The Forgotten Family Tree

Matthew 1:1-17

December 5, 2004 | Brian Bill

The manager of a large office noticed a new employee and asked, “What’s your name?”  The worker replied, “John.”  The manager scowled and said, “Look, I don’t know where you worked before, but I don’t call anyone by their first name.  It breeds familiarity and that leads to a breakdown in authority.  I refer to my employees by their last name only…Smith, Jones, Baker…you got it?  I’m to be referred to as Mr. Robertson.  Now that we’ve got that straightened out, what’s your last name?”  The new guy sighed, “Darling.  My name is John Darling.”  To which the boss replied, “It’s nice to meet you, John.”

We’re beginning a series today called, “Names of the Nativity.”  This morning we’re going to look at a list in Matthew 1 that contains over 40 names, some who were “darlings” and many others who were “disasters”; next week we’ll focus on a nameless man from Luke 2 who had no room; two weeks from today we’ll journey to Isaiah 9 to study the numerous names given to the Messiah; and then we’ll conclude in Philippians 2 on Christmas Eve by celebrating the name that is above every name.

While some people, like the Krank’s want to skip Christmas, many of us are tempted to skip at least part of the Christmas story each year.  When we come to the very first book of the New Testament, Matthew begins with a long list of hard-to-pronounce names.  You would think he would begin the exciting news of Immanuel’s birth with more of a bang.  It’s like the man who was asked to write a review of the phone book.  This was his summary: “Great cast of characters.  Weak plot.”  That’s a bit how Matthew 1 sounds to many of us.

Why would he begin the most important story in the history of the world like this?  This is probably the least read section of the New Testament because it seems devotionally dry and maybe even boring.  How many of you have skipped over this list before or just skimmed right past it?  You’re not alone.  The names in this passage make up Jesus’ family tree.  Actually, we could say that this is the very first “Christmas Tree.”  Please turn to the beginning of the Book of Matthew so you can follow along and see how badly I mess up these names.  

“A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: 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, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.  David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.  After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 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 Christ.”  

Before we jump into this section of Scripture, let’s remind ourselves that there is great benefit in studying every part of the Bible.  Even though this passage is piled up with people who are long gone, it’s important to come to grips with this genealogy.  2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  

Each gospel writer approaches the ministry of the Messiah differently.  Mark’s moving gospel jumps right in to the action, starting with the story of John the Baptist.  John’s take is to trace the origins of Jesus all the way back to eternity as he describes how the infinite became an infant.  Luke starts with John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus, and then in chapter 3 he gives a genealogy that goes backwards from Joseph all the way to Adam.  Matthew’s manner is to start with the forgotten family tree of Jesus, emphasizing his human heredity in verses 1-17 and his holy heritage in verses 18-25

Genealogy Observations

In order to help us gain the most we can from this genealogy, let me make a few observations.

  • Genealogies were records of family history and were often memorized because ancient people did not have access to written records.  Even today it is not uncommon for a Bedouin Arab to be able to recite a list of ancestors from memory for an hour without any mistakes.
  • The Bible contains numerous lineage lists.  The Book of Genesis alone has nine different genealogies; 1 Chronicles has 17 chapters devoted to family trees; Ezra and Nehemiah record the names of people nine different times.  
  • Genealogies were used to decide inheritance rights, to make land allotments, and to organize censuses.  That’s why Luke 2:3 says that “everyone went to his own town to register.”  Joseph traced his heritage from David and his family was from Bethlehem, the city of David.  The only way to be sure of your ancestral hometown was to know your genealogy.
  • Priests were determined by genealogy.  They had to be from the tribe of Levi and the house of Aaron (see Nehemiah 7:64).
  • Royal succession and the credentials of the Messiah are linked to King David’s lineage (see 1 Kings 11:36).
  • Genealogies are important but we must be careful about getting too caught up in them (see Titus 3:9).  Their main purpose is to establish broad lines of descent without filling in all the details.  The ultimate issue is Christology, not chronology.

The lineage of Jesus is essential to establish because His enemies enjoyed making disparaging remarks about Him.  Matthew 13:54-56: “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked.  ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?  Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?  Aren’t all his sisters with us?  Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at him.”  They were trying to discredit Him.  In John 8:41, they even implied that He was an illegitimate child.  His enemies give Matthew an open door when they asked in John 7:42: “Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Exactly.

That leads us to Matthew 1:1: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew makes four powerful points right away.

  • His name is Jesus.  This name means “the savior” and is explained more fully by the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream in Matthew 1:21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This literally means, “He will certainly save.”
  • His title is Christ.  This means that He was the “anointed one,” the one qualified for the task of saving sinners.  In Hebrew, the word is “Messiah.”  Jesus is the one everyone was waiting for, and He claimed this title for Himself in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”
  • He is the Son of David.  Interestingly, David is listed before Abraham, even though Abraham came first in history.  In fact, David’s name is mentioned five times in this genealogy.  Why is that?  Because Matthew is establishing that first and foremost, Jesus Christ is a direct descendant of David and therefore qualified to be the eternal king.  In Matthew 22:41, Jesus asked His enemies a question so that they would state clearly what was becoming very evident: “What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?’  ‘The son of David,’ they replied.”  We see this promise of a forever kingdom in 2 Samuel 7:16: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” Jesus Christ is the supreme sovereign in the line of David.  Isaiah spoke about Him in Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”  Jesse was the father of David and that family tree would eventually be cut down, but a shoot, Jesus Christ, would come up and bear fruit.  Jesus is the biggest branch in God’s family tree.  This is reflected in Matthew’s genealogy as he divides the Lord’s lineage into three sections in verse 17.  The first section speaks of the domination of David’s kingdom; the second about its decline; and the third about it’s demise.
  • He is the Son of Abraham.  That means that Jesus was Jewish, and like Abraham, who surrendered all, He is the supreme servant.  Abraham was promised that through his bloodline would come forth someone who would bless all nations in Genesis 22:18: “And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” The lineage of the Lord is traced back to Abraham and at the same time, Jesus said in John 8:58 that He is eternal: “Before Abraham was born, I am!” He is fully God and fully man.  Galatians 3:16 makes it clear that the offspring of Abraham was Jesus: “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.  The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.”

Who God Uses

As we look at the forgotten family tree, I see three types of people hanging from the branches – the faithful, the failures, and the forgotten.

1. God uses the faithful. 

As we glance at this genealogy, there are at least ten names that stand out.

  • Abraham.  Hebrews 11:17: “By faith Abraham , when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.”
  • Isaac.  Hebrews 11:20: “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.”
  • JacobHebrews 11:21: “By faith Jacob , when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” 
  • Ruth.  Ruth 1:16: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
  • David.  1 Samuel 13:14: “The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart…”
  • Solomon.  1 Kings 3:12: “I will do what you have asked.  I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.”
  • Asa.  1 Kings 15:11: “Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done.”
  • Jehoshaphat.  2 Chronicles 17:3: “The LORD was with Jehoshaphat because in his early years he walked in the ways his father David had followed.”
  • Josiah.  2 Kings 23:25: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did-with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” 
  • Hezekiah.  2 Kings 18:5: “Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel.”

God has always searched for devoted people to do His work as 2 Chronicles 16:9 states: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” God loves to use faithful people but if you look close enough, you will see that none of these individuals were perfect.  In fact, some were greatly flawed.  Abraham lied (Genesis 12:13), Jacob was a deceiver (Genesis 27:36), David committed adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11:3-21), Solomon slacked off spiritually (1 Kings 11:3-4), Asa bailed on God at the end of his life (2 Chronicles 16:12) and even Hezekiah became proud and was judged by God (2 Chronicles 32:25).  Here’s the lesson: Even the “good” need God’s grace.  Actually, the Bible declares that no one is good or fully faithful.  Romans 3:12: “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”   

2. God uses failures. 

As we continue to look at this family tree, I’m reminded of a statement: “Families are like fudge.  Mostly sweet with a few nuts.”  Matthew makes no effort to spruce up this tree.  He’s not hiding the sorry spots or the twisted twigs.  Most genealogists skipped over the scoundrels and focused just on the saints.  Only the good guys made most lists, and if they had a bad reputation, the historian would often try to clean them up.  

I recently heard about a very prominent family who commissioned a professional biographer to record their family tree.  They gave him very careful instructions, and cautioned him to deal carefully with a certain Uncle George, who in a drunken stupor, had committed murder and was subsequently sent to the electric chair.  The biographer assured them that he could handle it.  This is what he wrote:

“Uncle George occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution.  He was attached to his position by the strongest of ties, and his death came as a real shock.”

There are names in the lineage of the Lord that are shocking, and what some of them did can make us blush.  Matthew’s genealogy is filled with “Uncle Georges,” but he makes no attempt at disguises.  We don’t have time to go through all the bad apples and loose nuts in the tree, so I’ll pick just a few.

  • Judah.  Jacob had 12 sons, but for some reason, the lineage of the Lord ran through Judah.  This is very interesting because he wasn’t the oldest like Reuben was, nor was he necessarily the favorite son – that would have been Joseph or Benjamin.  Genesis 49:10 states that the ruler would come out of Judah: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.”  This is traced all the way to the end of the Bible as well in Revelation 5:5: “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” At the climax of history in heaven, Judah’s offspring is the only one that was found worthy.

Judah must have been a godly guy, right?  Actually he wasn’t.  In another largely ignored section of Scripture, Genesis 38 describes his depravity.  His first step down the slippery slope of sin happened when he married a Canaanite woman.  Their children become spiritually schizophrenic and the older one is so wicked that the Lord takes his life.  This son was married to a woman named Tamar, leaving her a widow and without children.  According to their customs (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), his brother was to marry the widow and give her children but he refused, so the Lord took his life as well.  Judah promised his third son to Tamar but he procrastinated.  Tamar realized that this wedding was never going to happen so she took things into her own hands.

The story goes from bad to worse at this point.  She hears that her father-in-law Judah is going to take a trip so she comes up with a wicked plan.  She decided to disguise herself as a prostitute and waited alongside the road.  Judah, not knowing it was her, offered to pay her a young goat for her services, and gave her a deposit before the goat could be delivered – his signet ring, a cord, and his shepherd’s staff, which is the ancient equivalent of a Driver’s License today.  Tamar becomes pregnant with twins and when Judah finds out, he is ready to burn her in the fire because of the disgrace she has caused his family.  As she was dragged away to be killed, and the flames crackled in the background, she calmly identified the father of the twins by holding up Judah’s personal property.  Judah is humiliated and admits in verse 26: “She is more righteous than I.”

Through the broken, God breaks through!

If there was a tale like this in your family tree, wouldn’t you want to avoid it?  This seamy story is in the Bible to help us see that God uses failures.  The genealogy of Jesus not only goes through Judah and Tamar, but also travels through Perez, the child of incest.  Listen.  Through the broken, God breaks through!  Through the twisted twig of Tamar, God’s grace continues to grow.

  • Rahab. Drop down to verse 5: “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.”   Most everyone has heard of Rahab the prostitute, who provided protection to the Hebrew spies in Jericho.  Her most famous deed is the telling of a lie.  Rahab is mentioned eight times in Scripture, and six of those times, she’s referred to as “Rahab the prostitute.”  Because of her faith, she is listed in Hebrews 11:31.  Amazingly the Redeemer comes through Rahab as well.
  • Bathsheba.  She is not mentioned by name in this genealogy, but is called, “Uriah’s wife” in verse 6.  She is the woman David committed adultery with.  She may have purposely enticed him by bathing in an open courtyard.  The son of their illicit union dies.  Eventually David marries Bathsheba and they have another son named Solomon.  The family tree of Jesus has Bathsheba as one of its branches.  As someone has said, “We’re reminded again that God’s plan of redemption came neither through perfect people, nor for perfect people.”
  • Rehoboam.  This king, listed in verse 7, was the son of Solomon, who because of his love of pride and lust for power, was responsible for the dividing of the kingdom (1 Kings 12:19).  And yet, the Redeemer comes through Rehoboam.
  • Ahaz.  Verse 9 mentions ungodly Ahaz, who worshipped pagan gods and eventually self-destructed.  It was to King Ahaz that Isaiah initially made his prophecy of the promised Immanuel that would be born to a virgin (see Isaiah 7:14).  When he died he was buried without honor.  Immanuel traces his earthly origin back to Ahaz.
  • Manasseh.  This king in verse 10 reigned 55 years, longer than any other, but was Judah’s most wicked ruler.  He was into idolatry, sacrificed his own son to the pagan god Molech, worshipped the sun and stars, and killed anyone who disagreed with him.  2 Kings 21:9 gives a stunningly sad summary of his life: “Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.”  Thankfully, after being deported to Babylon, he humbled himself and returned to the Lord (see 2 Chronicles 33:11-13).  Manasseh is an ancestor of the Messiah.

The Savior of the world came from people that most of us would want nothing to do with.  These individuals, who we could call failures, are in the Forgotten Family Tree, not for what they have in common with Christ, but for what they share in common with each of us.  We are like them in so many ways…but isn’t that why Christ came?  Jesus can take our failures and turn them into something fruitful.  

3. God uses the forgotten. 

God uses faithful people with flaws, He uses those who feel like failures, and He never forgets those who fear that they are forgotten.  Look again at this list.  There are some names here that we know nothing about.  What about Hezron and Ram?  One had a truck named after him but we don’t know if they were saints or scoundrels.  Abiud, Azor and Akim?  Zadok?   They might not make the headlines but they are known in heaven.  Do you feel forgotten today?  Do you wonder if God even notices you?  Don’t despair.  You are never out of His mind.  In fact, Psalm 139:17-18 says: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.  When I awake, I am still with you.”  

The lion of the tribe of Judah is about deliverance, not condemnation.  He takes what feeble faith we have, coupled with our failures and redeems them for his glory, and in the process, never forgets us. 

Lessons From the Tree

1. History is “His Story.” 

The hero of this story is God himself.  Everything that has happened in the past, what takes place today, and what is yet to come, is part of His glorious and grand plan.  As we look back at the lineage of the Lord, we see the Lord weaving His ways through the faithful, the failures, and the forgotten, in order to accomplish His purpose of bringing salvation to the world through the son of David.  God is in the business of salvaging sinners and recreating those who He created.  One writer said it this way: “This genealogy is marked by gross sin, blatant idolatry, captivity in Egypt, captivity in Babylon, a succession of flawed kings, and hostile enemies, yet God’s plan is carried out to completion.  It’s as if God is saying, ‘The famine in Egypt could not starve my plan.  400 years of slavery in Egypt and another 70 in Babylon couldn’t shackle my plan.  Murder, corruption, and idolatry could not stop my plan!’”

Remember too that the Bible teaches that history is moving toward a point of conclusion.  At some definite point in the future, God will send His Son to this earth a second time as the triumphant King.  Are you ready for that?

2. Get in His tree today. 

 No matter if you’ve been fairly faithful, or find yourself a failure, or feel forgotten, there’s a place for you in God’s tree today

None of us can appear in the blood-line that stretches back from Jesus through David to Abraham, but the good news is that the blood-line flows the other way too (idea from Pastor Dan Meyer).  No matter if you’ve been fairly faithful, or find yourself a failure, or feel forgotten, there’s a place for you in God’s tree today.  Jesus is the Savior of the world.  Will you make Him your personal Savior right now?  You can join the family of faith by receiving the gift of redemption.  John 1:12: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  Jesus died on a tree in order for you to have a place in His eternal tree.

3. The glory of this genealogy is the grace of God. 

Jesus’ relatives could have been the Cleaver’s; instead they were more like the Simpson’s.  God loves to give grace to the “Uncle George’s” of life.  Jesus came not to redeem those who think they’re righteous, but to save sinners.  Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” God demands not perfection, but contrition.  It was Rick Warren who said, “The worse you are, the better candidate you are for the grace of God.”  The glory of God’s grace extends to the faithful, the failures, and the forgotten because grace glows through the branches and twigs of this Christmas tree.  

In his book called, “The Grace and Truth Paradox,” Randy Alcorn writes: “Wesley Allan Dodd tortured and murdered three boys in Vancouver, Washington, fifteen miles from our home.  Dodd was scheduled to be hanged—the first U.S. hanging in three decades—shortly after midnight, January 4, 1993.  At dinner that evening, both our daughters, then eleven and thirteen, prayed earnestly that Dodd would repent and place his faith in Christ before he died.  I agreed with their prayer…but only because I knew I should…Dodd’s last words were: ‘I had thought there was no hope and no peace.  I was wrong.  I have found hope and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.’  

“Gasps and moans erupted from the gallery.  The anger was palpable.  How dare someone who has done anything so terrible say he has found hope and peace in Jesus?  Did he really think God would let him into heaven after what he’d done?  Shut up and go to hell, child killer—you won’t get off so easy!  The idea of God’s offering grace to Dodd was utterly offensive.

“And yet…didn’t Jesus die for Dodd’s sins just as He did for mine?  No sin is bigger than the Savior.  Grace is, literally, not of this world.  I struggled with the idea of God saving Dodd only because I thought too much of myself and too little of my Lord.  I’d imagined the distance between Dodd and me as the difference between the South and North Poles.  But when you consider God’s viewpoint from light-years away, that distance is negligible.  In my standing before a holy God, apart from Christ…I am Dodd.  I am Dahmer.  I am Mao…if God isn’t big enough to save Dodd and Dahmer, He’s not big enough to save me…The cost of redemption cannot be overstated.  The wonders of grace cannot be overemphasized.  Christ took the hell He didn’t deserve so we could take the heaven we don’t deserve.”


As we move from the Lord’s family tree we come to His table.  I want you to notice Matthew 1:16.  This genealogy of grace is filled with this phrase, “the father of.”  The King James uses “So and so begat.”  Suddenly the string of 39 “begats” is broken.  Listen to this verse: “And Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”  Every person in this list was born by the begetting activity of a male parent except for Jesus.  Do you see how Matthew is careful to establish the virgin birth of Jesus right at the beginning of his gospel?  Joseph is the husband of Mary but not the natural father of Jesus.  Jesus is no ordinary man.  He is Savior and Christ and Son of David and Son of Abraham…but He is also God incarnate.

Jesus offered Himself as the final sacrifice, as full payment for our sins.  You’re invited to the table because He died on the tree.  This table is for…

  • The fairly faithful
  • Those who find themselves to be failures
  • Those who feel forgotten

Do you qualify in any one of these categories?  If so, come to the table because He knows your name, even if you’re not a “darling.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?