Part 1 of “The Tree” – a study of Jesus’ family tree.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story teller.” This statement is why, I believe, we are able to hear a bit of our story within the pages of the Bible. God is the storyteller of creation and human history, and we are the characters who find ourselves on the stage of his great and grand story of redemption.
The types of people that God wanted to follow Him were not people who had it all together spiritually. This statement is especially true of the types of people who comprise Jesus’ family tree. In Mathew 1:1-17, we are given a list of all those in Jesus’ family tree that support Him being the rightful heir of King David. In Luke, we are given a similar list of Jesus’ ancestors that prove that He was the promise made to Abraham. However, looking closer, the individuals in Jesus’ family tree will prove to be a bit scandalous.
Beginning with Adam, we are provided a list of ancestors, some of whom were guilty of deceit, incest, rape, adultery, and murder. We will not look at all of the people in Jesus’ family tree, but we will look at some of the key people that comprise His linage. What you will discover in the weeks to come is a God who not only turns evil around for good, but also takes what is ugly and makes it beautiful.
Included in Jesus family tree are people like Adam and Eve who had their hearts crushed by a wayward firstborn son who murdered their second son. Also included in Jesus’ family tree is Noah, who, after he’d passed out drunk, was humiliated by one of his sons. Jesus is the descendant of Abraham and Sarah whose marriage included deceit and a lack of faith. He is the descendant of the son of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, whose daughters raped him while drunk. Also in Jesus’s family tree is Jacob’s unwanted and ugly wife, Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute for the purpose of getting pregnant by her father-in-law. Also included were the brothel running prostitute known as Rahab, and Ruth, who was from a people that despised the Hebrews, and who can forget David, whose guilt of adultery and murder eventually divided his kingdom. With each of their stories, God was able to transform what appeared to be categorically ugly into something captivatingly beautiful. As with all family trees, we must start with the beginning.
God is the Creator
The Bible starts with the phrase: “In the beginning…” What happened in the beginning? “God created the heavens and the earth” (v. 1). This is how we tell stories: “Once upon a time…” “A long, long time ago…” In a galaxy far, far away…” Like all other stories, our story begins in the mind of God when, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep” (v. 2).
Out of the imagination of the mind of God, came forth a world brimming with life and worship. On the first day, God created the heavens and the earth; day and night. On the second day, He divided the heavens from the earth. On the third day, God created the land, sea, and vegetation. On the forth day, He created the sun, moon, and stars. On the fifth day, God created creatures great and small. On the sixth day, God created land animals, and finally mankind. And, on the seventh day… God rested.
Out of the mind of God came forth different rivers, multitudes of species of plants, trees, and all kinds of vegetables and fruit. Out of the mind of God came the great dinosaurs, elephants, the giraffe, lions, and tigers, and bears. Out of the mind of God came forth the great sea creatures, coral reefs, small fish, jellyfish, snails, sea turtles, etc. It was the product of God’s unlimited imagination that the idea of human beings became a reality after He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (v. 24). Human beings were created as unique category within creation, for we are the only creatures that bear the image of God.
When God created, He didn’t use special effects or any tricks; He spoke and Creation came into being. When He had finished with creation, God declared it to be “very good” (v. 31). “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) when he took the blank canvas of nothing and then painted the beauty of creation with the brush of His omnipotent Word.
We Reflect the Image of the Creator
On the final day of His creative acts, God created man. He didn’t just create another creature, He created a creature “in his own image… male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Not even the angels in heaven bear the image of God; only we humans bear His image! Adam and Eve were given three commands: 1. Be fruitful and fill the earth with people like themselves; 2) manage creation; and, 3) Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All three commands were meant to increase their joy as human beings created in the image of God. So what does it mean to be created in the image of God? I believe the answer is found in Genesis 1:28-30,
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
Part of what it means to be created in the image of God includes not just the responsibility to manage creation, but to create. As image bearers, Adam and Eve, along with every generation that followed them, were given the ability to create language, cook, throw a party, make babies, practice medicine, design clothing, build houses, plant gardens, raise a family, tell stories, put color to a blank canvas as the echo of the One who created mankind in His image.
Have you ever paused to notice when reading Genesis 1-2 that although God had every right and ability to name the animals of creation, it was Adam He gave the honor to do? From the very beginning, God made room for Adam to create, or as Andy Crouch put it: “He makes room for Adam’s creativity—not just waiting for Adam to give a preexisting right answer to a quiz but genuinely allowing Adam to be the one who speaks something out of nothing, a name where there had been none, and allowing that name to have its own being.” Crouch goes on to write, “God’s first and best gift to humanity is culture, the realm in which human beings themselves will be the cultivators and creators, ultimately contributing to the cosmic purposes of the Cultivator and Creator of the natural world.”
The purpose of Creation was always to fill it with image bearing worshipers of the Creator as the intended maximization of the joy of His creation. When God brought life out of nothing, He also gifted His new creation with the fruit that is enjoyed through a life rooted in Him, and that fruit is joy.
There is a Destroyer Who Hates Us
Everything in the Garden of Eden was given to Adam and Eve for their pleasure and management. The only thing that was kept from them was the fruit of tree of the knowledge of good and evil – not because God was selfish, but because He loved them. Then a day came when the couple found themselves before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Out of the tree could be heard a voice from a snake: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”
The root of the temptation was to question the goodness of God, because He withheld fruit from only one tree in the garden. In other words, Satan was tempting Eve to doubt the goodness of God. Thomas Watson once wrote concerning sin, “Sin first tempts and then damns. It is first a fox and then a lion.” So Eve, “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took its fruit and ate…” she then gave some to her husband and he did the same (Gen. 3:6). Their innocence was violated by their rebellion, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (v. 7).
What happened? Adam and Eve were tempted to doubt the goodness of a God, who gave them everything in creation except the fruit from one tree. They were deceived into believing that they could be equals with their Creator, and after their sin, they were deeply disappointed. How do I know they were disappointed? Because the first thing Adam and Eve discovered, was not the promise of the serpent, but the shame resultant of their own actions. Before they bit into the fruit they were naked and unashamed, but then after they sinned, they were not only aware of their nakedness, but were ashamed of it, so they covered themselves with fig leaves. The greatest cost to Adam and Eve, and the rest of the human race, was that of death; physical and spiritual death. Donald Grey Barnhouse had a way of putting the Bible into perspective; in one of his sermons on what happened in the Garden of Eden, he said:
Adam’s choice was an act of rebellion, the equivalent of a declaration of independence…. Adam, in effect, said, “I am tired of having everything north, south, east, and west of this tree. I will be independent. I will run my own affairs.” It was not a request that God share the throne of government with man; it was an ultimatum to Him to abdicate and leave full control to man.
Jesus said of the Devil that he, “was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The motive of the devil was his hatred of God and his hatred for the only creature in all of creation that bears the Creator’s image. However, it wasn’t the devil’s choice that made Adam and Eve sin, it was Adam and Eve’s choice to sin against God, and their choice cost them the life for which God created them.
To the serpent, God promised that Adam and Eve’s offspring would one day crush his head and that the best he would be able to do is to wound him. To the woman, God promised that, in the giving of life, she would be reminded of death through the pain of childbearing. To the man, God promised that in the bringing of life from the ground he would be reminded of death, as the work to do so would greatly increase. Both Adam and Eve, and all who would come after them, would one day lose to the great enemy of life, which is death.
God is a Great Redeemer
Adam and Eve sinned against God, but were met His Grace. While hiding from God, Adam and Eve were sought out by God. When God should have written them of, God promised a deliverer who would one day liberate the human race from the curse of sin through His Son, Jesus Christ. How true the lines of Frederick Faber’s poem, There Are’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
The response of Adam and Eve is encouraging. The very first thing Adam did was name His wife. Up to this point in the story, we only have known her as “the woman.” After God’s curse over creation, and the promise of one who would destroy the serpent, Adam responded in faith by naming his wife, “Eve,” which means “mother of the living.” Then God covered their shame with animal skins even though they were removed from the Garden where they once enjoyed the presence of God.
After Adam named his wife “Mother of the Living,” they had their first son. They named their firstborn son Cain, which literally means: “Here he is.” In response to the promise of God that a deliverer would come through them, they believe Cain was the answer. They believed that Cain was the promised Christ.
So what should we take home from this story? First, Adam and Eve never, in a million years, thought that their disobedience would have the kind of implications that it had for the whole human race, even though God warned them that their disobedience would be catastrophic. Here is what we learn from Adam and Eve’s story:
- Sin is always costly. Consider what Adam and Eve’s sin cost them; it cost them their intimacy with God, their intimacy with each other, and it robbed them of a joy that far exceeded what their sin could have delivered.
- Sin never delivers what it promises. Adam and Eve were told that if they sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit that they would be just like God, but what they received is pain and death.
- Sin destroys peace. Before the fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed peace in the garden. There was harmony and continuity in the garden, but their sin disturbed what they once enjoyed. Sin vandalizes the peace of God.
- Sin brings unwanted shame. The moment Adam and Eve sinned against God, their innocence was turned into shame. They once enjoyed each other’s company naked and unashamed, but their sin resulted in their need to cover up their shame by covering up their nakedness.
- Sin will rob you of genuine joy. Adam and Eve were made to enjoy, experience, and bring forth life, but their sin robbed them of life and delivered only death.
- No Sin is bigger than God’s Grace. Even though there were consequences to their sin, Adam and Eve experienced the overpowering grace of God over their sin.
What we will see, included in Jesus’ family tree, is a list people guilty of some of the worst sins. I believe the reason for that, and the reason that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke do not try to hide it, is because Jesus’ family tree tells us of the kinds of people that He came to redeem and save. Jesus’ family tree also tells us that if God can take the ugliness of adultery, murder, abuse, and even incest, and transform it into something beautiful, then He can take whatever is ugly in your life and redeem it into something beautiful as well.
Did God not do the
same with the ugliest instrument of death called the cross? God used the infamous crucifix and turned it
into the instrument of our redemption: “Christ
redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is
written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ge 1:28–30). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 Andy Crouch. Culture Making (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books; 2008), 109-110.
 Thomas Watson. The Mischief of Sin (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications; 1994), p. 20.
 Donald Grey Barnhouse, “God’s River,” Romans vol. 2(Grand Rapids, MI: 1982), p. 17.
 Frederick W. Faber. There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy. 1854.
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