When you open the New Testament, have you ever wondered why the first chapter contains the names of over 40 men who died centuries ago? This list is identified as “the genealogy of Jesus Christ” (Matthew 1:1).
The true meaning of Christmas is found in this genealogy, for Matthew makes an incredible statement in this verse about the identity of Jesus, and it is easy to miss the significance of it.
For Matthew to say that this is the genealogy of “Jesus Christ” is huge, because “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name; rather, it is his royal title.
“Christ” is from the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” which means “anointed one” – a reference to the anointing, or pouring, of oil on the head of a person chosen for a leadership position. In the Old Testament, three types of leaders were anointed – prophets, priests and kings. The anointing was done at a special ceremony, similar to an inauguration or ordination.
To refer to Jesus as “Jesus Christ” is the same as saying he is “Jesus, the Christ,” or “Jesus, the Messiah.” This man Jesus was chosen by God to fill the position of King of Israel, just as we would say, “George Washington, President of the United States”.
The Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the coming of this Messiah, or King, to establish his kingdom and reign over both Israel and all nations. If Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, he must come from the royal line. Kings are not elected, they are born. For Jesus to be the Messiah, he must have a royal lineage. And this is why Matthew begins his book with the genealogy of Jesus. His purpose here is to demonstrate the kingly credentials of Jesus.
The key Old Testament passage in this regard is 2 Samuel 7:5-16, where God tells David that one of his descendants will reign forever. “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body . . . and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (v. 12-13).
Matthew 1 shows us that Jesus comes from the line of David through Joseph’s side of the family. There is another genealogy of Jesus in the New Testament (Luke 3) which demonstrates that Jesus also comes from the line of David through Mary’s side of the family. So the evidence that Jesus has royal lineage is indisputable.
Did Jesus understand his role as Messiah? Luke 4:14-21 answers that question. Here we read that early in his public ministry, Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and read a passage from the Old Testament (Isaiah 61:1-2):
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
After Jesus reads this well-known messianic passage, he says to those who knew him best, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus knew he was the Messiah, and he said so right from the beginning of his ministry. And for the next three years, he repeatedly preached “the good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). Why? Because the King was here! That King of Israel had arrived!
As his earthly life came to an end, Jesus’ awareness of his kingship was still paramount. Just hours before his crucifixion, when the Roman governor Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”, Jesus replied, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:33, 37).
Yes, the true meaning of Christmas is found in the birth of a king. Not just any king, but the King of Israel and the world — the Messiah, the Christ who was to come and establish an eternal kingdom in the hearts of those who would recognize him and submit to him as King of kings and Lord of lords.
This is why we sing, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her king!”
Questions to Ponder:
What place does King Jesus have in your Christmas this year? Have you made room for him in your home and in your heart?
A Prayer to Make Your Own:
Father, renew my understanding of the significance of the birth of King Jesus. Fill me with awe and wonder at the coming of the Messiah. May he reign in my heart today and every day.