Monday, 13 December 2010

Matthew 1:1-17 A Strange way to start a book

Who or what are the three most significant people or events in your life? It may be meeting someone who became a close friend, or someone who moulded your whole future, inspiring you to do something, or someone who challenged you and led you to believe in Jesus. Maybe a relationship, maybe the birth of a child, maybe a job, a chance meeting?

Matthew’s gospel opens in an odd way, at least according to our way of thinking, I’ve never come across a novel or even a biography that opens with a long genealogy. But Matthew by firmly rooting Jesus in history and as he does so he ties him in with 3 significant people and events in Israel’s history, can you spot the 2 key characters? There was no bold print, or underline at the time Matthew wrote so he used repetition, who are the repeated characters? Abraham and David. They were the two key characters in Jewish history and were characters to whom God gave great promises. What is the key event that is mentioned? The exile, Israel and Judah being taken captive into Babylon.

Genealogy means beginning or origin, it’s the same phrase used in Gen 2:4, and Matthew’s point is that this is a new beginning. In Jesus God is doing something new and stunning. But Matthew doesn’t say scrap history and start afresh from here, instead he provides this new beginnings Old Testament roots, this new beginning fulfils all the promises and hopes and dreams scattered throughout the Old Testament, this is the climax to which everything has been leading – Jesus Christ the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.

1. The Son of Promise
What is Abraham famous for? God called him and gave him 4 promises.
"1The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4So Abram went, as the LORD had told him"

God makes four promises to Abraham; People, Place, Protection, and Programme. And the promises centre on the coming of a son. Abraham does have a son but just one, then Isaac has two sons and slowly the promise of a people is realised, they are given a land, though it is not as it should be and they are given great protection but forfeit God’s love, and the programme of being a blessing to all nations, well look at the genealogy.

Tamar and Rahab are Canaanites, Ruth is a Moabitess, and Bathsheba is a Hittite, even in Jesus bloodline there are glimpse of all nations coming to trust God and being blessed. But they are ones and twos not the thousands, the nations that the prophets pictured. And as Matthew opens Israel are still expectantly waiting the coming of a son who will fulfil these promises.

Matthew says Jesus is “the son of Abraham” – watch this space, read this account because Jesus is one to watch, he is the Son of promise, the one through whom all nations will be blessed.
Having started his gospel that way Matthew ends it by recording Jesus words immediately before his ascension “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” Jesus is the Son, what are the disciples to do with that knowledge? Go tell everyone – all nations - they can know God.

It is because Jesus is the Son of Abraham that you and I are here this morning, because he calls the nations.

2. The King of Promise
Who is the second character emphasized? David. Jesus is the Son of David, David is the King Israel looked back longingly to but again he is a key character with a promise. A promise that a Son would come from David’s line who would rule his people from his throne forever. Solomon is David’s son yet despite a promising beginning his reign descends into idol worship and division, and Matthew gives us some of the kings in that line in this genealogy and some are good but some are bad, some follow God but some worship idols, and as you read the list you find yourself asking the question where is the promised king whose throne would last forever?

Where is God’s forever King, when is he going to keep his promise?

Then Matthew starts his gospel with these words “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the Son of David...” Jesus is that King! The Son of David born in Judah’s line, Jesus is the King. Matthew nails his colours to the mast with his 8th word of his gospel “Messiah” – God’s anointed one.

Jesus kingship is a key idea in Matthew, 10 times in Matthew he is referred to as the Son of David, it is what the blind men call him in ch 9, the question the people ask in ch12, it’s what the Canaanite woman cries out ch15, what the crowds cry at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and what the children cry in the temple. To be the Son of David was to be the Messiah.

Lots of people ask why Matthew has stylised his genealogy, v17 makes much of their being how many generations in each block? 14. In Jewish writing each consonant was prescribed a number: D was 4, V was 6, DVD = 14. Again Matthew is using a Jewish way of emphasising that Jesus is the Son of David, that he is the Messiah – God’s promised King bringing about God’s kingdom.

And throughout the gospel we see people either bowing the knee, accepting his rule and entering the kingdom or rejecting him and going to war with God’s king and God’s kingdom.

3. The end of the Exile
One historical event is emphasized here what is it? The exile, when Israel are expelled from God’s place because of their refusal to live as his saved people.

Exile is a theme that runs throughout the bible. When Adam and Eve rebel against God in the Garden what happens? They are driven out of God’s presence because of their rebellion against God. When Cain kills Abel he is driven out from God’s presence, when the people rebel at Babel they are scattered by God’s judgement. And at the exile Israel, God’s people in God’s place who reject God’s rule are driven out from his place and scattered, but the prophets promise a glorious return.

As Matthew opens Israel are back in the land but it is as an occupied nation, the temple is not the glorious vision of Ezekiel, the nations haven’t flocked to worship God, and Israel continue to struggle to serve God.

Jesus is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, but he will also end the exile, he comes to gather the scattered and provide them with a new way of relating to God, it’s a new beginning, a new covenant. And in the early chapters Jesus collects disciples like a magnet collects metal, crowds flock to see and hear him. Jesus gathers Gentiles, women, children, fishermen, tax collectors, sinners and rebels along with those who are just ordinary good people but who recognise that they are still living in exile from God. That their refusal to live life with loving God with all their heart and being has left them in spiritual exile. And they glimpse in Jesus the end of that exile, that in him Son of Promise, King of promise, the exile is ended and they can know God in a whole new way. Sin forgiven and relationship entered.

Sin separates us from God it sends us into exile. We were made for relationship with God but our refusal to acknowledge him as creator and Lord means we’re exiled. Jesus comes to end that exile.

Do you ever feel a bit apologetic for mentioning Jesus at Christmas, for challenging people about the real meaning of Christmas? Matthew is so captivated by what he has discovered about Jesus that he will discomfort the Jews, he will challenge their understanding of the bible, centuries of tradition, as he proclaims Jesus is the Son of promise, the King of promise and the only way to end our exile from God. We have to tell others the exile is ended Jesus is the way back to God.

What did this news stir Matthew to do – to tell others not because of guilty or out of a grudging sense of duty but because this is the greatest news ever! All God’s promises are fulfilled and there is a new way of relating to God! Let’s call others to come and join us as we praise God for sending Jesus.

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