“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah…” (Matthew 1:1-6 ESV)
The Repulsive Genealogy
What is most surprising about this genealogy is that Matthew does the opposite of what ancient genealogies tried to do. They glamorized the pedigree. Modern genealogies do the same. Hitler expunged certain aspects of his family tree to hide some Jewishness found there. People change their names if there is something unsavory in their family story. We want to highlight what makes us look good and hide what makes us look bad.
Matthew does neither. He highlights Jesus’ royal line but goes out of his way to highlight the distasteful and even repulsive parts of Jesus story. There are real skeletons in Jesus’ closet.
Let’s just look at a few beginning with the four women listed. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.
- Tamar – Tricked her father-in-law into pregnancy by pretending to be a prostitute.
- Rahab – a Gentile. A prostitute in Jericho.
- Ruth – A Moabite Gentile
- Bathsheba – A Hittite. The first son—the fruit of her adultery with King David died.
Jesus, tell me about your family tree. Well, there were three Gentiles. Three of my forefathers came from either prostitution or adultery. There were two prostitutes. One incestuous pregnancy.
Well it must get better from there, right? Actually, no. Abraham was a liar. Isaac was a terrible father. Jacob was a coward and arguably a thief. Judah was immoral. Perez was the son of incestuous prostitution. We all know about David’s sins. Ahaz was just plain evil. Manasseh was an idolater. Jeconiah was cursed by the prophet Jeremiah. Do you get the idea?
What’s your family tree look like? My dad has been doing genealogy studies on our family and has uncovered shocking and lurid stories of sin, deception, abandonment, and assumed identities. My now deceased grandmother and grandfather apparently only pretended to be married but never actually were. How’s your tree look?
Forget the past, how about the present? It’s easy to condemn the branches of the tree before us but we are a branch too. What’s your story like? Any unsavory chapters? Maybe you’re living one right now? Maybe you are the chapter someday your kids will be embarrassed to tell. Maybe they already are.
So Matthew, why pull all these skeletons out of Jesus’ closet? Why air the dirty laundry of the family? Why fill the genealogy with sex, adultery, deception, prostitution, conspiracy, and murder? Because the royal line shows us he is a King and the repulsive line shows he is a Savior. All of this is leading in just a few verses to the angelic declaration of why Jesus came: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
He didn’t come from perfect people and he didn’t come to save perfect people. He came from sinners to save sinners; sinful people like we have in our family trees. Sinful people like us.
You might think, these people in Jesus’ genealogy are lucky to be there. If there’s a guarantee for going to heaven, it must be being personally listed in Jesus’ genealogy. No. How were these people saved from their obvious sins? Even David and Abraham? The same way we are. By faith in God’s promised Messiah. Which means, you aren’t saved by being a father to Jesus but a follower of Jesus. From Abraham to Jacob to Boaz to David. These sinners listed here were saved by faith in Jesus.
In this we have a massive advantage over them. They only had promises of his coming. We are on the other side of the cross. We have the gospels. We have the New Testament. We have Jesus’ life and ministry in detail. We are told what it means by apostles inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the explanation to us in Scripture. We have so much more. It’s better to be us on this side of the cross than any person in Jesus’ genealogy, provided we are followers of Jesus.
Are you? Does your sin keep you somehow from believing? Do you think you are unworthy or too sinful? I remember one of our Lake Michigan baptizees this summer said to me before the baptism, “Keep me under the water just a little longer, I’ve been a really bad boy.” Jesus came for the bad boys, the bad girls. He came from the bad boys and he came for the bad boys. He came to save his people from their sins. Are you one of them?
 Adapted from aspects of Tim Keller’s sermon, “The History of Grace,” December 14, 2008. Found online at http://www.gospelinlife.com/the-history-of-grace-5997.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2016 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here