualified by God as heirs to the throne of David. Listen to this verse: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.’”
So, if Jesus had been the PHYSICAL son of Joseph He could not have been the Messiah. But, as the ADOPTED son of Joseph, Jesus was able to inherit the LEGAL right to the throne. In short, Jesus—the Messiah—is king LEGALLY through Joseph and NATURALLY through Mary. Jesus’ Scriptural credentials are thorough, clear, and irrefutable. From every possible perspective we can crown Jesus King of kings and Lord of lords. And at this point I want to point out another very important lesson we can learn from these genealogies: namely how to deal with those texts in the Bible that we don’t readily understand.
(2) You see, if we patiently seek to understand then, as I said last week, “God’s Spirit will guide us into all TRUTH.” (John 16:13)
When we come to a problem like this in the Bible and work through it under God’s guidance, we can resolve any supposed difficulty and learn how best to apply it to our lives. Years ago a Bible teacher was riding on a train and went into the dining car for dinner. A man sat down across from him who, as it turned out, was an atheist. Finding that his companion was a Bible teacher, the atheist began to verbally attack him by reviewing the difficulties he perceived to be in Scripture. He cited one after the other, but the man who was being attacked went right on enjoying his meal.
He was eating new England cod, a very bony fish, and as he ate he pushed the bones aside. Finally the atheist said, “Well, what do you do say now? What do you do with all these difficulties in the Bible?” The Bible teacher said, “I do with the difficulties just as I am doing with this cod. I eat the meat, and I put the bones aside for some fool to choke on.” His response to this atheist may not seem very GRACE-driven but the truth is there are no contradictions in God’s Word. There may be parts we don’t understand at first, but we must not let that get in the way of our patterning our lives after the Bible’s teachings. In any case, I have always felt that if obeyed all the Scripture we do understand we wouldn’t have time to worry about the rest anyway. But that’s not all we can learn from these genealogies and in the time remaining I want to point out two other important lessons these verses can teach us and the first is this:
(3) In Jesus’ family tree we can see the extent of God’s LOVE.
These genealogies show us that Jesus loved us ALL enough to be the Messiah—not just for the Jews—but for ALL PEOPLE. I say this because as Matthew records, Jesus’ family tree included non-Jews, people like Ruth, a Moabite and Rahab, the harlot who sheltered the spies in Jericho.
Luke’s genealogy goes way before Abraham—the father of the Jewish people to Adam—reminding us that Jesus is the promised Savior for the entire human race. So these long lists of names show that God’s love is bigger than the Jewish race—and that Jesus is the Savior of all people, the light to the Gentiles, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham when He said: “Through you shall ALL the nations of the world be blessed.” (Genesis 18:18)
This reminds me of Ephesians 2:11-13 where Paul writes, “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth were separate from Christ—excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near.”
Another thing—unlike most Jewish genealogies—Jesus’ genealogy included WOMEN. So Jesus’ family tree shows that God’s love extends to all races AND to both genders. As Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, MALE NOR FEMALE, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
But that’s not all these lists show us when it comes to the extent of God’s love. You see, in Jesus’ family tree we find several notorious SINNERS. More than once Abraham lied like Pinocchio just to save his neck. His grandson, Jacob was slicker than a Las Vegas card shark. Jacob’s son, Judah, was the father of Perez and Zerah—two boys who were the product of an incestuous relationship between him and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. And Judah also conspired with his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery. Remember? David and Bathsheeba, parents of King Solomon, were adulterers and co-conspirators in murder. As I said Rahab was a prostitute. Manasseh makes the list, even though this wicked king sacrificed his own son in the fire to Baal and consulted mediums and spiritists. His son Amon is also on the list even though he rejected God.
And so reads the list of Jesus’ not so great grandparents. The amazing truth is that Jesus’ lineage is anything BUT a roll call for the institute of halos and harps. In fact, it reads more like the Sunday morning occupancy at the county jail. This tells us that even before He was born Jesus had a special kinship with sinners—it tells us that—just as Jesus repeatedly said—He came not just for good people but for sinful people.
So the truth is these genealogies are texts we should NOT skip over—for if we did we would miss a powerful verification of John 3:16. These lists of names from all races—men and women—saints and sinners show us that John 3:16 is true—that God REALLY did love the WHOLE world so much that He sent His Son—which means that Jesus is ready to be YOUR Savior if you’ll let Him.
Ron Blankey, a former area director for Campus Crusade for Christ, was walking through the Student Union of the University of Pennsylvania one day when he saw a student reading a Bible.
He remembered Philip’s approach to the Ethiopian eunuch so he walked over to him and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The student replied, “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t. I’m reading the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, and I don’t understand them because they seem to be different.” Blankey sat down and explained the genealogies much as I have done here, and as a result of that explanation the young man came to faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior. By reading these names this young man came to understand that God loved Him enough to send His only Son to live and die on Calvary’s cross in his place.
And then the final thing I want to point out about these genealogies is that they show us…
(4) …the extent of God’s SOVEREIGNTY.
These names make it possible for us to look at thousands of years of history—a perspective that helps us to see that NOTHING can thwart God’s purposes. Man’s sin and rebellion obviously can’t stop it. I mean, in spite of all the crooked halos of those people on His family tree, the last name on the list is JESUS. So, the truth is these genealogies are not a record of man’s biological productivity as much as they are a demonstration of God’s order and movement toward the great goal of salvation through His Son. And this is an important principle for us to grasp.
In fact I think one reason God placed the genealogies in His Word is so that we could see this fact that He is sovereign over ALL. He knew that you and I would watch the news every night and hear about all the bad stuff, all about the evil people who seem to have so much influence in this world. He knew we would fret and worry about where history is going. So He put these detailed genealogies in Scripture—these mini-histories of His involvement in our world—so that we can KNOW that even when the world seems to go wild, GOD is still in total control. In these long lists of names God is saying to you and me, “Look, the famine in Egypt couldn’t STARVE My plan. Four hundred years of slavery in Egypt couldn’t SHACKLE My plan. Wilderness wanderings couldn’t LOSE My plan. Babylonian exile for seventy years couldn’t STOP My plan. Murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, cheaters, idolaters, liars, in the very line of My Son couldn’t THWART My purpose.” And nothing can and nothing will for God is STILL sovereign and He is bringing forth His purposes even when our near-sightedness makes us think otherwise.
Despite men like Hitler and Osama Ben Laden—God is working out His sovereign plan of salvation—even when history looks like an incomplete jig saw puzzle. You see, as Rick Warren puts it, the truth is history is really HIS-story—GOD’S story. Nothing stops His message of love for His creation from getting out—His truth from marching on. Nothing will stop His purpose from coming to fruition. That mean’s nothing can stop God’s sovereign plans for YOUR life. In the midst of tough times we need to remember that God is in control—and He won’t allow anything into our lives that doesn’t make us better Christians or that He can’t use to further His kingdom.
Jerry Bridges puts it this way, “Because you and I are IN Christ Jesus, HIS glory and OUR good are linked together. Because we are united with Christ, whatever is for His glory is also for our good. And whatever is for our good is for His glory.”
So we can, with Scriptural justification say that God exercises His sovereignty on our behalf. The “train” of your life may seem out of control and you may have sighted Dead Man’s Curve right ahead, but the Engineer, capital E, has not abandoned the train of your life. During the terrible days of WW II when Germany was bombing England, a father holding his small son by the hand ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard of his home was a shell hole.
Seeking shelter as soon as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to jump into. The son was terrified. He could hear his father’s voice telling him to jump, but the boy cried, “Father, I can’t see you. I don’t know where to jump.” The father looking up into the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, “But I can see you! Jump!” The boy jumped because he trusted his father, even though he couldn’t see him.
Well, in the discouragement and the despair of your personal life, you may not right now be able to see your heavenly Father; but He sees you. You can trust Him! God is moving you toward a greater goal that He has planned for you so if you are a child of God, never live in pessimism and despair. Never. God knows where He is taking your life. God knows where He is taking your children’s lives. God has a design. You may not see Him but He never takes His eyes off you. We may look at the evening news and think, the world is going down the drain—and the people in these genealogies probably thought the same thing. Well, God was in control then—moving His purpose forward. And when you think about it, we have something the people in these lists didn’t have—a complete Bible. So we know how all this is going to work out! We can look forward to the last page of history and see that God wins!
Perhaps looking at these genealogies has helped you to see your need for Jesus. You’ve understood for the first time how much He loves you and you see your need to respond to His love. Or—maybe our study has helped you to renew your confidence in God’s sovereignty and you see your need to embrace a deeper trust in His will for your life. If this message has hit home such that you see a need to respond publically….whether to profess a faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord or to join our church family, I encourage you to come forward and share those decisions with me right now as we stand and sing.