Who are you? Well, if your family background has any bearing on who you are, then you might answer this question by pointing to your family tree. It can be fun looking back at our family history – or it can be a source of shame or sorrow. In your ancestry there might be illustrious individuals of intrigue, or there could be infamous intimations of ill-repute! There might be privileged princes and princesses, or perhaps pitiable penniless paupers. You might not even know much about your family history – you may have been adopted, or perhaps the family history has never been researched, or has been lost in the mists of time.
But family histories can be a way of affirming our roots, giving us a sense of identity. My own family history contains a mixture of European ethnicities. Down one branch, there is a rumour of Irish nobility, as some on the family tree are noted as having lived in a castle. On another branch were Bohemians from Czechoslovakia. The tree also has several off-shoots where divorces and re-marriages have occurred, resulting in step-parents, step-siblings and half-siblings. As with many people’s histories, mine’s a bit complicated, but it’s unique to me and my family, and it has formed our identity.
Well, it’s obvious from this morning’s Gospel reading that Jesus’ family tree has not been lost – and there are a good few complications in his family history as well! So why did Matthew bother with recording all those names? Why is the genealogy of Jesus important, and what does it say about his identity?
In the context of Matthew’s writing, ‘the genealogy of Jesus’ was impressive and persuasive in identifying who Jesus is. There is much we could look at in this long list of names, but you’ll be happy to know that here we’re only going to focus on the first line!
Three claims are made in that first verse of Matthew, chapter 1: that Jesus is ‘the Christ’; that Jesus is ‘the son of David’, and that Jesus is ‘the son of Abraham’.
First, Jesus is the Christ: Matthew emphasises the title of Christ in describing Jesus. ‘Christ’ is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew title ‘Messiah’, which means ‘anointed’, in the sense of an anointed king. Jesus is presented first and foremost as the long-awaited Messiah, who was expected to be a descendant of King David – so one of the purposes of Matthew’s genealogy is to demonstrate that line of descent, in order to strengthen the claim that Jesus is the Messiah.
In addition to giving Jesus the title of ‘Christ’, Matthew continues in the same verse to proclaim Jesus as both the ‘son of David’ and ‘the son of Abraham’. The use of the relational term ‘son’ is the key here: this is about inheritance. Matthew is staking the claim for Jesus as the heir to the promises given by God to David and to Abraham. David is mentioned here before Abraham, even though Abraham lived long before David lived. I think this has to do with the ordering of God’s plan, but we'll get back to this idea in a minute.
But first, why is David so important in the genealogy of Jesus? And how is Jesus considered a descendent of David through Joseph’s line, since Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ biological father? But of course, Joseph was the father of Jesus by adoption, and so legally it was accepted that Jesus was Joseph’s son, and the heir to his lineage. This shows Jesus’ true royal bloodline.
David was the great king to whom God made the promise of a kingdom which would continue forever, as we read in 2 Samuel 7:
When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you… and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
David’s kingdom would last forever through one of his descendants – one born into the royal family line. Hundreds of years after David’s, and hundreds of years before Jesus, the familiar words of the prophet Isaiah were recorded:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end! He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
Everything God promised to David, and to Abraham before him, was secured by the coming of Jesus Christ. His coming confirms and fulfils all the covenants. Jesus is the ‘Yes’ to God’s promises! In Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1, he says, ‘… no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ’!
So let’s think about Abraham now. How is Jesus the ‘Son of Abraham’? God’s promise to Abraham included all nations, and as Paul states in his letter to the Galatians, Christ ‘redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles… The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed…who is Christ.’
Abraham is ‘the founding father’ of Israel, and the patriarch of Jews, Christians and Muslims; and as we read in Genesis chapter 12, God made an amazing covenant with Abraham, that he would be made into a great nation, and that all nations would be blessed through him.
So the Messiah, the eternal King of kings, comes from David’s bloodline, as promised to David – and he came to bless the whole world, as was promised to Abraham – ‘to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles’, as it says in 2 Corinthians.
So we can see, through the genealogy of Jesus Christ as presented by Matthew, that Jesus has the right credentials. Does this help us with our own sense of identity as Christians? We know that we are heirs of God in Jesus Christ, from Galatians 3 and 4: ‘You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus… If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’. ‘Because you are his children, he sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer slaves, but God’s children; and since you are his children, he has made you also heirs.’
We are children of God, we are brothers and sisters to each other in Christ, and we share in Christ’s inheritance. In the letter to the Hebrews, it says: ‘Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.’
After hearing God’s promise, David’s response was one of humility, worship and praise. Abraham’s response was one of faithful obedience to the covenant God made with him. Our response should be the same: humility, worship, praise, and faithful obedience to Jesus, the Christ.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, You came to claim your inheritance of all creation as your kingdom. Who are we that you would share your inheritance with us? In the light of your love for us, help us to know deep down who we are. Though we know we are not perfect, you have made us holy – you have made us a people for your self. We thank you, and we praise you. Help us to worship you with our whole lives. Help us to be obedient in following you closely and in loving others as you love them. Even so, come Lord Jesus! Amen.