The genealogy (lit. gk. Genesis) of Jesus Christ tells us that this Christmas story is a story of beginnings. Jesus’ genesis reminds us of how John’s gospel takes us back to the beginning (Genesis) of everything, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1) Here, Matthew tells us, is a new beginning, beginning with Jesus.
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genesis tells us he is ‘the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (1:1) He later recounts how an angel told Joseph, ‘Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’ v20.
The son of David, who was said to be, ‘ a man after God’s own heart’ (1 Samuel 13;14), who ruled over a united Israel in righteousness, without idolatry, worshipping the true God.
The son of Abraham, who was told ‘in you all the families of the earth will be blessed,’ (Genesis 12:3), anticipating the mission to the Gentiles.
The Son of God by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20) indicating Jesus’ Divine origin and authority. The story of Jesus’ genesis is not an afterthought, it is central to everything.
‘The book of [Jesus’ genesis] the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the Father of Judah and his brothers…’ (Mt.1:1)
I once asked a small Bible study group what they thought about the genealogies in the Bible, especially those of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. The consensus was that people skip over them. One commented, ‘All that begetting gets tedious and repetitive.’ Yet Matthew’s gospel puts genealogy front and centre, as if he can’t wait to tell us who Jesus is in detail, Jesus’ genesis.
Jesus is, ‘the son of David, the son of Abraham…’ His lineage demonstrates his being the one who would fulfil the promises made to and through these great Old Testament figures, to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen.12:1-3) and a king to occupy David’s throne forever (1 Chr.17:12-14, c.f. Lk.1:32-33).
The genealogy takes some tortuous routes to get to Jesus, through some less than savoury forebears. It is a lineage comprised of adulterers, prostitutes, liars, murderers, heroes, kings, shepherds, and Gentiles. No obstacles, whether a person’s unfaithfulness, obscurity, poverty, wealth, high or low social status got in the way of God’s purpose in sending his Son at the appointed time.
We are also reminded that Jesus was a man, born of of human lineage. He came from glory (Jn.1:1-2; Jn.17:5) but his humanity is a real, hungry, thirsty, weary, dirt under the fingernails humanity. In this we see condescension of God, that God the Son should become a man.
Historically, there have been those who could not cope with this idea, who insisted Jesus only appeared to be a man, that he didn’t actually die on the cross, and wasn’t resurrected. Matthew simply will not allow this view, called Docetism, which was born of the mistaken idea that matter is essentially evil. The Bible, however, teaches that Jesus was God made man (Col.2:9; 1 Jn.4:2; 5:6).
Jesus’ Genesis: Two Incredible Truths
God, in creating mankind, affirmed two incredible truths:
‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Gen.1:26) tells us that we are not like any other creature on earth, that we are God’s image-bearers, that our roots are in eternity. Human nature is only explicable when we understand it in relation to God. Shakespeare had Hamlet soliloquise:
‘What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!’
Our second incredible truth, ‘Let them have dominion…over all the earth.’ Gen1:26) affirms that we are born to rule the earth, to steward it as kings under the authority of the King of kings.
When we consider what is wrong with the world it is plain that, to coin a phrase, ‘we are what is wrong with the world!’ The earth is dominated by creatures made in God’s image to rule. However, we are in open rebellion against the God who made us, and at war with each other in the world placed in our care. That charge to rule has not changed, indeed it is yet the destiny of mankind. The Psalmist reveals something of this destiny:
‘When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet…’ (Ps.8:3-6)
Of course you would be right to say that we don’t yet see this destiny as the world limps on under the tyranny of sin. The New Testament, however, holds an astonishing promise in a text that quotes this same Psalm 8:
‘Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
‘What is man that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honour,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.’
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.’ (Heb.2:5-9)
We do not yet see our destiny fully worked out, but in the glorified Jesus we see the realisation of that destiny. The writer of Hebrews goes on to write of God ‘bringing many sons to glory’ through the suffering of his Son. The work of the cross, the suffering of Christ, was restoring whoever believes (Jn.3:16) to that place of dominion and stewardship we were always intended to have. He, Jesus, is our King, the King of kings, and we are to be the kings over whom he is King.
Matthew uses 53 quotes from or allusions to 25 of the Old Testament’s 39 books, to emphasise that Jesus fulfils Messianic prophecy. No fewer than sixteen such references come in quick succession in Matthew’s first two chapters. Here are a few:
At this Christmas time we recall that, ‘a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him |Immanuel (which means God with us).’ (Mt. 1:23 quoting Is. 7:14) The Greek parthenos and Hebrew almah both mean ‘maiden,’ a virgin. Shakespeare, again, helps us here in his Much Ado About Nothing, in which Hero is accused of coming to the altar sans her virginity, ‘not a maiden.’
‘Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ (Mt.2:2 alluding to Jer.23:5 and Num.24:17) It was Gentile kings who came to worship Jesus.
‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd his people Israel.’ (Mt. 2:6 quoting Micah 5:2)
‘And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the lord had spoken by the prophet, Out of Egypt I call my son.’ (Mt.2:14-15 citing Hosea 11:1)
Jesus’ Genesis: Your Kingdom Come
As Matthew unfolds this narrative he shows us Jesus’ inaugurating the kingdom, ‘saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.’ Mt.4:12. We see Jesus teaching what being disciples of the king looks like, life in this kingdom, in his Sermon on the Mount (Mt.5:1-28)
Matthew tells how this kingdom proclamation comes with a demonstration of power (Mt.8:1-9:34), and of mission to a lost and broken world, (Mt.9:35-10:42) Jesus is the true interpreter of the law (Mt.5:17-48) whose yoke is not like that of the scribes and Pharisees (Mt.23:1-4):
‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Mt.11:28-30)
In the face of growing opposition, Jesus gives special instructions to the community growing around the king Mt.19:1-25:46. Eventually, the king enters his capital Mt.21:1-11 only to be judged, condemned and hung on a cross by the end of that week.
He Opened the Scriptures
However, there is a conversation had between Jesus and two desolate disciples on the road to Emmaus on that first resurrection Sunday, and it brings us right back to our theme of genesis. For this we jump to Luke’s Gospel; you remember how it goes.
Two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus when a stranger joins them on the road. He asks them about their conversation and, amazed that he doesn’t know about recent events in Jerusalem, they explain how the one in whom they had placed such great hope had been crucified, his body stolen, his friends scattered and desolate. They didn’t yet know who it was they were addressing.
It is then, ‘beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’
How important it is for us to follow Jesus’ example in opening the Scriptures to gain understanding. It was as they went in to share with him a simple supper, over the breaking of bread, they finally recognised him, and he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:13-35)
‘They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’
It was Jesus saying, ‘Don’t be discouraged, or downhearted. This isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning (genesis). The kingdom is inaugurated, the citizens are already being drawn to it, the charter is written, the standard of the king flies, and that kingdom’s greatest enemy lies defeated at Calvary.’
Jesus’ genesis has culminated in the kingdom’s genesis.
It is imperative that, like angels, shepherds, and wise men, we see and worship the babe in the manger. It is vital that we understand why he came, to restore mankind by, himself, becoming a man from a particular genealogical line, who would fulfil biblical prophecy to the letter, and restore man to his original place and purpose.
‘At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.’ (Heb.2:5-9)
Anticipating that future, the apostle John wrote:
‘See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.’ (1 Jn.3:1-3)
In this hope have a blessed Christmas.