This lesson may well be one of my favorite Sunday School lessons for our Christmas Story unit, Jesus’ genealogy. I’m always amused by what you can find hidden in those long lists of genealogies. It’s why I developed a whole lesson on Noah’s genealogy. This lesson is no different.
Why does Jesus have two different family trees?
The first thing most people notice when they read the genealogies is they have different names. The first appears in Matthew and starts with Abraham. The second is in Luke and starts with Adam.
First, we need to look at who these books were written to. Matthew was written to the Jews, and he wanted to prove Jesus was the coming Messiah. That is why so much of Matthew says “This happened to fulfill what was written in _______.” So, when Matthew writes Jesus’ genealogy he starts with Abraham where the promise started. God promised Abraham his descendants would bless the nations, and that’s what Jesus did. It emphasizes the royal line Jesus is descended from. Finally, it ends with Joseph, the adopted father of Jesus.
Luke by contrast is written to the Gentiles and Luke emphasizes Jesus is for everyone. So, Luke goes back to Adam and starts with Adam to show this is not just a weird Jewish thing, but for everyone. His lineage is traced to Mary (this is getting into church tradition, and I’m sure you could argue for switching these two).
I’ve always found this interesting, of course, every time I talk about it I have to look up the information to make sure I’m not switching the two genealogies.
What’s interesting about Jesus’ genealogy?
When I was in Bible college I had several friends whose professor taught this lesson with a PowerPoint, and when he reached Judah and Tamar he put a picture up of Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman. “Why?” you ask, because Tamar was a prostitute*. It’s one of the stories you don’t teach kids (so, no I don’t have illustrations of it). She was Judah’s daughter-in-law, but both of his sons had died, and he’d promised she would marry the next boy when he was of age. He didn’t keep his promise, but later when he was out one day he saw a prostitute slept with her, and paid with his family seal (I told you it’s a weird story, and not at all kid-appropriate). Of course, she’s pregnant and he comes at her yelling, “How dare you not stay pure for my son?” To which she replies, “Well, here’s the seal of the man who got me pregnant,” and he knows he’s caught.
But, here’s the really interesting part. Unlike most of the ancient world, she’s not the one held out as having messed up. It’s him who failed to keep his word and take care of his family. He’s the one who broke his word.
*And by prostitute, I mean she chose to highlight how cruel Judah had been to her, and ensure she would be taken care of. She pretended to be a prostitute.
Why does this story interest me? Because it shows you don’t have to be perfect for God to use you. Judah is seriously messed up, a few chapters earlier he was in on the plot to murder his brother. Now, we see God used his sin, and several dozen generations later we get Jesus. Looking at Judah, no one would have said, “From this guy, we’re going to get the savior of the world.”
The next woman mentioned is also a prostitute. I find it interesting that the three women mentioned two are prostitutes. But from all indications, this one walked away from that life. Rahab hid the spies and said, “I know your God will win.” According to Jewish tradition the man she married one of the spies she hid, and according to the Bible is the great-grandmother of Boaz (from the book of Ruth), who is himself the great-grandfather (or maybe it’s the grandfather, I don’t remember offhand).
I just look at Jesus’ family tree and here’s what I see: three adulterers (and I may have forgotten one), a murderer, two prostitutes*, an outcast, an idolater (who participated in unknown acts of worship to other gods), but every single one of these people were part of God’s plan. It’s an amazing plan that we can’t even begin to understand, and God caused it all to come together.
*with caveat I mentioned before
Future Ticia 2023 has had to stop editing past Ticia’s lesson because I have loads more thoughts on this lesson just based off the 4 women mentioned in this passage.
Whole worlds of thoughts, and when I have more ideas to share here, I will write those down.
The actual details of the Jesus genealogy lesson
This is one of those unusual lessons. I don’t read a storybook. I made one, and it’s in the printable, but with 3/4 graders I have them find out about the people. For their homework the week before I gave them 7 different people from Jesus’ genealogy. They read and take notes on what they learned.
They’re all people most of them know, Abraham, Isaac, David, Jacob, Judah, Rahab, Noah, and Ruth, but I’m fairly picky in the questions. The goal of this isn’t for them to say, “I know about David, he beat Goliath.” The goal is for them to find a few new details. So I ask ridiculously picky questions.
When they come in that morning each team (our different small groups) is given another 20 minutes to make as many notes as they can, because once the game starts their Bibles are closed and they only have their notes.
Then teams get to pick categories (the different family members) and the first team I see their hand raised gets to answer (just like Jeopardy). If they’re right they get the point, and they get to pick the next category, if they’re wrong I let another team try.
I try to encourage everyone to play, so they get differing levels of candy. The winning team gets a candy bar, and then it gets less and less candy from there. It’s a pretty popular Sunday School lesson.
I include as a possibility (with the appropriate printables) to put together a timeline of who’s who in Jesus’ genealogy, but I don’t do this in my Sunday School class.
More resources for Jesus’ Family Tree
Ready for some fun genealogy posts? I thought so.
- Lego Genealogy of Jesus
- Jesse tree calendar cards (loosely follows his genealogy)
- Jesse tree ornaments