Spirituality Information

Understanding the Gospel of Matthew and Why it Matters - Part 2

Matthew 1:1-17

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2A braham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achimrfasr the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

In 1998, investigative journalist Lee Strobel authored a book called "The Case for Christ". Strobel, who received a degree from Yale Law School and was Legal Editor for the Chicago Tribune, was converted from atheism to Christianity while writing the book. In "The Case for Christ", Strobel interviews a host of experts who lay out the evidence for the authenticity of the Bible and its teachings about Jesus.

In a sense, Matthew's gospel could also be called "The Case for Christ". As he begins the book, his full intention seems to be to convince his fellow Jews that Jesus really is the promised Messiah. Exhibit A is the opening genealogy.

The prophets had long foretold that the Messiah would come from the seed of Abraham and David. Matthew's genealogy is the evidence that Jesus meets this criteria. It's important to note that at the time when Matthew wrote his gospel, the Temple Records were still intact and accessible to the public. Anyone could have verified this genealogy and confirmed its legitimacy. These records were destroyed with the Temple in 70 A.D., making it impossible for any Jew today to prove himself a genuine descendant of David.

Matthew makes his point very clear by beginning and ending the genealogy by referring to Jesus as the Christ. The word "Christ" (Christos) is the Greek form of the Hebrew word "Messiah", which means "Anointed One." In the Old Testament, only three kinds of people were anointed. The prophets were anointed to be messengers from God. The priests were anointed to represent the people in performing sacrifices to God. The kings were anointed to rule over and lead God's people. The promised Anointed One was to be all three of these in one. Jesus, as the Messiah, was to be a prophet, priest, and king.

The Jews had waited centuries for this Messiah to come. His arrival was a testimony to the faithfulness of God. On this point Matthew Henry reminds us that "Delays of promised mercies, though they exercise our patience, do not weaken God's promise." Is there a promise that you are waiting for God to fulfill? Are you in a circumstance where you cannot see how God could possibly bring good out of it? Are you wishing that God would hurry up and bring peace to an area of your life? Be patient. God's timing is always perfect. Though He may tarry a little while, He will keep His promise. Jesus is evidence of that.

Addressing the Issues

Admittedly, Matthew's genealogy has long been a source of problems for those who defend the reliability of the Bible. Skeptics have been quick to point out that Matthew's genealogy is very different from the one Luke provides in his gospel. This can easily be reconciled, however, by understanding the difference between the two books. Luke, who was writing to a mainly Gentile audience, chose to give the genealogy of Jesus through His mother, Mary. This was probably the most natural thing for Luke to do, since Mary was biologically Jesus' parent and Joseph was not. Matthew, however, was writing to a primarily Jewish audience, and chose to give Jesus' legal genealogy through his step-father, Joseph, as would have been properly recognized by the Jewish laws. With this being understood, most of the differences between Matthew and Luke's genealogies are accounted for.

The other issue that often arises from a close reading of the Scripture is the absence of a fourteenth name in the last section of the genealogy. Matthew chose to present Jesus' genealogy in three sections of fourteen, choosing to skip over a few names in order that the genealogy would be more easily remembered. However, the last section of the genealogy only has thirteen - not fourteen - names. How is this accounted for? According to an early church father named Epiphanius, the name Jeconiah should actually appear twice in the list. According to him, Jeconiah chose to name his son after himself, meaning that the first and second names in the third section of the genealogy should be Jeconiah. A Scribe apparently saw that the name appeared twice and thought it to be an error, omitting it from the manuscripts available to us today.

The Meaning of a Mixed-Race Messiah

Jesus was certainly a Jew, but His genealogy reminds us that His ancestry includes Gentiles, as well. This was obviously important to Matthew, who went out of his way to mention three Gentile women who normally would not have been included in a formal genealogy. Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were all Gentile women who married into Jesus' Jewish heritage. Matthew is most probably reminding his readers of these Gentiles to foreshadow a major theme of his gospel: namely, that Jesus has come to save not only the Jews, but the Gentiles as well.

In a world that is constantly struggling with racial and ethnic prejudices, there are several important truths we can learn from Jesus' mixed heritage. One of these is that we ought not to judge someone's character or worth by the race or nationality of their ancestors. Stereotyping is never godly, and undermines the Biblical teaching about individuality. Moreover, we should always remember that salvation is available to all people, no matter what their skin color, language, or customs.

On a side-note, whatever a person might think about interracial marriage, it should be observed that there were at least three in Jesus' genealogy, including at least one that was looked upon as an act of goodness on the part of God.

The Grace of God in Jesus' Genealogy

Anyone who has spent time studying the characters of the Old Testament cannot but help to be amazed at the terrible sinners that God graciously placed into the lineage from which Jesus would come. Consider these examples:

Abraham: Though certainly a hero of the faith, the father of the Jews also had his faults. When residing in Egypt, Abraham deceived the Pharaoh into thinking that his wife Sarah was actually his sister, and allowed her to be married to the Egyptian leader. This awful deception was done out of a selfish desire to be treated well in the country.

Tamar: Fearing the shame of never having children, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and slept with the father of her deceased husband.

Rahab: Unlike Tamar, prostitution was Rahab's profession - at least until she became a follower of Israel's God.

David: This "man after God's own heart" was guilty of adultery, lying, and murder.

Solomon: As wise as he was, the son of David was foolish to marry hundreds of pagan wives that turned his heart away from the things of God and brought turmoil to the land of Israel.

Rehoboam: Solomon's son, Rehoboam chose to treat God's people with oppression rather than compassion, resulting in the nation of Israel being torn in two.

This list ought to bring hope to the hearts of sinners, for it reveals that God often chooses the very worst of sinners to be recipients of His grace. No one is "too sinful" to be saved.

It's important to note that when Matthew comes to the name of Joseph, he changes his phraseology. Where as he would normally have said "Jesus, the son of Joseph", he chooses in stead to say "Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ." This abrupt change in language gives evidence to the unique manner in which Christ was born, and reflects Matthew's teaching that Jesus was Joseph's legal son, but not his biological son.

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

Some say He was a great teacher. Others claim that He was a prophet. There are many who would argue that He never really existed, and still others who maintain that the story of His life has been inflated and exaggerated by religious zealots. Yet here we have the beginning of a different perspective. In Matthew we have the testimony of a self-righteous tax collector turned sacrificial martyr offering evidence that Jesus was more than just a mere man. He was and is the promised Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. Jesus is the long awaited Prophet, Priest, and King. Jesus is the God-man - conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. You must decide what you believe about Jesus. To not decide is to decide. Who do you say Jesus is?

Justin Nale is the pastor of Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, NC - http://www.mhmbc.org


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