Surprise! Startling Members of Jesus’s Family Tree (And the blessings that they bring!)

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Those words came with great surprise to a group of people at night in Bethlehem – just one of many stunning events surrounding the very first Christmas. We are looking forward to exploring those seemingly surreal circumstances with you in the days to come, and we’ll begin today with Jesus’s family tree. Two of Jesus’s followers – Matthew and Luke — record His lineage in their gospels found in the New Testament.

Right out of the gate, Matthew appeals to His mainly Jewish audience by detailing Christ’s genealogy from ancient to current. Matthew knew that the Torah, or first five books of the Old Testament which the Jewish people studied diligently, was filled with genealogies. Most of them tied people back to Abraham, the father of their faith. Matthew’s description of Jesus’s family tree was no different. By listing it out, Matthew proved two important facts: Jesus was a fellow Jew who descended from Abraham, and He also came from the line of King David. And God had clearly told the Jewish people that their Messiah would be the offspring of Abraham from the root of Jesse, David’s father. (See Genesis 22:18 and Isaiah 11:10) Jesus could be trusted to be the Christ, the anointed one, sent from God to lead them.

Tucked among all of Christ’s forefathers, however, were five surprises. Five times Matthew included the mothers of Jesus’s descendants in his genealogy.

  • Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, (v. 3, italics mine)
  • Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, (v. 5)
  • Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth (v. 5)
  • David, the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, (v. 6)
  • and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. (v. 16)

The fact that Matthew would include women in a family tree is one thing. Genealogies of that day always were patriarchal, no mention of mothers. But to include these women was a profound step – one that not only assured Jewish people that their Messiah lived, but that allowed the rest of the world to see Christ as their Savior, too. Up to this point, the Jewish people saw themselves as the chosen of God. They had access to God like no one else because of their heritage, but also because of their close adherence to God’s laws. But what about those five women? They complicated matters for the Jewish people, while actually simplifying life for themselves and everyone. Because these five women broke the Jewish mold – by their behavior or their birthplace or both. Yet God, by His grace, grafted them all into the most important family tree in history.

In her book, Lineage of Grace: Five Stories of Unlikely Women who Changed Eternity, Francine Rivers writes about these female members of Christ’s family tree. Tamar was a woman who veiled herself and posed as a prostitute to fight for the justice denied her by her father-in-law. God not only refused to condemn her for her actions, He worked the circumstances for her good and for the good of us all. Rivers entitled Tamar’s story “Unveiled,” and dedicated it “to those who have been abused and used and yearn for justice.”

Next in the family line came Rahab, a resident prostitute of an enemy country who risked her own life to hide two Jewish spies. Again, God not only forgave Rahab for her sinful lifestyle, but He opened her eyes to His grace and adopted her into the Family. Rivers calls Rahab “Unashamed,” and dedicates her story to people who believe that past mistakes disqualify them from future joy. Any of us who feel disqualified are invited to trust in Jesus and watch Him work His wonders in our lives.

The next generation brought Ruth to the family. Ruth was a Moabite woman who fell in love with and married a Jewish man when he and his family moved to her homeland. When her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law died, Ruth and her female in-laws were left widowed and without hope. Though she could have remained in Moab and returned to her birth family, Ruth purposed to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi, as she returned to Israel. Her selflessness, dedication and faith led both women to find Boaz, their kinsman-redeemer. Boaz not only restored to the women what death had taken, but was used of God to continue Christ’s family tree.

God’s great redemption story continues with the woman Matthew referred to as “Uriah’s wife.” The story of Bathsheba and David profoundly illustrates the height, depth and breadth of God’s grace. Bathsheba was indeed Uriah’s wife, but King David decided to sleep with her – impregnating her – while her husband loyally fought on the battlefield for the king. King David exacerbated the sin even further by having Uriah killed in the line of duty as a means of covering up his wrongdoing. Unforgivable actions, one might think. Through the prophet Nathan, God convicted David of his sin – moving him to repent. And though the son that David and Bathsheba conceived through adultery died, God gave them another son, Solomon, who continued the family line that led to Jesus.

And that brings us to the culminating surprise and a glorious restoration of Jesus’s earthly family. The sexual sin of Israel’s anointed earthly king, David, seemed to leave a crimson stain on Christ’s bloodline, but through one virgin woman, Mary, God reversed and redeemed David’s and all of our sins by choosing her to bear the long-awaited Messiah. As Rivers writes, “Mary was an ordinary woman striving to please God in the same way that women still do today. But when God spoke, Mary responded in simple obedience. She couldn’t know that raising the perfect son would break her heart and change the world forever. She was destined to play the most important role of all in the lineage of Jesus Christ.”

Friend, do you see yourself in one of these women’s stories? Because you are, or will be. At some point in your life, you have or may find yourself fighting for justice like Tamar, overcoming shame like Rahab, fighting for life in the face of death like Ruth, rising from the ashes of sinful choices like Bathsheba, or being called to a level of obedience like Mary that startles you to your core. In the midst of it all, however, we can trust God. He promises so, as Paul describes in his letter to the Church in Rome. (Romans 8:28) This Christmas, celebrate the surprising ways of God. Sing hallelujah to the God who brings order out of chaos and sees every one of His plans to fruition. Let us joyfully join Paul in his declaration this Christmas season and throughout the days ahead.

“I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return].” – Philippians 1:6 AMP

 — Linda R. Maynard © December 2022

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