Matthew 1:1-17 (focal: v1)
The biblical accounts of the birth of Christ answer all the questions people like to ask. How? By the direct, miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit, a virgin conceived. Why? To usher in the climactic stage of God’s plan of redemption. When and where? In Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of Herod the Great, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Yet there is no doubt that the Gospels take greatest interest in the question “Who?” Who is this who is born after such preparation, and amid great signs and portents?
We know intuitively that Matthew’s interest in the identity of Jesus is right. We know that all hope of making sense of the events rests on a knowledge of the character. This is true of the birth of Jesus as it is true for any striking event.
Dan Doriani helps us understand the significance of the ‘who’ question in his work, The Incarnation and the Gospels. He recounts an incident as he was headed off for a doubles tennis match against the best team in the league. He writes:
“I arrived hoping for an upset, and those hopes surged as I began to warm up with one of our opponents. He was a big, hard-hitting lefty, but he looked erratic and slow-footed. Much hinged on his partner, who had not arrived. The minutes ticked away and the time for a forfeit approached when Lefty asked a club pro to fin someone to fill in. The pro returned with a slender man name Altof, who moved like a leopard and held his racket in a faintly menacing way. I began to hit with Altof. In league play, men warm up watchfully, trying to judge their opponents’ skills and deficiencies. As I watched Altof, I saw all skill and no deficiencies. His strokes were effortless, his footwork flawless. Every ball he struck came in deep and hard. I leaned over and told my partner, ‘We need to hit to your man; mine looks very solid.’
“We tried to hit everything to Lefty, and it worked well enough that the score was tied 4-4 after eight games. Then, suddenly Altof was everywhere, crushing the ball for winner after winner; we lost the first set, 6-4. Before the second set began, I heard Altof whisper to Lefty, ‘I need to finish soon.’ I told my partner, ‘If we lose the second set in fifteen minutes, we’ll know something is up.’ Indeed, we lost 6-1 in 14 minutes, with Altof covering the entire court, punishing us in point after point. As we shook hands at the net, I said, ‘That was impressive. Now tell me who you are.’
“‘Well,’ he confessed, ‘I’m a pro here, just filling in so you could have a match.’
“‘Oh, I figured that out a while ago,’ I smiled. ‘I want to know: who are you?!’
“‘OK,’ he said, ‘I’ll tell you. I was a touring pro till a year ago; I played for India’s Davis Cup team.’ He had been one of the top 200 players in the world. Now that I knew who he was, I could make sense of our match.”
Transferring this analogy to his study on the incarnation in the Gospels, he writes, “The Gospel of Matthew operates on this very principle.” Events make sense if and only if we know who the characters are. Matthew 1 certainly describes some very unusual events. There is a virgin who is pregnant by the agency of the Holy Spirit. An angel appears to prevent a young man from setting aside an unwed mother. Later, an angel picks the name of that child and declares that he will be the Savior.
It’s an incomprehensible story, unless you know the characters. So, then, who is this child? It’s a good question; people ask it over and over in the Gospels. “The whole Gospel of Matthew asks and the whole Gospel of Matthew tells who this is,” notes Doriani.
I hope you can join us this third Sunday of Advent as we look at the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17. In this long list of names we will see several targets that our God aims for and hits perfectly; thereby, declaring that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Would you invite someone to come along with you as we present this grand truth to all who will hear? Do pray for the working of God’s Spirit as we come together and sit under the Word of the Lord.
God with us,
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