Do you like to read the phone book? If you do, you may be quite rare! Most of us don’t read the white pages for fun. In the book of Matthew Chapter 1, the Christmas story starts with a list of names that is about as fun to read as the white pages. Often, people will skip genealogical lists in the Bible as they read through God’s Word. If I wrote the Christmas story, I would not put the boring genealogy first. That is certainly not the way to capture the attention of the reader with a great first line.
You and I would place the genealogy elsewhere (say in the back, mark it Appendix A), or leave it out completely! Matthew, the author of the Gospel, chooses it as the opening that captures his audience’s attention. For thousands of years, the descendants of Abraham had been looking for God’s promises to their ancestors to be fulfilled in The Messiah. Jesus fulfilled the promise of God, therefore Matthew starts with the most important criteria, he was the descendant of Abraham and King David.
Though the list may seem obscure to most casual readers of the Bible, there are treasures in the lives of the list. Matthew does not give a completely exhaustive list of Jesus’ ancestors, but focuses on specific names. He breaks the list into three sections of 14 generations: the promise people, the privileged people, and the plain people.
The promise people are the folks from Abraham, the father of the faith, to Jesse, the father of King David. These people often had no homeland. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived as nomads owning no land. Their descendants had no freedom for the next 400 years. They lived as slaves in Egypt. The next several generations had to fight for God’s promises to be fulfilled as they moved into the region and land that God had promised to give to Abraham’s family hundreds of years before. There are times when you have no possessions and feel poor. There are days when you feel trapped at work without prerogatives. There are battles in life that leave no space for peace. You may be missing a lot of other things this Christmas, but you can survive and keep going when you are living on the promises of God.
The second group is the privileged people. These included King David and his heirs. They have all the promises of God, all the precepts of God’s law, all the political power of kings, and all the prosperity of royalty. Sadly, this group is dotted with names that pursued evil exploits. Though they had so much blessing from God, they turned from God, his laws, and his promises. Their lives are marked with idol worship, infanticide, murder, adultery and great wickedness. Fortunately, there are others in this group of privilege that served the Lord passionately. Having everything will not make serving Jesus Christ easier. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I will think about God when he gives me more money, time and ease.” The best time to choose Jesus is right now.
The last group is the plain people. We often don’t know anything about these names. What we do know, we assume from historical records of typical Jewish life between 586 B.C. and the life of Christ. So, here is what we know. These folks went to synagogue once a week to worship and learn the Scriptures. They supported their local place of worship and raised their kids with an example of serving God. They lived in a community where God’s Word was honored and memorized. They had jobs like Joseph the carpenter who raised Jesus. They may not have been famous, but their routine of faithfulness was essential for the plan of God to be completed in Jesus.
You should read the Bible. When you do, don’t skip the lists of names. There is treasure in the lives of the lists. So, I wish you some merry white Christmas pages!