Matthew 1:1-17 or the Rotting Branch on the Family Tree…

This post discusses verses 1-17 of chapter Matthew chapter 1. I know that’s a lot of names, people. If you’re new to studying the bible, take courage!  I started to skip over the genealogy for fear of running you off. But my wise mother told me once to study it all—it has relevance.

Plus, I love genealogy. That probably sounds crazy to most of you, but I am fascinated by even the smallest detail. There is just something about these faceless people who make up my past. They belong to me. I’m a product of who they were—their great deeds, their failures–but mostly their great deeds. (Okay, I’m kidding.) The way they raised their children, their decisions—big and small–I own all of it in some way.

And because I’m just as vain as the next person,  I’m hoping to find connections to people who were special, famous or particularly influential. In my history classes, I frequently draw attention to where my family tree intersects with historical events– colonization, the 1849 Gold Rush, World War II. But in a few cases, I can boast of my connection to significant characters of history—Daniel Webster is one, for example. Rarely—actually never– do I make mention of the darker aspects of my lineage, though it is there. It’s more fun to stick to the stuff I can brag about. I can just let the rotting branches fall off the tree.

If you haven’t read the Old Testament, Jesus’ genealogy may not mean much to you. Pick a few characters, though, and take a look at their stories when you get a chance. It may leave you wondering why the lineage is included at all. To be fair, I haven’t researched what the listing of such a lineage would have meant to Matthew’s first century audience. But I can tell you what stands out to me. Jesus had the benefit of watching his lineage unfold before his birth. He knew exactly who made up His earthly ancestry. When God inspired Matthew to write the book, He made sure Matthew didn’t clean up the family tree.  All kinds of people are included in this listing of Jesus’ heritage—not just the ones that look pretty hanging from the branch. He isn’t weeding folks out based on gender or religion or, surprisingly, behavior. Men and women. Jews and Gentiles. The righteous. The wicked. The faithful and the faithless. It’s all there.

Here is what I want you to get from this. There is nothing that is so bad that it can’t be named as belonging to Christ. Yes, you heard me right. NOTHING is so terrible—no sin, no circumstance–there’s no X mark next your name anywhere that precludes you from the invitation to come to the table. Sin separates us all from God, so really we are all rotting without Christ. The purpose of the gospel and of the book of Matthew is to extend that invitation to believe in Him and be restored. From rotten to redemption. That is good news!

Take David’s role in Jesus’ lineage to heart. King David’s life covered a range of faithfulness, sin, repentance, and restoration that pretty much anybody can identify with. He ran after God’s heart, and yet fell into a terrible sin. Ever been there? Have you ever felt like you were doing pretty well and then did something awful? I have. I’ve sat in the muck of my own making and said, “How did I ever get here?”

I’m so grateful for David’s story. He repented and sought restoration with a “broken and contrite heart.” He trusted in God’s unfailing love. Many generations before Christ, David trusted in the Lord for salvation even though he could not have known what God’s ultimate plan for salvation would be.

Right here in His family, we have adultery, idolatry, murder, and prostitution. We have grief, homelessness, wealth, poverty, dysfunction, violence, terror, and loneliness. And then, right here in this lineage and for the same flawed people, we see God’s provision, and that they were privileged to be a part of His plan for salvation. We see His blessings and promises, and the unfailing love that David often spoke of in the Psalms.

Now, what could you possibly be carrying that God did not anticipate—that hasn’t already made an appearance in the earthly family that brought us our Lord? What flaw have you made an idol, believing that it prevents you from being useful to Him? Even worse, does it prevent you from experiencing His unfailing love altogether?

Here we are at the beginning of a study of His life and ministry. We all come with sin and baggage, with questions and pain, just like the men and women named on His family tree. And even those of us who have already placed our faith in God, sooner or later, we fall flat on our faces like David. Perhaps not to that extreme, but we still make messes. We even sometimes blame Him when things aren’t going our way. These kinds of people,those kinds of people, my kind of people, all kinds of people—Jesus Christ came to save. Even if you’re so angry about the hand you’ve been dealt that you can’t see past your rage, Christ came for you. Don’t look at your life or your past or your heritage and assume there is nothing here for you. Don’t let anything stop you. Press on.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Why is it important for all kinds of lives and backgrounds to be listed here at the beginning of Christ’s story?
  • Are you comforted or offended that both men and women, sinners and saints, Jews and Gentiles have made the list? Why?
  • Does your situation resemble any of those listed above? Does this affect the way you approach God? Does it prevent you from coming to Him at all?
  • Do you think (consciously or unconsciously) that there is something in your history that is an obstacle to your becoming a follower of Christ?
  • Do you think (consciously or unconsciously) that there are some things that you just can’t talk about with God?
  • What needs to change for you to draw closer to Him?

3 Thoughts

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