Monday, December 11, 2017

God's Providence And Grace In Matthew's Genealogy Of Jesus

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Matthew 1:17 "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations."


The introduction to the New Testament Gospel of Matthew begins with a a genealogy of Jesus. Tracing the bloodline of Jesus' humanity served to establish Him as the legal heir of David's throne. These initial thoughts help us understand the purpose for Matthew's inclusion of 42 names, stretching 2,000 years to the birth of Jesus. Many might wonder if there is anything more to be said of Matthew's genealogy? After all, beyond proving that Jesus is fit to be Israel's Messiah, what theological, spiritual and life-practical purposes do these list of names serve? 

As one ponders on Matthew 1:1-17, several observations can lead to several applications for our lives.

1. God's Providence

God's providence is the exercise of His sovereign power in governing, sustaining and guiding creation and history to achieve His ultimate purpose. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 comments: 

"God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace."

Several passages express the providential activity of God over and in His creation. (See Nehemiah 9:6-7; Psalm 90; 104; Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 19). 

Whenever we view Matthew 1:17, we find a summation of two millennia of history. Matthew makes a point in presenting three sets of fourteen generations. Caution of course must be exercised when citing the meaning of certain numbers. However, we could say that some interesting correlations demonstrate God's guiding hand of providence in preparing our world for the arrival of the Messiah.

First, notice the total number of generations - forty two. Forty-two and the number forty are associated with testing and affliction. Think of the curse of sin brought upon humanity as a result of Adam and Eve's treachery in following the serpent. Even in the lives of Abraham, David and all human beings, the shadow of sin spoils our humanity. Israel, the biological cradle of Christ's humanity, was tested and afflicted. We are dead in sin and in need of the voice of the Spirit to call us forth to saving faith from our sin and affliction (see John 1:12-13; 5:24-25; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). 

Second, we find three divisions in the genealogy. The number three is considered by H.L. Wilmington to be the number of unity, accomplishment and the universe (The Complete Book of Bible Lists, page 217). Beyond the number itself, certain themes emerge. The first division is headed by Abraham - the patriarch of promise. The second set is headed by David - the patriarch of God's pledge to Israel's throne. The third division of the genealogy is headed by Jeconiah - the man who would bring about a curse on the remainder of the bloodline. 

We see then a promise, a pledge and a curse. Lest someone step-in to reverse the curse, the promise and the pledge would not come to fulfillment. This design is intentional by Matthew and the Holy Spirit so moving in his personality to write these words.  

Thirdly, we find that each set of Matthew's genealogy of Jesus is divided into fourteen generations. Many commentators have noted that this arrangement by Matthew is intended for memorization. Much like today, we have our social security numbers and driver's licenses to identify ourselves. To the Jew of the first century, recounting one's pedigree would serve as a means of identification and claim of certain rights. 

In exercising caution about the number "fourteen" itself, the number is found often in places where God's purposes or processes for a people are drawing to a completion. In Genesis 31:41, Jacob expresses how he had served his uncle for fourteen years. We know from reading his story that after fourteen years, he got to marry Rachael, who is significant in Israel's history and in prophetic history. 

The Passover celebration, central to Israel's festal cycle and the very night of our Lord's betrayal, occurs on the fourteenth day of the month of Abib (March/April). Both the Passover and Jesus' re-institution of that covenant meal to be the New Covenant meal for his church represent points of accomplishment in Biblical and prophetic history.

These observations demonstrate God's guiding hand of providence on the history of the world - and Israel in particular - leading up to the birth of the Messiah (see Galatians 4:4). Certainly God's guiding hand of providence is active in our lives today. He is ever orchestrating events, times and seasons wherewith He can extend His overtures of grace to sinners (see Matthew 24:14; Acts 14:16-17; 17:20ff). 

2. God's grace

For consideration of time, we will note how God's grace in saving sinners is shown in this remarkable passage. First, the heads of the three divisions of the genealogy represent the profile of all human beings in need of God's grace. Abraham - the former idolater. David - a murderer and adulterer. Jeconiah - a man who was the son of a man who tried to destroy God's Word and was himself a cursed individual (see Jeremiah 36; . 

Secondly, of these three, the first two, by grace, responded in faith to God's grace. We're reminded by the fact that though God's plan of salvation is extended towards sinners, each person is responsible to respond to the Gospel call. 

Thirdly, we see four women in Christ's genealogy that represent the plight of humanity. The first two women, Tamar (1:3) and Rahab (1:5), were Harlots. Ruth, David's great-grandmother, was a Moabittess, an ethnic group regarded as outside the covenant (see Deuteronomy 23). Bathesheba (1:6), was violated by David and was involved in an act that brought ruin on both she and David. Who of us can say we have a past that is not checkered? No one in the human race deserves salvation. Yet, God saw fit to include people of all sorts in the blood-line of the Messiah.

Fourthly, we see a reminder of Israel's failure - most prominently portrayed in the naming of the third-division of the genealogy. Matthew mentions in 1:11-12 of the deportation to Babylon. Jerusalem's exile to Babylon in 586 b.c. was a watershed moment of tragedy in Israel's history. Due to sin, idolatry and not trusting in God - the people of God ended up spending 70 years in that land. Much like Adam and Eve being exiled from Eden, Israel was exiled from the promised land. Only Jesus could bring about the reversal of the pain of sin and its collateral damage.   

Closing thoughts:

God's providence and grace figure prominently in Matthew's opening genealogy of Jesus. We ought to be thankful for how God is ever working, by His Spirit, Providentially and Graciously calling sinners to salvation. The purpose for which Christ came over 2,000 years ago was to save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21-23). 

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