Sometimes a person’s heritage says a lot about them. I think it is fascinating that I am a direct descendant of William Brewster, the first spiritual leader of the Pilgrims when they arrived in New England. My family history of pastors also includes Wade Barrett, a prolific church planter who lived in the south in the early 1800’s. It seems that I come from a long line of Jesus freaks.
As interesting as I find my family tree it has nowhere near the meaning of the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew chapter 1. There we find the original “Christmas Family tree”, the lineage of the Messiah. We can learn a lot about Jesus and His ministry by looking at his ancestors.
There are many familiar and expected names in the tree including Abraham, the father of the Jewish people and David, the king of Israel through whom the Messiah was prophesied to come. While these names are crucial in establishing Jesus’ messianic credentials, it is in the unexpected names that we learn the amazing nature of Jesus’ ministry. The list is predominantly male, as family trees were traced through the paternal line, but there are a few female names listed as well. Each of these women has a fascinating story.
The first female name is that of Tamar. We see in the third verse of Matthew 1 that she gave birth to Perez, whose father was a man named Judah. The story of Tamar and Judah is found in the book of Genesis. Tamar was married to Judah’s son Er. Er died before fathering a child. Tradition provided that Tamar have children through one of her husband’s brothers. When neither Judah or his other sons honored this tradition, Tamar dressed as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law. The child, Perez, was the result of this union between an immoral woman and her promise breaking father-in-law.
In verse 5 of Matthew 1 we find the name of another woman, Rahab. Her story is found in the book of Joshua. Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. In spite of her immoral profession, she came to believe that the God of Israel was the One true God. She defied the king of Jericho and risked her life to protect two Israelites who had been sent to spy on her city. She was a foreigner and a prostitute, and an ancestor of Jesus.
We find the name of another foreign woman in verse 5, Ruth. She was a poor woman from the country of Moab. She married one of the sons of a faithful Jewish woman named Naomi. When Ruth’s husband died she made the remarkable choice to travel with her mother-in-law when Naomi went back to Bethlehem. It was remarkable because Moabites were unwelcome in Israel, and prohibited from entering the temple. In spite of this she made Bethlehem her home. There she married a man named Boaz; their son Obed was the grandfather of King David.
King David himself was an immoral man. He had many wives and concubines (mistresses). Even worse, he impregnated the wife of one of his best friends and then had him murdered to cover up the adultery. In verse 6 of Matthew 1 we see it was through this adulterous woman that the messianic line was continued.
David was an adulterer and a murderer yet he cannot lay claim to being the worst person on the list. That “honor” goes to Manasseh, an evil king who lived several generations after David. Mannasseh worshipped idols and engaged in child sacrifice. The book of Kings tells us he murdered his own son as an offering to the false god Moloch.
I find myself asking, “Why did Jesus have so many bad ancestors? Why is it that God did not give His Son a more noble lineage?” The passage in Matthew does not say, but I believe the story of Jesus’ birth provides a clue.
In Jesus’ ancestry we see all kinds of people. Wealthy men like Abraham and poor women like Ruth. We see Godly men like Josiah, who led the nation according to the Law of God for thirty -one years, and ungodly men like Manasseh. We find prostitutes and kings, as well as liars, cheats and murderers. We see foreigners and the accursed as well as pure blooded Israelites.
We see that Jesus, the one whose birth brought “Good News of great joy which shall be for all people” came from a family that included all sorts of people. He came from a broken and troubled family line to save a broken and troubled world. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came from a family with a conflicted history, to proclaim Peace to a world in conflict.
The “family tree” of Christmas reminds us that regardless of our background or station in life, no matter who we are or what we have done, there is room in the family for us.
If you are interested in reading more about the stories behind the names in Jesus' family tree, go to www.biblegateway.org and enter the name into the search bar. Thanks to all who read and share. Those who wish to receive future posts via email can do so by subscribing to the blog. I also share each post on Twitter @bartbarrettmd.