As Westerners, the opening of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew can come off to us as rather boring. Matthew’s original audience would have been more excited to read a long list of names, but for most of us, reading through a genealogy with many names that we would not even attempt to pronounce is quite dull.
While we may not think much about genealogies, the Jews of the world into which Jesus was born would have found them to be more than just mere curiosities. Genealogies provided proof of one’s heritage in order to take part in temple worship. This becomes vitally important when looking at the genealogy of Jesus. These opening verses in Matthew show us that Jesus is the rightful King of Israel. Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with David that his throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16-17).
While you and I may not find this genealogy that exciting, I do believe there is much here that is instructive and helpful. John MacArthur, in his New Testament Commentary, on Matthew writes:
“A careful look at the descendants both of Abraham and of David (vv. 2–16) reveals people who were often characterized by unfaithfulness, immorality, idolatry, and apostasy. But God’s dealing with them was always characterized by grace. Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, was sent to overcome the failures of both those men and of all their descendants, and to accomplish what they could never have accomplished. The King of grace came through the line of two sinful men.”
As you read this list of names, there are no heroes here. Each name is stained by sin. No king or ruler on this list is perfect. No ruler is worthy of his kingdom. Not one of these kings is fit to lead his people. Not one served his people and looked out for their best interests. This is a list of names filled with the defiant, wicked, and unfaithful. Before we become too critical, we must also recognize that we are also defiant, idolatrous, wicked, and unfaithful. Our names could also be among the names in the opening pages of the New Testament.
It seems that this genealogy is not boring, but is rather bleak. That is until we get to v. 18, “The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way.” This is great news! Jesus has come into the world. He is the true and rightful king, whose life is not stained by sin. He is the perfect savior that we all need. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (21) This is why the shepherds and Maji were so joyful when they found Jesus because he is the only one who can save his people. Christmas is the time we celebrate the only one who can rescue those that are stained with sin.