An Unlikely Genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17)


Last Christmas I chose to read through the first chapter of Matthew. As you may recall the birth of Jesus is announced at the end of the chapter. But you have to trudge through the genealogies (1:1-17) before getting to the good news. Don’t you wish that Matthew had skipped the ancestry lesson and just gotten right to the good stuff? You may have skipped this section in your reading plan along with the other lists in other parts of the Bible. However, if you study the genealogy a little closer, you may find that it enhances your understanding of God’s plan for our salvation.

1. What do we find as we read through the genealogy of Jesus?

a. Judah and Tamar

The story of Judah and Tamar is not one that would not make a good story to read to your children before bed. It’s the sad story of a daughter-in-law whose husband died and later acted like a harlot to have her own child.

b. Salmon and Rahab

Rahab was the harlot in Jericho who hid the two spies on her roof before the walls came tumbling down. Before her conversion, she was an immoral person whom most of us would shy away from. And yet, when she turned from her sin and believed God, she became one of the people of God and one of the ancestors of Jesus.

c. Boaz and Ruth

When you read the story of Ruth, you may find it hard to see why people would have trouble including Ruth in the line of Christ. She was an industrious woman who married a Jewish man and became the great grandmother of King David. What’s wrong with that? Ruth was a Moabite. Moabites were the descendants of the incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters after they fled from Sodom and Gomorrah. Nobody wanted to admit that they were related to such wicked people.

d. David and Bathsheba

The story of David and Bathsheba seems even worse because David was considered “a man after God’s own heart.” But later in his life, he chose to commit adultery with the wife of one of his most faithful soldiers. After he was unable to cover up his sin, he ordered the murder of the man so that he could marry Bathsheba without any questions. Even though he later repented of his sin, it was a stain on his life that would never be forgotten.

These were the ancestors who made up the line of Jesus. Not a pretty picture, is it?

2. Why did God include such people in the line of Jesus?

a. God wanted to emphasize our sinfulness.

i. Our ancestors

The people of Matthew’s day were rather proud of their ancestry. “I am of the line of David,” was probably a statement of superiority for some. Matthew quickly answered with a history lesson showing how bad that line actually was.

The truth is that we don’t have to look back very far to see the effect of sin on our own lives and those of our parents, grandparents, and so on. We could all look back on family members and ancestors who were not godly people. Those who seemed so perfect in a history book also had embarrassing blemishes on their records that aren’t often mentioned.

ii. Our own selves

“Okay. Okay. I recognize that some of the people in my past were not the greatest example of godliness. But what does that have to do with me?”

The truth is that these records of sinful behavior should make us consider our own sinfulness. If these great men and women of the past were sinners, where does that put me? It puts each of us in the exact same position. We are all sinners in need of the Savior.

b. God wanted to emphasize our personal need of a Savior.

The Scriptures record the sinful acts of man and the grace and mercy of God toward them. But there comes a time when each of us sinners has to recognize our sinfulness before God. God told the first man and woman that their sin would lead to death. And that’s exactly what happened. “Death passed upon all men for … all have sinned.”

There is a coming day when each of us will stand before God, the great Judge and give an account of our sinfulness. All of us have sinned and all of us deserve eternal torment in the lake of fire with all others who have rebelled against God. This is our great need and the reason why we need Jesus.

Look down at verse 21.

God knew our need even before we recognized it. That is why he sent Jesus “to save his people from their sin.” After his birth, he would live a perfect life, reveal to mankind the true ways of God, call people to repentance and faith, and then die on the cross for our sins. But he didn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave three days later and now stands at the right hand of God interceding for us by the power of his blood. This is the great work of Jesus for sinners like you and me.

c. God wanted to emphasize his willingness to use broken people.

However, I think that there is another message hidden in these genealogies. As you consider the especially difficult stories of Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba, there is a story of hope for those who have lived sinful lives. Your usefulness is not necessarily determined by your past. Sinful behavior does cause a lot of problems. But when a sinful person turns from his sin to the Lord, God offers forgiveness and can use that person in the future.

i. God can change sinful people (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The description of the Corinthian church was pretty scary. Some of them had been involved in very sinful behavior. And yet, God had changed them. They were no longer that way anymore. Instead, they were known as Christians whose lives had been washed, sanctified, and justified by God.

ii. God can use weak people (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

God has chosen to use weak, foolish, and despised people for his purposes. He likes to use cleansed sinners for his work so that people will look past the person and see the great God behind the change.

The point of all this is that God can use you despite your sinful past and your many inabilities. God can use you and wants to use you. This ought to be an encouragement to each of us.


As you spend time with the Lord today, consider the following:

• Thank God for saving us despite our sinfulness.
• Thank God for using us despite our sinfulness.
• Ask God to give us compassion for sinful people who have not yet been changed.

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