Before Christ

Lately I’ve been studying the first four chapters of the gospel of Matthew. I thought I’d share some thoughts from each section from time to time here on the blog. This post is the first in the series and covers chapter 1:1-17.

Before Christ was born there was Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From Jacob came his twelve sons of whom the twelve tribes of Israel grew. Eventually from the tribe of Judah came King David and his line that wavered in faithfulness like an autumn leaf in the wind. The glory of this line ended when the tribe was exiled to Babylon. But all was not lost! David’s line continued through obscurity to culminate in the birth of the Messiah.

Matthew opens his gospel by calling it “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ”, a reference to how different sections of Genesis began. In each section of that book of beginnings, we are told of the generations stemming from people like Abraham and his offspring. Matthew, whose audience was probably Jewish, is putting Christ on the same level of importance. The reader should pay attention to His life just as they would listen respectfully to the accounts of Abraham and the other patriarchs. To prove that Jesus is even worthy of conversation, the apostle launches into a concise genealogy that separates Christ’s earthly family into three groupings of fourteen generations. The importance of this list is not just in tracing His bloodline back to Abraham, but to King David in particular. Jesus was born into a royal family, though they were lower class. He thus technically had a right to the throne.

This connection seems to be the main thrust of the genealogy. It confirms Jesus’ pedigree as a Jew and gives proof of His kingly blood. We also are reminded of famous Old Testament stories and history in all its gritty reality. A couple different embarrassing incidents are alluded to in the text. This family line may be prestigious, but it is also laden with sin. Still, it is the family history of the Christ. Like it or not, the throne He inherits is spoiled by blood, infidelity, idolatry, and all sorts of other sin. But that’s exactly why He needed to come and redeem such a broken line.

When opening Matthew’s gospel, it is easy to skip lightly over the first section. We view a list of names as boring reading material. It is boring, I’ll admit, but it’s also helpful for us today–2,000 years removed–to grapple with the reality of who Jesus was. The Christ came as a human being, just like any other human being in most respects. He had family history that He learned. He likely heard stories from grandparents and other family members about certain traditions and tales that only David’s line would know. This history, with all it’s ups and downs, is where Jesus entered. Though it may be boring to you, Jesus’ family history reminds us of the Christ’s roots–cultural, human roots. He is more than a divine myth or legend worthy of Homer; He is real!

Any Christian reading this would readily affirm that truth. But do we live like He is real? It’s easy to compartmentalize Christ as a historical figure or as God-in-flesh. We tend to emphasize the deity of the Christ but miss His humanity. Matthew’s list is a subtle reminder of how human Jesus’ family was and thus how human Christ himself was (and still is). The wonder of Christmas is that God became Man and that act changed the world forever. Maybe you consider genealogies as skippable passages, but hopefully the next time you come to the one in Matthew you give it some time. Let this long list of names remind you of the humanity of the Christ by showing you the history leading up to His time.

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