The Lord's Day Morning
March 29, 2009
“Jesus: Son of David, Son of Abraham, Son of Adam, Son of God”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke 3, as we continue to make our way through the Gospel of Luke. We come today to the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, and as your eyes look at Luke 3:23-28, you may be thinking to yourself quietly (so as not to admit to these thoughts to those around you) Why in the world did Luke stick a genealogy in the middle of an exciting narrative passage? There's a great story going on here! He's been telling about the baptism of Jesus, and heaven has opened and the Holy Spirit has descended in bodily form and God the Father has spoken from heaven. And then the next thing that we're going to see by way of scenes is Satan himself coming to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. Why in the world would you plop a genealogy right down in the middle of an exciting storyline like that?
Or maybe you’re asking yourself the question What can I possibly learn that will help me to live the Christian life from a list of Jesus’ ancestors? Maybe you’re thinking that as we come to the genealogy of Jesus today.
Well, dear friends, Southerners, of all people, ought to understand the importance of the genealogy! I mean, it's almost the first question we ask: “Who are your people?” Well, Luke's telling you who Jesus’ people are. But he's doing a lot more than that, isn't he? Luke is showing us this family tree in order to teach us the humanity of Christ, that He's a real flesh and blood human being with a genealogy and a lineage, just like you and me. But not only that, he's showing us this family tree to connect Him to these great figures of the Old Testament that stand for the promises and the prophecies of God in the Old Testament of the Messiah to come. And, finally, he's telling us this family tree in order to teach us that Jesus is the Son of God. So Luke shows us Jesus’ humanity, he shows us how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies, and he shows us how Jesus is the Son of God — right out of this genealogy.
Now you don't need to be a Bible scholar to know that when you pick up Matthew 1 and you begin reading the genealogy of the Lord Jesus that Matthew records there, and when you pick up Luke 3 and you begin reading the genealogy that Luke records of the Lord Jesus Christ there, that the genealogies aren't the same. There are a few places where they overlap, but there are significant differences between these two genealogies. And you may well have had someone — maybe a religion professor, maybe a skeptical friend — say to you, “Well, the Bible clearly has errors in it because the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 don't match up; therefore, the Bible's wrong.” Well, my friends, has it ever occurred to you that Christians have been reading their Bibles for 2,000 years and it's never bothered them a bit that these two genealogies are different? In fact, I would guess that if we were to do some genealogy in the room today we might find more complex problems in your own genealogies than we would find in the genealogies before us today.
But Christians have for many years attempted to give plausible explanations of what may be going on in Matthew 1 and in Luke 3. There are three main suggestions about how we ought to understand these genealogies that have been given by Christians over the last two millennia.
The first and perhaps most common suggestion is that Matthew is giving us Joseph's genealogy and that Luke is giving us Mary's genealogy. Luke, after all, hints by the very language that he uses, that Joseph of course is not the actual father of Jesus. And Luke records the prophecy about the virgin birth, so he knows that Joseph is not the human father of Jesus — that Jesus is the result of a miraculous intervention of God through the Holy Spirit and that He is ex Maria. He is out of Mary's flesh and blood and womb, but He's not Joseph's natural son, and so it would make sense that Matthew's giving you Joseph's genealogy as the legal father of Jesus and that Luke is giving you Mary's genealogy, the actual line of Jesus.
On the other hand, for about 1800 years now there have been those who believe that Joseph's family had a Levirate marriage. Now you know that in the Old Testament when a brother died and he didn't have a son, a law allowed his brother to marry his widow and the children that are produced of that union to be counted as the legal children of the dead brother, in order to carry his name and his tradition on into the future. There was an early Christian theologian named Africanus who lived in the early third century, about A.D. 220, who suggested that there was a Levirate marriage here and that Matthew is giving us Joseph's line through Jacob (who was his actual father), and that Luke is giving us his line through Heli, who was his legal father.
And then more recently the great J. Gresham Machen, a very famous Presbyterian scholar in the twentieth century, suggested that Matthew is giving us the legal royal descendants of David — the people who would have been king, had David's line continued on — and that Luke is giving us the descendants of David in the particular line that ends with Joseph, but that the two lines converged at the end because Jacob, the father of Joseph, had no issue and so the succession plan passed to Heli's line.
Well, we will never know here exactly what the right answer is. It's one of those questions that I can't wait to ask Luke! Or maybe Mary…or maybe Joseph, one day: “What is the story here? Tell me about these genealogies.” But these are three very plausible explanations. I don't know which one to commend to you, but as I said before, my guess is that if we were to do a little genealogy in the room there would be more complex problems with your own genealogies than there are with these particular genealogies.
Whatever the case is, whatever the right answer is, there is no reason to question the full veracity and historicity of God's word. In fact, the very fact that the Christian church was happy to lay these genealogies side by side for years and years with all the questions we can ask about them, and not fear that they undermined the authority of Scripture, lets you know that the early Christians were not unsettled by the questions that can be raised by these genealogies. They thought the overall picture and message was very, very clear — and it is, indeed.
So let's give attention to God's word in Luke 3, beginning in verse 23. And before we do, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. You mean it for our edification. You mean it for our correction. You mean it for our training in righteousness. You mean it so that we can understand the way of salvation, which is through faith in Jesus Christ. So by Your Spirit, make Your word do all these things for us by faith. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“Jesus, when He began His ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, theh son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Lelea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Nezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
1. What do you need to know about Jesus in order to fully appreciate the gospel?
What do you need to know about Jesus in order to fully appreciate the gospel? What do you need to know about Jesus in order to understand the gospel and God's overarching plan of redemption? That question is always on Luke's mind as he explains the story of Jesus to us as he speaks to Theophilus, this God-seeker, this God-fearer that he's sharing the basic facts about the foundation of Christianity with in this glorious Gospel of Luke. He's always thinking, ‘What does Theophilus, what do my readers, what do my hearers, what do those who are going to read this book and hear this book read…what do they need to know about Jesus in order to understand the gospel? In order to appreciate the gospel?’
2. Why does Luke include this genealogy?
Well, Luke's insertion of this genealogy after Jesus’ baptism and prior to His temptation is designed to help us understand the right answer to that question. What do you need to know about Jesus in order to fully appreciate the gospel? You see, in this genealogy Luke manages to do five things all at once.
He marks Jesus out clearly as the Son of God. Matthew will take Jesus all the way back to Abraham; Jesus’ lineage in Luke goes all the way back to God. Luke is drawing attention to the fact that this is not just a man, this is the very Son of God…a very important fact in light of what you've seen in the baptism and what you will see in the wilderness as Jesus is tempted by Satan.
Secondly, he is showing you that Jesus is the second Adam. The verse after this genealogy is over will introduce you to Jesus going into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Now, you will remember that Adam — the first Adam — was tempted once by Satan in the form of the serpent in a garden that was perfect and lush. And he failed. And Luke wants you to remember that this son of Adam, who is the second Adam, who will be tempted not in a garden, but in a wilderness — and not once, but three times — will not fail and does not fail, and reverses all that Adam had done. He's the second Adam.
This genealogy will show you that Jesus is the seed of Abraham, in whom all of the Abrahamic promises are fulfilled.
Fourth, this genealogy will show you that Jesus is the Messiah: He is the heir of the Davidic throne. He's the rightful ruler on the throne of His father David.
But this genealogy also marks out Jesus as a real man — flesh and blood. He is no Greek demigod ascending in some sort of spiritual form and only appearing to be fleshly and coming into this world. He's flesh and blood, just like us; and, therefore, there's a whole string of “son of… son of… son of… son of…” stretching back 75 generations.
About nine years ago, a Wycliffe Bible translator was in New Guinea translating the New Testament into a new tribal language, and he experienced in that work the power of a genealogy. You know how Wycliffe works. They train a person for a couple of years in a new language, and then they send that person into the culture to learn even more about that language in the culture and to start immediately translating the Bible into the language of that particular tribe or culture. (And the way they do it is, of course, they use native speakers to help them translate the Bible…because who would you think would understand the nuances of a language better? Somebody who had studied it for two years, or people who had been speaking it from the time they could talk? And that gives the Wycliffe translator the opportunity to do what as he's translating the Bible for those people? To share with them the gospel! Because as they’re helping him translate the Bible into their own language, they’re getting to hear the gospel.)
Well, this translator had just moved into this tribal setting in New Guinea, and he thought, “Well, I’ll just start with the Gospel of Matthew.” And he opened up Matthew and what did he see in the very first chapter? A genealogy. And he said, “I just can't do this to these people. I can't let them get bogged down in a genealogy, so I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to start translating with chapter two, and we're going to skip chapter one.” And he started translating and he worked with the men in the village, and they translated all the way from Matthew 2 to Matthew 28. And at the end of all that translation time, they were still not believing the gospel that he kept explaining to them as they translated chapter after chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. And finally he said, “Well, we've translated all of Matthew. I guess I'm going to have to do back and translate chapter one now.” And so they started in chapter one, and by the time they got to the fourth, the fifth, the sixth begat — “So-and-so begat So-and so; So-and-so begat So-and-so…” — he saw the men around him getting excited. Their faces lit up! Their eyes were wide; their voices were beginning to show agitation, and they began interrupting him as they were translating this genealogy in Matthew 1. They stopped him and they said, “You mean to tell me that this Adam was a real person? And that this Abraham was a real person? And this David was a real person? You mean that these people are not just stories that you white men made up, that these are real people?” And he said, “Yes! I've been telling you that all along as I've translated the rest of the Gospel of Matthew.” And they said, “We believe you now! We understand this! We can tell you our ancestors fifty generations back, by name. We can tell you about them! We learn these things. We now know that everything that you have been telling us is true about this man Jesus, and that He had real ancestors and that they were real people, and that God had really done these things — these are not just stories.”
The genealogy had confirmed to them the truthfulness of the historical account of the Gospel of Matthew. We perhaps cannot understand that in modern cultures — even in the Southern culture. But in most cultures, the power of genealogy is palpable, and Luke is bringing to bear the power of the genealogy of Jesus in this passage. Those tribal folk in New Guinea said, “We didn't know that Abraham was real and that David was real, but now we believe.” When they saw the genealogy of Christ…. And Luke is giving us this genealogy of Christ in order to root the story of Jesus in concrete historical realities of what God had been doing in history, and even in Jesus’ own family line.
Now this passage is truly rich, and we could spend a long time in it. But I want to draw your attention today just to two things. I want you to ask the question, “What does Jesus’ genealogy say about me? What does it say about us?” Then, an even more important question, “What does Jesus’ genealogy say about Him?” What does Jesus’ genealogy say about us…what does Jesus’ genealogy say about Him?
1. What does Jesus’ genealogy say about us?
Let's start with the first one. What does Luke show us in Jesus’ genealogy that we need to learn about ourselves? He shows us Adam, and he shows us Noah, and he shows us Abraham. He shows us David, and he shows us some of the great heroic figures of the Old Testament. These people did amazing things, heroic things, and many of them believed against all hope in the promises of God. But you know what else you learn about the people that are listed in this genealogy? You learn that they are sinners. Adam plunged us all into sin with his rebellion. Noah was a drunkard. Abraham was a liar and a coward. David was an adulterer and a murderer. And when you study this genealogical tree — yes, you find heroes, but you especially find sinners. This family tree teaches us our sin and our need for grace.
Here's what Phil Ryken says about this genealogy:
“They were guilty of the same kinds of sins as we are. All these men were sinners. It's nice to think that our ancestors were noble and good, and that they did something heroic. This is one of the reasons people like to study their family trees. Whether they were heroic or not, the people who came before us were just as deeply flawed as we are. We can infer this from the mere fact that they were human beings, but we can also prove it from the pages of the Bible. Consider some of the skeletons in the family closet as recorded in the Old Testament: Terah, the father of Abraham, was an idolater; Abraham was a liar; Jacob was a cheater and a thief; Judah traded slaves and consorted with prostitutes; David was a murderer and an adulterer. We usually remember these men as heroes, but they were also scoundrels, all the way back to Adam. At the tap root of the family tree, like any genealogy, the one in Luke's Gospel records a long line of sinners.”
And the Apostle Paul says the wages of sin is death, and so we die.
2. What Jesus’ genealogy says about Him.
And here's our only hope, my friends. Hope is that though we were born and live in sin, and because we sin, we die, we do not have to die, because Jesus is in this genealogy. Jesus is in this family tree. And Luke is reminding us even as he shows us this family tree that we are sinners, and we're not the answer. We are not the ones we have been waiting for. We are not the answer to our salvation. We are not the ones who can undo the mess that this world is in. We cannot look to ourselves. We ourselves are sinners. We need to look away from ourselves and we need to look to God for grace. And that is the second thing that this genealogy so beautifully displays in Jesus.
This genealogy tells us at least six things about Jesus.
First of all, it identifies us with Him. You remember how we said that in the baptism of Jesus, though He was not a sinner and though He didn't need to be forgiven and He didn't need to repent, yet He received the baptism of repentance in order to identify himself with sinners who were guilty, who were sinful, who did need to repent, and who did need to be forgiven. He identified himself with us in baptism. Well, so also the genealogy identifies Him with us. Luke is telling you that Jesus — though He was perfect, though He was sinless — came from a long line of sinners. He was connected and identified with sinners.
And this genealogy makes it clear that Jesus is a real person. His humanity is emphasized in the very record of the genealogy. Just as the tribal folk in New Guinea got the point that this is real history — this isn't a story, because a genealogy is recorded — so also the genealogy reminds us that Jesus is a real person. He's not a story. He's flesh and blood and human. He had a father and a grandfather and a great-grandfather. And you can go on back for 75 generations.
And this passage teaches us that Jesus is the Messiah, and David's heir. In verse 31, He's called the son of David, and this reminds us that He's the King that Isaiah 32 talks about. He's the one that we're looking for! He's the one who's going to reign on His father David's throne. And in verse 34, He's called a son of Abraham. He is the heir of Abraham. All of the promises of God to Abraham are yea and amen in Christ. It's in Christ that we become children of Abraham, even if we're Gentiles…Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are one — co-heirs, inheritors with Jesus Christ, because He has fulfilled the covenant of grace that God has made with Abraham, and He is the inheritor of the promises of Abraham, and we inherit those promises in Him.
In verse 38, He's called the son of Adam. He's the second Adam. Whereas the first Adam failed, and sinned and fell and plunged us into sin and misery, He did not fail. Luke is going to display His glorious rebuttal of Satan, the evil one, in the wilderness, in the early verses of Luke 4. He's the second Adam, who does not fail when He is tempted. Three times He is tempted; three times He resists. He does what Adam couldn't do, and reverses the course of Adam's sin. Through one man (Paul will say in Romans 5)… “Through one man's disobedience, sin and death came into this world, so that through one man's obedience life and righteousness will come to all who trust in Him.” He is the second Adam.
And He is the Son of God. Verse 38 ends the genealogy with the assertion that Jesus is the very Son of God. He's not just a great moral prophet. He's not just a great philosopher. He's not just a great leader of men. He is the very Son of God. In other words, Luke is saying we have a temptation to trust in ourselves and trust in people, and when we do, our trust is built on sand, because we're sinners, people are sinners, and they will let you down. But if you will turn your eyes on Jesus, if you will put your faith in Him, He has in Him concentrated the sum total of everything that you need. He is identified with sinners, and so He can bear your sin. He is fully human, so He can be a great high priest who can sympathize with your weaknesses as a human. He is the Messiah, and David's heir, and so He is the King of your heart to reign over you. He is the heir of Abraham, and so all of God's promises to Abraham are yours in Him. He is the second Adam. The son of Adam has reversed the course of Adam's curse so that you can find the blessings of God in Him. And He is the very Son of God, and by trust in Him you become the very children of the heavenly Father.
In other words, Luke is saying the sum total of everything that you need is concentrated in Jesus, and it's not found anywhere outside of Him. There's nothing that you need that's outside of Him, but everything that you do need is in Him.
It's Luke's way of saying in this world you can either trust yourself and trust people, and sin and fail and die; or, you can trust in Christ alone. You can find all your hope in Him alone, and live. That's what this great genealogy teaches us about ourselves and about our Savior.
Heavenly Father, we ask that by the grace of Your Holy Spirit You would open our eyes to our own sin and our own need, and that You would point us then to the Savior, Your Son, Jesus Christ — son of David, son of Abraham, son of Adam, son of God — and that we would put our trust in Christ alone. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
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