There is a passage we often skip when we are reading the Christmas story. It’s Matthew 1:1-17. If you turn there, bet you say, “Well no wonder — it’s just a genealogy. Who wants to read that?”
If you just read it, you’d be right. But if you study it, you will find a wealth of information in it. If you are one to doubt the accuracy of the Christmas story as found in the ancient texts, these early verses are really enlightening for two reasons.
One, those who want to argue that these books are a fourth century concoction made up by some fictitious writer and accepted by the church to control people (i.e. if you believe the fictitious account of the novel the “DaVinci Code”), this list presents a real problem because after 70 A.D., with the fall of Jerusalem, it became impossible to trace Jewish ancestries. So this list tells us that Matthew had to be written before this 70 A.D. date which gives credence to his claims.
Second, if one were making up this list, there is no way women like Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth would have ever been included. The fact that they are speaks volumes for the authenticity of Matthew’s account.
Forty-six people whose lives spanned some 2,000 years are given in this list. All of the people listed are in the legal ancestral line of Jesus — His royal line through Joseph. If you look at the list closely you’ll find some pretty impressive people, some pretty horrible people, some pretty flawed people and some people that are pretty ordinary — not the people you’d expect to find in a lineage of the King of the Universe.
As a matter of fact, if you were a parent looking over that ancestry, you’d probably advise your child to think long and hard about associating with that family; they are carrying a lot of baggage.
Here’s the lesson I want you to consider as you look at this genealogy: God’s work in history is not limited by human failures or sins.
The story of David and Bathsheba, referenced in this genealogical line, is a story of failure and shame. The story of Manasseh is one of a king that was so evil that by time you get to the New Testament, the site of one of Manasseh’s murderous practices is used as a picture of hell itself.
But the thing we take away from this passage is no matter how bad a sin is, it doesn’t disqualify a person from accomplishing great things for God. God uses all kinds of people to do His will and God can and does work through ordinary people.
Guess what? If you’ll let Him, He can use you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.
One of the tragic failures of the modern evangelical church is that sometimes, at least in my opinion, we seem more intent on telling people that they are going to hell than we are in telling them how they can avoid hell.
As I look over this list of 46 names in the ancestry of Jesus, I have to wonder how many church people would have said either directly to them or indirectly by our actions, “No, because of what you did, there is no way you can serve God in a particular capacity.”
If we’re honest, even those we consider great heroes of faith today, if they were living today and did the sort of things they did back then, we wouldn’t even consider them for service.
Take Abraham, for instance. This “friend of God” on two occasions lies about his relationship with Sarah (his wife) telling people “She’s my sister,” and insinuating, “Hey, you like my wife? She’s yours; I’ll find another.” If a man did that in your church, you wouldn’t even consider him for the role of a deacon, let alone as the founder of your faith.
Isaac, whose story we love to tell, was by all accounts a very bad dad, favoring and spoiling Esau and setting the stage for Jacob to become the liar and cheat he was. And these are the heroes.
Read your Bible; it may change the way you live and judge today.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.