“Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren” (Matthew 1:2 KJV).
First of all, this isn’t a carol or a hymn.
It’s not a congregational song.
It’s not even in the category of “special music” before the sermon.
So I need to do a little explaining here. A few years ago Andrew Peterson decided to make a song out of the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. You know that chapter, I’m sure. It’s the first chapter of the New Testament, the one with the long list of unpronounceable names. In the King James Version, Matthew 1 contains the word “begat” 39 times in 16 verses. The word means “to father” as in a literal father-son relationship, or it can mean “to be the ancestor of,” perhaps as a grandfather or a great-grandfather.
Most of us don’t know what to do with that long genealogy. We tend to read the first verse about Jesus, David and Abraham, and then we skip down to verse 18, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” I certainly understand that. After all, what are we supposed to do with names like Azor, Joram and Abiud? How do you even pronounce that last one? Who are these people anyway?
In 2004 Andrew Peterson sat down and put the genealogy of Matthew 1 to music. He did it quite literally. He found a way to sing that long list of names and make it fun to listen to. It’s the Bible set to music.
But why include “Matthew’s Begats” with classic carols like “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful”? My answer is simple. Because the New Testament begins with “Matthews’s Begats.” We might call this "the forgotten chapter of the Christmas story." We routinely skip it to get to the "good stuff." But the Jews of the first century would be quite surprised by our attitude. To them, the genealogy would have been an essential setting for the story of Jesus' birth.
The list of names in Matthew 1 tells us Jesus had roots. He had a family tree. He didn't just drop out of heaven, he didn't appear magically on the scene, but at the perfect moment of history, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He's not some fictional character—like the gods on Mount Olympus. No, he was a real person born into a real family.
I hope you won't skip Matthew 1 in your Bible reading. This unlikely list of unlikely people may be the greatest chapter on the grace of God in all the Bible. In these forgotten names from the past God turns the spotlight of his holy grace on fallen men and women, and through their lives, we see what the grace of God can do.
With that as background, get your Bible (I recommend the King James Version because it contains the text of this song, but any version will do), and let’s listen to Andrew Peterson’s bluegrass rendition of Matthew’s Begats.
Lord Jesus, when you were born, you joined a human family with a history. May I never be ashamed of you because you were not ashamed to come for me. Amen.