Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Genealogies of the Gospels

Genealogies are lists of ancestors or descendants of someone who is important to the story of the Bible. Many find them to be boring lists of obscure and unpronounceable names. Some may even react like the man who read the manual for his personal computer and said he would rather read Leviticus. After all, Paul condemns false teachers who devoted themselves to myths and endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:3–4). So why bother?

The answer is that those genealogies strengthen our faith by showing us the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His promises. The Jewish people had a sinful preoccupation with their natural descent which John the Baptist condemned when he declared, “For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8). Nevertheless, the dozens of genealogies in the Old Testament are important in showing how the blessings and curses of God upon specific tribes were fulfilled. Also, when David brought the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem after failing in his first attempt, and when Nehemiah restored the worship at the time of the second Temple, they needed the genealogies to accurately determine the priests and Levites who could properly minister.

But nowhere does the real value of genealogies become more clear than in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Luke traces the ancestry of Jesus back to Adam because he is presenting our Lord as the perfect man, the Last Adam who saves His people from their sins by keeping the covenant that the first Adam broke.

Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry back to David and Abraham. Through this we know that God has kept His promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. His promise to David was that his seed would sit upon the Davidic throne forever. This is astonishing when we think of all the centuries that passed and how dismal the prospects often appeared. After all, when God rejected Abraham’s only son, Ishmael, as heir of the covenant, Isaac was not yet born. And when he was born, Abraham was 99, and was later commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac. If God had not intervened, humanly speaking, the promise would have ended right there. God’s promise to David was also close to extinction. The wicked Athaliah, daughter of Ahab, king of Israel, became queen of Judah. When her son Ahaziah was killed she set out in jealous fury to destroy the house of David. Ahaziah’s sister, Jehosheba, rescued little Joash, the last heir to the throne, and so preserved the line of David (2 Kings 11:1–3). Uzziah was the grandson of Joash and he appears in Matthew’s genealogy. Thus there is opened to us an exciting view of history. We might call it the perils of the promise. And in the end we see that God in His sovereign mercy and power has kept His promise to send a Savior. The seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the seed of David has come. The oath is kept, the Word is sure, our redemption is here. Genealogies, then, are witnesses to the covenant faithfulness of God to His people.