Family Tree

Family Tree

A Message on Matthew 1:1-17

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Dec. 9, 2018

By Doug Wintermute


Matthew 1:1-17  (NRSV)


An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, 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 Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab 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 King David.


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 Salathiel, and Salathiel 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 the Messiah.


17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.


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This scripture strikes fear into many pastors, including me. A lot of pastors just avoid it and don’t preach on it, which usually includes me. And the main reason it is avoided is not a theological one, but a simple one: there are so many hard-to-pronounce names included in it!


Nonetheless I have selected to explore it today because I think it gives us some important information that we need to know as Christians as we travel through the season of Advent in preparation for the birth of the Christ Child.


Musician Andrew Peterson completed the awesome challenge of including all the names listed in “Matthew’s Begots” into a song that’s really cute. I started to do it today but decided against it. But come to the worship service on Dec. 23 for our children’s program where a couple of our young folks will be singing it.


So why are they there? Those names matter. What Matthew does at the very beginning of his gospel is to give the genealogy of Jesus. He gives his family tree.


Now back in the first century they didn’t have “23AndMe” or “Ancestry DNA” testing kits to determine a person’s background. I have to tell you I’m sort of fascinated by those things but I haven’t shelled out the money to do one yet. I’m one of six kids and I think all of us are hoping one of us will spend the money to do it but we are all so cheap that none of us wants to be the one. Besides, I wonder about the reliability of those tests. I mean, they could just make that stuff up and who would know, right?


Some of my relatives on the Wintermute side researched our genealogy extensively. There’s actually a hard-bound two-volume set of books on it. And in going through it you can see that us Wintermutes pretty much married anyone who would have us. If we were dogs, we would be mutts.


Anyway, back to Jesus’ family tree. For the Jewish people genealogy was a big deal. There were no social service agencies to take care of the elderly, adult children did that. Property was passed down from generation to generation, and even businesses and occupations.


The first-born male was one who inherited most of the wealth and property and who became the head of the family. There is a fancy name for that: primogeniture. Unfortunately it was nearly always the male lineage that mattered, but what is impressive is that Matthew breaks that trend somewhat by naming some of the women in Jesus’ genealogy.


There are five women listed in Jesus’ genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.


Tamar was a very shrewd woman, seducing her father-in-law, Judah, after becoming widowed from two of Judah’s sons. Judah refused to give his third son, Shelah, to her so she does what she has to do to survive and seduces Judah anonymously. As a result she has twins, Perez and Zerah, and Perez is listed as the line belonging to Jesus.


Rahab is also listed. Remember that she was a prostitute living in Jericho who helps save the Israelite spies to come to spy out Jericho prior to invading it.


Ruth, as we remember, left her family and culture behind in Moab to go with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who had lost not only her husband but both sons as well. Ruth travels with Naomi back to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem (coincidence?) and there is married to Boaz.


Bathsheba is not mentioned by name in Matthew’s “begats” but when it talks about Uriah’s wife, that is Bathsheba. Remember how King David saw her bathing and lost his mind with lust and had an affair with her. When she became pregnant David had her husband, Uriah, killed in battle so he could marry her. David and Bathsheba’s first baby died, but the two had another child, Solomon, who we know as wise King Solomon.


And then we come to Mary, mother of Jesus. We don’t know much about her. She was young, she was a virgin (or as I heard tale of one child who said she was “Virgil.”), and she was betrothed to Joseph but not yet married to him.


So the fact that Matthew mentions women at all is a large break from the social norms of the time. And those women weren’t the top-of-the-social-order women, either. Some had rather dubious reputations. (And when the Bible says Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet… just know that is a euphemism. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.)


To me the fact that these women played integral roles in the family tree of Jesus, and the fact they are mentioned by Matthew, is proof to me that God doesn’t call the equipped, but equips the called.


Now Matthew is not the only gospel to contain Jesus’ genealogy. We also find it in Luke’s gospel, but it is listed after Jesus birth, not before. Another difference is that while Matthew lists Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham, Luke goes one step further and traces it all the way back to Adam.


I don’t believe it is an accident that the two gospels that tell us about Jesus birth also include his lineage.


While not as important, it still is important today. Our lineage tells us who and where we came from. It helps form our identity.


Growing up in Cooper, TX people would often say to me, “Oh, you’re one of those Wintermutes.” There were six of us kids, so we got around. The teachers in the school had a lot of us as students. My oldest sister was salutatorian of her class, my next oldest sister made straight As, and then I came along. I could tell that the teachers that had my sisters had expectations of me, expectations that unfortunately I didn’t live up to. It all worked out, though. Of the six of us all of us earned bachelor’s degrees and half of us earned graduate degrees. (I think I was the only one, however, of having the distinction of being on “Scholastic Probation” in college. Sigh.)


We have examples right here this church. What do you think of when you hear the name “Lykins.” If you are like me you think of super talented musicians, super smart people on a broad range of subjects, and some great followers of Christ.


How about when you hear the name “Hamilton.” (Not the musical, by the way.) I think of good, hard working successful business people who are humble and have hearts of gold.


There are so many other examples I could give.


Jesus lineage was important to Matthew and Luke because it helped prove that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the one that the prophets of old had prophesied about.  Isaiah 11:1 says “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”


In 2 Samuel 7:12 David is told, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.”


So there is a specific lineage that the messiah was to come from and both Luke and Matthew made sure to show that connection with the baby Jesus.


Now Matthew does something really interesting in the scripture we read today. As I said, lineages were tracked through the males. But if Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph, but of the Holy Spirit, how would that work?


Matthew does it this way: “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.” He mentions Joseph not as the father of Jesus, but as the husband of Mary. Now Joseph had the important lineage required of the Messiah, but it was important to Matthew that Joseph not be confused as the father of Jesus. Thus he lists him as the husband of Mary, not the father of Jesus. That way Jesus can have the genealogy of Joseph but still have the Holy Spirit as his father.


So how does this affect us as followers of Christ in the 21st Century?


I think it reminds us that while knowing our lineage is okay, our true lineage resides in our faith, not our biology. As followers of Christ we are children of God.


Paul writes in Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” He goes on to say in verse 17, “…and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”


So my challenge to you this second Sunday of Advent is to remember that Jesus is our brother. While our lineage does inform us as to where we come from and who our relatives are, it is our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior that makes him our brother. It is through his death and resurrection that we have been reconciled to God, a royal lineage we could never attain on our own.


And if you could talk one of my siblings into doing one of those DNA heritage tests I would really appreciate it.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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