Summary: The skeletons in Jesus’ family tree demonstrate how Jesus would be the savior and redeemer of the world.
Several years ago I remember getting very interested in my family tree, my genealogy. I can’t remember why. Perhaps it was the old black and white pictures my grandfather showed us of our ancestors and their stories I never knew. What brought them from Germany to the U.S.? Did they come to here for opportunity or did they come to escape something? Or maybe I was interested because of the sense of connection of knowing where I came from, my roots if you will. I don’t know. But I remember I began to do some research. I purchased a genealogy program for the computer which keeps track of the family, and I started checking out my family tree. I came to find out my aunt had done extensive research on our family. So far we have traced back our family tree 6-7 generations, going back about 150 years. I thought that was pretty good, until I look at Biblical genealogies.
Take a look at Matthew’s account of Jesus’ family tree. It goes back over 28 generations, representing about 1600-1800 years. To the Jewish people (at least in Biblical times), genealogies were very significant. It was important to know where you came from, whose ancestry you followed, what tribe of Israel you descended from. As my own family tree demonstrates we have no concept of family history in our modernized Western world. It’s not important to us, I suspect, because of our independent spirit, we want to be our own person. In fact if you’re like I was, when I cracked open Matthew’s gospel I would skim right over the beginning of the first chapter, Jesus’ genealogy, because it seems like just another one of those boring genealogies in the Bible. So and so begat so and so, who begat so and so, the son of, the son of [pretend to fall asleep]. Come on, admit it, you thought it was boring too. But when I was in seminary one my professors pointed out how Matthew’s presentation of Jesus’ family tree is anything but boring. We discover there are a few skeletons in Jesus’ closet as far as his relations go. Jesus lineage is far from perfect. But rather than overlooking these, like we would, Matthew actually goes out of his way to point them out, because he is setting the stage for Jesus’ arrival into our world. These skeletons point us to the stories behind the birth of Jesus, which demonstrate who God is and why he was sending the Messiah into the world.
If we could all turn to Matthew chapter one as we look at the family tree of Jesus. We’re not going to read all of this but I will point out these oddities in his genealogy. First we read, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus is a child of Abraham and therefore part of God’s covenant promise as an Israelite. God’s promise to Abraham was that his descendents would have the Promised Land, and they would be a blessing to the world. Jesus is also a descendant of David, therefore qualifying him as the possible Messiah because the prophesies declared the Messiah would be a descendent of David and he would rule forever. That sets the stage.
Shortly into Jesus’ genealogy we see the first skeleton, “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah the father of Perez and Zerah whose mother was Tamar.” Wait a minute here, why is a woman mentioned in Jesus genealogy. If you look at Jewish genealogies in the OT women are not usually mentioned, but here we have Tamar. Matthew puts her name in there for a reason. He is trying call our attention to something.
You may not remember the story of Tamar so let me refresh your memory (Gen. 38). Judah had three sons, his oldest was Er, and Tamar became his wife but the Bible says the Lord put Er to death because he was wicked. So according to their custom, the next youngest brother’s responsibility was to marry and bear children with Tamar. Then the children she bore would actually be considered a child of her first husband to continue his line. Being married and having a child would also bring honor to Tamar because being childless was a great shame in their culture. But the next brother refused to do it because he knew the child wouldn’t be his. Because of his refusal, God put him to death. Then Judah pledged to give his youngest son to her when he grew up, but Judah never did it because Tamar was looking like a death sentence for his sons. Judah left Tamar in shame, unwanted, unmarried with no children. Fast forward several years and Judah’s wife died and during his time of grieving he went to town to shear sheep. Tamar meanwhile heard of this, dressed like a prostitute and went into town ahead of Judah and stood alongside the road. Judah propositioned her, and she ended up having two children from her father in law, Perez and Zerah. Perez ended up being in the lineage of Jesus.