(This is a continuation of yesterday’s post.)
After reading the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, a reasonable question would be: Why does Matthew not begin his Gospel with the Christmas story? You couldn’t have a better opener to a book!
Instead, Matthew’s opens with Jesus’ family tree, a list of names, many difficult to pronounce. You know, the stereotypical “so-and-so begat so-and-so.”
Does that sound riveting to you? I don’t think you’ll find any bestsellers at Barnes and Noble attempting that tactic! Matthews’s opener appears to lack any elements of good storytelling – tension, intrigue, drama.
That is, until you examine it more closely.
Before reading this blog any further, I suggest you pause and read Matthew 1. What is your feeling about the flow – beginning with the genealogy before getting to the “good stuff” of the Christmas story?
OK, you’re back. Let’s continue.
Why begin with a genealogy?
Consider how the other Gospels begin. Mark’s Gospel jumps into the action with John the Baptist. Luke begins with the pre-infancy stories of Zechariah and Elizabeth. John starts with a majestic prologue – “In the beginning was the Word.” Matthew begins dryly (it appears) with a genealogy.
It may look dry to modern readers like you and me. But to Matthew’s readers, it was a great way to open a book. Family history was a big deal to his readers. For people awaiting the Jewish Messiah, seeing Jesus’ connection to Abraham, David, and other forefathers would have interested Jewish readers greatly.
The main purpose of the genealogy is to show that the history of God’s people finds it fulfillment in Jesus. The center of all history is Jesus. The angel told Joseph, “He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21 ESV) The genealogy says who “His people” are.
Great news: By God’s grace, we become His people through faith in Jesus! “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (Galatians 3:26 NIV)
Scandal in the family
Notable in Matthew’s genealogy is the presence of five women. In Bible times, typically the men were the only ones listed in genealogies. This one is different. The five women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
God often works in surprising ways. Each of the women has an element of surprise in her story – in some cases, outright scandal. Tamar posed as a prostitute and had twins through a union with her father-in-law. Rahab was a prostitute and a pagan Canaanite. Ruth was a Gentile. Bathsheba became David’s wife only after a tragic episode of murder and betrayal.
And then there’s Mary at the end of the genealogy. Her pregnancy was thought to be a scandal. After all, she and her fiancé Joseph were saving themselves for marriage. He wasn’t the dad. So someone else must be, it was assumed. Only through divine revelation does Joseph find out about the miracle of the virgin conception.
Over the next few weeks in this blog, I’ll profile the four women whose stories set the stage for a final surprising woman in Jesus’ family line, His mother Mary. Each of these women have a place in God’s family … and so do we by faith in Christ!
God has lessons to teach us in the stories of each of these women. I look forward to sharing more with you!
Tomorrow: The first woman in Matthew’s genealogy: Tamar!
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