As Christmas approaches, the Church and Christianity start to focus on the story of Jesus’ birth— rightfully so. We love to talk and hear about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, the northern star, and all the amazing things that happened on the night that the savior of the world is born. After all, this is the beginning of the greatest story ever told. However, we tend to skip over the place where the New Testament actually starts: the genealogy of Jesus.
Have you ever taken the time to go through the family heritage of Jesus found in Matthew 1? Probably not, and that’s understandable. The list of his ancestry has come to be known as the begats, based on the King James Version’s verbiage. If you aren’t familiar with those who are listed in his genealogy, then one may assume that it is filled with the heroes of the Old Testament. While there are quite a few of them in there, there are also some people who may surprise you by their appearance because they are seemingly not fit to create the family line that would eventually give birth to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Let’s start with Jacob, which is the third name on the list. He would eventually go on to do good and be a faithful man, but that’s not how he started out. The first major event of his life was when he took advantage of his older brother, Esau. Jacob convinced Esau to give up his birthright (being the leadership and authority as the head of the family) in exchange for a bowl of stew (Gen. 25). Later (Gen. 27) when his father, Isaac, was dying and his eyesight had gone bad, Jacob lied and pretended to be his older brother to trick his dad into giving him his blessing (making him the head of the family). Jacob was a scammer and liar, but we still find him in Jesus’ genealogy.
In Matthew 1:3, we see something that is uncommon for genealogies of that time: a woman is mentioned. There are actually four women who appear on the list. The first is Tamar. You may not know her story, but it is a wild one that takes place in Gen. 38.
She was the wife of Er, who was the oldest son of Judah. Er died before he and Tamar could have kids. The law and custom back then stated that if a married woman hasn’t had any kids and her husband dies, then his next oldest and unmarried brother was to marry her. This is called Levirate Marriage. Weird, but it was to protect the woman. Tamar married another son of Judah, Onan. Because of a wicked act he did, he also died without he and Tamar having a child. Because two of his sons had already died after marrying Tamar, Judah refuses to allow another son to marry her. This violated the Levirate Marriage law.
One day, Judah was heading to a place called Timnah. As a way to protect herself, because a widow with no children wouldn’t have a way of supporting herself, Tamar dressed as a prostitute in hopes of sleeping with Judah and becoming impregnated. The plan worked, and Judah didn’t know it was her. Once it was found out that Tamar is pregnant, Judah demanded that she be burned at the stake for having sex outside of marriage. Tamar had kept the staff, cord, and seal that Judah gave her as payment for the prostitution. She revealed these things, and Judah decided to not have her killed, and they raised the children together. There are so many messed-up things about this story. Yet, Tamar and Judah are both in Jesus’ genealogy.
There is one more verse that I want to talk about, Matthew 1:6. “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” Most of us probably know the story of David and that he was a mighty king. He also abused his kingly powers to force a woman named Bathsheba. Even though she was married to a good man named Uriah (who was out at war at the time), David still slept with her. Once she became pregnant, David covered his tracks by having the commander of the Israelite army put Uriah on the front lines of the battle and pull the rest of the soldiers back. He then married Bathsheba to make himself look better. This happens 2 Samuel 11.
I think that Matthew specifically called Bathsheba ‘Uriah’s wife’ to bring our attention to the heinousness of David’s act. It is, once again, to show that there are imperfect people in Jesus’ holy line. David was an adulterer, murderer, and a schemer. Yet, there his name is in Jesus’ genealogy.
There are many others in the ancestorial tree of our Lord that are of less than stellar repute. There is a prostitute, bad kings, men who did evil, folks who worshiped false gods, many who did not faithfully follow God, and an unwed mother. Why do I bring these up? It’s to make a point that it doesn’t matter what our past is or from where we come. It doesn’t matter who our families are or whether our ancestors honored God. Every one of us is flawed and has a past. Some of us come from less-than-ideal settings. But just like the names mentioned above, it didn’t stop God from using them to do his most wonderful redemptive work.
Christmas morning does not happen if not for every one of the people listed in Jesus’ genealogy— even the most messed up of them. God is bigger than sin. We are so ready to disqualify ourselves and others based on mistakes that were made. Friends, that’s not what it’s about, and that’s not what God is about. He used broken people to bring about the birth of our Savior so that he could bring broken people back to him. Stop letting your past define you; be defined only by the love of Christ. He was born so that he could die for the forgiveness of your sins. We must stop treating ourselves as broken people and see ourselves as forgiven people. If God could use the scandalous men and women of the Old Testament to bring about Jesus, then imagine what he can do through you because of the baby that was born on that original Christmas.
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