Musings on Matthew

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The first chapter of Matthew seems to be one of the dullest passages in the entire Bible. A long list of names gives Jesus’s ancestors through Joseph back to Abraham in painful detail. We wonder why the passage is even in the New Testament.

In fact that list of names was a deeply shocking passage. The gospel of Matthew was written by a Jew to Jews. It was written to the Pharisees, to the Sadducees and to the conservative Jewish people. Matthew was careful not to offend Jews with little things. Where other gospels refer to the kingdom of God Matthew refers to the kingdom of heaven to avoid using the name of God which Jews found offensive. However, when it matters the gospel holds nothing back and the list of names at the beginning is deeply offensive.

The list includes 41 men and 4 women. Including any women was controversial enough but these women were not respectable. 37 of the wives and mothers in that list are not mentioned. these were the respectable women, the good wives and decent mothers. The 4 women that Jesus mentions are the failures, the outcasts, the women that other men would have covered up and pretended not to notice.

Tamar, the first woman mentioned, tricked Judah into sleeping with her after his sons abandoned her. Her son was illegitimate but the Lord took him as an ancestor anyway.

Rahab, the second woman, was a Canaanite, a member of the race that the Israelites set out to destroy. Worse than that she was a prostitute. No man would want to own up to being descended from such a fallen woman. She was a blot on Christ’s pure Jewish ancestry and the respectability of his line.

Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabitess. She came from the enemies of Israel. She represented the nations who hated God’s people and wanted to destroy them. Once again she polluted God’s line.

Bathsheeba was an adulteress. She married a foreign mercenary, Uriah the Hittite and then when a better option came along she betrayed her husband and became the king’s mistress.

There was no need to mention any of these women in the history of Jesus’ family. They could have been left out as the decent women were but the lord had a point. His ancestry was as pure as any Israelite. He was a descendant of Abraham, father of the nation. He was a son of David the king. And his ancestry was polluted just like Israel’s. The sons of Abraham were not as pure as they liked to think. Keeping the law didn’t change that. Pretending they were pure did not make it so. They were as fallen and sinful as Tamar, Rahab and the others

But Christ redeemed his line. He made it a holy line, a righteous story. Christ and Christ alone made those women and that list of men holy. He took away the curse that was placed upon his male ancestors and showed his people true holiness, true righteousness.

If God decided to take a foreigner, a member of a cursed race, a prostitue and fallen woman and declare them holy then no one would ever say otherwise. Jesus is the only man who could choose his ancestors and he chose every one of them. He chose Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheeba. He was the hope of Israel and he made his people holy. That list of names is a declaration of the saving Grace of Jesus Christ.

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One Response to Musings on Matthew

  1. Ben says:

    How easily we read that explosive opening to Matthew’s gospel as if it is a traditional piece of genealogy! We at King’s Gate have been enjoying recently how Naomi was brought into God’s chosen people and made part of that unique line that leads to Christ. I so enjoyed what you said last night, at the conference, that what Jesus did was to reverse the law: that instead of touching an unclean thing, and becoming unclean, when you touch Jesus, no matter how unclean you are, you become clean. The unclean woman touched the hem of his garment and she was made clean! It had never happened before.

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