My brother-in-law Arthur has a greater-than-normal interest in genealogies. He can talk about them for hours without repeating himself. His interest in family ancestries extends well beyond a simple fascination to a full-blown passion, and he can, with some time and effort, trace your lineage and mine back to some hairy guy with a club beating on a rock to create fire.
If I were enthusiastic about my own family history, I would almost certainly want to trace my roots back to some heroic ancestor who accomplished great things for humanity. I would want him or her to have changed the course of history through their stunning wisdom or unquenchable courage. My tendency would be to hide references to those less virtuous stories that could almost certainly be uncovered in such a study. Similarly, I expect the pedigree of God-in-the-flesh to be pure, beautiful, and admirable. There shall be no stains, or questionable entries. Jesus is a registered thoroughbred, complete with authentication papers, descending from a strong line of kings, prophets, warriors, and patriarchs.
Contemporary interest in the study of family lineage is attested in the recent upsurge in popularity of online genealogical research sites. Similar interest can be seen in the meticulous genealogical records kept by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Sumerians, and Mesopotamians. Even today, many in the Semitic world can recite their ancestry for ten to fifteen generations, dating back hundreds of years, and they can do so with respectable accuracy.
It was important to the nation of Israel, specifically, to keep genealogical records for establishing legitimacy involving property claims, for the preservation of the Levitical priesthood, and most of all, to trace the rights of royal succession and continuity through the Davidic line, because God had made it clear that the Messiah would come through the line of King David. The seed of Abraham would bless the nations as he sat on the throne of his father, David.
The Bloodline of the Messiah
The Gospel of Matthew introduces us to Jesus as King, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, tracing his royal lineage through his adopted father, Joseph. Repeatedly in his gospel, we see Matthew speak of the “kingdom,” and the “kingdom of the heavens,” a phrase no other gospel writer uses. Luke presents Jesus as “the Son of Man,” following the bloodline through Mary and tracing it to the first man, Adam. In Luke’s gospel, we see the humanity of Jesus, God in the flesh.
As much as we want to see a pure and flawless bloodline leading to Jesus, that is not what we find when we look at the pedigree of our Lord and Savior, our Immanuel. Consider some of the entries in the genealogy of Jesus – accounts openly displayed in the pages of scripture.
Jacob was a swindler, a liar, and repeatedly deceptive. Solomon, despite his godly beginning, religious education, and profound intellectual blessings, fell into idolatry, sensuality, and love of opulence. Solomon’s father, David, the one scripture describes as a man after God’s own heart, carried out horrible atrocities, committing adultery with, and impregnating, the wife of one of his devoted soldiers, and then murdering the man after his feeble attempts to obfuscate the nature of the pregnancy failed. Bathsheba, David’s partner in adultery, betrayed her honorable husband to have a fling with the king. Both murder and adultery were violations of the Law that were punishable by death, yet God was merciful.
Manasseh was arguably the worst, most unfaithful king in the history of Judah, his fifty-five-year reign fraught with idolatry, power-brokering, and murder. He united with an Aramean (Syrian) woman, instituted idolatry in the extreme, offered his own sons as burned sacrifices, indulged in witchcraft and sorcery, and was ultimately punished by God, being led with a hook through his nose into Babylonian captivity. He murdered the prophet Isaiah by sawing him in half! Upon his death, Manasseh was buried in his own garden rather than with his ancestors in the City of David.
Tamar pretended to be a prostitute in order to get knocked up by her father-in-law. Jeconiah, whose name means “Yahweh will uphold,” changed his name to Coniah, thus removing from his name any connection to Yahweh. The widow Ruth, while a wonderful, godly woman, was from Moab, and therefore descended from an incestuous relationship between Lot and his eldest daughter. As a Moabitess, she is outside the line of Israel, yet by way of her union with Boaz, the line of the Messiah continued through her. Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho who feared for her life, and who agreed to lie on behalf of the Israelite spies in order to have her life and the lives of her family spared. Not only is Rahab listed in the genealogy of the Messiah, she is also listed in the great roll call of faith in Hebrews chapter eleven.
None of this is hidden from us. Jesus makes no apology for his family line. We look at the genealogical lists of Matthew and Luke, and we see them filled with bizarre, sinful, strong-willed people. We see the line of the Messiah laden with immorality, incest, prostitution, defiance, lies, murder, and conspiracy. It is example upon example of the crazy uncle that we try desperately to keep hidden away in the basement.
Joining Jesus’ Family Tree
How can any one of us look at this pedigree and say within ourselves, God could never work with someone like me. I am an addict. I have a fiery temper. I have killed a man. I am a thief, a fraud. The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, was born of men and women just like you and just like me. Jesus accepts into his bloodline, and his family, the frailties of men and women, and he is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers. – Hebrews 2:11, ESV
I am completely taken aback by that verse. Jesus has every reason to be ashamed and embarrassed by me, my behaviors, and my innermost thoughts. There is so much about me that does not attest well to the indwelling Spirit of God and the saving grace of Jesus upon my life. This is true of all believers, yet Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. We struggle against sin, and we fail in the face of temptation. We grieve over our sin, and resolve to stand strong in the face of future temptation, only to fail yet again. Still, Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.
Both Matthew’s gospel and the gospel of Mark record an incident wherein Jesus redefined family. Having spent some time preaching “on the mountain,” Jesus returned home (we assume to Capernaum). The crowds swarmed Jesus once again, and pressed in on him and the disciples to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. The popularity of Jesus, the new prophet who heals, was so overwhelming, keeping him so busy, that Jesus’ family believed he had lost his mind, and on the basis of that belief they came to fetch him. At the same time, scribes who had come from Jerusalem to check Jesus out (and to put Jesus in check) decided to take charge of the situation in quite a different way. They accused Jesus of being demon-possessed, and of casting out demons by the prince of demons.
When Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived at the home where Jesus was ministering, they remained outside, either unwilling or unable to go in to him. The text tells us that they “sent word to him,” so either someone was able to get through the crowd to deliver the message, or the message was passed from person to person until it reached him. We do know from John’s gospel that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him. There is a sense in this account from Matthew and Mark that they were going to stand their ground and shame their lunatic son/brother by making him come out to them.
A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” Answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!” – Mark 3:32-34, NASB
Bear in mind, those to whom Jesus is pointing when making this statement are not Christians. Indeed, as Jesus says this, such an appellation does not yet exist. Those in the audience may not be religious or pious at all. This is simply the crowd who showed up to see what Jesus might say or do on this particular day. Some of them were likely intrigued by the new teacher, and perhaps even enthusiastic followers. Others were simply curious. Nonetheless, Jesus so identifies with the crowd that he is not ashamed to call them brother, sister, or mother. He did not ask anything of them. He did not call on them to quote the Torah, or to recite any specific liturgy. They simply sat at his feet and listened to what he was saying.
I can only imagine what it would feel like to be sitting there and hear from Jesus’ own lips, “Here is my brother, my sister, my mother,” but if we are to fully grasp what Jesus is saying, we have indeed heard it. This is the distinction borne by every follower of Christ. He is not ashamed to call us brother, sister, or mother. Just as we wear his name, as we have his nature, as we are his family, indwelt by the Spirit of comfort – just as all of those things are true, he proclaims his kinship with us before the Father. “His majesty is not compromised by brotherhood with [us].”* As it was for the patriarchs, “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them,” so it is for us – Jesus is not ashamed to declare himself our brother. (Hebrews 11:16, NIV-1978)
In all three synoptic gospels, Peter announced to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!” In response, Jesus refers to those who have left fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, children, or homes for his sake and for the sake of the gospel, that their reward will be great. And here, Jesus models that reality to us by preferring his followers to his own flesh-and-blood mother and brothers. That is astonishing! If you are willing to follow him, Jesus is not ashamed to call you brother or sister.
* Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 444). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.