Theme Party for Wednesday, October 22 (’14)
“Father Abraham had many sons; many sons had Father Abraham…” and so on and so forth. Just about everyone, at some time or another, sang that song in church as a child. It’s catchy I must admit.
The song you so easily remembered as a child tells an important story—a story that Matthew in his genealogy in the first chapter of his gospel is trying to tell his readers. He is telling the old, old story of redemption.
Now, we as modern readers aren’t apt to pick up on this. After all, it’s just a bunch of names. Sure, we know most of these people (all of them if you’re really cool) but other than noticing that one guy fathered another guy/girl and so on and so forth, we miss the significance of what Matthew is trying to get across. This means we have to work a little harder than we do in Paul’s letters where he basically takes a piece of the Old Testament and tells us what Jesus has to do with it.
#1 – The Books in Your Bible Are Out of Order-ish
What Bible did Jesus use? It wasn’t the New Testament. That hadn’t been written yet. Jesus, his disciples, and every other bible believing Jew in that day used what Christians would call the Old Testament (the Jews didn’t, and still don’t call it that).
The Bibles they used were split into three parts: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Within those big three categories the books were arranged in a particular way. Some theologians contend, and I find myself heartily agreeing with them, that the order in which the books were organized was done for theological purposes.
One of the best examples of this theological ordering of the books concerns the placement of the book of Ruth. There is significant evidence that points to the canonical arrangement ‘back in the day’ putting Ruth after Proverbs. Now, this sounds benign to the average passer-by, but putting Ruth after Proverbs 31 makes a case that Ruth is the embodiment of the “woman of valor.” Ruth is the only one in the Bible explicitly called that in 31:11. If the Hebrew ordering is on purpose, even more shocking is that this woman of valor, whom any man would be lucky to find, is a Gentile!
In the Hebrew order of the Bible the last book is not Malachi; it’s Chronicles (our 1 and 2 Chronicles is actually just one book referred to here as “Chronicles”). Chronicles starts by telling the reader about the lineage of King David. It starts with Adam and ends with the King. It would have been obvious to any observant Jew that Matthew is telling them, via a continuation of the genealogy, that Jesus is in the lineage of Adam, Abraham, and King David. The Chronicles’ genealogy is incomplete. The line is incomplete and has not yet reached its culmination. Each and every person in the lineage up to that point had been merely a shooting star across the night sky. When you get to Matthew’s genealogy, the line has arrived at the Son that forever shines bright and will never fade.
#2 – Genealogies Show God’s Faithfulness Towards Israel
As you’re reading through Matthew’s genealogy you need to try and put yourself into the mindset of a 1st century Jew. This means you not only hate the Roman Empire, but also you had great pride in your monotheistic, temple-centered religion. They were the religion of One God as opposed to the surrounding nations who believed in a myriad of gods. It was a big deal to the Jews that the Roman Empire let them enjoy special privileges not afforded to any other nation. This was not done out of the kindness of their hearts. They knew Israel was so zealously monotheistic that rebellion would ensue if they pressed their pantheon of gods onto Israel.
It was more than just monotheism and temple sacrifices for Israel, however. God chose Israel to receive his grace. From Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to King David. Israel had enjoyed the special favor and love that no other nation enjoyed. Theirs was a grand redemptive history and an identity wrapped in the entirety of that narrative.
#3 – Matthew and Luke Aren’t Contradicting One Another
Matthew follows the paternal side of Jesus’ lineage and Luke follows the maternal line. This is oversimplifying the two but this is the generally accepted view as to what is going on between them.
Also, just as the order of the books within the Bible make theological statements merely by the way in which they’re organized (Proverbs and Ruth), so the names in the two genealogies are making a theological point. This is where many err when harmonizing the gospels. They treat the differences between them as contradictions. Matthew and Luke aren’t contradicting each other—they are complementing one another.
Luke’s genealogy goes all the way back to the man who brought all of humanity down into the bondage of sin. By the time you’re finished with the genealogy, you find yourself reading about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. This is no accident by the gospel writer. Luke is making a specific point: just as the First Adam was disobedient and therefore plunged humanity into the slavery of sin, so the greater Second Adam (Jesus) will be obedient unto death and give his people freedom from the slave master of sin.
That brings us to Matthew’s theological focus…
#4 – Remember the Covenant
Matthew’s genealogy starts with Abraham and also ends with Abraham. This is a literary device known as an inclusio. An inclusio is like two pieces of bread that hold your delicious sandwich together.
This literary device is meant to highlight Abraham. How so? Matthew wants to draw your attention to the fact that this Jesus character you are going to read about is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis 15.
Theologians call this covenant by the very creative name, “Abrahamic Covenant.” It is in this covenant that God comes to Abraham and promises to bless him in three ways: (1) To give Abraham descendants through whom the nations would be blessed, (2) To be a covenantal, personal God to him and his descendants, and (3) To give his descendants a promised land.
The Takeaway Point—it is in Jesus That the Covenant Promises Find Their Fulfillment
Matthew wants the readers of his gospel to know that in Jesus they will find three promises that find their long awaited fulfillment: (1) Jesus is the final seed, or descendant, in the genealogy. Through His life, death, and resurrection, many nations will be blessed. (2) In Jesus, the nations gain covenant access to the Father through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. (3) In Jesus, all people of faith will find their long-awaited rest in a future land of promise.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” -Galatians 3:28-29