I will never forget the zeal, the excitement, and the anticipation of my first Christmas sermon. I had heard Christmas sermons from the birth narrative sections of Matthew and Luke, from Philippians 2, and from John 1. All were delightful and edifying to my soul, but I wanted to preach something that I had never heard from the pulpit for Christmas, or any other time for that matter. No, I am not talking about the Apocrypha or the Gnostic gospels. When one of my elders asked me what I would be preaching on, I confidently proclaimed: “The genealogy from Matthew 1.” His response was different than I expected. “Why would you do that? You never preach the genealogies.” Convinced that all Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17), I soldiered forward undeterred. I pondered, in light of the rather unexpected response, why does the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew matter to the Christian at Christmas?
First, the genealogy shows God fulfills his promises. After the fall, God promises that the “seed” of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. “The Lord promises a future victory over the serpent through the offspring of the woman.” Cain kills Abel, but Adam and Eve have another son, Seth. Eve declares: “God has appointed for me another seed (my translation), instead of Abel” (Gen. 4:25). The offspring of the serpent would not prevail over the purpose of God, but God would fulfill his promises. Later, God promises to Abraham that the one who would come forth from him, namely Isaac, would be the heir of Abraham through whom all the people of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 15:4). Isaac would be the child of promise. Again, the Lord would fulfill his promises and it is made clear through the conception and birth of Isaac that God is the one who is responsible for his promises being realized, not the feeble, fallen efforts of man. The seed promise continues to develop and narrow until we arrive at the Lord’s promise to David. The Lord would bring raise up David’s “seed” (2 Sam. 7:12 LXX) who would build the house of the Lord and whose kingdom would have no end. The expectation is a seed of Abraham and a seed of David. Through this one the world would be blessed, the house of the Lord would be built, and the Lord’s reign would be exercised. The New Testament opens with Matthew’s Gospel identifying Jesus as the seed of Abraham and the seed of David. God fulfills his promise.
Second, the genealogy decisively points to Jesus as God’s King. The Lord establishes his King. He is the one who anoints and installs the King. “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Ps. 2:6). “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps. 110:1). God appoints the King over his people. In Matthew’s genealogy there are three groups of names that correspond to three time periods. From Abraham to David (vv. 2-6a) we see the rise of the Davidic throne and the first group culminates with David upon the throne. From Solomon to the time of the deportation (vv. 6b-11) is the decline of the Davidic throne. Though the time of Solomon was one great wealth and prosperity, it nonetheless began to be marked by a decline into unrighteousness demonstrated, first, by Solomon. Then, under Rehoboam the kingdom was divided until finally Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity. Jerusalem was destroyed. The decline ends with no king in Israel. The third group from the deportation to Christ (vv. 12-16) is the coming of the Davidic son. After the deportation, there was no king in Israel. They were occupied by a foreign power (Rome) and king Herod was not a Davidic heir and thus not the Lord’s king. The anticipation is that from the stump of Jesse a branch would come (Is. 11:1-10). With the announcement of the birth of Jesus, “who is called Christ” in Matthew 1:16 we are shown that this is God’s King who would be set upon the throne of his father David. He would be the true King who would crush the head of the serpent and save his people from their sins.
Third, the genealogy shows we have a Savior who is fully man. We do not have a docetic Savior who only appeared to be human, but a Savior who is fully human, yet was without sin. He shared in our humanity in order that “by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15). He came as the second Adam through whom we would be justified (Rom. 5:12-21).
Fourth, the genealogy offers hope to desperate sinners. The genealogy of Matthew 1 is not the Who’s Who of stained glass saints. Abraham was a pagan idolater living in Ur. Isaac was a liar and played favorites with his two sons and was driven by his belly. Jacob was a liar and a deceiver. Judah was a liar and sexually immoral. Rahab was a prostitute and a Gentile. Ruth was a Moabite idolater. David was a murderer and an adulterer. Solomon was an adulterer and a hard-driving task master. If these are the kinds of people that are in the genealogy of our Savior, this brings great hope for all those who are liars, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, and driven by carnal desires. Jesus saves sinners no matter how “bad” they are.
God always makes good on his promises. He promises that those who turn to his Son, the Lord Jesus, in faith he will save them from their sins, no matter how bad you think your sins are. Those who take refuge in God’s King are blessed. Jesus came as a man to destroy sin and save sinners. Why does the genealogy matter to Christians at Christmas? The hymn writes captures it well:
Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”