Matthew's account of the Christmas story begins by clearly identifying who was to be born - "Jesus the Messiah" (Matthew 1:1). The detailed genealogy that follows closes with the same identification: "Jesus . . . who is called the Messiah" (1:16). God wanted to make it very evident that this was an eminently special child. Many other names and descriptions occur throughout the narratives in Matthew and Luke. I found the following:
Matthew: "the son of David" (1:1); "the son of Abraham" (1:1); "Jesus Christ" (1:18); "conceived . . . of the Holy Spirit" (1:20); "Jesus" (1:21); "He will save His people from their sins" (1:21); "Immanuel" (1:23); "God with us" (1:23); "King of the Jews" (2:2); "the Messiah" (2:4); "a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel" (2:6); "My [God's] Son" (2:15).
Luke: "will be great" (1:32); "the Son of the Most High" (1:32); "the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end" (1:32-33); "the holy Child" (1:35); "the Son of God" (1:35); "blessed is the fruit of your womb" (1:42); "my Lord" (1:43); "a horn of salvation" (1:69); "the Most High" (1:76); "the Sunrise from on high" (1:78); "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (2:11); "the consolation of Israel" (2:25); "the Lord's Christ" (2:26); "Your [God's] salvation" (2:30); "a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel" (2:32).
This was indeed a special Child. There has never been another in the history of the world who can compare to Him. There is none other who has been given such exalted titles by God. There is none other who has been entrusted with such incredible responsibilities. There is none other who has changed the course of the entire world or who has had such an impact on mankind.
Here's something interesting. God has all power and all control. He could have brought about the birth of this Child in any way He chose. He could have made the entire process so blameless and exalted, so pure and incredible, that no aspect of Jesus' birth or preparation thereunto would contain the tiniest speck of sin or distaste. Such is not the case; God purposefully includes a list of all the people who preceded Christ, who were part of His lineage. Found in Matthew 1, the genealogy through Joseph unashamedly gives a list of forty varyingly unsavory people.
Not a single one of these men was perfect. If someone were to take the time to study the lives of these men, he would find instances of lying, faithlessness, trickery, polygamy, incest, adultery, murder, idolatry, spiritual apathy, and other forms of wickedness. Why would God choose these sinful people as precursors to the Christ? A large part of the answer is that every man is a sinner. If God had needed to choose perfect people to form the line of Christ, He would not have found anyone, nor would Christ have been needed.
What specifically caught my attention were the added explanations included in the genealogy. Most of the time God gives only the names of the father and son. On a few occasions, however, He includes something extra. Why does God give extra detail for a handful of people?
Perez was the son of Jacob, and his mother Tamar is mentioned as part of the story. Tamar presented herself as a prostitute and tempted her father-in-law Jacob into an incestuous relationship, resulting in the birth of Perez.
Boaz was the son of Salmon, and his mother was Rahab. Rahab was the prostitute who, during the time of Joshua, protected the Hebrew spies. This former prostitute trusted God and lived among the Jews, marrying Salmon. Boaz was born to this couple.
Obed was the son of Boaz, and his mother was Ruth. While Ruth is presented as noble person, she was a foreigner. God had commanded His people not to marry foreign women; in escaping a famine, however, Elimelech took his family to Moab where his sons married foreigners. After the death of one of these sons, the widow Ruth married Boaz as her second husband and gave birth to Obed.
Solomon was the son of David. Of David's many wives, Solomon was the son of Bathsheba, the one with whom David had an adulterous relationship and whose husband David ordered to be murdered.
Jeconiah was king at the time of the deportation of Israel to Babylon. God's people had become so wicked, idolatrous, and rebellious that God was compelled to send this harsh judgment. Jeconiah was one of those wicked people, whose brief reign did nothing to stem the wickedness or delay the judgment.
These five stories are not attractive. In a story so beautiful about a Savior so pure, God could have left out these sordid details, but He didn't. He purposefully included them, resulting in a remarkable Christmas story that is tainted with stains. But, oh, what a wonder! Those stains serve to highlight the necessity of a Christmas-born Savior and also to show the effectiveness of Christmas - that God can take any sinner, no matter how vile or defiled, can save him and use him to bring glory to God. Anyone who thinks his heritage or his history is so bad that God could never choose or use him can take heart from these sad stories that were incorporated into the most joyous story of all.
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." I Corinthians 6:9-11 (NASB)