by Barry Newton
Last week our family endured at least forty minutes sitting in line before spending another ten minutes driving through a series of live outdoor nativity scenes. Mixed feelings best describe my reaction.
On the one hand, not only is it quite unlikely that Jesus was born in December, but the original reason for crediting this time of year for Jesus’ birth involved providing society with a Christian alternative to their deeply embedded pagan cosmic celebration. This can hardly be exciting from either an historical or methodological viewpoint.
And yet, although nothing in scripture suggests we should commemorate Christ’s birth, the very fact that many people will pause from their secular flush of activity to permit some reflection on Jesus’ birth to penetrate their brain can only be a good thing. And so, I am grateful for whenever people’s thoughts turn to the Lord.
Matthew’s thoughts are crisp and focused. In his telling of the story of Jesus we discover ancestry, the organization of history, God’s angelic messenger, the cosmos, and prophecy all converging to proclaim the unequivocal message Jesus is King.
Although many might find the genealogy Matthew traces about as exciting as reading an old phone book, this opening to Matthew’s gospel verifies Jesus as being “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). The Old Testament had foretold of a promised coming ruler who would be from the root of David. Thus this gospel’s commencing claim that Jesus is the Christ, that is the Messiah becomes tenable.
For most Americans, Matthew’s grouping of Jesus’ ancestors into three consecutive batches of fourteen generations might seem like merely a curious footnote. How interesting but also odd that every fourteen generations something enormous happened with Israel.
However, since the letters in David’s name add up to fourteen, first century Jews could have seen another emerging piece of Messianic evidence. It is as though a ball was bouncing through history with king David’s name written all over it with its final bounce landing squarely upon Jesus, the son of David, the promised Messiah.
Furthermore, it is not just dusty ancestral records acknowledging Jesus as son of David; an angel identified Joseph as “son of David.” Although Jesus’ lineage might be traced through Joseph, he is not the father. It is at this point Matthew takes Jesus’ identity to a whole new level, alleviating any doubt about his significance. God’s heavenly messenger informs Joseph that Mary will give birth to a child conceived from the Holy Spirit. Mary’s baby is God’s doing. God is at work in bringing this child into the world.
Immediately we are ushered into realizing that the very cosmos has been crying out that a king has been born to the Jews. Furthermore, when Herod has the scriptures searched to discover where the promised king mentioned in the scriptures would be born, the answer is Bethlehem. This is the very place of Jesus’ birth.
Time and again Matthew heaps up evidence that Jesus is the promised King. Following his resurrection from the dead Jesus announced, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18).
If Jesus is King with all authority in heaven and on earth, he deserves more thought than just a few moments of pause each year. He deserves our riveted attention and devotion throughout the year.