Saturday, February 17, 2007

Not Skipping Over Matthew 1

Often, in reading the book of Matthew, I think people tend to skip over the genealogy in Matthew 1. We read the first verse, then sort of go blah, blah, blah until verse 18, then pick up the narative again. I think that's a big mistake.

I agree that this genealogy looks boring at first glance, but there is important stuff there, topics worthy of a sermon or three. Let me try to demonstrate that this is the case by coming up with a few sermon topics.

1. When Talking to People about Jesus, Start on Common Ground

That's what Matthew did, and it is why he started off with a genealogy.

Right up front, in verse one, Matthew says that Jesus is the "son of David," which qualifies him to be the Messiah. BIG claim, so Matthew does not dawdle, but gets right to work proving his point by tracing Jesus' lineage, right back through David.

Notice also that the genealogy moves from earlier in time forward to Jesus, rather than starting from Jesus and moving back in time, as does the genealogy in Luke.

I think the reason for this is that Matthew is making it clear to his Jewish readers that this is a continuation of God's long work - a work that his audience is very familiar with - not something unconnected and popping up out of the blue.

So, in explaining the gospel, do we do our best to connect with our audience using a point of reference they will understand?

2. God Uses Both the Great and the Small

In reading this genealogy one of the first things that I wonder is: Who are all these people? Some of them are very well known (Abraham, Jacob, Judah, David, Hezekiah and others), but who were Abiud and Zadok? Some of these guys aren't even mentioned anywhere else in the Bible and even some of those who are mentioned elsewhere are obscure.

But whether these people were great or obscure, and whether they knew it or not, they were all part of God's plan to bring about the birth of Jesus.

So take heart, even if you live and work in obscurity, you are part of God's plan.

3. Jesus is for Both Jews and Gentiles

It is interesting that Matthew traces Jesus genealogy way back, past David, to Abraham. In fact, in verse one Matthew says that Jesus is the son of David and, he adds, the son of Abraham.

If Matthew's only point is to show that Jesus is the son of David, why does he continue tracing the lineage back to Abraham? I think one reason is because Abraham was not technically Jewish, since the line of Israel actually began with Abraham's grandson Jacob.

So, by linking Jesus to Abraham, I think part of Matthew's point is that Jesus is not exclusively for the Jews, but is for all people. This point is strengthened by the mention of the women Rahab and Ruth in the genealogy, neither of whom where Jews. Since Matthew was tracing a patriarchal genealogy, it would have been very easy to exclude those women if he had wanted to exclude non-Jews. But he doesn't! They're included, too.

4. The Three Groups

Notice as you read the genealogy that Matthew highlights three groups among Jesus' ancestors:

First, the group headed by Abraham, the man who believed God and had it "credited to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). I think this is one reason Matthew begins the genealogy with Abraham, to emphasize the central role of faith.

Second, the group headed by David, the king. I think Matthew intends here to point out that Jesus is the King, the Messiah.

Third, the group beginning with the Babylonian captivity. The captivity was a time of cleansing for the Jews, so I think Matthew intends to point out that Jesus came to bring spiritual cleansing.

If I was to summarize this, I think Matthew is saying: Have faith in your great King, your Messiah, who will purify your lives.

5. The Three Fourteens

Matthew notes that the three groups in the genealogy were each comprised of 14 individuals. However, if you count the names there are 40 names (a common biblical number, and perhaps symbolic), but the problem is that 40 divided by 3 is not 14, but about 13.33.

At this point you might slam shut your Bible and say it's all a fraud, but you would be mistaken. A closer reading shows that Matthew is counting the transition people twice, so, he says, from Abraham to David there were 14, and from David to the exile (Jeconiah) there were fourteen, and from the exile (Jeconiah) to the Christ there were fourteen. Notice that David is counted twice and Jeconiah is counted twice.

It's not, perhaps, how you or I would have divided a group of 40, but it works.

So, because Matthew has made the transition people mark both the end of the previous period and the beginning of the new era, it is completely fair to conclude the same thing about Jesus, that he both ends the previous era and begins a new era. And notice that Matthew emphasizes (vss. 16, 17) Jesus' title of "Christ." Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. So, this new era is the era of the Messiah.

Another thing I have learned is to think about this genealogy when I run into passages in the Bible I don't understand. Sometimes what appears to be wrong turns out on closer examination to be simply a different way of looking at things. Don't turn away from God because you encounter some things you don't understand.

So, anyway, I think there is a lot more in this genealogy, but I just wanted to explore it a bit to encourage others to realize that it is not a barren stretch to skip over, but is full of good content.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Chinese Burrito

Okay, I just had a million dollar idea. It is based on three assumptions:

  1. Americans often eat on the run, while they're walking or driving.
  2. Chinese food - except for the place down the street from my house - is yummy.
  3. You can't eat Chinese food on the run. You have to sit down and eat it.
So in one respect Chinese food is not as well adapted to the American lifestyle as it could be.

Solution: Wrap the orange chicken, or beef brocoli, or whatever Chinese food you like, in a tortilla.

Bingo! A Chinese burrito. Tasty and easy to eat on the go.

Feel free to use this idea to make your first million dollars. Just send me a coupon for 50 cents off. :-)