God’s Glory Through a Troubled Family - Matthew 1:1–17
Last year I tried out Ancestry.com for the first time, which allows you to trace your family tree. As of 2016, their database contained 17 billion historical records from 80 countries: things like census data, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, and newspapers. I learned the names of many of my ancestors, when they were born and when they died, where they lived, when our family came over to America from England and when they made the move from Massachusetts to South Carolina. But other than those things, there wasn’t much else I could learn about them. The details of their lives are gone, except for a story here and there passed down from one family member to another.
However, if I could delve deep into the details about every generation of my family, I’m sure I’d find some captivating and encouraging things, but also, some unpleasant things. Right? Because all families have troubling aspects in the past and the present. All families are messed up in one way or another. You may think sometimes that only your family is that way. But no – every family is. We learn in Matthew 1 that even the earthly family of Jesus Christ had a troubled past.
Yet, God reminds us that he was faithful to fulfill his plans through that family. And since God could accomplish his plans through Jesus’ troubled earthly family, you and I should trust him to work out his plans through our troubled families as well. But how did God work out his plans through Jesus’ troubled earthly family? Two ways, which you can see outlined in the Worship Guide: God produced an Offspring who would be a blessing to all nations, and God produced a King who would be a ruler of all nations.
First, an offspring to bless all nations.
A little background about the gospel of Matthew. It was written by Matthew, one of the original 12 apostles. It seems that he wrote it sometime between 64 and 70 A.D. while in Antioch in Syria, modern-day Turkey. And the primary theme of the book is put forth in these opening verses. The first two words of Matthew are translated here,  “The book of the genealogy.” When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, they used this phrase in two places: Genesis 2, referring to the creation of the world, and Genesis 5, with the genealogy of Adam, the first man. Those chapters of Genesis refer to “the beginning” – here Matthew refers to “the new beginning” that occurred with the coming of Jesus Christ. “Christ” is an important title to describe Jesus. It basically means “anointed.” When the translators put the Hebrew Bible in Greek, they used this word where the Hebrew has “Messiah.” “Anointing” was a visible, dramatic demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s bestowing of wisdom and power on someone, granting a prophet, priest, or king the ability to fulfill his calling.
As we read earlier, Jesus was and is all three of those. He is the ultimate “anointed one.” The Messiah, the Savior, anointed as the ultimate prophet, priest, and king of the nations. Matthew wants his readers to know who Jesus is. Then Matthew gives two other designations for Jesus. He is “the son of David, the son of Abraham.”These are important because Matthew wants those who hear and read this to know that biologically, Jesus descended from these key figures in Israel’s history. That fact is essential to the claim Matthew makes about Jesus throughout his gospel.
In the ancient world, genealogies like this were composed to prove someone’s right to a political or religious role. What role does Matthew believe belongs to Jesus? It is this: that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham to give Abraham an offspring or son through whom all nations would be blessed. The theme of “blessing” runs all through the Scriptures, from beginning to end. In Genesis 1, when God creates the living creatures, he blesses them and says that they will “be fruitful and multiply” and fill the seas and the earth. When he creates man and woman, he blesses them and commands them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Going forward in Genesis, multiplying was the most visible evidence of God’s blessing. For that reason, we see many genealogies.
Even though Adam and Eve sinned, they still were able to produce offspring. After the events of the flood, Genesis 9 says,  God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” God was still committed to this grand vision of people multiplying.Then Genesis 12, God’s covenant with Abraham, God says  “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. And he tells him, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This was more than a promise; it was a contract God has made with him. The promise of the blessing is reiterated in Genesis 22. God says to Abraham,  I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,  and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed…”
What comes increasingly into focus is that God intended to undo the curse in the Garden of Eden through the blessing of the offspring of Abraham. The blessing of “multiplying” is stated in its fullness at the end of Matthew. So the covenant with Abraham, and the promises it contained, were essential to Israel. Similar to how Democracy is essential to America. We were founded on democracy. Democracy is our bedrock; it’s our thing as the United States of America.
The people of Israel, the descendants or family of Abraham, was founded on the bedrock of the covenant. If they kept the covenant of God, they would be a blessing to the nations of the world. “Keeping the covenant” involved obeying God’s commands, honoring him alone in worship, and living as his treasured possession and so bringing glory to his name and his truth. But they were a troubled family. Matthew doesn’t try to hide that as he states the generations of Abraham here: Verse  “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,  and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar,”
This is like an Ancestry.com search, only the Old Testament book of Genesis gives us much more. We learn about God’s dealings with these people and their scandalous past. For instance, Abraham and his wife Sarah grew tired of waiting for the son God promised, so Abraham conceived a child with his servant. But that child was not the child of the promise. That was Abraham going outside of his marriage to try to satisfy the longings of his heart. His grandson Jacob was very deviant, stealing the rights of first-born son from his brother Esau. Jacob’s son Judah was deceptive also. He refused to take care of his son’s widow, Tamar, until she tricked him into conceiving a child with her by posing as a prostitute whom Judah willingly solicited. They conceived twin boys. These are troubled people.
They were not naturally concerned with fulfilling God’s purpose for them on God’s terms. Matthew then goes through more ancestors of Jesus in verses 3-4 which we know less about. But then he brings us to Boaz. His mother was Rahab, who was not an Israelite, but a Canaanite, the enemies of God. She was also a prostitute before helping God’s people when they took the land of Canaan as God had commanded them. She later joined the nation of Israel, the people of Abraham, even marrying a descendant of Judah himself, from whom King David would descend. She’s just one example of God’s desire that all nations know him. Also one great example of the importance of women in the purposes of God. So Rahab gave birth to Boaz, and Boaz married and had a child with Ruth. Ruth also not an Israelite. She was a Moabite. They were generally despised by the Israelites.
They descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot. Lot had gone away from Abraham and settled in a very immoral land. He had two daughters, neither who had a child, so the daughters had the idea to get their father drunk and conceive a child with him. One of those daughters had a son whom she named Moab, hence the Moabites. That was Ruth’s ancestry. But Ruth trusted in Yahweh, the great I AM, and joined God’s people.
Now, for a moment, put aside that both Ruth and Rahab showed faith in the one true God. Is this a lineage of which you and I would willingly boast? Adultery, Immoral/deceptive behavior by the men, incest and prostitution also in the picture. King David’s great-grandmother descended from incest; his great, great grandmother previously a prostitute. This is the family tree of Jesus Christ, the anointed one!
See, God can and does glorify his name and accomplish his plans through messed up families. This is no coincidence. One thing was sure: a blessing to the nations was going to come from this family. God had already determined it. In Ephesians 1, we learn that he determined it “before the foundation of the world.” He is in control. Isaiah 46, God says:  “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors,  remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,  declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” Jesus Christ is the offspring, the son, the true Israel, promised to Abraham. In Galatians 3, Paul writes,  Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.”
Two amazing things here. One, that God could come to earth and fulfill the promise himself, because people never could. Any family would be troubled. Two, that God could still do this. And continues to carry out his plan to bless the nations through each of us who is in Christ, saved by faith in him, renewed by and filled with his Holy Spirit to be a blessing. Does the trouble of your own family come to mind? Shameful things, embarrassing things, people taking matters into their own hands and only making matters worse? We all have it, and we’ve even taken part in it. It makes sense that we could be saved only by grace alone! Who could earn it? Do you trust God to bless others through you because you have been adopted into that family, adopted into Israel, because you are a child of God by faith in the true Israel, Jesus?
Now in addition, God produced a King who would be a ruler of all nations.
While Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham to give him an offspring through whom all nations would be blessed, the means by which God would bless the nations is through a King that would come from David. 2 Samuel 7, God says to David,  I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Jesus is a son of, or a descendant of, King David. So he has a legitimate claim to the throne.
And Matthew demonstrates that: verse 6 “And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,” Now hold on a minute. It’s not normal to have a child with someone else’s wife. The wife of Uriah was Bathsheba. David committed adultery with her, they conceived a child, and to cover up his sin, David had Uriah moved to the front lines of battle, where he was quickly killed. Again, the trouble in this family. How could a king who would bring blessing ever come through them? Matthew then names kings who followed David. And there is a theme. “Rehoboam” wicked. “Abijah” wicked. “Asaph” good. “Jehoshaphat” good.“ Joram” wicked. Matthew then skips three, and for a good reason, which we will look at shortly. But all 3 that he skips: wicked. From there it’s a mixed bag of good and evil kings. And then something very important in verse  “the deportation to Babylon.” Now, If you are a ruler of a nation, what is the number one thing you don’t want to do: You don’t want to lose the nation to another nation. But that is what happened. These kings squandered the blessing and authority of God.
A few years ago, Time magazine ran an article about wealthy families and how the second and third generation tends to squander the wealth passed down to them. The study found that 70% of wealthy families lose their wealth by the 2nd generation, and 90% by the 3rd generation. The troubling demise of David’s descendants is simply human nature.
These were God’s people, with his special protection, but the over-arching trend of the kings who descended from David is that they ran the nation into the ground through immorality and worshipped false gods. And there were no kings after that. They submitted to another nation. And verses 13-15 contains names we know nothing about. But the royal blood still coursed through their veins. And a descendant of David named Jacob had a son named Joseph, who was the legal father of Jesus Christ. Through all that had occurred, even losing the very land God promised, God had not given up on Abraham’s family. God would still put a King on the throne. But why would it take a king to fulfill the blessing? The apostle Peter tells us at Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, as he explains the outpouring of the Spirit which was according to the promise to Abraham and to David.
Peter says to the crowd,  “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.  This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,  until I make your enemies your footstool.”’  Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Jesus Christ is the Lord, the Master, the Captain, the ruler, the King of the people of God. What he tells us to do, we must do. He is, in fact, the king of creation, and the King of Kings. And because Jesus is king, and he has complete authority over us. Remember when I said earlier that the blessing of “multiplying” is stated in its fullness at the end of Matthew? Matthew describes how the offspring of blessing, the true King, carries out the blessing of the nations. Matthew 28 says,  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” God’s people have been blessed to be a blessing. If Jesus is your King, you have blessed to be a blessing according to the promise to Abraham and David.
Is Jesus your King? And if so, do you live and make your decisions in line with commands and the desires of your King? What does your king say about your private life, about your relationships, about your purity, about your money, about your future? If Jesus is your King, then you were saved only by his grace, because salvation is his to give. In Revelation 7, the apostle John writes, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne,and to the Lamb!” To Jesus, the lamb sacrificed for our sins; Jesus, our great King. And what a King, to come from a troubled family, not much different from yours or mine, except that God chose them for a special purpose: to bless each of our families with redemption from sins and eternal life with God.
And while not all our family members past or present may know him in this way, here we are today, hearing his call. Have you received Jesus as your King, your Savior? I urge you, from the depths of my conscience – call out to him, turn from your sin, admit to God that you are a sinner, and place your faith in the saving work of Jesus on the cross.
I do want to point out one more thing about this passage: Verse 17. Matthew does something interesting here. It was customary of those composing Jewish genealogies to arrange them in a special way, and to leave out names for a reason. Obviously, if they put in every name, the genealogies would be massive. This is not an error. Matthew leaves out names in order to have 3 sets of 14 generations. Verse  says, “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.”
Matthew intended to highlight these important turning points in Israel’s history. But why 14, 14, 14? Well, it’s good to point out that in the Hebrew language their letters also had numeric value, and the letters of David’s name add up to 14. Matthew very likely had that in mind. If he didn’t, the Holy Spirit obviously did. So the family tree of Jesus shouts “David, David, David!” “King, King, King!” But also, there’s a perfection, a symmetry to this genealogy. No doubt the plan of God is perfect. From God’s perspective, everything works together, even if, from our perspective, we can’t see how it all works together. We can’t see how the brokenness in our families could produce the plans of God. But God can see it; he’s working in it. He calls us to pray and serve and love and obey and trust. We have his promises, we have our instructions, and we have the assurance of his eternal favor in Jesus Christ.