Friday, November 24, 2006

The Lineage of a King

"The record of the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." Matthew 1:1

Most of us are accustomed to stories that begin with "Once upon a time...", or "It was a dark and stormy night...", or even "Space, the final frontier." Yet here, Matthew begins his Kingdom Gospel with a lesson in genealogy. Why does the story of Jesus begin with such an academic preface?

Because Matthew wants to be very clear right from the start that this Jesus is not just any man. He is the Messiah — the promised Anointed One. He is King of Israel — rightful heir to the throne of King David. He is History Fulfilled — what God started with Abraham he brings into fulfilment with Jesus of Nazareth.

Before the real story begins Matthew lays out for his listener the path through Israel's history that led to the man Jesus. You'll notice I use the word listener instead of reader. I have long been convinced that the scriptures were designed to be heard. It is why I am a Biblical storyteller. As the gospels were circulated in the early church you can be certain they were read aloud in the congregation. I believe that this was kept in mind when the gospel writers penned their words.

Imagine with me for a moment the response in the minds of the Jewish believers in Matthew's congregation as they heard this litany of names they had lived with all their lives.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the three great patriarchs of Israel. Boaz – the protector and husband of the faithful Ruth. Jesse – the father of the great king David from who's branch it was foretold the Messiah would come. Jehoshaphat – the king who led Israel back to faith in the God who would deliver them from their enemies. Zerubbabel – one of the leaders in the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem after the exile to Babylon. Each of these names and others in the list would have stirred memories in the hearts of the Jewish listeners.

But there are other names there as well; names not to be expected. Tamar - who held Judah accountable for his actions. Rahab - protector of the Israelite spies as they scouted out the Promised Land. Ruth – faithful Moabite who refused to abandon her Hebrew mother-in-law. And Bathsheba – wife of the Hittite who would one day give birth to the great King Solomon. They were women, and for a woman to be mentioned in a lineage would have been unusual all by itself. And yet there is more, for these women were also Gentiles.

Imagine again the response when the listeners heard the names of these Gentiles held as examples of great faith in the Hebrew scriptures. Imagine them then looking at the Gentiles among them who had come to follow Jesus, the Christ, and wondering that they had never seen the obvious before. That the God of Israel was indeed the God of all nations.

This then is the carrot that Matthew dangles before his listeners. This is the story he is about to tell. The culmination of the history of Israel, the coming of the promised Messiah, and the restoration of the rightful heir to the throne of David, all brought together in the life of one man – Jesus of Nazareth.

And yet, to the attentive listener there is a flaw. The chain is broken in the final link. The man Joseph is indeed a true son of David, but he is listed only as the husband of the virgin named Mary, mother of the Nazarene, not as the father of Jesus. As well no explanation is given for the inclusion of yet one more woman in the lineage of this would be king.

Matthew knows the break is there, and he knows they have discovered it. His explanation is forthcoming in the next episode – "The Birth of a King."


(Exploring the Kingdom Gospel - episode 2)

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