“‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
– Matthew 1:23 (ESV)
When you walk into the mall, you find a young man with his nose pressed against the glass of the mall directory. He has a puzzled look on his face and seems to be somewhat frustrated. When you ask if you can help him find something, he says, “I’m looking for the bookstore, but I just cannot seem to find it.” You look and see his eyes staring cross-eyed at the “You Are Here” sticker. He clearly does not see that the bookstore is just above his head. You quickly take him by the shoulders and pull his eyes away from the glass and point to the bookstore. In bewilderment, his eyes light up and he proceeds to make his way there as you stand gawking at how such a man could not see the larger mall directory.
Genealogies are never our favorite part of Scripture. I am sure that we are all guilty of skipping them over or briefly skimming them without comprehending anything. We desire to get to the meat of Scripture, but we lose something if we do not consider the importance of a genealogy.
Matthew opens his gospel with a lengthy genealogy tracing Jesus’ lineage from Abraham, through David, to Joseph. Did Matthew include this genealogy just to frustrate generations of Christians who have a hard time pronouncing ancient names? Of course not! This genealogy, like the mall directory, is given to provide the larger perspective of Christ’s incarnation and God’s redemptive plan. Not every part of the genealogy may have grand significance, but there are certain people and connections we should pay close attention to.
The first point of importance is . In this verse, Matthew points out two significant familial connections that Jesus has. There is importance for Jesus to be traceable back to Abraham and David. Abraham was the father of the nation of Israel. God covenanted with Abraham in and gave him the promise of a great nation and that his name would be a blessing to all. Not only does Abraham connect Jesus in his Jewish roots, but God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus himself. Jesus Christ, as we will see, is the blessing and great name that brings blessing to the earth. It is also crucial that Jesus is genealogically connected to king David. Again, God covenanted with David in that he would establish David’s throne forever. Although the context of the passage initially refers to David’s immediate offspring, it also looks forward to the coming Messiah who would come from David’s line and rule on his throne forever. This connects Jesus to his kingly roots in the family of David.
A second point of importance we can learn from this genealogy is the variety of people in Jesus’ background. If we are expecting a Jewish, kingly Messiah, we would probably expect a spotless genealogy with people of great faith and obedience to God. Jesus’ genealogy is far from that, and if you’ve read the book of Genesis, you would quickly understand that God does not always work through perfect people or in expected situations. Looking at Jesus’ genealogy, we see some interesting characters: we have Manasseh the idolater (), Rahab the prostitute (), and even Ruth the Moabite Gentile (). Two teachings seem to pop from this fact. First, God uses all types of people to work out his plan. He is not afraid to use our mess in order to bring blessing to others. His wisdom is so great that he can use the foolish things of this world to bring glory and honor to his name. He is not a “cookie-cutter” god who only works through perfection – instead, he uses sinners, pagans, and idolaters for his purpose. Second, God’s salvation and redemption through his son is available to all people. This does not mean that all the people in Jesus’ lineage were saved, but it does point out that God’s offer of salvation extends to all people in all walks of life. We do not need to have our life perfectly in order to be saved – if that were the case, a lot of us would be in trouble. Instead, God offers his gift of salvation to all people, no matter where they are in their life. This means that the body of Christ – the Church – includes people who were once addicts, idolaters, prostitutes, abusers, thieves, murderers, liars, etc. God’s grace is available to all and can bring new life to all.
A third and final point we can find in this genealogy is the importance of patience and God’s timing. For generations, the people of Israel had been waiting for their coming Messiah to save them. In fact, since sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, humanity has groaned for a Savior. God’s timing may not always be convenient for us. I am sure that many of the people listed in Jesus’ genealogy longed for the Messiah to come and rescue them from sin and evil, but God had a much larger plan and a perfect time. We may not always understand his timing – I certainly cannot explain why Jesus had to be born then instead of centuries before or centuries later – but we can trust that God will deliver on his promises. He delivered on Abraham’s and David’s! When we surrender our will to his, we can trust that God’s timing will be perfect – even if we must patiently wait.
Matthew’s narrative begins with a divorce (talk about God using messy situations). Mary was engaged to Joseph, which was much different than today’s modern engagement. Engagements in that day were more like being wed, but before the wedding had taken place. An engagement was not something readily broken – that’s why, as says, Joseph would need to divorce Mary even though he had not yet married her.
Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant prior to their marriage and knew that something had to be done. He was probably skeptical of her “I’m pregnant by the Holy Spirit” story, but he must have truly loved Mary. According to the Law in , Joseph had every legal right to have Mary put to death for her pregnancy, but because of his unwillingness to harm her, he decided divorce was the next best option. Joseph, who quickly disappears from the gospel narrative, is shown as a man of compassion and mercy.
Of course, God had a different plan for Joseph and Mary. He sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to confirm what Mary had told him about the nature of Jesus’ conception. Unbelievers sometimes consider the doctrine of the virgin birth as a scientifically impossible and ridiculous fairy tale. While the details of the virgin birth are shrouded in mystery and probably incomprehensible to us, this does not mean such an event could not occur – that is the definition of a miracle. The virgin birth is important because it shows us the origin of Jesus Christ. He was not a mortal man conceived of both man and woman and given a divine nature at a later point. Instead, he was always divine and came in a way that testifies to his immortality and divinity. Without the virgin birth, we lose the deity of Christ. As affirms, Jesus’ origin is from the Father – he is the Son of God.
One of the last things the angel says to Joseph is what he is to name the child. Names are important in the Bible because they carry significant meaning. The name “Jesus” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name “Joshua” which means “the Lord saves”. Matthew also connects Jesus’ incarnation with the prophecy of , which calls him “Immanuel” or “God with us”. These names give us insight for the reason and manner in which Jesus came. His purpose for his coming is to “save his people from their sins” (). The way in which he would fulfill this is by becoming “Immanuel” – “God with us” (). He came to earth to save us from sin!
In Jesus’ final words before he ascended into heaven, he said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). Jesus Christ truly became “God with us” by coming to this messy earth, in a messy family line, to save us from our messy lives. The comfort that we can have is that Christ is with us!