The Roots of the Messiah
Ancestry.com is doing a booming business these days. Just send in a DNA sample and they can tell you where you got your red hair, your skin color, your crooked little finger and the temper you always blamed on your heritage. Roots.
Matthew, the first century author of the first Gospel, knew the importance of roots, especially the roots of the Messiah. So the first thing he does is present to us the family tree of Jesus beginning with Abraham, and in getting a Christmas sermon prepared, it was easy for me to leave out all the names Matthew mentions.
A 21st century American audience couldn’t care about a list of ancient Jewish names. Maybe we should! These are the names that prove that Jesus’ Story can’t be lined up with Holiday tales like The Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Polar Express. Matthew’s list of names leads us from Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people, to Jesus, the man Matthew believes is the ultimate Jew, the embodiment of the true Israel. Jesus' roots take us to the heart of the meaning of Jewish history and our history.
Matthew carefully structures his names in three groups of fourteen from Abraham to David, from David to the Jeconiah at the time of the Babylonian Exile, and then concludes tracing Jesus' roots from the Exile to Joseph, Jesus' legal human father. These names trigger the childhood stories that Matthew’ Jewish audience knew from reading their Scripture, especially the Sabbath readings at the synagogue.
Matthew proves that Jesus is legally the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, but note that when he comes to Jesus’ human legal father, he is careful to point out that Jesus is Joseph’s legal son, but he was actually born “of Mary.” So right in the genealogy Matthew points us forward to the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus.
If we read the first century documents, we will discover that thousands of Jews did accept that Jesus was the Messiah, the legal heir to David’s throne, the Messiah. All twelve Apostles were Jewish, and Peter spent his entire life proclaiming the truth about Jesus to Jews.
Two thousand years later it’s easy to conclude the celebration of Jesus’ birth is a Gentile Holiday and Hanukkah is the winter festival for the Jews. Matthew, a Jew, would strongly disagree. And if you will take the time to go back and read the story of individuals like Isaac, Jacob, Rahab, and Tamar, named in Jesus’ roots, you will find yourself embroiled in a story that is far better than anything ever written.
LORD, clarify in hearts this Christmas that you did write a good Story in the Gospel of Matthew about the birth of Jesus, but that it’s rooted in a true genealogy and history, not just in Matthew’s imagination. Also move both Jews and Gentiles away from the lie that it’s only beautiful carols, family traditions, and culture. Jesus, move hearts this Season to meet you in person.
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