With Christmas messages being shared with frequency and fervour these days, the usual place to head is either in Matthew’s or Luke’s Gospel (or maybe a combination of the two). And if one heads into Matthew, where is the usual starting place?
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about…
Not a bad place to start. But it’s not the beginning of the Christmas story, at least from Matthew’s perspective.
For Matthew, a Jew also writing to Jews, what we call the ‘Christmas story’ actually begins in vs1.
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah…
Well, it must begin there if he started off his account that way.
It’s just that we aren’t too sure what to do with all those names, much less pronounce some of them.
You see, Matthew is telling a story. One that doesn’t just begin in vs18, though that is an exciting part of the story. It’s one that begins in vs1, connecting the story of God’s Messiah through to the old Hebrew story in what we call the Old Testament.
It’s a brief summary of the story in vs1-17, and maybe that is one factor of giving a genealogy. But a story, though briefly, is being told.
I remember some 7 or 8 years ago reading a book entitled, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, authored by Old Testament scholar, Chris Wright. The book was a good introductory resource and, so, I had my students read it when I taught Old Testament studies.
But his whole opening point was that the story of Jesus began in Matt 1:1, not Matt 1:18. For Jesus, the stories of the Old Testament were his stories, the stories his parents told him at bedtime. The creation and the flood and the awesome giving of God’s torah and the battles and the songs and the promises and the prophetic imagery.
Jesus didn’t just plop out of heaven one day with no story surrounding him. He stepped into an already-playing drama that God had been outworking from the creation, from Abraham, from Moses, from David, from Isaiah, and on and on. That baby we read about in the Gospels came at just the right time in the midst of the grand story.
Now, for many, when we read the names of Matt 1:1-17, we ask – Who is Amminadab or Nahshon? Who are these blokes?
I ask the same questions about some of the names. What is funny is that this genealogy is rather simple compared to the first 9 chapters of 1 Chronicles!
But Jesus has stepped in to a story that God had been telling for millenia, and still is telling today. And actually, Jesus is the whole climax and central point to the story God is outworking. In Matthew’s opening words, we don’t know some of the names, though most we can go back and get a good idea of who they are in the Old Testament. But, because we don’t know a portion of the names, it is easy to lose interest. Who cares about Abihud and Eliakim?!
Yet, let’s think about our story. Or any story, for that matter. Names mean something. They are pointers to something grand taking place. If I say the names Aragorn and Frodo, you would immediately imagine certain settings, certain battles, other certain characters, and a host of distinct things. The same if I said Harry and Hermione. Or Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy.
Now, in talking of story or other stories that aren’t ‘real’ (i.e. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia), I am not suggesting the Jesus story in the Gospels is not real. I’m simply saying that story is important – whether factual-historical or literary, or a bit of both.
And within each story, there are main elements found in all. And we see these in the story God is telling – a hero, an enemy, an enemy kingdom, a people longing to be delivered by the hero, etc. And so, I believe in every story, even if just a little, there is the story of God being told. Whether it is ‘Christian’ in the Chronicles of Narnia or not-so-Christian in Gladiator.
And, so, we can dive into Matthew’s story, the one that begins in 1:1, because that points to the story that’s already been taking place, the grand narrative of God that will be completed in His Son. We know the ending of the story already, what happens, and so maybe we miss a bit of the glory of the story. But if we approach it as ultimately a story, and not a how-to instruction manual, we might catch something afresh. It’s the most creative, imaginative and stirring story that’s taken place. If we don’t think so, we have possibly failed to understand the story and we also might not be telling the story properly.
This is the genealogy [or story] of Jesus the Messiah……