Our Savior’s Scandalous Ancestors
What Christ's Family Tree Tells Us about His Mission

How would you like to know who your ancestors were and fill in the branches of your family tree? You might discover that you descend from a Mayflower pilgrim or some other great hero like George Washington or Pocahontas. But what if you found out that your family tree had some rotten branches? That’s precisely what happened to the famous actor, Ben Affleck, when he appeared on PBS’s, Finding Your Roots. After analyzing Affleck’s DNA, experts were able to trace his lineage back to his great-great-great-grandfather who, as it turns out, was a wealthy plantation owner in Savannah that owned some two dozen slaves. The Hollywood elite was mortified and ordered the show’s producers to keep the information from reaching the public. Affleck later told reporters, “I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”  The producers submitted and the secret of Affleck’s R-rated roots was kept buried until hackers leaked it to the public.

The Lord Jesus had some scandalous ancestors too. We know that because, far better than a DNA test, we have the very Word of God in which Matthew recorded Jesus’ paternal line. One of the most unique features of Matthew’s genealogy is that he goes out of his way to include four women. Not just any women! The ladies Matthew named were steeped in scandal: prostitutes, pagans, and paramours, oh my! Why then would Matthew include Jesus’ scandalous ancestors in his record of the Savior’s genealogy? So that you would know that Jesus is not ashamed to have wretches in His family.

The Prostitutes

…and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar… and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab…” (Matt. 1:3-4).

Genesis 38 contains some of the most sordid content in the Bible. In it we read of Judah and his 3 sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er married a woman named Tamar, but Er was evil in the sight of God so the Lord killed him. Now, according to the law, Onan was obligated to marry Tamar and give her children so his big brother’s property would remain in the family. But Onan deceitfully refused his duty, so the Lord killed him too. Now, Judah had only Shelah left.

Do you know how the black widow spider earned its macabre moniker? As the male spider approaches the female on her web, he dances an ancient choreography which reaches its crescendo on the underside of her belly, between her gruesome fangs. This 8-legged, femme fatale is notorious for devouring her smaller partner once their dance is complete, earning her the name, “black widow.”

Though Er and Onan forfeited their own lives by their sin, their father, Judah, believed Tamar to be like unto the black widow spider, the common denominator in their deaths. And he wasn’t eager to feed his third and final son, his last hope for the future of his line, to her. But without a husband or children, Tamar was destined for destitution. Desperate, she disguised herself as a prostitute, seduced her father-in-law, Judah, and conceived twins by him, Perez and Zerah. That moral manure reeks of a reminiscence to Lot and his daughters.

Astonishingly, Jesus’ line contained not just one but two prostitutes. We first met Rahab in the early chapters of Joshua, as the people of Israel emerged from the wilderness, crossed the Jordan River and began their conquest of Canaan. The first major obstacle that stood in their way was the great, walled, city of Jericho. So, Joshua sent in two spies to reconnoiter the city. Now, maybe these men were B-squad spies, or perhaps this was their first mission. Maybe the city was on high alert as news of the Hebrew hordes crossing the Jordan had already reached them. Whatever the reason, as soon as the spies stepped foot in Jericho, they triggered the guards’ alarm. And as these spies tore through the streets of the doomed city with the Jerichonian police hot on their trail, they took refuge in the home of a harlot named Rahab. But Rahab had heard of the God of Israel and how He had preserved His people in the wilderness, and she had put her trust in Him saying, “For the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11). Evidence of her transformative faith can be seen in the stalks of flax drying on her roof (the new trade of the former harlot?): the perfect hiding spot for spies. For her courageous faith, she and her household were spared when Israel sacked the city. Rahab was engrafted into the people of Israel and married Salmon, by whom she bore Boaz. Which brings us to…

The Pagan

…and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse …” (Matt. 1:5)

When the book of Ruth opens, a famine has fallen upon Bethlehem leaving the “house of bread” breadless. Desperate to feed their sons, Mahlon and Chilion, Elimelech and his wife Naomi abandoned their ancestral home and make for the fields of Moab outside the Promised Land. There, the boys married forbidden Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Eventually, the men died leaving the three widows to fend for themselves. So, Naomi decided to return to her home and release her daughters-in-law back to their families. But Ruth refused, pleading, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). Her loyalty did not go unnoticed. A righteous, elderly gentleman named Boaz, the son of Rahab, redeemed Ruth the Moabite widow, worthless in the eyes of Israel, and she became his wife. Ruth bore to Boaz a son named, Obed, who fathered Jesse

The Paramour

…and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” (Matt. 1:6).

Matthew is unapologetic about the dirty details. He doesn’t call her “Bathsheba,” but, almost insistently, “the wife of Uriah.” And so she was! Are you familiar with the word “paramour”?  It’s French for “side-love,” the perfect description of Bathsheba, the mistress of King David who, when he realized he could not conceal their affair, murdered her husband Uriah by ordering his generals to abandon Uriah on the front lines. Though the child conceived in David and Bathsheba’s sin died as an expression of the Lord’s discipline against His anointed king, Bathsheba gave David a second son and heir named Solomon.

There you have it. In the line of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God, we find two prostitutes, a pagan, and a paramour. Why does Matthew go out of his way to include these women in Jesus’ genealogy? These notorious names are logged on the genealogical register so that you would know that Jesus didn’t come from clean people. The Lion of Judah came to rescue His bride through the wiles of a prostitute, Tamar. The Redeemer of God’s elect came to His people by way of a harlot, Rahab. The blood that coursed through the veins of the Holy One of Israel was mingled with the blood of a Moabitess, Ruth. The sinless Son of David was the descendent of the stolen wife of a murdered Hittite, Bathsheba. Jesus didn’t come from clean people!

But Jesus didn’t come for clean people, either. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:31-32).

Jesus came for the dirty, the lost, and the defiled. Jesus comes seeking and saving people who’ve made shipwreck of their lives and need rescue. He came, “ruined sinners to reclaim: Hallelujah, What a Savior!” Jesus came for the misfit toys… you know that song from the 1964 Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”? Rudolph and his companions come to the island of misfit toys where defective toys have been discarded: a jack-in-the-box named Charlie, a spotted elephant, a train with square wheels, a water pistol that shoots jelly, a cowboy who rides an ostrich, and a boat that doesn’t float. That sounds a lot like the church, doesn’t it? A band of spiritually broken people; a motley crew of misfits; foolish and despised in the eyes of the world, but beloved in God’s eyes for Christ’s sake.

My friend, has a sense of shame kept you from coming to Jesus? Has guilt over past and present sins robbed you of the joy of your salvation? Know this: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). Since Jesus is so faithful there is no wound He cannot heal. There is no stain He cannot wash out. There is no secret that can scare Him away. There is no sin for which His blood cannot atone: “His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me!” You can never be too far gone for Him to reach you. And you can never be too lost for Him to find you and save you by His mighty grace. Ben Affleck was ashamed at the sin of his family members, and he tried to cover up the record of wrong-doing. But not Jesus. Of the vile sinners Jesus died to save, the writer of Hebrews said, “He is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb. 2:11), nor is God “ashamed to be called their God” (Heb. 11:16). Since He is not ashamed of us, may we never be ashamed of Him and His gospel.