Note: This will be the first of three "Christmas Season" Bible Studies, and they are all taken from the new book I am working on--a devotional commentary of the New Testament. For today's study, you need to read all of Matthew chapter 1.
The Jewish people had been waiting 400 long years for the arrival of their promised Messiah. No longer a nation, but a religious sect of people living under Roman rule, they held onto the hopes and dreams of a Deliverer, as foretold by the Old Testament prophets. Because they were oppressed, they expected this long-awaited Messiah to deliver them from the tyranny of Rome. They longed for a political salvation much more than any kind of personal spiritual salvation.
The Gospel of Matthew opens with an extensive genealogy of Jesus Christ, traced all the way back to Abraham. In recent years, many people have taken a renewed interest in their family "roots", their ancestry. The Jews of Jesus' time placed great emphasis on their lineage. Matthew tells us Christ was the “Son of David”, thus He was in the line of royalty, but He was also the “Son of Abraham”, so He was of Jewish blood. This made Him qualified to occupy the throne of David as the KING OF THE JEWS. And that is the theme of Matthew’s gospel: to present Jesus Christ as the legitimate heir to the throne of Israel. These family credentials were absolutely crucial to His claim. The fact that Jesus was the “Son of David” fulfills such prophecies as II Sam. 7:16, Isa. 9:7, and Lk. 1:32. Matthew outlines this important genealogy of 42 generations into three sections of 14 generations each: (1) from Abraham to David (vs. 2-6), (2) from David to the Babylonian captivity (vs. 6-11), and (3) from the return from captivity to Christ (vs. 12-16). See Matt. 1:17. Four important women are inserted into this listing of all these fathers who “begat” sons: Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Rahab and Ruth were notorious Gentiles and thus illustrate the tremendous grace of God to those who were once outside the fold of the Jewish covenant promises. Such is the amazing grace of God.
Tracing your family’s heritage (genealogy) was an important part of Jewish culture and customs. To be a pure-blooded Jew (not a “mixed” blooded Jew like the Samaritans) was a source of great pride. “Many families in Christ’s time clearly possessed such lists”. Truly Jesus had Jewish “roots” in His family. This explains why, when Jesus was born, it had to be in Bethlehem, because “He was of the house and lineage of David”. Right family, right place, right time.
Luke is the other gospel account that begins with a genealogy, and he traces Christ’s lineage all the way back to Adam. That’s because he presents Jesus not only as the “King of the Jews”, as Matthew does, but as the “Son of Man” in all His humanity.
The exact wording of the text in Matthew 1:16 is critical to see. After 41 repetitions of the phrase “so and so BEGAT so and so”, there is a dramatic change in verse 16: “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ”. This phraseology is necessitated because Jesus was not “begotten” by some earthly father; He was God’s only begotten Son. He was virgin born, as prophesied in Isa. 7:14. And that is exactly why the remainder of Matthew chapter one is the account of Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s perspective—the confused man who was betrothed (engaged) to Mary, and knew that this baby was not his. So the angel gives the explanation—the miracle of the supernatural conception—that relieves his fears and saves his marriage.
It must have taken great faith on Joseph’s part to not only believe the angel’s explanation, but also to endure what was surely the social rejection and scurrilous rumors that plagued his life. He may have been the very first man who really believed in Jesus—who He was—the One who would “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). He paid the price of faith in Christ, as all of us who take God at His Word must do!