Genealogies of Jesus
Two different genealogies for Jesus appear in Matthew 1 & Luke 3. To Jews, what tribe you belonged to mattered, so you needed to know your genealogy, but why else would the writers put them in there?
After the Fall, God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen.3:15). The genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23-38 lists his line backwards all the way to Adam. This shows that he was Eve’s offspring, and thus fulfills the prophecy that he would bruise the serpent’s head, when he died to pay for our sins.
God called Abraham to be the father of the Jewish nation, but also told him his offspring would be a blessing to all the earth. Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen.12:1-3)
The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17 traces Jesus’ line from Abraham. This shows that he was Abraham’s offspring, and through his death and resurrection he was a blessing to all mankind, thus fulfilling the prophecy.
When God made a covenant with Abraham he told him his offspring would be uncountable. And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Gen.15:5-6)
Incidentally, because Abraham believed and it was counted as righteousness, he is the ‘Father of the faithful’, and therefore we who believe are his children, making his offspring uncountable.
The Wise Men and the Star
When the wise men came to Jerusalem, they asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) How did they know what the star meant, and why did they care about a king of the Jews?
The wise men were from Babylon, which was a pagan country. But 600 years earlier, Daniel and his friends were taken to Babylon and educated for high positions in the government. They kept their faith, and so the prophecies of a Messiah were introduced into Babylon, and the wise men were waiting.
The Wise Men and the Journey
As soon as the star appeared, the wise men set out to follow it, but they came all the way from Babylon. There was no way they could have arrived at the manger just after the shepherds, as all the nativity plays show (for convenience). And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2:9-11a)
By the time the wise men arrived, Jesus was a child, not a baby, and they were in a house, not a stable. That’s why King Herod ordered all babies under two to be killed. Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16) Herod worked out how long it had taken them to make the journey.
The Wise Men and the Gifts
The carol says ‘We three kings of Orient are’ and the traditional nativity play has three kings (or wise men). The Bible does not say how many men there were, and it does not say they were kings. The idea of three comes from the three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11b) But why those gifts?
Here’s an explanation from Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus by James Montgomery Boice:
Gold: It is easy to see why gold is an appropriate gift for Jesus Christ. Gold is the metal of kings. When gold was presented to Jesus, it acknowledged his right to rule. The wise men knew Jesus was the King of kings.
Incense: Incense was also a significant gift. It was used in the temple worship. It was mixed with the oil that was used to anoint the priests of Israel. It was part of the meal offerings that were offerings of thanksgiving and praise to God. In presenting this gift the wise men pointed to Christ as our great High Priest, the one whose whole life was acceptable and well pleasing to his Father.
Myrrh: Myrrh was used for embalming. By any human measure it would be odd, if not offensive, to present to the infant Christ a spice used for embalming. But it was not offensive in this case, nor was it odd. It was a gift of faith. We do not know precisely what the wise men may have known or guessed about Christ’s ministry, but we do know that the Old Testament again and again foretold his suffering.
One of the things I love about the Bible is that the message of God’s love and salvation is so simple, even a child can understand it, but you can dig into it and never get to the bottom of all the things it can teach us. Have a very blessed Christmas!
[adapted from teaching by Michael Thomas]
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more on www.annmariethomas.me.uk