The very first Christmas list

Advent 1It’s Advent, and I have a plan. Each Sunday in Advent, I’ll post some thoughts on the beginnings of the four Gospels. Each Gospel introduces the arrival of Jesus in strikingly different ways, and it’s worth a look! Today, Matthew!

What a way to start a book…

Have a look at the opening verses of Matthew’s Gospel. Go on, take a look. It starts with this:

“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:”

A genealogy? Really?! But he’s not kidding – he goes on to list 38 names in the family line of Jesus. It wouldn’t get published today – it’s not a way to grip your readers (unless you’re Tolkien). This is the least exciting Christmas list in the world…

But in Jewish thought and culture, seeing someone’s family line was like seeing their CV. It told you what stuff they were made of. So, what are the credentials of Jesus? How good is his CV?

Who do you think you are

The magnitude of Jesus

On one level, this is a pretty good genealogy. Matthew starts with a BIG claim – “the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham”. Three big claims! But then he uses the genealogy to prove it.

He’s the Son of Abraham. Back in Genesis 12, Abraham was called by God, told he’d have a son, and that through his son the whole world would be blessed. On one level that son was Isaac, through whom the nation came. But the world was yet to be truly blessed by a son of Abraham. Matthew is saying, ‘Here he is! Look at first 14 generations of my genealogy – his roots go all the way back to Abraham’

He’s the Son of David. David was the king extraordinaire of Israel – the mighty leader who defeated Israel’s enemies and ushered in  peace and prosperity for the people. David was good, but a better king was coming – they knew that. Someone from David’s line would once again rule. Matthew’s comment: that’s Jesus too!

Finally, Jesus is the Messiah, the promised one. Way back in Genesis 3 this person is promised, but  hope rose highest when Israel were most in need, during their exile in Babylon. It was in their exiled years that the great hope for a messiah was stirred and great passages looking forward were written. Matthew can trace His roots from the exile too – he is rooted in that part of history too.

So he can finish with a summary, in v17:

“Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.”

In other words: ‘This guy’s the real deal. He has roots in all of it, and He’s the answer to all of it!’ It’s an impressive genealogy, for sure.

The messiness of Jesus

But this genealogy is odd, even weak, in one particular way. It includes women – this was just not done, except very rarely when a very impressive woman was part of the line. Not so here – the women here are anything but impressive.

In v4, we read of Perez, ‘whose mother was Tamar’. Judah’s first son was married to Tamar, but he died before giving her a child. As was custom, she waited for and married his next, but he also died. Instead of waiting again, she disguised herself as a prostitute, seduced Judah, her father-in-law, and produced Perez. Pain, heartache, prostitution and shame. Jesus stepped into that line.

In v5, we see Rahab’s name. Rahab was a prostitute, too. What little girl grows up hoping to spend her life selling her body to men who will use and abuse her for sex? This is a picture of broken dreams, hurt and deep sorrow. But Rahab is an ancestor of Jesus – he came from and for people exactly like her!

Also in v5, we get Ruth. Ruth is a lovely story, but that doesn’t hide the fact Ruth (like Rahab, actually) wasn’t Jewish. She was Moabite. Is it possible that Matthew includes her to make the outrageous claim that Jesus came not just for Jewish people but for everyone? Yes!

Finally, we read in v6 that ‘David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife’. That sentence could carry on with ‘… until David was overcome by lust, forced an affair with her and had her husband killed.’ This is a story of lust, adultery and murder, a picture of much that is wrong with the world, of sin. Jesus didn’t bypass that when He came to earth – He stepped right into it.

The Jesus Matthew portrays is very messy – in touch with everything bad. He really did know our struggles.

Holding onto both

Two crownsThere can be a tendency for us to focus too heavily on one part of this or the other. We celebrate the splendour of Jesus, the fulfilment of everything God had promised, the revelation of God’s complete purposes. Or we are thankful that God in Jesus identifies and came near little old me.

Neither of these things is wrong, but what Matthew’s opener challenges me to do is hold onto both. I naturally swing to one part of that – you probably do too.

This Christmas, I am going to make an active effort to remember the majesty of Jesus and the messiness of Jesus. To remember the baby in the manger is the king of the world. To remember the king of the world stepped into the harsh realities of life.

Merry Christmas!


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  • fiona_w

    I really enjoyed reading this post, Dave! There are some really fascinating stories in the Bible and you do such a good job of telling them and connecting them. Although I’m not usually a fan of seeing someone in the context of their ancestry, I dig your message here.

    OT: If you know of a video clip online or another fun and easy way of explaining who Joseph (he of the coat of many colours) is, please forward it to me :) At my staff retreat last week, I was about to start some Andrew Lloyd Webber on my uke and when I mentioned Joseph a colleague stretched wide his arms in the shape of a cross and asked, ‘This guy?’

    • http://limpingintotruth.blogspot.co.uk/ Dave Criddle

      Haha! I love that confusion. I won’t get all theological-studenty, but it’s an interesting mistake to make as the Jesus and Joseph stories have lots of points of intersection and similarity. I’ll ask some colleague and see if we can come up with anything that might help to differentiate. For a starter, Jesus didn’t have a ‘technicolour dream coat’!

      Also glad you enjoyed the post. I also wouldn’t define someone by their ancestry – but to a Jewish audience that was a way of packing a punch, and would have made a big impact. Means a lot to me that you ‘dig’ me here. I know you wouldn’t subscribe to all of what I believe, but good to know I don’t sound like a total crazy!

      On another note, every 6 months or so I look for new blogs/websites that I want to start following, and the last few times I’ve said to myself ‘I wonder if Fi has started a blog yet?’ because I would DEFINITELY want to read it. I love what you post on Facebook, so if you ever do, let me know!

      • fiona_w

        About not sounding crazy: That’s sort of the beauty of Jesus though, isn’t it? One doesn’t necessarily have to believe that he is the son of God to find his teachings accessible and applicable. He’s certainly one of the strongest leaders and advocates of social justice that I can think of.

        I write occasionally and randomly at http://fisings.wordpress.com, but it’s not quite a themed blog. All the interesting stuff is posted on Facebook! :)

        • http://limpingintotruth.blogspot.co.uk/ Dave Criddle

          Fi, I agree and disagree, I think. Jesus is absolutely one of the strongest (I would say THE strongest) leaders and advocates for social justice, so one can admire Him for that without believing His divinity.

          But… it’s hard to detach His motives and call for social transformation from the rest of His message and proclamation that was deeply rooted in spiritual, not just social, categories. I don’t think you can separate one from the other.

          So is the beauty of Jesus that everyone can get on board, deity or not? I don’t think so, given the pretty clear spiritual truth claims He made… Of course I believe the real beauty is in the substance of those truth claims!

          • fiona_w

            I don’t doubt that we see Jesus differently and that you have a more holistic understanding of him, seeing as I choose to ignore the spiritual aspect. Perhaps I’ve appropriated him and cherry-picked his teachings to meet my own needs and beliefs. But that was kinda my point – that he has broad appeal BECAUSE his call for social transformation makes sense, even to the non-believers, even when any mention of God is removed. I’m sure that in order to understand his teachings more fully you’d have to leave God in the message, but his calls for justice and equity have enough merit as standalone messages to attract a wide range of people.

            When he was alive, weren’t there people who listened to him and agreed with his social teachings who didn’t believe he was God?

          • http://limpingintotruth.blogspot.co.uk/ Dave Criddle

            I see what you’re saying – that’s an interesting point!

            It’s also an interesting question about whether people at his time ever engaged in that way. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t believe there were people who did. It seems there were two categories of people: (1) people who believed his message, including his divinity, and committed their lives to follow the whole package; and (2) people who thought his claims were so outrageous that he was an awful person (either blasphemous or seditious) and deserved death.

            There are accounts of people who wanted what he offered spiritually, but the physical and social demands were too high so decided against. But I’m unaware of anyone who was the other way round.

            Happy to be corrected. But given the spiritual climate of his day, I’d be very surprised if anyone were able to neatly detach his social message from his spiritual message/claims.

          • fiona_w

            Interesting and good to know!

        • http://limpingintotruth.blogspot.co.uk/ Dave Criddle

          PS: totally subscribed to your blog.

  • Graham Wakeman

    Dave, great perspective. Reminds me of an old song we used to sing!
    Meekness and majesty
    Manhood and Deity
    In perfect harmony
    The Man who is God
    Lord of eternity
    Dwells in humanity
    Kneels in humility
    And washes our feet

    O what a mystery
    Meekness and majesty
    Bow down and worship
    For this is your God
    This is your God

    Father’s pure radiance
    Perfect in innocence
    Yet learns obedience
    To death on a cross
    Suffering to give us life
    Conquering through sacrifice
    And as they crucify
    Prays: ‘Father forgive.’

    Wisdom unsearchable
    God the invisible
    Love indestructible
    In frailty appears
    Lord of infinity
    Stooping so tenderly
    Lifts our humanity
    To the heights of His throne

    What a saviour!

    • http://limpingintotruth.blogspot.co.uk/ Dave Criddle

      It’s not THAT old a song! How young do you think I am?! It’s also one of my favourites. We need to hold together the meekness and the majesty of Jesus more than we often do.

      I’ve realised that I speak a lot about the ‘majesty’ part, even though the ‘meekness’ part is the part which encourages me the most. That probably means I need to be more encouraged by the majesty of Jesus than I am, AND that I need to talk more about His meekness…

      Thanks for following the blog and for all your insightful comments!

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