Let’s examine some background information about the gospel of Matthew:
Who – The author of this book is Matthew, the son of Alphaeus. His surname (last name) was Levi. He was a tax collector.
What – Matthew wrote one of the four gospels – a narrative of the ‘good news’ of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
When – We know that Matthew wrote his book before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but there is disagreement as to the exact date. The most probable timeline was 50-60 AD, but some favor a later date between 65-70 AD.
Where – Scholars are split as to the location where he wrote his book. The opinion of the majority is that he wrote his gospel in Antioch of Syria, in the Greek language. Others believe he wrote his gospel in Palestine, in Aramaic.
Why – Matthew recorded selected events from the life and ministry of Jesus in order to confirm/prove to a Jewish audience that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. He also shows how God’s plan includes the Gentiles as well. He emphasizes that the life of Jesus was not just another historical event, but the supreme, ultimate event of history, planned and prophesied by God centuries before it occurred. Matthew shows how the life of Jesus fulfilled the words of ancient prophesy.
Matthew 1:1-2 – The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…
Matthew begins his book with a genealogy. A really loooong genealogy that lasts for 16 verses and has more than 30 names in it. Most of the names are people we do not know anything about. If you were writing a book, would you start it with a long list of unknown dead people’s names?
Probably not. We would start a book with some amazing action scene or some astounding event that forever changes the characters of the book.
We would want our opening to be attention grabbing and important. We would want it to foreshadow significant events that are yet to come in the book, wouldn’t we? Does that sound right to you? Does that sound like something you might want to read?
Oddly enough, that is exactly what Matthew did! Consider this:
Was the birth of Jesus an astounding event that forever changed all of us? Did his birth foreshadow significant events yet to come in the book? Of course!
Was Matthew’s genealogy attention grabbing? In all fairness, it does seem unimportant and boring on first glance, but it isn’t. It establishes several important facts.
First of all, the genealogy places Jesus in a specific historical context. Think about it this way – what is the first line in every fairytale? Isn’t it ‘once upon a time there lived…’? If the gospels did not include the genealogy, it would be just like saying ‘once upon a time there lived a man named Jesus…’. He would have no historical credibility. People would write him off as a fairytale. Matthew’s genealogy places Jesus in time and space, proving that he was a real person who really lived.
Matthew clearly divides the genealogy into three separate sections.
Matthew 1:17 – So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon 14 generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ 14 generations.
The first section represents the rise of the Jewish nation to the monarchy, the second represents the failure of the monarchy and the third refers to the restoration of the kingdom under the Messiah.
Therefore, Jesus (the culmination of the genealogy) is the long awaited Messiah! What began with Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus. While this may not be an earth shattering fact to us, it was to the Jews. If Matthew is correct, the Jews just rejected, tortured and murdered the Messiah they had been waiting thousands of years for! Trust me, that conclusion would have grabbed the attention of every Jewish person back in that day!
Thirdly, the genealogy shows that God is no respecter of persons. It includes Jewish men, Jewish women and even Gentiles.
The genealogy also airs a whole load of dirty laundry. If you take a few minutes to read the names, you will find several you never heard of, but you will also find that the Old Testament gives us a glimpse into the lives of quite a few of them.
It doesn’t take long to discover that they are real people with very real spiritual failures.
- David committed both adultery and murder.
- Tamar and Bathsheba both had out of wedlock pregnancies.
- Rahab was a prostitute.
- Manasseh desecrated the temple, filled Jerusalem with the blood of the innocent and worshiped false gods.
- Judah had twin boys by his daughter-in-law.
- Solomon allowed his wives to draw him into idol worship.
Matthew shows us that God was willing to identify his Son with sinful humanity through the incarnation.
Finally, the genealogy proves that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David. Even though Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, he was his legal father here on earth. Therefore, since Joseph was a descendant of David, Jesus had a legal right to the throne.
Starting with the genealogy, Matthew records selected events from Jesus’ life and ministry in order to prove to the Jews that Jesus was indeed the long awaited Messiah. He is going to show them God’s plans for mankind in light of the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Let’s take a look at what Matthew has to say!
Matthew 1:18-19 – Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
In order to understand what Matthew is telling us, we first need to understand some of the culture and customs of the Jews. When a woman or maiden was ‘betrothed’ to a man there was a formal ceremony and the man typically gave the maiden a ring and/or other jewels.
The betrothal period usually lasted a whole year. During that year, the maiden would remain in her own home with her parents and family. She did not see her future groom until he came to get her and take her to his own house! Can you imagine that? Also, all communication between the two happened through a third-party, the ‘friend of the bridegroom’.
However, once a woman was betrothed, she was considered to be the man’s legal wife, even though she still lived at home and the relationship was not consummated.
So, sometime during that year of betrothal, Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant. Because of the legality of the situation, he couldn’t simply break off the engagement as we would do in our society. He basically had three options. He could go ahead and marry her, he could divorce her, or he could bring charges against her. [Since Mary was legally bound to Joseph, any breach of that contract was considered adultery and could be punished according to law. Specifically, she could be stoned to death. See Deuteronomy 22:22-23].
Matthew’s account focuses on Joseph’s point of view. (Mary’s point of view is recorded in Luke). Imagine for a moment the heartache and humiliation he experienced when this devastating news reaches him. All the trust he placed in Mary, all the dreams he had of their life together have been dashed in an instant.
This beautiful girl, who captured his heart and seemed like such a perfect match, has betrayed him!
In the midst of his anguish and sadness, Joseph must make a decision – what will he legally do with Mary? I imagine that the decision was not an easy one. I imagine that he spent a few sleepless nights considering the options.
The scripture gives us an insightful glance into the character of Joseph. It says he was “a just man”. This tells us that he hated wickedness and loved justice. That being the case, he would never choose to marry Mary; he believed she was a liar and an adulterer and he couldn’t marry a person of that character. At the same time, it seems that he was moved by kindness and compassion, because he decided against publicly humiliating her and seeking the death penalty. Thus, he decides to quietly divorce her.
As a side note, Joseph is a good example of the principles of forgiveness that we discussed on our last few posts. Notice that he did not allow his emotions to lead the way, but he looked to the truth/God’s laws first. He felt that he could not marry her because she was unrighteous, but neither did he seek death. He chose to forgive her, and move on.
Matthew 1:20-21 – But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
As Joseph was considering the best way to carry out his plans, God spoke to him in a dream, changing his decision. Dreams are a method of communication that God had employed extensively in the Old Testament, and he uses it many times during the critical infant years of Jesus. God still uses dreams to speak to his people today; see Joel 2:28.
I believe that God wants to speak to all of us. As we struggle with the different decisions we need to make in life, God wants to offer us council through his word, through the leading of the Holy Spirit and yes, through dreams. If we seek God, we can be confident in the decisions we make, knowing that He guides our footsteps as we walk in this life.
In the dream, God reveals that Mary is innocent of sin, and he endorses the marriage. What great news for Joseph! He could now marry his bride and their relationship would never be tainted by mistrust or doubt.
Notice that the angel addresses Joseph as the son of David. This greeting reminds Joseph that he is in the direct line of David, through whom the Messiah would come. Joseph may have felt like he was just another Jewish man and a poor carpenter at that, but the truth is that his life was significant. He was a child of David and his heritage made him important.
The same is true for YOU. You may not consider yourself important or noteworthy, but you would be wrong! Joseph was a child of David, but you are a child of the Most High God! Your life is significant in every way. God created you to live in a specific time period. He gave you specific gifts and talents. He designed a specific plan for your life. You are significant and important in the kingdom of Heaven! While pride has no place in the life of a Christian, you should be confident of who you are in Christ. God has given you authority to be his representative here on earth.
The angel reveals to Joseph that the child of Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit. This means that he was divine, yet human. He was born in the flesh, but did not have a sinful or fleshly nature. He is God, yet he can identify with humanity. He is sinless, and therefore the ONLY BEING who can atone for sin.
The angel further reveals that the child’s name will be Jesus (or in the Hebrew, Joshua), which means ‘to save’ or ‘savior’. This reveals the true purpose behind his birth – he is the long awaited Messiah, who will save mankind from sin and death!
Acts 4:11-12 – This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Jesus is also the ultimate fulfillment of a promise made to the Jewish nation. Back in Genesis, God declared that through the Jews, all nations of the earth would be blessed. This shows God’s ultimate plan – salvation was not limited to only the Jews, but it would include the Gentiles as well. Jesus would be the savior of all.
The virgin birth was an amazing event that had been predicted long, long ago by the ancient prophets:
Matthew 1:22-23 – all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us).
Here, Matthew is quoting from Isaiah 7:14. When Jesus was born, it could truly be said that he was Immanuel – God incarnate was among mankind!
Matthew 1:24-25 – When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
And so, being fully convinced of the path he was to take, Joseph takes Mary as his wife without delay. The marriage is legally finalized, though not yet consummated. When the child is born, he is named Jesus. He is the legal heir of Joseph; his true Father, God, will soon make him heir of all things.
Here in Matthew we find the perfect will of God occurring at the perfect timing of God for the prefect purposes of God. This kind of perfection can happen in our lives as well, if we will allow God to direct our paths. God cares about your life and its struggles just as much as he cared for Mary and Joseph.
So, let me give you some encouragement: You are not a ‘nobody’. You are an important part of God’s kingdom and his purposes. Don’t let the world convince you otherwise.
Let me give you some relief: You don’t have to make all of life’s decisions alone. The Holy Spirit is present to assist you and guide you. Seek him and he will be found by you!
Let me give you some strength: Joseph (and Mary) went through some tough times, but God encouraged and strengthened them through those difficulties. God will do the same for you! Whatever you are walking through today, you will come out victorious in Christ!