Marvin Rosenthal, a Jewish convert to Christianity, said that Jesus’s genealogy as given in Matthew 1:1-17 was one of the proofs that persuaded him that Jesus is the Messiah. Coming from his experience as a US Marine who had to be accurate when it came to shooting at targets from long range, Rosenthal says for a Jewish audience, Matthew’s genealogy hits the bulls-eye 10 times out of 10!
Jews were always particular when it came to genealogies right from the time of the Old Testament—be it in the distribution of the land or in the assigning of priests or even when it came to kings. And since Matthew had made the monumental claim that Jesus is the Messiah and that he is “the son of David” and the “son of Abraham” [Matt 1:1], he needed to substantiate that claim as he called people to put their trust in Jesus. That’s why he gives Jesus’s genealogy all the way through David and up to Abraham. And being a tax-collector in his previous life, Matthew would be well qualified to list genealogies since that would have been part of his job in ensuring right amounts were collected based on family members.
However, for the majority of us non-Jews, genealogies in the Bible are not that very interesting even though it’s still a part of God’s inspired word and therefore profitable for us [2 Tim 3:16-17]. In this post, I hope to show that even this passage that is full of names is profitable for us because it describes the 4 barriers Jesus breaks when it comes to saving people. And that should motivate us to not only come to him in faith but also joyfully share about him with others.
It will be helpful to first read the entire passage and then look at the 4 barriers Jesus overcomes in order to save people.
1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, 7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, 8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, 9 Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud, 15 Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. [Matt 1:1-17]
1. Jesus the Savior breaks all RACIAL barriers.
The list contains not only Jewish names but also Gentile names. The first name, Tamar [Matt 1:3] who bore two sons Perez and Zerah, was non-Jewish, most likely a Canaanite woman. The second name Rahab [Matt 1:5] most likely the woman who gave refuge to the two Jewish spies [Josh 2:4] was also a Canaanite woman. The third name is Ruth [Matt 1:5], a woman from Moab. It is also likely that Bathsheba who is just described as “Uriah’s wife” [Matt 1:6] was a Hittite or at least embraced Hittite customs since she married Uriah who was a Hittite before becoming David’s wife.
As one can see, Jesus by coming through a line that even included non-Jewish people reminds us that in him all racial barriers are broken. He is the Savior of people from all backgrounds. It doesn’t matter what one’s skin color is, where one was born, Jesus welcomes them into his family.
2. Jesus the Savior breaks all GENDER barriers.
A second barrier that Jesus breaks is the gender barrier. Listing women in genealogy is unusual. Yet, 5 women are listed in this passage—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary among which 3 are of very questionable background [Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba]. In a time when women could not even testify in a court, Jesus elevated them. It was to a Samaritan woman that Jesus first revealed he was the Messiah [John 4]—not to the elite in Jerusalem. It was to a woman—Mary Magdalene—not the 11 apostles—that Jesus first appeared after his death [John 20:16-18]!
In Jesus the Savior, all gender barriers are broken. Spiritually we are all equal in Christ even though functionally there are distinct roles. Both men and women are welcome in his kingdom.
3. Jesus the Savior breaks all SOCIAL barriers.
This list includes kings, shepherds, carpenters, and other unknown names. In fact, 11 of Jesus’s 12 apostles were from Galilee—meaning they were not highly educated—fishermen, tax collectors and rebels. Yet, all were used by him to shake the world. First-century church was mostly believers from a low social status—slaves [1 Cor 1:26-31]. God not only had saved them, but also used them mightily in the expansion of the gospel. In other words, Jesus the Savior is not just for the elite of the society; he is for all people. In him, all social barriers are broken.
4. Jesus the Savior breaks all SIN barriers.
Of all the barriers that Jesus breaks, this is the biggest! Sin is the cause of all our misery. Sin is the cause of death. That’s how devastating sin is. And yet, through this genealogy of Jesus, Matthew shows to us that Jesus even breaks the sin barrier. How so? Let’s take a brief look at some of the names in Jesus’s family tree—especially their negative traits.
Abraham—guilty of lying on more than one occasion;
Isaac—guilty of choosing Esau over Jacob in order to give the firstborn blessing despite God choosing Jacob because of his love for food;
Jacob—guilty of being a deceiver and a liar;
Judah—guilty of coming up with the plan to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites and also marrying a Canaanite woman and later having sexual relations with who he thought was a prostitute;
Tamar—the daughter-in-law of Judah—guilty of pretending to be a prostitute and slept with him;
Rahab—guilty of prostitution;
David—the greatest king of Israel—yet guilty of adultery and murder;
Solomon—guilty of polygamy, idolatry, and worldly pleasure;
Rehoboam—guilty of pride and wickedness;
Ahaz—guilty of gross idolatry including offering human sacrifice.
The list goes on. But, guess who gets the ultimate prize for wickedness in this list? It’s Manasseh, the father of Hezekiah. 2 Kings 19:10 says this of Manasseh, “He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols.” 2 Chronicles 33 gives more details of his wickedness which included even evils such as this, “He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger” [2 Chr 33:6].
Shocking, isn’t it? The list includes rank sinners and the best of godly men like Abraham who was even willing to offer his own son Isaac as a sacrifice [Gen 22]. However, this list also shows even the best of humans like Abraham or David were still human at best! Just a bunch of sinners—both ordinary and extraordinary in terms of their sin. Talk about a closet full of skeletons! Liars, schemers, prostitutes, adulterers, murderers, idolaters, and so forth. The combination of people put together could play a major role in Clint Eastwood’s old and famous movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Included in the list are some names that can be at the top of the list in the Hall of Shame and some that could top the list in the Hall of Faith.
Yet, all found grace upon repenting. A good example is the wicked king Manasseh. 2 Chronicles 33:12-13 says, “12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.” And he too—despite his very great sins—received God’s forgiving grace when he “humbled himself greatly.”
Matthew by listing these names shows us that God in his infinite grace sent Jesus as the Savior to break forth all barriers including the biggest one—SIN when it comes to saving people who come to him in humility.
An old Indian, after living many years in sin, was led to Christ by a missionary. Friends asked him to explain the change in his life. Reaching down, he picked up a little worm and placed it on a pile of leaves. Then, touching a match to the leaves, he watched them smolder and burst into flames. As the flames worked their way up to the center where the worm lay, the old chief suddenly plunged his hand into the center of the burning pile and snatched out the worm. Holding the worm gently in his hand, he gave this testimony to the grace of God: “Me. . . that worm.”
So, I hope by now you can see that even a list of names present in the Bible is profitable for us. This passages clearly shows that Jesus indeed breaks all barriers. No matter the race, the gender, the social status or how much one has sinned, Jesus can overcome all those barriers by forgiving people of their sins and giving them new life.
Jesus is indeed THE friend of sinners and outcasts. Not at all ashamed to be associated with them. He came to seek and to save messed up people. There is no sin so bad that can stop Jesus from accepting those who acknowledge their guilt and come to him in true repentance and faith. He welcomes all who will accept him as their King. That should motivate one to come to the Christ.
This includes you—dear reader—if you have not yet come to Christ! Don’t fear. Don’t doubt. Come to him and experience the new life he can offer you. Give your sins, sorrows, heartaches to him. He will heal you. He will help you through the rest of your earthly journey—even through all its challenges. It’s never too soon to come to him. For you never know how soon it will be too late to come to him! Life is very transient. Don’t delay. Come to him today!
And for those who have experienced the saving power of Jesus, these truths should compel us to persevere in our obedience to his commands which includes faithfully sharing this good news about Jesus to those who need to hear it. After all, it is only right that we owe all our allegiance to him who has saved us from an eternity of suffering.
Dr. H. A. Ironside in his book In the Heavenlies (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeau Bros., Inc.) tells the story of an attempted assassination of the first Queen Elizabeth of England. The woman who sought to do so dressed as a male page and secreted herself in the queen’s boudoir, awaiting the convenient moment to stab the queen to death. She did not realize that the queen’s attendants would be very careful to search the rooms before Her Majesty was permitted to retire. They found the woman hidden there among the gowns and brought her into the presence of the queen, after confiscating the poniard that she had hoped to plant into the heart of the sovereign.
The would-be assassin realized that her case, humanly speaking, was hopeless. She threw herself down on her knees and pleaded and begged the queen as a woman to have compassion on her, a woman, and to show her grace. Queen Elizabeth looked at her coldly and quietly said, “If I show you grace, what promise will you make for the future.” The woman looked up and said, “Grace that hath conditions, grace that is fettered by precautions, is not grace at all.” Queen Elizabeth caught the idea in a moment and said, “You are right; I pardon you of my grace.” And they led her away, a free woman.
History tells us that from that moment Queen Elizabeth had no more faithful, devoted servant than that woman who had intended to take her life. That is precisely the way the grace of God works in the life of an individual—he or she becomes a faithful servant of God.
May we strive to be faithful servants of King Jesus who by his amazing grace has given us new life!