Episode 16: Discover Jesus in Matthew (1) First things first
Famous names and outsider characters – they’re all in the family tree of Jesus right at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel! Laurence Davenport and Dan Weatherall start a series of episodes that explores this book in greater detail to discover the real Jesus. Listen in to find out why some apparently dubious (but actually faithful) women feature in the opening verses of this Gospel and what that helps us to discover about Jesus!
The episode begins with Dan and Laurence discussing what they hope to get out of this walkthrough of the gospel of Matthew. Things to look out for include how to best understand Jesus, the various events and characters that are mentioned, why Jesus does and teaches certain things. With that brief introduction, they jump right into the beginning and read the opening few verses.
Edge of the seat kind of stuff
What they discover is a long list of names; a family tree! And if you’re unfamiliar with the Hebrew Bible, (the Old Testament), then you’ll no doubt be bored immediately. But this really is edge of the seat kind of stuff if you’re a Jewish Christian listening to this gospel being read for the first time in first century Syria or Palestine. And that’s part of the point of this episode; Dan and Laurence talk a lot about the background to the gospel narrative being in the Old Testament stories which would have been very familiar to the original readers. Jesus did not appear in a vacuum; he was Jewish and came from a particular heritage and for a particular purpose. So to understand Jesus better, we need to think like a first century Jewish Christian and we need to follow the quotes and the allusions to the Old Testament.
Discover Jesus as the Son of David and Abraham
Right from Matthew 1:1 we find Jesus being linked to two very key characters in the story of the nation of Israel. Firstly, David the king who started the dynasty of kings ruling from Jerusalem. Being called the “Song of David” is therefore a claim that Jesus is entitled to the throne. And secondly, Abraham, who was the patriarch in the book of Genesis – the father of the people of Israel. This family tree is also paused momentarily to comment on the deportation and exile to Babylon, which is, of course, the moment when the kings in Jerusalem lost their power and control to foreign invaders. So the family of Israel is in trouble in the generation of Jesus. They still need a king and they need someone to bring the promises of Abraham to fulfillment. The claim of Matthew’s gospel is that Jesus fulfills this.
Some surprising women rise to prominence
Dan and Laurence talk about some of the features of the genealogy in Matthew 1, including the use of the number 7 and how that signified to the Jewish audience the very special generation that Jesus Christ came in. But it is also curious how just a handful of women are picked out and included within the list; Tamar from Genesis 38, Rahab from Joshua 3, Ruth from the book of Ruth, (of course!), and the wife of Uriah from 2 Samuel 11. They discover some surprising things about these women.
Firstly they are all Gentiles, that is, non-Jews. (The wife of Uriah may have been Jewish, but Uriah was a Hittite so she was at least married to someone out of the chosen nation). These women could therefore have been something of an embarrassment, but Matthew specifically wants to draw attention to them because the mission of Jesus is going to unfold to all nations, not just Jews.
Secondly, they all are involved in some sketchy scenes, or at least scenes that give that appearance. Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and ends up sleeping with her father-in-law, Rahab is a prostitute, Ruth goes in stealth to meet a man at night and lies down by his feet, and the wife of Uriah is forced upon by king David himself. In all cases though, if it looks like the woman is doing something they shouldn’t be, the big surprise in each of these Old Testament stories is that the Gentile woman is actually the most faithful. Laurence and Dan note that these characters prepare the reader for the situation in the life of Joseph when he finds that Mary, his soon to be wife, is actually already pregnant! The gospel author has set you up to be prepared to be surprised by how God can work out his purpose.
More Old Testament background
Once the genealogy is out of the way, the narrative begins, and here Dan and Laurence notice that Matthew begins to directly quote different parts of the Old Testament all throughout the story of Jesus’ birth. The message seems to be consistent. What Israel as a nation experienced, Jesus is experiencing. And where Israel as a nation failed, Jesus will succeed. This sets you up for a thoroughly exciting account of the life of this man, Jesus Christ, to be explored more in subsequent episodes.