16 And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
Despite Paul’s admonition to us not to get caught up in endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4, Titus 3:9), the Bible sure seems to spend a lot of time talking about who begat whom–that is, until Jesus, after whom all other genealogies pale to insignificance. The whole of the Old Testament leads up to Jesus of Nazareth, and, to be honest, who else matters after that? Matthew puts it quite well in the verse 17 above when he ends his genealogy with “until the Christ.” “Until the Anointed One,” he is saying, because, after all, the Christ–“Messiah” in Hebrew–is the one for whom we’ve been waiting.
But why bother with a genealogy at all, especially at the beginning of such a book? The Gospel of Mark just jumps right into the story without all those “begats,” and the genealogy in Luke’s Gospel is tucked in just before Jesus begins His ministry. (Luke 3:23-38) John doesn’t include a genealogy in his Gospel, going straight back to the beginning–you know, the Creation–and then entering the gospel story with John the Baptist, just like Mark does. Why would a genealogy matter? Why should we bother to read it? There are several reasons.
The most obvious reason for all this genealogical exploration is to establish Jesus’ credentials as the Messiah. God promised to Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:18) And so Jesus’ family tree begins with Abraham, establishing that Jesus is of that “seed” that was to bless all the nations of the earth. Fourteen generations after Abraham, we get to “David the king” (Matthew 1:6), and so we see the connection to the royalty of Israel, the true anointed king chosen by God Himself. Not only is Jesus of the seed of Abraham, He is also the rightful heir to the throne of Israel.
Fourteen generations after David comes the Babylonian captivity, where a remnant of David’s line continued to be recognized as Israel’s leaders–such as Zerubbabel, who led the captives back to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the temple. This line of leaders from David to Zerubbabel weaves a checkered tapestry from Solomon’s many wives to Uzziah’s apostasy and leprosy to Manasseh’s idolatry and finally to faithful Josiah’s fall at the hand of the Egyptians. If there is anything that shows God’s faithfulness in the face of our unfaithfulness, it would be here in this genealogy of the seed of Abraham.
Finally, we wind through the years from the Babylonian captivity to the time of Jesus, and we find that one descendant of the great line of “David the king” is now just a lowly carpenter. Nonetheless, this Joseph is a just man, and he is obedient to the Spirit who visits him. (Matthew 1:19,24-25)
So we have Jesus the seed of Abraham, Jesus the King of Israel, and Jesus the man born from the line of Joseph the carpenter. These are His human credentials, His connections to the heroes and stories of the Old Testament. But the most important part of the genealogy of Jesus is in verse 18, where we are told that Mary “was found with child of the Holy Spirit.”
16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.
17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Yes, on one side Jesus was descended from Abraham and the anointed king of Israel, and so His human nature was recorded. But His divine nature is also recorded here. Jesus is the Son of God, and that sets Him apart from all those other ancestors, making Him the pinnacle of a tree whose roots run all the way back to Abraham.
It is tempting to simply gloss over these many names in this “book of the begats” here in the Gospel of Matthew. But nothing in the Word of God is wasted, and it all exists for a reason. Every name mentioned here matters. We have Judah who sold his brother Joseph into slavery, the Moabite woman Ruth who remained faithful to the God of Israel, King Jehoshaphat who banished the unfaithful from the kingdom of Judah, and the idolatrous King Ahaz whose impiety became the subject of much of Isaiah’s prophecies. And we have Joseph, a carpenter of great faith who took in the mother of the Son of God and protected them both as the boy Jesus grew.
I won’t launch into individual narratives about the significance of each of these names. I will leave that for you to seek and find these names in your Bible. What I believe God would like us all to remember is that these names matter because they are connected to the narrative of His love for us. They matter because they provide a connection to the testimonies of God’s faithfulness in keeping His covenant with Abraham. They matter because God, in His holy wisdom, saw fit to remind us not only of the genealogy of the Messiah but also of the connectedness of Scripture, the through-line that runs from Genesis to Revelation.
This is not just a list of old names but a family tree that includes our Father in heaven and His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. I would pray that the next time we sit down to read the Gospel of Matthew, we would take the time to research a few of the names we find there. Let us look them up in a concordance or search on a computer, and learn about these people. In short, let’s read our Bibles. These are the generations of God’s people, the history of God’s covenants summed up in just a few verses. Let us take the time to get to know these names, for they are the names of men and women whose stories all show the holiness, faithfulness, love, and righteousness of our great God.
O Lord my God, I thank You for Your Word that includes so much wisdom and truth. I will admit I am sometimes lax in reading each of these many names and tribes and places, but I know that they all matter. Teach me to be more faithful to Your Word, to study each name and person more closely, so that I may see Your righteousness and glory in all of Your holy Bible. Let me read these long lists of names and people and come to know them as You know them–as people who lived and breathed, who were either faithful or not, who stumbled and yet found their way back to You. Let me learn from their stories and come to know how truly great is Your faithfulness. Merciful God, teach me Your ways. Amen.