Sunday, February 8, 2015

Clash of Kingdoms: A Clash Emerges from a Genealogy

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers… (Matthew 1:1–2 NIV)
Is there anything more monotonous and boring than a genealogy? There is just no way to make these words interesting, but some have tried. Listen to this!

My children used to love that song. We had it on CD, and they played it often. I used to love that song...

Believe it or not, as boring as these words may seem to us, this is not just a list of names. You've heard it said that genealogies were important to the Jewish people. “We may not think it is important, but they did!” Yes, that is true. But this genealogy is even more important than you may realize. Matthew did not write his gospel and then attach a genealogy to the front of it as an afterthought. Matthew used these names to make some pretty significant theological points. In fact, simply by reading these 17 verses, you can get a sense of who Jesus was and what His ministry was about. And you thought genealogies were boring!

There are several things Matthew wants us to know about Jesus from the very beginning, and chief among those things is that Jesus is a King in the line of David. The first line of this genealogy says it: “Jesus Christ, SON OF DAVID, son of Abraham…” If you read just past the genealogy, you'll see that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David.

There is another clue that we might miss if we read too quickly. This genealogy has three parts: the generations from Abraham to David, the generations from David to the exile in Babylon, and the generations from the exile in Babylon to Jesus. In his summary statement of the genealogy in verse 17, Matthew tells you: in each of these parts, there were 14 generations. 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 generations from David to the exile, and 14 generations from the exile to Jesus. What is interesting is that there were actually many more generations than the ones Matthew lists here. It’s not that neat and tidy! Matthew omits many of Jesus’ ancestors, like Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, all of whom appear in the Old Testament. Additionally, if you read carefully, you will see that the last section of the genealogy only has 13 names! So, why did Matthew trim the list? Why did Matthew make a point to tell us—by the way, there are three sets of 14 generations? Because there was something special about the number 14.

In Hebrew, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a number equivalent. If you take the consonants of David’s name, there were no vowels in Hebrew, want to guess the number equivalent of David’s name? That’s right…14. So, Matthew tells us Jesus is “Son of David” and he ties Jesus’ ancestry to the number of David. Church, Matthew wanted you to know that Jesus is a King in the line of David. Why was that so important? It had to do with who was claiming to be King of Israel when Jesus was born. Rome named Herod King of the Jews about 40 years before Jesus was born. Rome came in and took control of Palestine. Then they set up their own rulers. They took a Jewish man whom they believed they could control and named him “king.” The only problem, in the eyes of the Jews, was that Herod had no right to be king! Jews believed only those who belonged to the household of David could rightly be king. So even though Rome recognized Herod as “king,” many Jews did not and they resented him in a profound way.

So, when Matthew introduces his readers to Jesus he wants them to see… look, Jesus had a Davidic bloodline. Jesus is the rightful “King of Israel,” and to many of them, that was a sign of things to come. Finally, God has placed a Son of David on the throne. Finally, God would bring His power down upon Rome and set things right. Finally, God’s people would be freed from oppression!

But this boring genealogy tells us something else about Jesus…

The Kingdom over which Jesus would rule is a different kind of kingdom. Matthew tells us this in a very subtle way. If you were to stay awake long enough to make it through the entire genealogy, you would find the names of five women. Now, to our twenty-first century culturally sensitive ears, we think, “Only five women!” When a first century person read this genealogy, they would think, “What are five women doing in this list?” They are in the list for a very important reason. Matthew is telling us something very important about Jesus by including these women in Jesus’ genealogy. There is something special about these 5 women; they all have something in common.

Here are their names: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah, and Mary.

The first thing you should notice is that each of these women (besides Mary) has a Gentile descent. This says something about Jesus’ ministry right away. For God so loved “THE WORLD” that He gave His only Son. The first readers of this gospel were living in the late first century when the church was made up of Jews and Gentiles. They were trying to make sense of that. Here, Matthew let’s people see that God has loved Gentiles for a long time. They even appear in Jesus’ family tree! This prepares his readers for Jesus’ final pronouncement at the end of the Gospel, where Jesus tells them to go into all the world preaching the gospel… but there is something else about these women: each of them at one time was shrouded in some sort of scandalous behavior (in fact, some kind of sexually scandalous behavior).
  • Tamar: Disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law in order to have a child
  • Rahab: A prostitute in Jericho
  • Ruth: Goes down to the threshing floor with Boaz (implies some sort of sexual behavior; “uncovering his feet”)
  • Wife of Uriah: “Bathsheba”; had sex with David while her husband was away
  • Mary: Becomes pregnant before she is married
What point is Matthew trying to make here? This King is not your average king. This King does not rely on power and privilege to get his way. This King comes to us through the underprivileged. The power of this King oftentimes comes to us in jars of clay. This King does not look like other kings of this world… but this King is so much more powerful!

As you read the Gospel of Matthew you will see this theme develop over and over again. Matthew wants you to know that Jesus is the rightful King of Israel, not Herod. Jesus’ Kingdom is unlike anything this world has ever seen, and most of the time Jesus’ Kingdom clashes with the kingdoms of this world!

The world had never seen a king like Jesus. He favored the less fortunate. As our text for this year says: “He took the form of a human, a slave!” If you read a little further into Matthew you see that Jesus real identity is tied up in the name “Emmanuel,” God is with us. What kind of impact does a King like that make in a world like ours? The Message translates John 1:14 this way:

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

Here's how Phillip Yancey describes the type of "neighborhood" Jesus moved into:

A succession of great empires tramped through the territory of Israel as if wiping their feet on the vaunted promised land. After the Assyrians and Babylonians came the Persians, who were in turn defeated by Alexander the Great. He was eventually followed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Jews' worst villain until Hitler. Antiochus began waging war against the Jewish religion. He transformed the temple of God into a worship center for Zeus and proclaimed himself God incarnate. He forced young boys to undergo reverse circumcision operations and flogged an aged priest to death for refusing to eat pork. In one of his most notorious acts he sacrificed an unclean pig on the altar in the Most Holy Place, smearing its blood around the temple sanctuary.
Antiochus's actions so incensed the Jews that they rose up in an armed revolt that's celebrated every year as the holiday Hanukkah. But their victory was short-lived. Before long, Roman legions marched into Palestine to quash the rebellion and appointed Herod, their "King of the Jews." After the Roman conquest, nearly the entire land lay in ruins. Herod was sickly and approaching seventy when he heard rumors of a new king born in Bethlehem, and soon howls of grief from the families of slain infants drowned out the angels' chorus of "Glory to God … and on earth peace." First-century Israel was a conquered, cowed nation. This, then, was the neighborhood Jesus moved into: a sinister place with a somber past and a fearful future.

I wonder… what would it look like for Jesus to move into our neighborhood? You know, Jesus continues to come here to our world where marriages and families are breaking apart every day, where racism is more the rule rather than the exception, where terrorist groups like ISIS kill people for sport and then post those executions on the internet for everyone to see, where people work themselves into the ground just to make more and more and more money, where people, even followers of Jesus, hunger and thirst for more and more and more power and control. Yet, in spite of the depravity our world models every day, Jesus is still here. God is still with us! And His way clashes with the way of this world. When Jesus arrives, there is always a Clash of Kingdoms. But, listen, now this is important. We know who wins this war! So the Gospel of Matthew demands that all of us answer this question for ourselves. Whose side are you on? I pray that all of us will find ourselves subjects, participants in the Kingdom of Jesus.

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