Though genealogies in the Bible strike us as boring, the family tree of Jesus holds a lot of surprises for us. In Jesus, we see God’s faithfulness from generation to generation and a God who shows up often in scandalous situations.

Click here to read the passage of Matthew 1:1-25


I grew up in rural Mississippi on three acres of land with a brook on the east side which was adjacent to the family farmland, which at its height was about 600 acres. A few years ago I asked my dad’s last living sibling how our family ended up on that land and how it grew over the decades. These are questions I wish I could’ve asked my dad and mom, but my uncle came through, which I appreciated.

He asked me, “Did you ever wonder why our family only bought lumber from that one company in town? Well, the owner of that business gave your great-granddad a loan of $1,500 so he could start over again after he received a pardon from the governor and was released from the state penitentiary. Your great-grandad felt loyalty to that businessman for the rest of his life and that is why we buy lumber there.”

Over time through his hard work, entrepreneurial bent, and trade savvy, he turned 40 acres to 80 then to 200 then to 400 and then 600. So much changed over 4 generations. As the proverb goes, one generation planted the tree and I got to rest in its shade.

My uncle told me the story of how my great-granddad ended up in prison and why he was released. My dad’s dad was about 8 years old when he father was incarcerated. Since women did not normally work outside the home then, they were incredibly poor and depended on relatives to survive. They had many tough years as a family and this deeply impacted my grandfather’s view of family, work, and opportunity.

In our teenage and young adult years, we may think the story is only about us, that we are these free agents acting in the world uninfluenced by events and choices of the past, but that is just not so. These stories and these lives have a push and pull on us and they affect our choices, perspectives, and values and we are often unaware of it. I had no idea my family and my life were shaped by that story.

I am thankful that my great-grandfather got another chance and that his life changed for the better.

The Promise to Abraham is Fulfilled in Jesus

The story of the Bible is a story of one family and how God keeps covenant with that family from generation to generation, despite their sins, willful disobedience, and ignorance. That family to whom God shows favor and grace is the family of Abraham.

Therefore, it should not necessarily surprise us that Matthew, who is writing to a Jewish audience, would begin his gospel in a way that connects the story of Christ to God’s faithfulness to Abraham. Matthew is saying that the promise to Abraham is fulfilled through Jesus.

Jesus’ Family Tree Has Colorful Leaves

Though we might expect the Messiah to come from a family line of upright people who are impressive moral examples that’s not the case.

There’s something interesting in Jesus’ genealogy. Genealogies typically had only males – father, son, father, son.  However, in Jesus’ family line we have women listed. We have Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and Bathsheba, notice, she is called “the wife of Uriah,” which is pointing out the scandal and abuse of David.

Not only are they women but they are Gentiles in the story of the Messiah. Let’s say that their relationship with the Jewish men would be good for the gossip columns.

Tamar dressed like a sex worker and slept with and then bore a child to her father-in-law. Rahab, was a hero in Jericho and helped God’s people, and she was also a sex worker.

Ruth is the great-grandmother of David and she was a Moabite woman—different culture, different religion. That same King David had one of his military leaders killed in order to cover up the fact that he abused his power as king and slept with and impregnated one of his soldiers’ wives, Bathsheba.

Murder, wrongdoing, worshipping other gods, abuse of power, immoral and confusing choices. We would not necessarily think this would be the family tree of the Messiah. But every family has spotted leaves on the family tree. The Messiah’s family tree is no different than your own.

Faithfulness Even though the Leaves are Fallen

What do we make of this? We see a God who is active in the lives of individuals and families who are profoundly broken.

These are his people. The good news: “for he will save his people from their sins.’

It makes sense then, that when Matthew considers the full story of the family tree, he writes about a Messiah who is at home among people who are ruined, who make mistakes, who repeat the sins of their fathers and mothers.

Matthew sees a Messiah who blesses those who have been humbled by circumstance. He shows love to those who are hated because they are foreigners. He shows faithfulness to those who want to see the storyline of God move in the arc of restoration and reconciliation because they have made such a foul mess of everything. He is close to those who raise others’ eyebrows.

Matthew writes of a God who is active in the life of the Messiah, who does not call the righteous but calls the sinners and the mess-ups. Matthew writes about a God who breaks through often in scandalous situations.

The Fallen Leaves and the True Vine

The birth of the Messiah is no exception. The fiancé of the Messiah believes Mary did something improper—breaking the covenant in their engagement. He is corrected by an angel and shows great faithfulness and trust in God—believing that even God could do such a thing in his family. You can read about Joseph’s faithfulness here.

This is not the storyline we’d expect when God and humanity are united in one person.

From Abraham to Isaac and then to Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, Naomi, Gideon, Samuel, David, Solomon, and so many others, we see that even despite our weird and wild stories, God’s will for you and this world will be done.

We see that salvation is indeed a gift and is not based on the purity of our family, the purity of our religion, or the purity of our own choices. Often in spite of these, God keeps the covenant.

The beautiful, scandalous truth is that holiness is not always pristine. Actually, faith is often messy.

So, we can confess that we need a Savior who is the true vine in whom we abide if we are to bear fruit and grow in our maturity and our faith. We all are spotted leaves on the great family tree. We are the people Christ came to save.

We respond with gratitude because God’s faithfulness is generation to generation.

To those who are a mess, we rejoice in our Messiah. To those of us who have lived scandalous nights and worrisome days, God is faithful and never writes us out of the story. Instead, through Christ, we are written into the worldwide story of Jesus and included in the family of God.


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