A couple of weeks ago I was asked by some friends to lead a Bible study (possibly a series) on anything I liked. What would you have chosen? I decided to try to put into practice some of the things I have learnt in my MA in Bible and Mission, to try to guide the group through what it might mean to read the Bible missionally.
I wanted to focus on the life of Jesus, so decided to choose the book of Matthew (probably because I happened to have a book around that related to Matthew…!) My aim was not to get into deep discussions about every verse, but rather to read paragraphs and chapters in the context of the whole book, putting ourselves in the shoes of Matthew’s original audience and trying to understand what he was trying to tell them.
Here’s how chapter 1 went…
The Ancestors of Jesus the Messiah
This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Ram.
4 Ram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asa.
8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.
Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amon.
Amon was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
12 After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.
17 All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.
The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagementquietly.
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. (Matthew 1)
What would stand out to you if you were a first century Jew reading this for the first time? Here are some thoughts we came up with:
- There are four women in the genealogy – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. They are all (probably, although we don’t know for sure about Tamar) from outside of Israel, which seems strange for what is otherwise a very Jewish genealogy. Maybe there’s a hint from the start that this Jewish man, and messiah, is not only for the Jews.
- Matthew seems to emphasize Abraham, David and the exile. These are key themes for him in understanding Jesus’ identity and vocation as messiah. We should look out for these as we continue to read…
- The prophecy from Isaiah 7 and 8 comes from passages where the themes of judgment and exile are very prominent, albeit mixed in with the promise of salvation through the child who is born. The “saving people from their sins” in verse 21 would have been seen as very much relating to the plight of the nation and their judgment, rather than simply the private personal issue that we may read it as today.
- The fact that Joseph named Jesus would have been significant, making him the legal father of the child, hence Jesus is rightfully part of Joseph’s genealogy even though Matthew is clear that Joseph is not the biological father.
- Throughout the chapter Matthew seems intent on demonstrating that Jesus truly is the messiah people have been waiting for – he is the son of Abraham, the son of David, and he has come to save his people from their spiritual and political (although no longer geographical) exile.
Matthew knows his audience – he knows what they believe is wrong with the world (the Romans are in their promised land, the leaders are corrupt, God seems to have been absent since the exile) and how they are expecting God to put things right (through a messiah, a king like David, coming to save them). In this first chapter he tries to show his audience that Jesus is in fact exactly who they have been waiting for – he is God’s rightful messiah. Although as the book progresses we might find that he is not everything they would have expected from a messiah.
As we relate to people today we might want to ask: What do people see is wrong with the world? What are they waiting for? What do they believe is the solution? How might we, like Matthew, demonstrate that Jesus is actually the fulfillment of all that the world around us is waiting and hoping for?
I’m looking forward to tomorrow as we meet again to see how these themes develop in chapter 2 and beyond…