Message: From Abraham to the Christ | Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17 | Speaker: Stephen Choy
Come prepared to share and answer the following questions:
- Take some time to reflect on and summarize the sermon in your own words. What did you like about it? What did you not like about it? If you had some questions about it to ask one another (or Pastor Stephen) what would those questions be and try to answer them together.
- Be gracious, supportive and receptive to one another and to your group facilitators in this because they/you may not have all the answers!
- Call Pastor Stephen if you get stuck!
- Discuss one way God’s used this past sermon (or one of the previous few sermons) to grow you and/or challenge you.
- Perhaps that what you know theologically does not translate into your life practically?
- Perhaps in your thinking that who Jesus is and what he says only warrants your thinking and time on occasionally?
- Perhaps in how it feels like Christ is either distant or near in those times of loneliness and vulnerability? OR perhaps in how you struggle with your affections for Christ when you feel alone or vulnerable in a world that does not accept you or in a church that seems to not love you?
- Perhaps in how you are encouraged by who Christ is in something you’ve never thought or considered before and how that thought/consideration applies to your own life?
- Interpreting history is inherently theological and theology requires a good and right interpretation/understanding of history, agree or disagree? Why?
- What is the theme or purpose of Matthew? What does it mean/how might you explain why this is Matthew’s theme or purpose?
- Why is it important that we know our history (not only of the world but of our own lives, our faith, our communities, etc.?)? Is it important?
- Why is the context regarding Jewish Christians for Matthew so important for this passage (and really for the whole book of Matthew)? This may be hard if you haven’t read the whole book of Matthew, but imagine yourself in the first or second century as the Roman empire is slowly eroding and stripping your safety net of calling yourself Christian while your friends and families, Jews, like you, are running to these Roman soldiers to tell them who and where you are. Why does Matthew need to give an account of the gospel to them?
- Why is such a message, originally intended for a Jewish Christian audience, still applicable to us today?
- What are some ways that we fail to listen to Jesus (and his teaching throughout history through prior biblical writers–all of whom pointed towards him), and how can we spur one another on towards greater intentionality in all aspects of our lives to not only listen to him, passively, but actively (i.e. to do as he says and live as he lives)?
- A little more technical and difficult, compare the genealogies of Matthew and Luke–what is their difference? Why are they different? What does this teach us about Jesus?
- Discuss one way that we can pray for you as a group.
- Provide/encourage us with an update of something that God is doing to apply his gospel in your life/how the beauty and preciousness of Jesus is being freshly applied to your current situation.
We begin this week our series entitled Learning from the Teachings of Jesus, and for those teachings, I’ve decided to take us through the book of Matthew, or more specifically Matthew chapters 1-12 (I’ll be happy if we get through to chapter 9). And you may ask, why Matthew? Well, I have three reasons, and I’m going to give them to you quickly so that we can get into our sermon.
The first reason is because, while I love the whole Bible, Matthew is my favourite book. I’d love to explain why, but I have not the time.
Second, I chose Matthew because of its teaching-focused structure. The book is unified around five teaching units, and each teaching unit is either followed or preceded by living examples of what that teaching looks like in practice. And I thought after a year of narrative, it would be good to have a break of sorts from pure narration and venture into a biblical genre that possessed discourse, or teaching, units that are inevitably linked to the story of Christ’s life.
Third, I chose Matthew because this book’s theme can be summarized as fulfillment. Our author is intent on bringing the mystery of all history to light. How can we rightly honour our church’s theme of learning from the teaching of Jesus? It’s by seeing how Jesus fulfills history by revealing who he is and separating those who truly belong to him. The whole of Matthew’s purpose can be summarized like this: God fulfills his plan in Jesus through revelation and separation. You’ll hear that a lot this year.
But let’s begin in chapter 1 by asking, “why should we learn from Jesus?” Answer: Because of who he, through Matthew, reveals himself to be. It is that revelation that we turn our focus and attention to this week in our text, Matthew 1:1-17. Would you read along with me as we turn to it now. TWoL:
1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos,3 and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,4 and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
In these verses we learn the reason for our proposition today—our proposition which fits in with our church’s theme for this year: learn, or as I’ve phrased it, listen to Jesus. Why are we to listen to Jesus as he comes to teach us? Because he is the Alpha and Omega, the Promised Fulfillment, and the King Over All. That is our outline this morning, and I pray that God might bless us as we take our first steps into this incredible book. Let’s look at our first point now: Listen to Jesus . . .
1) Because He is the Beginning and End
The entire book of Matthew begins with these words Βίβλος γενέσεως, which directly translated means the book of birth or the book of origin. But in language more familiar to us, you know these words to be rendered transliterally as the “Book of Genesis.” These are, in fact, the very words that serve as the title of the first book of the Jewish Bible as the Jews would have known it at that time: Βίβλος γενέσεως—Genesis.
And this is significant for us because by its use—by referencing this as a type of Genesis—by giving us the title of his book in this way—the Genesis of Jesus Christ (the gospel according to Matthew is an attribution—tells us who wrote these words, but the Book of Genesis of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham is the author’s title), the author is doing two things for us. First, he is telling us about the audience to whom this book is targeted.
Now, we’ll see this more as we work our way through these texts in the coming weeks, but just from these words, we know that Matthew was writing to people who had a Jewish background. In fact, Matthew is writing mainly to Jewish Christians with the intention of showing them that their new faith in Jesus has fundamentally altered their identity—both in being and function. It would have been common for a confessing Jewish Christian in his or her circumstance—in a place where he or she is surrounded by people committed to the original Jewish cult—to ask the question, “who are we?”
You see, Jewish Christians at that time were stuck between a rock and a hard place because, on the one hand, they had to reconcile that they were now different from their Jewish neighbours. While they believed that Christianity was likely the fulfillment of Judaism, they had to contend with the real and immense problem of breaking from their literal, unbelieving brothers and sisters and having to defend their new faith against persecution.
This, of course, was a stark contrast to their other reality, namely, that they were suddenly breaking bread and fellowshipping in unity with Gentiles like they were their true brothers and sisters. This wasn’t just a shift or change of perspective, nor just a reorientation of lifestyle. This was a different life altogether—an outcast’s life—one foreign and dangerous to Jews who were already becoming minorities in a growing, Roman world.
Imagine being a Jew without being Jewish, and imagine trying to live apart from your Jewish safety net among those who, historically, wanted nothing to do with you. Such a lonely and vulnerable situation would have caused any Jewish Christian in that first century to double-take and wonder how they might be sure of their confession. Is this Jesus worth it? Is he truly who these apostles—who he, himself—claims to be?
And Matthew, in this first verse, with these four words—the Book of Genesis of Jesus Christ—wants to allay the fears of his ethnic and, now also, spiritual brothers and sisters of this: Jesus is worth it. How does he allay their fears? By telling them with language that they are already very familiar with that this is the advent of all that they had been waiting for.
The mystery of the Old Testament—the hints and hopes for a Messiah, well here it is! This is the book of the dawn of the Messiah. You’ve been waiting for him, so let me tell you explicitly in words you use on a daily basis—that Genesis—that new age—that salvation after years of suffering, exile, wandering, kinglessness, leaderlessness, prophetlessness, priestlessness, oppressiveness, slavishness—the start of your vindication—he is here, and he is worth it. So, do not lose heart because he has brought you in to reveal to you the start of something that’s worth all of your life. This, then, is the first thing that Matthew is doing by using this language—he’s telling us about his audience.
The second thing that he’s doing, and it’s related in some ways to the first, is that he’s teaching us how to read the Bible. This particular phrase, Βίβλος γενέσεως, is used ten times in the book of Genesis in the Greek Translation of the Jewish Bible—they’re called toledoth sections or toledoth formulas. They’re called that because the Hebrew word, תוֹלְדוֹת, is used whenever the author of Genesis desires to mark a new beginning for the people of God.
The most common places you find these toledoth headings is with the introduction of significant figures, such as with Israel’s forefathers—those whom God often makes a covenant with, like Abraham. I can give you a fuller list of them after service, if you’d like.
Yet, what is fascinating is that these toledoth formulas aren’t only prevalent in Genesis, but they also become prevalent in the last book of the Jewish Bible—Chronicles (which, in the Jewish Bible, has no first and second part—it’s just Chronicles). And what is the book of Chronicles? It’s a book about the lineage—the Genesis, if you will—of David.
So, do you see it? It is, as one commentator states, that “by beginning with these words: ‘This is the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,’ the New Testament links the beginning and the end of the Jewish Bible with the life of Jesus. For in Genesis and Chronicles are found the genealogies that lead from Adam to Abraham to David.”
In other words, what is being signaled to us here is that Matthew’s preoccupation in his gospel will be to show us how Jesus completes not only the storylines of Genesis—the first book of the Bible—but the fulfillment of all the Old Testament. He is the Genesis. He is the fulfillment. He is the new creation for the people of God, and he has come to establish a new genealogy—a new generation in himself through a new, final covenant.
In these two things there are very clear and obvious applications for us, aren’t there? The first being, like the Jewish Christians in Matthew’s time, Christians today are being challenged in their identity. They are being increasingly marginalized by family and friends. In fact, persecution, in general, for believers is at an all-time high in the world. And this is all happening while the numbers of faithful church attendees are decreasing at an alarming rate.
I believe there is a correlation here, don’t you? Namely, that people—those whom we called brothers and sisters—in the heat of this spiritual warfare—as they become increasingly outcast in a society that wants less and less to do with the God of Abraham and David—they—we—have a tendency to forget who Jesus is and why he’s worthy of our every endurance. They have forgotten their history, and thus have simultaneously misplaced their theology. They have minimized their own sin, and thus have given equally less reverence to their justification by grace alone. They have emphasized their felt entitlement for a life crafted in their own image and thus see little lasting importance for the effect of the incarnation and his cross.
So, here, Matthew is pleading with his audience, just as he might plead with us today—do not forget who Jesus is—do not forget what he started in his Genesis and let him see it through until the end—for one day, he will complete the revelation, and on that day, his judgment will not be lacking. He will separate those who are his from those who are not. May none of us be found as those who failed to hear him—to learn from him—to listen to him, as he, alone, is worthy of all our attention.
2) Because He is the Promised Fulfillment
Much will be said in the next point of our outline about Christ’s fulfillment of the Messianic, Davidic, Kingly line, but we cannot and should not skip over the significance of his being called the Son of Abraham here and the lineage of Jesus beginning with Abraham in verse 2—for such a fact is utterly significant. Let me frame that significance with two questions.
The first question is why does Matthew begin with Abraham instead of Adam? Because if we look at a comparable genealogy, as given by Luke in chapter 3 of his book, he provides us with a lineage that goes all the way back to Adam, who Luke calls the son of God. Why does Matthew not want to draw out this designation here? Wouldn’t it make our exposition easier—to know Christ is the descendant of the son of the son of God, Adam, while also being the eternally begotten Son of God and thereby making the imperative that we listen to him that much simpler?
My answer to that is, perhaps, it would have made things simpler, but remembering who Matthew’s target audience is, choosing Abraham, the one from whom Israel is begotten—it makes perfect sense because Matthew is trying to reinforce that Jesus is not just any Saviour—he is not just any Messiah from any line of humanity upon earth. He is the Messiah from the line of Abraham. He is the Messiah born of the Jews. He is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that through him the families of the earth shall be blessed. Right? Because up until now, Israel has not been a blessing to the nations. They’ve had, in fact, very little influence over the nations, and yet God told Abraham they would. How has that now been made possible? Through the coming of the Messiah who is descended from the line of Abraham. Jesus is Israel’s vindication.
So, it is integral to Matthew’s purpose for this book that he draws the direct connection to Abraham instead of Adam. It is so that Israel might not have a single misapprehension or misunderstanding about the origin of Jesus so that in Jesus they might not only find commonality but destiny. Jesus is the destiny for all Jews. In him, the completeness of their longing and hope is satisfied. And what Matthew wants more than anything is to satisfy his audience in their doubts, in their persecution, in their world-separating ethics by pointing them to the one who completes the line. Jesus is the fulfillment of promise. He is worthy of our deference.
But the second question we have to ask is not a comparison to the other gospels, but a question from context—why does Luke begin with Abraham instead of Moses? See, in that day, Moses would have been the figure of comparison. He is the one whose name comes up repeatedly whenever the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, or the law, in general, was recited, which the Israelites would have done regularly. Moses would have been the archetypal, prototypical, most venerated of all who are venerated in Israel. Wouldn’t it have made sense for Matthew, then, to convince us of Christ’s worthiness, if he had drawn a comparison of him to Israel’s greatest leader instead of Abraham?
My answer to this charge is simple: it is through Moses that Israel received the law. Through Moses, for all his greatness, the best he could do for Israel is condemn and curse them. But Abraham represents the promise. Abraham represents faith begetting faithfulness. Abraham represents the fundamental truth that God is first gracious to us before we are obedient to him. He is the sign of redemption and regeneration before the restraint and imposition of the law. Abraham, in every sense, supersedes Moses.
And the author wants to make it very clear, Jesus is not just another Moses. He is greater than him. He is of a superior lineage within Israel. He is not the Messiah who brings the law of God, like a servant bound to something greater than him. He is the Messiah of promise—God himself, and it is the law that sits in submission to him. Without him, there is no law. Yet, it is only through him that we might be free from its dominion. Why? Because he is not only the fulfillment of promise, he is also the restorer of promise.
See, the author of Hebrews tells us in chapter 11, Abraham never got to see the promises given to him fulfilled. But even more than that, he wasn’t able to see them fulfilled because he himself could not fulfill them. He tries doesn’t he? He tries with Hagar who begets Ishmael—the child of perdition, and God says, “that’s not how it’ll happen. I’ll be the one to fulfill my promise.” Six hundred years later, Joshua and Israel would stand in the Promise Land, and we’re told, not one of God’s promises had failed. God did that!
In the same way, another would come from the line of Abraham, in an age when every man was a law unto himself and all stood condemned for falling short. This particular man would come and willingly and joyfully submit himself to the constraint of the law—a law whose burden threatened to cancel out the divine promises made to Abraham—a law that no man could satisfy.
And what was the effect of his work? He not only obeys the law in its entirety, but he also goes and dies for the sake of those who stood condemned under it upon a cross. Why? So that in his death he might not only be the fulfiller of promises past but also so that in his resurrection he might be the assurance of an even greater promise—a greater inheritance—for those who would come after him—for those who trust in him as Saviour and Lord.
Why could this man do it, when Abraham could not and when Moses only served to condemn? Because this man is the Messiah. The Promised One of Israel. God the Son incarnate. The greater Abraham. The greater Moses. And Matthew is telling these Jewish Christians—do not miss this—don’t pass him by! He isn’t only from Abraham’s lineage, he is its perfecter, its restorer, and our redeemer. Listen to what he has to say because he is more important in your history than Adam and more worthy of your attention than Moses. Listen to Jesus—the keeper, provider, and fulfiller of promise.
3) Because He is King Over All
Now, I hope it is obvious to us why Jesus being called the son of David is important. We know the covenants, right? We know that to David was promised an everlasting dynasty, and yet, that monarchy was broken because of sin. It is through Jesus—his life, his death, his propitiation, his resurrection—that we find not only the royal line intact but also the hope of the monarchy’s reinstitution assured. He is not only the Saviour in whom the Jewish Christians struggling in Matthew’s time need to pay attention, but he is, even more importantly, their King who they must submit themselves to as their only hope.
But from what we have heard this morning, we’ve learned that Matthew isn’t simply trying to tell us what is obvious. He’s trying to convince us with a supernatural kind of wonder. He wants us to know that Jesus isn’t just King of the Jews. He isn’t just come to persuade Jewish Christians that he is worthy to be heard as the one who sits upon the throne of Israel. No, he is the King who is worthy to be heard as the one who sits upon the throne of all things.
This is what he tells his Jewish readers in his genealogy. We know this, firstly, because of Matthew’s emphasis on David. Here are some interesting facts: as the author tells us in verse 17, this genealogy is separated into three parts—the time from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian exile, and from their return to Jerusalem until the birth of Christ. This separation tells us that the most important of these three sections is that second portion that lists out the kings from David until the exile. We know this because this passage is arranged in what’s called a chiastic pattern where the outside parts in verse 1 and verse 17 mirror each other as they work in parallel fashion toward the middle of the text.
But we also know the second portion of the text is the most important because of Matthew’s very explicit emphasis on the number fourteen. What is the significance of this number? Well the fourteenth name in this genealogy is David. What’s more is that in Hebrew numerology, the name David—דוד or D-W-D—are the fourth, sixth, and fourth letters of the alphabet—Hebrews used letters both as letters and as numbers. So, when you add up these letters according to their numeric values, what number do you get? 14.
Even more interesting is that Matthew isn’t only trying to keep the emphasis on David’s succession, but he’s trying to show us that his proper heir to the throne is Jesus, so he keeps this number 14, I believe, three times—three sections of 14, the number of David—on purpose because, ultimately, what are three fourteens? They’re six sevens—seven being the most perfect number in Scripture.
The problem, however, is that a sequence of six sevens is incomplete. These six point to the coming of the one who is most excellent, the climax of history—they point to the coming of the seventh seven “when,” as one commentator puts it, “the ongoing purpose of God for his people from the time of Abraham reaches its culmination.” They point to Jesus—the most exalted, the most holy, the most worthy.
Now, I must confess, Matthew does not say explicitly that this is the reason for his symmetry, but it’s clear, on some, if not all, levels that he wants to draw our focus to the monarchy of David, while simultaneously keeping us fixated on the person of Jesus—the Christ—our Messiah.
And who is he the Messiah of? This is the last thing I want to point your attention to in this passage—notice what is quite strange about this genealogy is that it includes the name of four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah—an act in Israelite genealogy keeping that is quite uncommon, if not all together absent. Yet, in listing them, we must ask, “what is common amongst all of these ladies?” Are not all of them gentiles? To which you might argue with me that Bathsheba isn’t a gentile (wife of Uriah)—she was Jewish, and I would reply to you that you’re correct, but that is why Matthew writes, “Solomon was born to David not by Bathsheba, but ‘by the wife of Uriah.’” Why? Because Uriah is a gentile.
But, wait, what else do these four women have in common? Are not all of them implicated in some form of sexual sin? Tamar with Judah, Rahab the prostitute of Jericho, the extremely scandalous story of Ruth and Boaz, and of course, the adultery of Bathsheba and David. Let’s add onto this the fact that Jesus is born to Mary, who, although not a gentile, is implicated for sexual impropriety like all the other women included in this genealogy.
And what do all of these facts tell us? They tell us not only that Jesus is the rightful Messianic King of the Jews, but that he is the King over Gentiles. Even more importantly, he is not just King over Gentiles, but he is also King over sinners. And yet, even more importantly than both of these truths, he is not just King over gentiles and sinners, but he is King over even the lowest denominator of them. He is King over those who have no place—and ought to have no share—in the Kingdom. Why can I conclude that? Because these four aren’t just gentiles, they’re not just sexually impure. They’re women—those thought of, in that day, as being good for only one thing: having children.
Yet, Matthew and God, in his divine inspiration, thought to include purposefully here their names so that we might get this right. Jesus is not only King by right—he is not only King by heir—he is not King only by bloodline—he is King by necessity over all peoples, of all times, in all tongues, and throughout all ethnicities—he is the King of David’s dynasty and of Abraham’s line, the Father of nations. What’s even greater than this is that whether you are Jewish or Greek, Cythian, slave, or free, he is King over you. All have fallen short of the glory of God, and yet the glory of God comes for us, still, to, first, save us from our sure fate of hell with his own blood, and then, second, to make us future heirs to the throne of heaven—even when we had no place—no share—in that Kingdom.
I have with great intentionality made this a detail-filled sermon. I have given you facts upon facts that may have overwhelmed your readiness for our text, but I hope it has not been unfruitful because I have done this so that you might not miss the equally overwhelming lesson given to us from Matthew—a lesson given not only in these verses but throughout this whole book: Listen to Jesus—for he is the dawn of end of the age—the true and final revelation of God come to separate his eternal people from all who merely want him for their own sinful gain. Listen to him because he is the Beginning and End, because he is the promised fulfillment of Abraham, and because he is the King who was, who is, and who is, still, to come for all who confess him to be their greatest treasure—our eternal Lord, Saviour, and Messiah.