(48) Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham – Matthew 1:1

The New Testament has twenty-seven books, all of which were written in the first century AD, over four hundred years after the time of Malachi. The first four are the Gospels, accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, which are followed by an account of the spread of the early church. The next twenty-two ‘books’ are letters to churches, ending with the book of Revelation. The New Testament is laid out on the bottom shelf of the Bible Bookcase.

The four gospels are different in style, reflecting the character of the writers and their purpose in writing. Matthew, the writer of the first gospel, wrote with a Jewish audience in mind. His book has many references to the Old Testament and he shows how Jesus directly fulfilled prophecies using expressions such as “so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet” (Matthew 2:15) around thirty times.

Matthew was a tax collector, never a popular profession but made worse in Israel at this time as he was working to collect taxes for the Romans, the occupying power. He became one of Jesus’ twelve closest companions or disciples. His orderly style is seen in the opening of his gospel where he sets out the genealogy of Jesus, tracing his ancestry from Abraham, from David, and from Jeconiah (an alternative name for Jehoiakim) the young king taken into exile. Starting with a list of names initially appears dull to readers but for those with knowledge of the Old Testament it is full of significance.

First, Matthew calls Jesus the Messiah, or Jesus Christ. The Hebrew word ‘Messiah’ and the Greek word ‘Christ’ both mean ‘the Anointed One’ and refer to the expectation that the Jews had from many Old Testament prophecies of one who would come as their king. Matthew is starting with a claim that Jesus is the fulfilment of the hopes of the Jewish people for a Messiah. He then starts the genealogy with Abraham, the father of the Jewish race and the man who received the original promise from God that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).

The link to David is equally significant as God promised him that he would have a descendant who would rule on the throne of Israel forever (see 2 Samuel 7:16). This promise appeared to have been lost when Jehoiakim was taken into exile but is now fulfilled in Jesus, the son of David. Matthew is making it clear to Jewish readers that Jesus is the Messiah, the one sent by God and who is God himself.

We might expect someone setting out to make the case for Jesus being God to airbrush out some of the details of his genealogy as there are a number of his ancestors who were far from perfect. In fact Matthew does leave some people out but the ones he includes are instructive. Abraham initially doubted God’s promise to give him a son. His grandson Jacob tricked his brother and deceived his father to gain the rights of the firstborn, and his son Judah had a son by his widowed daughter-in-law after she pretended to be a prostitute. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband to cover it up, but it was their son Solomon who is in the line of Jesus. Rather than disguising this fact Matthew actually highlights it by saying that “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife” (Matthew 1:6). The line of kings includes men of faith such as Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah, as well as wicked men such as Rehoboam, Jehoram and Manasseh.

What does this tell us about Jesus?

Coming to earth as a man, God was prepared to relate himself in Jesus with an ordinary human heritage, including the normal human failings and sin that we all know. Although he himself did not sin, Jesus was able to sympathise with our weaknesses (see Hebrews 4:15) because he has shared our human experience. And if God is prepared to associate himself with such a sinful heritage then maybe he is prepared to associate himself with us too, with all our sins and faults. Matthew’s opening genealogy not only shows us that Jesus is linked to the past but also gives us hope for the future.

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