I’ve always been one of those weird people that enjoy genealogies. I blame my parents. Growing up I remember watching my mom pour over piles of immigration and City Hall records, trying to trace our families journey to the United States. Things got even more intense when we moved to Europe and took cross-continent road trips to cities and towns that bore our surname, awkward conversations through translation books with people that might be distant relatives, checking the registry at Auschwitz to see if we might be related to any of victims that shared our family name, and looking for long lost connections.
Being connected to your history is not everything, but it is something. For me it was always in the realm of things that were nice to know. Stories that make me more grateful and make me realize that I didn’t just magically pop into this world as a middle class white male totally independent of the successes, sins, and sacrifices of those that have come before me. But beyond that I don’t spend too much time thinking about where I came from.
That’s because I am not a first century Jewish man. Back then heritage was everything. It determined everything. Where you worked. where you lived, who you married, and who you worshipped. It determined everything.
The people of Israel were ever aware of their ancestry. They were literally named after their ancestor – Israel. The organization of their wilderness camp, and later their place in there Promised Land, was based on their family tribe. An Israelite’s role in worshipping God was also determined by their lineage, with the tribe of Levi having a particularly holy calling as priests. Similarly the true line of kings that God would bless would be from the family of Judah (Genesis 49:8-10), specifically the line of David (II Sam 7:1-17). Not only would the kings of Israel come from the tribe of Judah and the family of David, the ultimate and universal King, the Messiah, would come from this line (Micah 5:2-4, Daniel 7:13-14).
This is why both Matthew and Luke’s Gospels include a lengthy genealogy of Jesus. For any first century Jew or anyone who takes God’s promises seriously, to even consider the validity of Jesus being the Messiah, his family credentials would have to be watertight. God is a God of His Word and if He said the Messiah would come through Judah and David, then that is how it had to be.
This was so important that Matthew, writing primarily to a Jewish audience, leads his Gospel account with the genealogy of Christ. Starting with Abraham he works all the way up through 42 generations to Jesus.
Luke also records the family line of Jesus the Messiah. Careful observers will notice that there are some differences between Matthew and Luke’s records. Problem? Nope, easy and important answer. Matthew recorded Jesus’ family line through Joseph, showing that he had a legal right to the throne of David because of his status as the adopted eldest son of Joseph. Matthew traces Jesus’ heritage through Mary, making the incarnate Son of God a blood relative of King David. Both genealogies point to the glorious truth that both from legal adoption and blood lineage, Jesus Christ the God Man, is the rightful heir to the Messianic promises. As a side note it is interesting that since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jewish people no longer have reliable genealogies to refer to. Anyone who claimed to be the Messiah since 70 A.D. would have no way of proving that he came from the royal line of kings.
No one has or ever will have the Messianic credentials that Jesus Christ has. His genealogies record the breaking into history of God, His putting on flesh and becoming part of the human family so that He could bear the brokenness, guilt, and shame of that family on the cross and give it a new inheritance through His resurrection.
Last week I blew it in a once-every-decade kind of way. It began when my father and I got into a disagreement about something stupid (it always begins that way, right?). But when neither of us were willing to show humility towards each other, things escalated and exploded. Before I knew it I was bringing up sins and situations that had happened decades ago and I thought I had moved on from but were still affecting me deeply.
I’ve been affected by the sins of my father. He was affected by the sins of his. My kids have and will be affected by the sins of their father, both biological and adopted.
But this Christmas as I open up the Scripture and read the family history of my Savior, I have hope. When I look at the sovereignly selected, scandal-filled genealogy of my Savior and Lord and see slaves and kings, redeemed prostitutes (Rahab), enemy Gentiles redeemed by their kinsman (Ruth), repentant murderous adulterous sinners (David), unrepentant murderous adulterous sinners (many of the kings after David), seasons of joy, seasons of pain, and seemingly insignificant faithful historical footnotes (Achim? Matthan?)…I am reminded that my God is the God who brings beauty out of the hideous, honor out of the shameful, victory out of defeat, joy out of pain, and Life out of Death.
This the Gospel of geneology. Because Christ had a genealogy my earthly family history can be redeemed and given hope and purpose. But more breathtaking is the truth that in Christ I have been adopted into an entirely new geneology. One that begins and ends with an eternal, loving, perfect, infinitely rich, reigning Father. Because the Son of God had an earthly genealogy, I can have a heavenly one.
This Christmas be thankful for genealogies.
John Freiberg is a Missionary in Training and Elder Candidate at Kaleo Church. John has been married to Sarah for ten years and has four kids: Esther, Isaiah, Phoebe, and Roman.