Names Matter

No one comes from nowhere. All of us have a history. Sometimes we wish it was something we could erase or rewrite. But for better or worse, our stories have an origin. Sometimes our rearward glances allow us a perspective that we never could have had in the moment. You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Well that’s also true in another sense when we consider what God was doing in accomplishing His plan for redemption. We have feeble short lives that are bound to time. But God does not. The unfolding of His plan may appear slow and steady. It may take thousands of years as we see displayed in Jesus’ genealogy. But why should we care about a list of names from way back when? How can it impact our hearts in the here and now?

Maybe the first step in seeing the importance of Jesus’ genealogy is in understanding a cultural component often lost to us in the modern West.  For many peoples, the oral tradition of one’s family line was a means of preserving one’s family legacy. It was an intellectual reminder of one’s lineage, and the wisdom which came from before. It may also be a means of legitimizing one’s claims in various roles, positions, or even inheritance. For many today, this is not the case. We are a people soaked in the present, with little concern of yesterday, let alone yesteryear. But Scripture provides a different outlook. 

The New Testament contains two genealogies for the Lord Jesus Christ. They are provided in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. There are variations between them. Sadly, this has caused some to question either the inspiration of the Bible, or its trustworthiness. As Christians, we take seriously the claims of Scripture concerning itself as being pure (Psalm 12:6) and divine in origin (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). Oftentimes people reject Scripture due to their own philosophical presuppositions without challenging those presuppositions rightly. But if God has so inspired His Word, then we must be willing to wrestle with what may appear to us to be contradictions.

Though various options have been presented in the history of the church concerning the differences between Matthew’s genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17) and Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) I believe the soundest understanding is this: Matthew traces Joseph’s bloodline and shows Christ as the legal heir to the throne of David through Solomon; Luke traces Mary’s bloodline (Luke 3:23) and shows biologically how he descends from David through Nathan. This combined would demonstrate that the throne was properly the Lord Jesus’ from both his adopted father legally, and his earthly mother biologically.

Luke doesn’t provide this genealogy to satiate our own modern curiosities of gospel harmonization. Instead, he’s leading us to see the larger picture of Scripture for all of humanity. Jesus’ genealogy demonstrates that Jesus was the new Adam, and the fulfillment of all the covenant promises that God made with Abraham and David. In other words, what may appear on our first read to be an ancient excel chart which ought to lead us into a nap, instead because a living reminder of God’s fidelity.

God was faithful to Adam on the day when he betrayed God and broke the covenant of life. God made a promise that one day the seed of the woman was going to destroy the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). This first gospel promise was the seed which would eventually give way to the coming of the Kingdom of God. But the ordeal the Son of God would have to endure with His people would require such suffering because of the failure of Adam. In other words, it is not accidental that Luke’s genealogy comes before Jesus’ temptation. In order for Christ to procure our salvation as the Last Adam, he must undergo the judgment earned by the first Adam (See 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; and for further study Meredith Kline’s, Kingdom Prologue, pp. 132-137).

Today, regardless of our story must situate ourselves in the wider and greater story of God’s plan for redemption. As God was faithful in His promises to Abraham, and as God was faithful in His promises to David, so He shall faithful in His promises to me, and my seed to a thousand generations. God is faithful, and His faithfulness is most chiefly displayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son our Lord. If you are a Christian today, then your baptism was a visible sign of your inclusion in God’s family. His inheritance has become your inheritance. His Father has become your father. Regardless of whatever else this world may do to us, or whatever hardships may fall upon us we have a name and a legacy that is imperishable. It is not because of our abilities or faithfulness, but His. Worthy is He to be praised.