A NEW GENESIS
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Not long ago I was driving behind a bus and saw one of those Bus Stop Bible Study ads. I’m in no way against these, I think it’s good to have Bible verses out there. Our church has sponsored them in the past. There seemed to be something off about this one, though. It has a picture of a young woman wearing headphones and drinking coffee. It said “If Jesus is the way, where are you going?” Below it quoted John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
Now you may be wondering “Why did this strike you as odd David? You believe that verse don’t you?” Of course I do, and as I said I’m in no way against putting verses out there. I might even be accused of looking at things with an overly critical eye. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with examining things critically though. It struck me that before we starting asking conditional questions about Jesus there’s an underlying question to be asked. “Who is Jesus?” This might be the most important question of our lives; if we’re a follower of Jesus; if we know something about him and have questions; if we know nothing at all of him. If you’re here this morning (or reading this or listening to it online) I think it’s safe to assume that this question is of some interest to you.
It’s maybe the question of our lives. It was the question that Paul had when he met Christ. Each time he told the story he included that detail – “Who are you, Lord?” he asked as he hit the dust on the Damascus highway. To know Christ became his mission, along with making Christ known. It became the thing he prayed for churches. He wrote to the Philippians of his desire to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings. It should be our prayer for ourselves. Our prayer for one another. Our prayer for our world.
It’s the question that we’re going to be looking at these weeks of Lent as we make our way through the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew’s Good News. A Gospel is not simply a biography. It’s not written to provide an “objective” historical account of Christ’s life. We don’t know when Matthew was written or who wrote it for certain – it might have been the tax collector or someone who learned under him. We don’t know where he lived or to whom he wrote the account.
We know why he wrote it though. It was written to provide the church with an account of who Christ is. This is what we will be looking at over these weeks. Matthew doesn’t stop there though. Moreso than any other Gospel writer, Matthew takes pains to describe not only who Christ is, but what this means for those who follow him. For Matthew Jesus is King. He’s the foundation for our lives. It’s not just about belief in Christ, though. One writer puts it like this – “…there are too many in the church whose lives do not conform with their confession. The purpose of his writing is to convince Christians that a genuine faith in Christ must be demonstrated in daily obedience to the way of life he proclaimed. Faith and ethics, Matthew insists, are two sides of the same coin, or the coin is counterfeit.”
It’s my prayer for us over these weeks that we’re ever more becoming good coins. Before we look at this morning’s text, let’s pray.
Unlike any other Gospel writer, Matthew begins his work with a genealogy. Do you ever wonder why these are in the Bible? Why do we even bother with all these Rehoboam begat Abijah who begat Asaph etc and all these lists of names? Genealogies are meaningful. For many they are an important part of our identity. Just ask the people at ancestry.com. Is anyone interested in this kind of thing? It can be meaningful to us can’t it? What does this genealogy tell us about Christ? Look at where it starts.
There are thirty-two generations listed here and they start with Abraham. The original. The original Gentile convert. The one to whom a promise was made – You will be the father of a great nation through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Christ is part of a plan that had begun hundreds of years earlier. Jesus is the bringer of the promise. In Jesus we come to know that God is faithful – that when God says he is going to do something, he does it. For Matthew’s Jewish audience, this would have provided assurance that the one that they followed was the continuation of the story that went all the way back to the patriarch of Israel. We stand in that same line today – caught up in God’s Great Deliverance Plan for which Christ is the hinge. He’s not only the hinge, he’s the whole plan. To follow Christ is to know that God keeps his promises. I like to ask the question – What promises of Christ have been most meaningful in your life? What promises are most meaningful to you now? Peace. Fulfillment. Acccompaniment. Consolation. Strength. To follow Christ is to know the fulfillment of these promises, just as the promise made to the father of Israel came to fruition in the person of Christ.
It was never ever just about Israel of course. We must never ever think it’s just about us. God’s plan was an inclusive one. It had always been the case. The promise was for all the nations of the world. When we start using the word “chosen” I fear it can sometimes come to mean “special” for us, or “just a little bit better”. This plan is for everyone. Look at some of the people listed in the genealogy. Abraham himself – the original gentile convert. Rahab – a native of Jericho (and a prostitute) who acknowledged the God of Israel. Ruth – a Moabite woman (we looked at her story as well as the story of Rahab last fall). The deliverance planned through and enacted by Christ is for all. I said that genealogies were important in the ancient world. Temple priests needed to trace their lineage back to the tribe of Levi – all the way back to Aaron. There are some highly questionable people and actions represented in this line. Tamar – who pretended to be a prostitute in order to have a child with her father-in-law. The wife of Uriah, who was murdered by David after she was found to be with David’s child. People some of us who feel particularly righteous might not want to hang around. All of them used by God to bring salvation in the person of God’s son. We’ve been given a new lineage in the person of Christ. We’ve been adopted into God’s family, and it’s not about who our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents were. Ever fiery John the Baptist would tell a group of religious leaders “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.’” In Christ God raises us up. We are adopted into God’s family, just as Jesus was adopted by Joseph, and stands in this line that goes all the way back to Abraham.
Of course the line goes via King David, who we’ve already mentioned. The Son of David. David whose kingship represented the apex of the nation of Israel. King David to whom the promise was given by God that his throne would be established forever. The descendent of King David for whom the Jewish nation waited. The answer to dreams. The one who would be the deliverer. Jesus. Son of Abraham. Son of David. This title is used more often in Matthew than in any other Gospel. The one of whom we dreamed. We look in different places for deliverance. For many in Israel in Jesus’ time, it was thought that deliverance would come about through military might. That the Son of David would restore Israel’s standing, it’s wealth. We look for deliverance from these things. Power. Standing. Wealth. Military might. We have the sense that something is missing. That somewhere somehow some hope is to be found – or we may choose to descend into despair or nihilism. In the midst of this strides Jesus. William Barclay puts it like this – “Jesus walks through Matthew’s pages as if in the purple and gold of royalty. Matthew is concerned to show… the lordship of Jesus Christ, to show us that indeed His is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory.” Amen. Pastor Abby talked about this last week. In Christ, God has given his “Yes” to humanity. For those who hear the words of Matthew, the invitation is to give our “Yes” to the one who showed that his Kingship is not about power, coercion, violence, revenge, but rather love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, justice. The one who is the fulfillment of humanity’s dreams. The King who is worthy of our devotion above all else. The turning point of history.
The New Beginning. The Messiah. The Chosen One. The Christ. The Son of Abraham. The Son of David. The Son of God. The answer to the question “Who are you Lord?” The answer to the taunts that Jesus will hear. The doubts. “If you are the Son of God turn these stones into bread.” “If you are the Son of God, get yourself down from that cross.” A picture painted by Matthew to show what it means that in the person of Christ, God is with us, and promises to be with us to the end of the age. What does this signify? It’s right in the first few words – a new beginning.
Because the thing is, Matthew’s original hearers were familiar with the Old Testament. This is a good way to be. We like that too. They spoke Greek too. When Matthew says “genealogy” he’s not just talking about the list of names that follow from Abraham on down to Joseph. The Greek word that’s been translated as genealogy is γενέσεως. The Genesis of Jesus the Christ.
A new Genesis. A new creation. A new covenant. A new loving agreement that would be sealed with this man’s blood. A new way of living in communion with God through the birth and life and death and resurrection and ascension and promise of God’s son.
Jesus. The answer. The answer to our longing to be made new. We get this don’t we? It’s all around us. Take a look at the magazines at the grocery store checkout. Flatter abs in 20 days. Financial Freedom in 60 days. Take a look at the makeover shows, for ourselves, our homes, our cottages even. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong in being made over or situps or whatever – what we’re saying is that the answer to our longing for change is here in the person of Jesus. Jesus who brings about a new way of being. Who says “You have heard it said of old… but I say to you.” Who talks of seeking God’s Kingdom first, of enemy love, of worry, of empty shows of religiosity. Who brings healing, peace, forgiveness. Who dies for us and shows us that for God not even death is the end of the story.
This is the story that we’re living in friends. These are the things that we’ll be looking at and pondering in our hearts over the coming weeks. Why do we do this? We do it to remember. To be changed by our remembering. I asked why we look at these lists of names. What are we to take from them? Why would details like fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations from the exile to Christ – why would these details be there? To help us remember. Matthew liked things in sets of 3 and 7. It’s a mnemonic device. We need to remember. We need to remember often and meaningfully what Matthew has to say to us. There are so many messages we hear to the contrary, aren’t there? These things helped Matthew’s hearers remember. What is the significance of 14? In Hebrew, numbers were designated by letters, according to their place in the alphabet. The letters for David are D, V, and D (there are no vowels in Hebrew). The numbers for those letters are 4, 6, and 4. Fourteen. Jesus the Christ. Son of Abraham. Son of David (which Matthew will keep coming back to). Our deliver. The Son of God. Who is Jesus to you? What does this mean for your life? These are questions we’ll ponder friends, as we remember. Let us pray now as we prepare to remember around this table…