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  • Writer's pictureMatthew L. Tinkham Jr.

A Riffraff Heritage for Christmas

"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matt 1:1, ESV).

The Christmas season affords an excellent opportunity to reflect on the birth of our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Last week's blog reflected on Jesus's genealogy as recorded by Matthew in the first chapter of his gospel. Matthew tracked Jesus's lineage from his human father, Joseph, all the way back in time to the Old Testament patriarch Abraham. He highlighted Jesus's genealogical connection to David, the king of the united kingdom of Israel, and Abraham, the father of the people of Israel. We saw that the importance of this connection is that Jesus was the messianic fulfillment of both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenantal promises; he came as our Abrahamic blessing (Gen 12:1–3; 22:18) and our Davidic king (2 Sam 7:12–16; Ps 132:11–12; Isa 11:1–5; Jer 23:5–6; Luke 1:32–33). As I read through Matthew's genealogy of Jesus, I cannot help but notice the quality of the people from which the Messiah came. As one would expect, there are many listed who lived upright and holy lives before God, such as Boaz (Matt 1:5), Jehoshaphat (Matt 1:8), Josiah (Matt 1:10–11), and Zerubbabel (Matt 1:12–13)—just to name a few. Surprisingly, however, there were many more in the messianic lineage that were, well, less than upright and holy. Jesus's parentage is thoroughly tainted with sin and failure. Notice the following individuals mentioned in Matthew's genealogical record of Jesus.

  • Abraham was a liar and a polygamist (Matt 1:1–2).

  • Isaac, following in the footsteps of his father, was also a liar (Matt 1:2).

  • Jacob was a deceiver and a polygamist, who played "favorites" with his wives and children, esteeming Rachel and her two sons, Joseph and Benjamin, most highly. These unhealthy dynamics led to extreme dysfunction in his family (Matt 1:2).

  • Judah, a son of Jacob, sold his brother, Joseph, as a slave and intended to sleep with a prostitute but really slept with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, whom he hypocritically almost had punished by death (Matt 1:3).

  • David, the mighty king of the united kingdom of Israel, slew tens of thousands of people, raped Bathsheba, and murdered her husband, Uriah (Matt 1:6).

  • Solomon, David's son from Bathsheba, was extremely wealthy and had 700 wives and 300 concubines; both his wealth and women led him into idolatry and vanity (Matt 1:6–7).

  • Rehoboam, Solomon's son, had 18 wives and 60 concubines and was responsible for the division of David and Solomon's Israel into the 10 northern tribes of Israel and the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Matt 1:7).

  • Judah's most wicked kings, such as Abijah, Jehoram (Joram), Ahaz, Manasseh, Amon (Amos), and Jehoiachin (Jechoniah), who "did what was evil in the sight of the LORD," are listed in Jesus's genealogy (Matt 1:7–12).

That was a lot of riffraff in the high and holy pedigree of the Messiah! One would anticipate persons of much higher moral rectitude to bring the Messiah into the world, the one whom the angel Gabriel called "holy" (Luke 1:35, ESV). Yet, Jesus's ancestry was marked with all kinds of sins and failures that God providentially turned around and used to accomplish his messianic purposes. Something else of interest in the Matthean account of Jesus's heritage through Joseph is Matthew's inclusion of key women in the Old Testament, who were connected to the genealogy of the Messiah. This is a fascinating feature of Matthew's messianic genealogy since ancient genealogies normally only kept a record of the men. There are a total of five women mentioned therein, who also have colorful histories.

  • Tamar, a barren widow, deceived Judah into thinking she was a common prostitute so that he slept with her and produced heirs for her (Matt 1:3).

  • Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute, who operated an inn and brothel in the wall of Jericho, accepted Yahweh as her God, and was resultantly rescued from Jericho's destruction (Matt 1:5).

  • Ruth was not an Israelite but a Moabite widow, who helped her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, and embraced Yahweh as her God. She eventually married Boaz, the son of Rahab (Matt 1:5).

  • Bathsheba, though not named by Matthew, is included in Jesus's ancestry as "the wife of Uriah." David raped her, murdered her husband, and in time married her for himself. Bathsheba became the mother of the wisest Israelite king of all time, Solomon (Matt 1:6).

  • Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, was nearly divorced by Joseph for unfaithfulness to their betrothal until an angel visited him in a dream and explained Mary's pregnancy to him (Matt 1:16).

It is intriguing that each of these women, at one point or another, had difficult moments in their lives. Nevertheless, God utilized them in his plan to bring the Christ into the world to save it. The riffraff heritage of the Redeemer's lineage should be a source of great hope for us. God loved each and every one of those broken, sinful humans who composed the ancestry of Jesus. Despite their sins and failures, God had great purposes for them in Scripture's metanarrative of the coming Messiah. In fact, it was precisely their sins and failures that God providentially used to give to the world heaven's greatest Christmas gift, the infant Messiah, "born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" and daughters (Gal 4:4–5, ESV). Because God loved that rag-tag bunch of riffraff, we can have full assurance this Christmas that he loves even the worst of us! If there was hope for them, then there is undoubtedly hope for us, even the chiefest of sinners among us. No matter what our sins and failures might be, God has big plans for each one of us. In reality, it may be those very sins and failures that God turns around and then employs in the providence of his good and perfect will to do something new and incredible. We each have a part to play in the drama of Scripture, this story of redemption. May the riffraff genealogy of Jesus inspire hope in us that God loves us and has special plans for all of us. This Christmas season, as we read the ancestry that gave rise to the Messiah, let us relish in the fact that God loves us, sinners. And, in spite of ourselves, let us commit to playing the role, riffraff and all, that God has purposed for each of us in the consummation of his great plan of redemption. Have a very merry Christmas!

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