History is our recorded past, and each of us has a history. That history can be broadened to include movements, communities, nations, and even to include the entire world. But we also have our own, more personal histories as well. The people that we come from, our genealogies, and the events that surround those people contribute to the make up of our personal pasts.
This week I’m tasked with researching the ancestry of a very famous person, namely Jesus. In the first chapter of the first book of the New Testament we find a family history of Christ. Now, to many, this text in Matthew is a fly-over chapter, so to speak. "It's just a boring list of names," you may say. I get it; I have been there. But as I’ve been looking into the individual names and stories of those names, it is hard not to marvel at the great meaning of this chapter in Matthew’s Gospel.
Let me give you just a little taste before I go back to my studies. Matthew starts with three familiar names: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The fourth name in the list is Judah. At this point we should pause to ask a question. Why is Judah listed when Reuben was the oldest? Judah wasn’t even the second oldest of the twelve sons of Jacob. There were three brothers older than Judah. Yet, the reason for Matthew’s choice is clear; Jacob, by God’s choice, had chosen Judah as the heir to the messianic promise (Gen. 49:8ff). Judah and his sons, not Reuben's, would carry on the line of promise leading to the messiah.
But before we think that Judah was chosen because of his moral purity, Matthew gives us this particular piece of information about Judah: “the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar.” In case you’ve forgotten, Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. Now to be fair to Judah, he was under the impression that he was sleeping with some random prostitute, not his daughter-in-law Tamar (Gen. 38). Not much of a defense of his character you say? Perhaps. And yet, this wicked act of incest and adultery is only one example of many less than pure aspects of Jesus’ family tree.
So, if you think that your family history is bad, I’m sure that Jesus can relate. But remember that Paul tells us why Jesus came into the world; "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). No matter what you or any family member has done, the Lord Jesus likely has family members who have done the same. He came for people like you and like me; the godly died for the ungodly. He came to bring forgiveness, to bring newness of life, and to bring a way of reconciliation with God to even the most vile of sinners.
For further reading on why Jesus died check out Christ Crucified by Donald Macleod.