The Family of Jesus

January 12, 2018

We’re just coming out of the Christmas season. And Christmas time (or almost any holiday time, for that matter) is often family time. During the holidays, families usually get together. But for all the joy that these moments can bring, they can also bring pain. In fact, it sometimes feels as though the problems in a family are magnified at these times! Fault lines can easily surface, and these holiday moments can become disheartening and frustrating as we are reminded of how imperfect (and perhaps even dysfunctional) some aspects of our family life are. But if you come from an imperfect family, a family with problems, then you are in good company. Because Jesus did too!

If you have a Bible nearby, please read through the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17. Matthew begins his gospel with a list of who was in the family line of Jesus. Take a look at it, and especially notice verses 1-3, 6-7, and 16-17.

Notice the Structure of the Family List

Verse 17 says that there were three sets of fourteen generations from Abraham to Jesus. In compiling his list, you should know that Matthew is not being exhaustive but selective—in order to make a specific point. That point is seen in both verse 1 and verse 17: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of Abraham, the promised King descended from King David.

You see, in 2 Samuel 7, God promised that King David would have a descendant who would be the ultimate King, the promised Messiah. So by showing us this family list, Matthew is proving to us that Jesus is legitimate; that Jesus really is the promised King who will bring God’s blessing of salvation to all the world. Jesus really is the Savior. But in addition to the structure of the list, also notice the people in the list.[1] Because this shows us what kind of Savior Jesus is.

Notice the People in the Family List

In a patriarchal society, it is striking that Matthew mentions as many women as he does. In that time, women were excluded from lots of things; they would have been gender outsiders. But Matthew’s genealogy is striking because of the presence of women—showing us that Jesus’ family is inclusive. But it gets even more surprising.

The women that are included are not simply gender outsiders—they are outsiders in other ways as well. Some would be considered moral outsiders. Take Tamar, for example, who deceived and seduced her father-in-law in order to get pregnant. More than this, Jesus’ family also includes those who were on the outside ethnically, seen in the inclusion of Ruth, who was a Moabitess (someone who was not ethnically an Israelite). Although other communities rejected people like this, these outsiders all find their place in the family of Jesus. Gender outsiders, moral outsiders, ethnic outsiders: these are all part of Jesus’ family.

And when we finally do get to some people that we think must have some impressive spiritual pedigree, we get another surprise. Matthew describes Solomon’s mother as “Uriah’s wife” (v. 6). Why doesn’t Matthew just say that Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba? Probably because Matthew wants to draw attention to the fact that King David committed adultery with Uriah’s wife. Uriah was a close friend to David and David later orchestrates his death. Matthew is reminding us that King David did some terrible things. He was an adulterer. He was a murderer. And in Jesus’ family list, Matthew wants to remind everyone of just how much a spiritual and moral failure King David really was.

Why? Because Matthew is making another very important point: The family of Jesus includes outsiders and failures. Jesus comes from a messed up, dysfunctional family. And the family Jesus comes from shows us the family that Jesus has come for. If Jesus’ family is full of outcasts and failures, then it means that you and I should feel like we can join too.

The reader sees this throughout Matthew’s Gospel. Who are the people that respond to Jesus’ invitation? The outsiders: the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the Romans (who were considered ethnic outsiders), the sinners. The people we least expect. The people who seem the most unlikely. In fact, at one point, Jesus explicitly tells us that he has come, not for the righteous, but for the sinners (Matt. 9:13).

Consider the Invitation to Join the Family

Matthew ends his gospel by emphasizing that everyone is invited to join the family of Jesus: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:18-19).

Jesus commanded His followers to recruit more people to join His family. The invitation goes out to anyone, to everyone. To me. To you.

You might come from a family with problems. You might be the one who contributed towards those problems. Because of your family, you might feel like an outsider and a failure. You might think because of your family, or because of your failures, you are unworthy to be part of Jesus’ family. But here’s the paradoxical good news: you are unworthy. Everyone is (Rom. 3:23), because we’ve all sinned. But the message of the Bible is that God, through Jesus Christ, can forgive our sins and adopt us into His family. The family of Jesus consists of forgiven sinners—flawed and broken people who have found forgiveness in Christ.

Let me conclude with a final implication: if you come from a family with problems, you’re not alone. Perhaps as you look at your genealogy you see prostitutes and murderers. Jesus can empathize. But who Jesus’ forebearers were gives us a hint of who His followers could include. Jesus wants you to become part of His family, which currently includes other forgiven sinners but will one day consist entirely of perfect, glorified saints.

Questions for Reflection

How does knowing that Jesus came from an imperfect family impact you? How do you know whether you truly belong to the family of Jesus? How should belonging to Jesus’ family impact the way we relate to other families?

[1] Many of the insights from this genealogy were highlighted for me in Timothy Keller’s excellent book, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (Viking, 2016).

Kyle Johnston is a pastor and counselor at Jubilee Community Church in Cape Town, South Africa. Kyle provides leadership and oversight to the counseling ministry and serves on the preaching team at Jubilee.

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