This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Whilst I was at university, my parents moved from Surrey, where I had been born and raised, to Suffolk, the county from which my mother hails. It wasn’t a secret move; they did let me know their new address, and even gave me a key to the door (albeit the back door, not the front), but it nevertheless had an impact on me. The most significant was that I knew no-one when I returned home for the holidays. My parents quickly established themselves in their new village, getting involved in the local church, the variety club, the silver band and much, much more. Consequently, when I did return home, I usually introduced myself as “Si Lucas, Peter and Kay’s son.” This was a useful reference point for people I met, and it wasn’t long before I was known as Si, son of Peter and Kay. I think this led to expectations that I would strut my stuff on the stage and pick up a euphonium for the band, but none of these became reality. Suffolk remains my parents’ home, but a place I only visit to see them.
One’s family connections are often a useful means of introduction. People quickly get a sense of who you are when they know where you’ve come from. Your family origins can even lead to expectations about the kind of person you are, the hobbies you have and the career that you may choose.
When we read the first chapter of the first book of the New Testament (Matthew’s Gospel), we might ponder why the Gospel writer spends so long recounting such a lengthy list of Jesus’ ancestors before we hear anything at all about who Jesus is. I’m sure that there must be many people who decide to read the New Testament for the first time and, being immediately dropped into this rather dry list, wonder what on earth this book is that they have chosen to read. The fact that Matthew chose to begin in this way must suggest that he thought it was important to outline the people from whom Jesus is descended.
The reality is that by starting his Gospel in this way, the writer straight away gives an insight into the identity of Jesus. He lays his cards on the table right from that first verse, when he says that Jesus is “the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” This man Jesus, whose ministry he is about to recount in 28 chapters, is no mere mortal. He is the Messiah, the promised one of God. The Jews had been waiting for centuries for God’s anointed one to come to them. The Old Testament is full of prophecies about his coming, for example Isaiah 42 states, “here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1). In Isaiah 61 we find more information about the promised Messiah, and all that he will do:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
The writer of Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear that he believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. He is in no doubt that Jesus is God’s servant who will bring justice to the nations, proclaim good news to the poor, comfort those who mourn, bring joy instead of mourning and much more beside.
Matthew’s Gospel also introduces Jesus as the son of David. David is a significant Old Testament figure, a shepherd and poet who was anointed King over Israel and Judah. God made many important promises to David, some of which concern his descendent, or one in particular. We read in 2 Samuel: 11-16:
“The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.”
Matthew’s Gospel, by introducing Jesus as the son of David, is in no doubt that Jesus is the offspring of David whom God will raise up to succeed him. Jesus is the one whose kingdom will be established for ever. Jesus is the son of God.
The Gospel also introduces Jesus as “the son of Abraham.” Abraham is a key figure in the Jewish tradition, the first of the patriarchs called by God to worship him. His importance cannot be overstated. Matthew’s Gospel traces Jesus’ heritage right back to this significant figure, and views him as the fulfilment of the promises that God made to Abraham, including this one that we read about in Genesis 12:2-3:
‘I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.’
Matthew’s Gospel suggests that Jesus is the son of Abraham who will fulfil the promise from God that he will bless all people on earth.
Far from a dry introduction to this first Gospel, then, it is clear that, right from the first verse, the writer is laying out his claims about Jesus. He is in no doubt that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s word, the promised Messiah, the son of God himself, who will rule over all the earth for ever. Jesus is the one who will free captives and bring joy. Jesus is not just a Messiah for the Jews, however; he is a Messiah for all those who acknowledge him. As the prophecies make clear, Jesus will bring God’s blessing to all who accept his identity. The Gospel challenges those who read it to see this for themselves. The Gospel writer does not leave any room for his readers to declare that Jesus was merely a good man, or a gifted teacher. No indeed. He is clear that Jesus is the son of God. The question is , do we acknowledge this for ourselves? And if we do, how does this impact on our lives?