Whenever pastors get together to talk, their conversation inevitably turns to the subject of preaching-because a pastor is ALWAYS thinking about his sermon. I can tell you for a fact that there’s not a moment in the week that he’s not either studying for his message or mentally working on his outline or trying to think a good illustration to drive a point home. So, when a bunch of pastors get together that’s what they end up talking about-sermons. We talk about the sermon series we are currently going through or plans we have for the future. We share illustrations or ideas we have for sermon outlines. We talk about the insights we’ve gleaned from the great sermon texts of the Bible. And, as each minister shares, the rest of us give our opinion as to whether or not we think their ideas will work in the pulpit. When we want to communicate our belief that a certain idea or illustration or outline WILL work, we say, “That’ll preach!!!” When lots of good ideas are being shared in our group, you hear that phrase used a great deal.Now, in all the times that I’ve sat and talked with other pastors about sermons, in all the times I’ve met with my peers to share ideas, I’ve never heard a fellow minister say, “Hey guys, guess which text I’m preaching on Sunday. My sermon is taken from the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.” And you know, if a pastor DID say that, I doubt very seriously that many of us would say, “That’ll preach!” because we would wonder if it would or not. We’d probably try to talk him out of it-and advise him to work with some text that is easier to exegete.
You’d probably do the same if you were a preacher because everyone knows that the genealogies are the biggest yawn in the Bible-all those endless “begats” linking hard to pronounce names. Those lists 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 is like looking at slides of their family vacation-without the benefit of pictures to break up the monotony. J. B. Phillips must have felt this way because when he first published his translation of the New Testament he left the genealogies out of Matthew and Luke, thinking they were nothing more than boring trivia. But, he received so much criticism that he put them back in-and rightfully so because as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “ALL SCRIPTURE is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” which means that-as I hope we’ll see this morning-even the genealogies will “preach!”
Now, in recent years it has become trendy in our culture for people to trace their family trees. I’ve noticed that AOL constantly has pop up ads encouraging you to sign up with some internet company that will research your genealogy for a fee. Well, if you’ve ever been tempted so sign up-to research your family roots, then you might be interested to know that a story from the Wall Street Journal says there is a good chance you and I are a direct descendants of the Mayflower pilgrims. You see historians tell us that 26 of the 102 people who traveled in the Mayflower across the Atlantic in 1620 and celebrated the first Thanksgiving had children-who had children-who had children and so on. And because they did, today-twelve generations later-the Mayflower passengers may well have had more than 25 million descendants, which means there is a one in ten chance that you are a direct descendent of those who came over on the Mayflower.
Now, regardless of how that may make YOU feel, 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. In fact everyone’s family tree was a matter of public record-carefully kept by the Sanhedrin. And 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.” Now, 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. This WOULD indeed get their attention and make them want to read the rest of his book. And, as John MacArthur points out, there were several reasons they felt this way.
1 – 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.
2 – 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. It 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.
3 – Third, in Israel genealogy established the basis of TAXATION.
Last week we read Luke 2 which tells that when Mary and Joseph went to be taxed, 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 receive their tax assessment.
4 – 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. So the first way this text is PROFITABLE is that it helps us to see is that Jesus’ genealogy makes a crucial contribution to His CREDENTIALS as the Messiah.
If He 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-and 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. And 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-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…”
Now, 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, just as God promises, “His 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. You see, the same God Who inspired the writing of the Bible will help us to understand and 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. 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.
And 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:
“Through you shall ALL the nations of the world be blessed.” (Genesis 18:18)
This reminds me of Ephesians 2:11-13 where Paul says, “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 men and women. 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. Abraham more than once 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.
Mannasseh 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 reads more like the Sunday morning occupancy at the county jail. And this tells us that even before He was born Jesus had a special kinship with sinners-that Jesus-just as He repeatedly said-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. You see, 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 is…
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, the truth is history is really HIS-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.
Last Sunday you may remember what happened as our choir was singing that beautiful song, GLORIOUS LOVE. Paul Jordan had the solo and about half-way through the lights went out-complete blackout-but the choir and orchestra didn’t even miss a beat. I mean you could have been listening with your eyes closed and not noticed anything happened. Well, I think that is a perfect illustration of this point. Nothing stops the message of God’s love. Nothing stops His plans. The darkness of our fallen world will never overcome it!
Now-that means 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 but the people in these genealogies probably thought the same thing. 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!
You know, whenever preachers use the phrase, “that’ll preach” they are saying, “That hit’s home…it speaks to my life.” It is my prayer that in some way the content of this sermon has done that for you. 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.