Thrive: Love’s Family Tree – Julie Pennington-Russell

Matthew 1:1-17

“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…”
—Matthew 1:1

Sometimes people decide they are going to read through the New Testament in order to grow spiritually, so they turn to Matthew, because it is at the beginning of the New Testament, and never make it past the first seventeen verses. This guy begat that guy, and whosit begat somebody else, and what’s-his-name fathered so-and-so. Just dreadful.

As every great storyteller knows, the beginning’s got to be great. He or she has to have us from “hello.” Had John Grisham begun The Firm twenty years ago with a three-page genealogy, he might still be practicing law in Mississippi. No gifted writer starts by blathering on and on about who begat whom. Fortunately for Matthew, the Jewish Christians to whom he was writing were perhaps the only people on the planet who weren’t bored by the “begats.” After all, this was their story!

There are two things I particularly love about the lineage of Jesus. First, the surprising variety. There are all sorts of folk, both pious and problematic, dangling from the branches of this family tree and Matthew doesn’t try to cover them up or pretty them up, God bless him. As family trees go, Jesus has a Charlie Browner on his hands. This is something of a relief to me, as my own family has its share, not only of humble, salt-of-the-earth types, but also bootleggers and jail-dwellers and a smattering of moonshiners. No problemo. Jesus’ family is a fixer-upper, too.

The other genealogical jewel here, I believe, shines best in the names of the women included in the line-up. Sure, there are plenty whose names should have been included but weren’t. Conversation for another day. But four of the five who do make the cut all have something surprising in common:

Not one of them is Jewish.

You would assume to see a lineup of pure-blooded matriarchal all-stars. But nope—turns out Jesus wants everybody on his family tree: Jews, Hittites, Moabites, and Canaanites. Also Postmodern-ites, Democrat-ites and Republican-ites, not to mention seducers and murderers and schemers and well, just everybody.

Ultimately what this boring list of names stands for is the beautiful news that none of us really belongs, but God loves us just the same. Not one of us qualifies for a spot on this tree, but God welcomes sinners like you and me anyhow. It’s not about pedigree—it’s about mercy. Maybe the boring thing’s not so boring after all.

Julie Pennington-Russell_smJulie Pennington-Russell is pastor of First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia. She has served there since August of 2007. Julie previously served as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, and Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco, California. She earned a B.A. from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, and M.Div. from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California. Currently, Julie serves as a trustee for Mercer University. Her sermons have been featured on the television broadcast 30 Good Minutes, Day-1 Radio, and the Festival of Homiletics. Julie is married to Tim Pennington-Russell, a website designer and sometimes poet and bass player. They have two teenage children, Taylor and Lucy. Julie blogs at

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  1. Thank you for reminding us to value all people as children of God. This changes our responces and perceptions to our fellow man. It also reminds mw that I am not perfect in his sight, yet he loves me.
    Sometimes I, too, dangle. Now is the time to put both hands onto the life line and be aware of our presence in Christ.

  2. Frank Lively says

    Thank you, Julie, for telling it like it is. My family heritage are similar to yours. We probably had more than a ‘smattering’ more moonshiners. One of my grand fathers worked for the county as a road builder. He built the first paved road around Stone Mountain and some of it is now used as the rail bed for Cecil’s train. My other g’father seems to have just ‘dropped in.’ He has no history and doesn’t seem to have had any forefathers or fore-mothers. He just was. They were both good to me and were instrumental in producing good men and women who showed us the way we should go. As far as I know we have followed the Word and now have peeps of our own who we are supposed to teach. I think Jesus lived and had a family very much like ours with both good and maybe not so good, but interesting. While Jesus spoke in parables which did lead to some misunderstanding and confusion, his brother, James, was not so politically correct and told it like it was . Thanks Julie for pulling our rope and getting the engine started for 2014.

  3. Nailed it, as usual. Also, modern tribal societies are attracted to the genealogy because it represents authentic history for them. That Bible is just a great big treasure, isn’t it?

  4. Randall Hampton says

    Thank you Pastor Julie for this wonderfully powerful message. What a great way to enter into a new year, reminded that “beautiful news that none of us really belongs, but God loves us just the same.”

    Bless you!

  5. Deborah Gilbreath says

    This is a wonderful devotional that highlights the fact that Jesus came to save all people and this is evident even in the beginning through His own family tree. Each one of us can rightfully claim our place in His family. God bless you.

    • Gary Gramling says

      Julie, thanks for this helpful reminder that there is room for all of us on Jesus’ family tree. And thanks for faithfully using those gifts of writing and speaking with honesty and humor and compassion through these years. You are such a blessing.

    • Deborah, I so appreciate your taking the time to read this piece. Thanks for the affirmation. Blessings to you in this new year!

  6. David F. D'Amico says

    Thank you Julie for the profound and well written piece. It is a source of inspiration. I wish you were my pastor! Love, David

  7. Bert Langdon says

    Thanks Julie! It is 8 a.m. in Lompoc, CA . I have just read your down to earth and practical devotional. Deane and I love and appreciate your ministry.