Scott Hoezee

Why does Jesus’ Family Tree Matter?

Everybody likes to know they are included, that they have an identity. This is especially true in families. Do I belong? Do I count? Do I know who I am and where I have come from?  Ancestry websites have certainly become popular and make it a little easier to research from the comfort of our living rooms. But family trees have traditionally been one way to answer these questions as they help us see where we have come from, the people from whom we have descended, and our place of belonging in the larger family. But we want to know this is true of us in the family of God, too, and this is where the evangelist Matthew comes in.

Jesus' Genealogy

Most people more or less think that the Gospel of Matthew begins at Matthew 1:18, because that is where we are most likely to begin reading Matthew. The first 17 verses contain what, at first glance, is nothing but a rather boring family tree or genealogy. That long string of lines that say “So-and-so was the father of, was the father of, was the father of . . .” doesn’t strike us as a very exciting way to begin a book. What was Matthew thinking? As it turns out, Matthew knew exactly what he was doing. Since Matthew was writing for a Jewish reading audience who knew the Scriptures well, he knew that if he wanted to persuade anyone that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah, the first order of business would be to establish that Jesus came from Abraham and was in the line of King David. That family connection was the bare minimum requirement for being the Christ, or Messiah, because God had long promised that the Messiah would be a descendant of David.

The Women in the Genealogy

But Matthew was up to something more interesting than just meeting this family connection requirement for Jesus. Matthew went out of his way to include something that was usually left out of Jewish genealogies: the names of women. But even at that, the women he included were not those you might expect. Matthew could have named Sarah, the wife of Abraham, and maybe also Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah who gave birth to Abraham and Sarah's grandchildren and great-grandchildren who became the foundation for all Israel. But no, Matthew carefully included only foreign women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (Uriah’s wife). All of them came from outside of Israel, and several of their stories contained things we might regard as uncomfortable to mention or even scandalous. Not only were these women foreigners to Israel, in some ways a few of them are like the skeletons in Jesus’ family closet. 

Advent Hope

What if we looked more closely at the family tree of Jesus in Matthew 1 during the season of Advent and in the run-up to Christmas? This is, after all, how Matthew leads us to the birth of Jesus at the end of Matthew 1. This careful look might bring us back to the question: Do I belong? Am I an important member of the family of God? The women in Jesus’ genealogy help us to answer that question with a resounding “Yes!” Because Matthew included their names as his first signal in this gospel that Jesus came to save not just the people of Israel, but all people. This fulfills what God told Abram way back in Genesis 12; namely, that his descendants would go on to be a blessing to all nations. That certainly includes all of us now, too. Whoever we are, wherever we have come from, no matter what we have done in the past, we can see our own names in Jesus’ family tree. 

Discover Hope and Belonging

As it turns out, that seemingly “boring” family tree in Matthew 1 is downright exciting! Because Matthew preaches a sermon illustrated by this genealogy of Jesus, the application of which scoops up all of us in God’s wonderful embrace of grace. In Luke 2, the angel tells the shepherds that on that day a Savior had been born “to you.” In other words, that Jesus was for them and everyone like them in the world. Matthew 1 tells us the same thing: we belong to the family of God because Jesus came for everyone. We belong! That is the Good News of Christmas! Join us to rediscover hope and belonging as we dig deeply into the stories of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary in a study of the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew 1 in our series, “Christmas Hope and the Women in Jesus’ Family Tree.” Download our free companion Bible study.

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