Matthew 1: The Christmas Family Tree


Introduction: Credits and Carvings

This year we have read through the Gospel of Matthew.
Last week we heard Jesus’ last words right at the end.
Today we’re going back to the start.

Matthew 1:1
This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham. (NLT)

Your ancestors are your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents…
Descendants are children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren…

Matthew has a long list of Jesus’ ancestors.
Like credits at the end of a movie – all the people who made the film.
Very boring – mostly you leave.
Old movies had the credits at the start so you had to watch them.
But now you can fast forward the video!
Shall we fast forward Matthew and get to the action?
Or do you think he had a purpose for starting his gospel like this?

Last week I was in Auckland Museum and I saw a Maori meeting house.
Maybe you’ve seen one in Rotorua.
The front is covered in carvings of people – lots of wooden statues.
I don’t understand them, so I just walked past.

But if I met an old Maori man or woman from the same tribe,
He or she might say:
This is my whakapapa, my family tree.
These carvings tell the story of my tribe.
These people make me who I am.
He could tell me stories about each one.
I could be there all day!

Chapter 1 of Matthew is like that.
A list of people that sum up the history of Israel.
This is Jesus’ family tree.
For Christians, they are part of our spiritual family, part of our story.
So let’s look at Matthew’s “carvings”.

Like three columns of statues,
Matthew arranges his names into three groups.

All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah. (1:17)

3 times 14 makes 42 people – plus a few more.
If I told all their stories, we’d be here all day.
But don’t worry.
I will focus on the names that Matthew underlines: Abraham and David and Babylon.

Abraham – the Birth of Israel

To understand, we need to start before Abraham,
At the start of time.  (Genesis 1-4)[1]
God created the first people, Adam and Eve.
They lived in the Garden of Eden.
Beautiful flowers, delicious fruit.
They could walk and talk with God every day.

But Adam and Eve turned away from God,
They disobeyed him.
And everything fell apart.

They were separated from God.
The garden grew thorns and weeds.
Worse, our hearts grew thorns and weeds.
People started to hate and fight.
And ever since, all of us die.
It makes a big mess when we disobey God.
The Bible calls it all sin.

God had a plan to put things right, to make a new start.
And that brings us to the start of the credits.
God called a man named Abraham:

“Leave your country and your family
And go to a foreign land.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

God promised Abraham:
I will give you many descendants and make them into a great nation.
I will give them a good land to live in.
Through them I will bless all the people in the world.

It was a wonderful promise.
In fact, Abraham in Hebrew means “father of many”.
But there was a small problem.

Abraham had no children.
He was 100 years old.  His wife Sarah was 90 (Genesis 17:17, 18:12)
One day God said to them, “This time next year Sarah will have a son”. (18:10)
They just laughed.
It could never happen.
Become a Mum at 90? Impossible!

But nothing is impossible for God.
Sarah had a baby boy and now she laughed for joy.
They named him Isaac, which means “he laughs” – names have meaning in the Bible.
That’s the story behind Matthew 1:2
“Abraham was the father of Isaac.”

God’s impossible promise of a son fulfilled!
With the promise of blessing to all peoples to come.
Have you experienced a promise like that come true in your life?

Abraham lived around 2000 years BC, Before Christ, before Jesus was born.
Let’s fast forward 1000 years.
During this time, Abraham’s descendants became the people of Israel,
And lived in the land of Israel – just as God had promised.

King David – Israel’s Golden Age

It was a rich land
With good farms and plenty to eat – like a new Garden of Eden.[2]
There God gave them a great king.
I like this guy because I’m named after him!

King David defeated all their enemies so Israel had peace.
David wrote songs called psalms to worship God.
He built up the capital city of Jerusalem, with a great palace.
David’s son Solomon built a beautiful temple
That was filled with God’s presence.

The time of David was the Golden Age of Israel.
Everything was going well.
God was close to his people.
God’s promises were coming true.

And God made a new promise to King David (2 Samuel 7:16, Psalm 89)
“One of your descendants will always be king and his kingdom will last for ever.”

Is there a past Golden Age in your country or culture?[3]
With a good great king like David?
Has there been a golden age in your life, when everything went right?

Now we’ll fast forward again about 500 years.
Did anyone learn all the kings and queens of England at school?
Or the emperors of China?
The next 14 names (6-11)
Are the kings of Israel.

Some were good kings so Israel experienced God’s peace and blessing.
But many were bad – over time, more and more.
They led the people away from God and into sin.
As for Adam and Eve.
When we rejected God, everything fell apart.

Exile – Israel’s Dark Age

To the north-east of Israel was a strong empire called Babylon.
The army of Babylon attacked Jerusalem. [4]
They captured Israel’s king.
They destroyed his palace.
They burnt down the temple where the people met with God.

And they dragged the people off as exiles to Babylon.
An exile is someone who is forced to live far away from their home.

In a way it was the story of Adam and Eve repeated again.
A Golden Age in the Garden of Eden, or the Promised Land of Israel.
And then losing it all through their sin.

The Babylonian exile was an absolute disaster.
All God’s promises to Abraham and David seemed to have failed.
All their hope was lost.
It was the Dark Age of Israel.

Has your country experienced a Dark Age like that? [5]
Is there a dark age in your life when everything went wrong?

So what have we seen so far?
Matthew looks through Israel’s history and highlights three key times.

Abraham: the beginning of Israel.
God’s promise of descendants and blessing to the nations.
And the miracle birth of Isaac.

King David: the Golden Age of Israel.
God’s close presence with his people, God’s promises fulfilled.

Babylonian exile:  the Dark Age of Israel.
Through the people’s sin, God’s blessing and presence and promises were lost.

Now we’ll fast forward another 500 years up to the time of Jesus.
It’s the third part of Matthew’s list.
Most of these guys aren’t famous and not much happens.

They come back from Babylon, but it’s not the same.
God does not seem close.
There are no good and great kings.
By the time of Jesus, the Romans are ruling the country.
The Jewish people are still not free.

“Where are God’s promises?” they ask.
It’s as if they are still in exile.
The Dark Age still continued.

New Promises – the Messianic Age

But the Jewish people still had hope.
During the long dark centuries of sin,
Men called prophets brought new promises from God.

They spoke of a new golden age to come
When God’s light will shine in our darkness (Isaiah 9:2).
And all God’s promises will be fulfilled.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
because the Lord’s love never fails.
He himself will set Israel
free from all their sins.
Psalm 130:7-8

The prophet Isaiah said one day God will bring peace between people:

They will hammer their swords into plows…
Nations will not go to war against each other.
They won’t even train to fight anymore.
Isaiah 2:4

And he said the earth will be like the Garden of Eden again:

The wasteland will rejoice and blossom.
It will be full of flowers and singing and joy!
The deserts will become green.
Isaiah 35:1-2

Freedom from sin and the mess that it brings.
No more pollution and poverty and war.
No more broken relationships.
Because God has come close again.

Don’t you long for this?
“How long O Lord?” the people cried
When will this time come?

Remember that promise God made to King David?
One of your descendants will be king for ever.
The prophets said the new age would begin,
When this Son of David is born.

A child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
He will rule with fairness and justice
from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.
Isaiah 9:6-7

They called this coming King the Messiah.
After the Dark Age he will bring
A new Golden Age that will last for ever.

Does your culture have a hope of a future golden age?
Do you dream of a great leader or king, a hero, a superman,
Who will come to bring freedom and peace to the world?
I think we all have a deep hunger for this.[6]
Once you look for it, you’ll see it everywhere.

It’s not just for religious people.
I work in the Chemistry Department at Uni.
One of our technicians once said to me,
“I’ve decided science is my religion.”

Some people trust science to bring the golden age.
They think technology can save us from our problems like sickness and poverty.
I think they will be disappointed.

A test tube can’t change us our hearts.
As long as people are far from God,
We will use that technology to kill.
Only God can set us free from our sins
We need a miracle new birth inside.

The Birth of the Messiah

So that’s the family tree of Jesus.
We’ve met a few big actors.
And at the end of the credits, we meet the star.
Let’s read about the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 (NLT)

In the Bible, God often starts new things, new seasons, with a surprising birth.
Abraham’s son Isaac was born from a 90-year-old mother.
Pretty amazing!
That was the start of Israel – one key point in God’s plan.

Jesus’ birth is even more amazing: born from a virgin by God’s Holy Spirit.
Because he is the key to God’s plan.
A new humanity.
A new creation.
A new Golden Age.

He is the Light of the World who shines in our darkness. (John 8:12)
In him all God’s promises are fulfilled. (2 Cor 1:20)

God promised Abraham:
I will give you many descendants.
And will bless all nations through them.
Jesus, a son of Abraham,
Lived and died to bless all peoples and bring us into God’s family.
So we are Abraham’s spiritual descendants.

In his last command in Matthew, Jesus tells his followers,
“Make disciples of all peoples” (Matthew 28:19)
That’s God’s promise to Abraham carrying on
All the way to us here in Auckland!

God promised King David:
One of your descendants will be king for ever.

8 times Matthew calls Jesus “Son of David”.
And 5 times “King of the Jews”,
To show that Jesus is God’s promised King.

David defeated their enemies and brought physical peace for a while.
Jesus brings us spiritual peace that will never end.
He will rule forever, because he conquered death.

God promised through the prophets
A coming age of blessing and peace.
12 times Matthew says the words of the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus.

To be exact, the promises of the prophets
Began to be fulfilled in Jesus when he walked this earth.
The Golden Age has begun,
But the Dark Age still continues for a while.
Those promises will be fully fulfilled when Jesus returns in the future.
Then the Dark Age will be completely gone.
The Golden Age will last for ever.

In fact, all of Israel’s history points to this baby, says Matthew.
All those actors in the story so far.
All those carvings at the front of Matthew.

Names in the Bible have meaning, remember,
So let’s look at the names of the star.

The angel said to Joseph, “Name your son Jesus.”  (21).
And Jesus means, “The Lord saves”.
Jesus came to save us from spiritual exile, being lost far from home.
To save us from the mess we make of our lives without God.
Have you begun to experience his forgiveness and freedom?
Jesus came to save his people from their sins.

And he is called Immanuel.
A wonderful name that means “God is with us”. (23)
Jesus is fully God, and also fully human.
God in our world.
God with us.

In the very last words of Matthew, Jesus says,
“Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)

Conclusion: the Hopes and Fears of All the Years

We just sang

O Little Town of Bethlehem…
The hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

I love that line.

The big story of history, the little story of my life,
All that’s happened through the years,
It all finds its meaning in Jesus.
He is the piece of the jigsaw puzzle,
That makes the whole picture make sense.

Because he fulfils our hopes
And frees us from our fears.

Maybe my darkest age, my most fearful time, was in my late teenage years.
I often felt lonely and depressed.
One night I was lying awake in bed – couldn’t sleep, feeling sad.
This verse popped into my head:
God says,
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)

I always remember that verse when I’m feeling down.
He will never leave me.
That is the meaning of Immanuel!
In Jesus, God became a human like me,
Jesus was an exile here, far from his home in heaven.
So he knows what it’s like when you and I feel homesick or lonely or lost.

In this chapter, Matthew shows us how for 2000 years,
Israel hoped for God’s promises, longed for God’s Messiah.
You could say they were waiting for Christmas.

At last, Jesus was born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.
And as the song said,
He wants to be born again in our hearts,
To save you and me from our sins today.
Will you ask him to come into your life this Christmas?

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel.

Phillips Brooks (1835-1903)


In Matthew 1, what Old Testament promises did Jesus fulfil?
Does your culture have a past Golden Age, or hope for a future Golden Age?
When was your life happiest or hardest? (your personal Golden or Dark Age)
In what ways have you experienced:

  • God with you – “Immanuel”?
  • Jesus saving you from your sins?
  • Your hopes fulfilled in him?

[1] A more direct translation of verse 1 is “the book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ.”  Matthew was writing especially for Jewish Christians who’d notice this.  They’d notice Genesis even more when Matthew gives three lists of 14, or six lists of seven.  Matthew starts his story about Jesus by remembering the start of the whole human story.
[2] “Flowing with milk and honey.”  (Exodus 3:8)
[3] Indians might think of the great Mughal emperors: so much poetry and painting, beautiful buildings like the Taj Mahal. I taught English in Korea 20 years ago and heard about King Sejong the Great (r 1397-1450). A good King who helped poor people.  He invented the alphabet, wrote books, and composed music. He sounded a bit like David and Solomon.  It was a golden age for Korea.  See “Golden Age” in Wikipedia.
[4] 2 Kings 24-25, 2 Chronicles 36:17 ff.  The people inside had no food.  They were so hungry they even cooked and ate their own children!  (Deuteronomy 28:53-57, Jeremiah 19:9, Lamentations 4:6)
[5] Your grandparents might have stories of dark days during World War II.  Today many refugees from countries with Isis could understand how the Jewish people felt in their exile.
[6] Many Muslims and Hindus believe in a holy rider on a white horse.  He will defeat evil and bring a new golden age (Mahdi, Kalki).  Communists dream of a coming paradise.  You can see it in many movies.  There’s a world that has fallen into darkness.  Then comes a mighty hero, often with a mysterious birth.  Superman, Luke Skywalker, Doctor Who.  (I’ve heard there are similar characters in Manga comics.)  This hero saves the people from evil and brings back the golden age or “The Return of the King.”