Two writers start their stories of Jesus’ life by giving his life line, who fathered who way back to the start. This is not unusual in biographies. What is unusual is that these two writers do not tell the same story. Their records are not the same. Matthew’s list starts at Abraham and Luke’s starts at Adam. This is not a problem, the problem enters in after King David. Matthew lists 26 generations between David and Jesus and Luke lists 40. Not only are the numbers different but of course the names are not all the same. What does this do to us who view the Bible as infallible fact. How can Jesus have two histories, isn’t history?
Well yes but what do you mean when you say history? The Jews didn’t look at a person’s history the way we do. They were not trying to be a Dept. of Vital Statistics. Their purpose was not to record all facts but all facts important to their purpose for writing. This is why it is important to understand some ancient Bible culture and how the books of the Bible were written. Also there are language problems. The word “begat” may mean “the immediate father of” or it may just mean “the descendant of” as in a grandson being the descendant of a grandfather. The use of words may confuse the list. Also it is clear from other genealogies in the Bible that Matthew left some generations out apparently intentionally. Even so why the very great difference in Matthew and Luke’s lists?
The answer lies in the purposes of the writers. If the writers were not looking for “just the facts” what were they trying to say?
The answer is probably that Matthew and Luke were focusing on different aspects of Jesus’ lineage. Matthew is very concerned to show the Kingship of Jesus. Matthew is writing to Jews and he is concerned to prove to them that Jesus is the Messiah. This means showing Jesus as a descendant of Abraham and following his royal line and legal entitlement to claim the lineage of King David. This means that Matthew will follow Jesus from his father Joseph backwards, tracing Joseph’s bloodline.
Luke on the other hand seeks to emphasize Jesus’ humanity and connection with mankind. Luke was writing to a Gentile. This is why he traces Jesus back to the first man Adam and why he traces Jesus through his natural mother Mary. Luke is saying that Yes, Jesus is God but he is also a human being and here is the proof all the way back to the first human -no argument. For Luke Mary is very important and it fits with his book that he would trace Jesus through her. Since it was Jewish custom not to mention a woman in the genealogies other than parenthetically Luke lets Joseph stand for Mary as Jesus’ parent.
It is interesting that both writers chose to emphasize one of the two sides of the miracle we call Jesus. Was Jesus God? Yes here is the proof of his Kingship and all that was prophesied about the Messiah. Was Jesus fully human? Yes here is his ancestry, right back to the first man Adam. Two truths, two stories.
But the question arises, “Well, if these writers were not looking just for vital statistics and if they left some ancestors out then they must have had some reason for putting in the ones they mentioned.” Why do they mention some and not others, there must be a message for us here. And there is. Lets look at the ancestors of Jesus and ask the question, “What is God trying to tell us?”
Matthew starts with Abraham. Here is a great ancestor. A man who believes God when God says he will have a son at the age of approx. 100. He receives this miracle child [a prophetic representation of the birth of Jesus] and God later asks him to be willing to kill the child in obedience to God’s plan [a prophetic representation of the willingness of God to let Jesus die for us]. This is the kind of obedience that we would expect to find in Jesus’ bloodline. Good stock. The next character of note is Jacob.
Jacob means “he deceives”. This is a fitting name for someone who lies and tricks his father to get his older brother’s blessing. Jacob was a liar and a cheat. He also got what he gave. His father in law tricked him into marrying the wrong daughter and it cost Jacob 7 years of hard work before he got the girl he loved. Jacob would go to any length to get what he wanted. One night an angel appeared to him and they fought. Jacob would not let him go until the angel blessed him. Jacob clung to God until God blessed him. Not a perfect man but one who persists.
Jacob had a son named Judah who is also named as one of Jesus’ ancestors. He had a son named Er [a wicked man] who married a girl named Tamar [who became Judah’s daughter-in-law]. God killed Er because of his wickedness and Tamar went to live with her father-in-law’s family as a widow. After Judah’s wife died Tamar disguised herself as a veiled prostitute and Judah slept with her and she became pregnant with a boy named Perez who is another of Jesus’ ancestors. Perez the child of prostitution, incest, and deceit.
Another ancestor was a man named Boaz. He was a good man. His mother was Rahab the prostitute of Jericho. She was not a Jew she was an enemy of the Jews. So Boaz was the son of a pagan prostitute. He married a non Jewish woman named Ruth. He did this to save her because she was widow of a relative. He was what they called back then a kinsman-redeemer. This is one who buys back the lives and property of someone who has lost everything and has no one to protect them. Ruth had a son for Boaz named Obed who was the father of Jesse who was the father of King David.
Finally, here is someone we would expect to have as Jesus’ ancestor. The greatest King Israel ever knew. A great warrior. The man to found a dynasty which would go on forever. A man worthy to be the ancestor of Jesus. So what was he like? Well he was a shepherd, then he was a servant who was abused by the King [Saul], then he was a criminal [an outlaw], then he hid in caves and ran away alot. Then finally he became King, then he lusted after his best friend’s wife, then he committed adultery with her, then when she got pregnant he became afraid of being found out so he tried to trick his friend into sleeping with her so he would think the child was his, then when that didn’t work he had his friend killed so he could keep his wife. Great King David who was a great worshipper, a great worship song writer was a deceiving, adultering, murderer.
David had a son by this woman he killed for, his name was Solomon. He was a great king. The wisest man who ever lived. After Solomon there were a chain of kings all ancestors of Jesus some very good and some very bad. There was Jehoram who led Israel into the pagan ways of Ahab and Jezebel. There was Ahaz who refused to listen to God’s prophet Isaiah and who sold the nation of Israel into slavery. A man who burned his own son to death as an offering to demonic pagan gods. A man who practised magic. There was Hezekiah Ahaz’ son who cleaned up the country and turned back to God. There was Manasseh another descendant who led Israel back to idolatry. There was Josiah who listened to Jeremiah and returned the country to God. Back and forth the pattern goes, some very good some very bad.
So what can we say about Jesus’ ancestors? What can we say about Jesus? He is the offspring of adultery, deceit, prostitution, and murder. The people he chose to come through are among the worst types of people the world has ever seen. Not much different than Saddam Hussien -if at all. Others were as Godly and good as any the world has every seen. Not much different than Mother Teressa. So what does this say to us. The same people that Jesus came through are the people he comes to. The gospel writers are saying that the people Jesus came to die for are the same kind of people he chose to come through. Who does Jesus identify with? The powerful, the successful, the wise, the beautiful? Who does he choose to have as his ancestors? The ones Jesus identifies with are people like you only mostly worse.
You keep asking the question, “Can Jesus really love me? Will God really use someone like me?” The answer to that question is in Jesus’ genealogy. Look who he chose to come through! Do you really think he has changed his mind as to what kind of people he chooses to come through to the world today? God is the father God of the poor, the oppressed, the lonely, the sinner who knows his need to be forgiven. Jesus even came right out and said it, MAR 2:17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” So Jesus came for people like us.
But his genealogy tells us something else; there are people who overcame their sin and brokenness, who he changed. People who represent all that humans can be because of having Jesus come through them, live in them. Boaz the kinsman-redeemer who rescues those who are hopeless. Ruth the pagan widow who cares for her destitute mother and becomes one of the mothers of Israel. Sons of evil men who turned to God and turned the whole nation with them. Prostitutes who live new lives. Changed people! And this is the point; God comes to people like us as we are and accepts us but he also offers hope and his promise to change us.