We all gain insight into ourselves when we know where we come from. That's true of how we learn about others too. In my Land of Neo series, everyone understands Ella better when they realize she is from a different world. And in my book Redbud Corner, we would not be able to understand Ah Ni at all unless we delved into her culture and background.
The same is true of Jesus. Unless we understand the way that centuries of people point to him, we won't be able to understand how important he is to all of history. The book of Matthew starts this way:
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…” Matthew 1:1-2 ESV
The first two verses of Matthew’s gospel set us up nicely for what this book is about. Matthew, who was a Jewish tax collector before he began to follow Jesus, wrote to a Jewish audience and therefore wanted to communicate that Jesus Christ was the messiah they’d long awaited. He used his book to help his readers understand that Jesus is a king from the line of David; and that he is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, opening the door for all nations to be blessed as he established his church. Therefore, Matthew begins with a genealogy showing Jesus’ lineage, which includes both Abraham and David.
It’s easy to think that genealogies are boring and to skip over them in our reading, but in the book of Matthew they establish the very important fact that Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be.
I heard a story years ago of a missionary who translated Matthew’s gospel for a people group that had never read the Scriptures. He skipped the genealogy in chapter 1, feeling it wasn’t important to the message he was trying to get across. The people read his translation and seemed mildly interested, but he was not able to convince a single person to become a Christian. Finally, feeling like giving up, he tacked on the genealogy. The result was astounding. The first man who read it said, “You mean, Jesus was a real person? This really happened? It isn’t just a made-up story?” The missionary assured him that was the case and people began being converted in great numbers.
So what does Jesus’ genealogy mean for us? It means that Jesus was a real person who did not randomly appear in history. He was planned from ages past and God used remarkable people we are familiar with from the Old Testament to prepare us for his coming. All of history is truly his story. We have the remarkable privilege of knowing about the incredible people who make up Jesus’ heritage, giving us confidence in who he is and everything he says.