Money may not grow on trees, but there’s big business to be had in studying people’s genealogies—that is, their family lineage. Search terms for “ancestry” and “genealogy” have risen to the second most searched-for category on the internet—second only (sadly) to pornography. In 2012, a European private equity offered the popular Ancestry.com 1.6 billion dollars for control of the company (the offer was declined, by the way).
Why the popularity? Our ancestry offers us a means of answering the age-old question: “Who am I?” Our identity might be found in our ancestry. In an article on Salon.com, actor Don Cheadle is reported as saying: “You start feeling more grounded when you can reach back and go … ‘This is who I am all the way back.’”
This is who I am all the way back. Imagine knowing your roots this intimately. Matthew and Luke set out to write biographies of Jesus, they included Jesus’ family tree, revealing just who Jesus was “all the way back.”
THE STRUCTURE OF JESUS’ GENEALOGY
Matthew and Luke both include genealogies of Jesus. Perhaps it would be helpful to see them side by side. What do you notice that’s similar? What do you notice that’s different?
|Matthew 1:1-17||Luke 3:23-38|
|The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud,15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
|23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi,30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan,38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
You might notice that Luke goes back waaaay further than Matthew. Matthew goes back only to Abraham. Luke goes back all the way to Adam. Why? Well, Matthew is trying to connect Jesus to both David—showing that Jesus is Israel’s true king—and Abraham—showing that Jesus is of true Jewish descent. Luke is trying to connect Jesus not just to the Jews, but to the entire human race—something that would have been important, as Luke wrote both Luke and Acts during a time when people worried about the inclusion of Gentiles (non-Jews) in the Church.
But, you might be thinking, why don’t Matthew and Luke match up? The genealogies given here look quite different. Various suggestions have been made. In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther suggested that Matthew gave Joseph’s genealogy, while Luke records Mary’s. Unfortunately, evidence for this is sparse—limited only to arguments of Greek grammar (!). In his commentary on Matthew, Craig Keener borrows from an ancient writer and suggests that Matthew was primarily focused on Jesus’ royal lineage, while Luke focused on Jesus’ biological history. Since Jews did not keep accurate records of their genealogies (which helps explain why many didn’t know Jesus was of royal lineage), it’s probable that both Matthew and Luke are recording history only selectively. Oh, you say, so the Bible contains errors? No; it simply means that ancient biographies weren’t constructed with the level of chronological detail that we might expect from modern writers. Additionally, the “gospel” was an unprecedented genre of literature. They were meant to be historical, sure—but they were ultimately intended to invoke faith on the part of the reader. Therefore all gospel writers recorded only the factual details necessary to win audiences with the gospel.
THE MEANING OF JESUS’ GENEALOGY
Of course, if you have a background in church, you may notice a few colorful characters in Jesus’ family tree. David and “the wife of Uriah” (adultery and murder?), Tamar (who seduced her father-in-law while dressed as a prostitute), Rahab the prostitute…these aren’t the characters you might expect to find in the story about Jesus. It’s all the more shocking when you realize that ancient peoples believed in what we might call “collective guilt.” If a person is guilty, so is their entire community. Yes; one bad apple really does spoil the whole bunch.
Today, while we emphasize individual responsibility, we still tend to think of guilt as contagious. For instance, in a study conducted by Loyola University (if you listened to last Sunday’s sermon, I misspoke of the study’s origins), participants reported feeling significantly more guilty knowing that the seats they occupied were once occupied by those guilty of misconduct. According to the report in men’s health, “whether it’s a chair, handshake, or lucky shirt, you’d be wise to seek out people and objects you want to emulate—and steer clear of stuff stained by failure, the study implies.”
But through Jesus, the righteousness of the One is enough to redeem the sinfulness of the many. Are there some skeletons in your closet? Do you have a past full of darkness, full of shame? Jesus can redeem whole generations of brokenness with his lifetime of obedience, and the exchange he offers—my sin for his righteousness. It is then that you and I might stand faultless before the throne, clothed in righteousness alone. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at a few characters from Jesus’ family tree, and seeing the various ways that the gospel can transform lives of brokenness into agents for His Kingdom.