Matthew is the first of the gospels. There are four gospels in all; why four gospels? Why not just one? Some have suggested that the number four has to do with the fact that the gospel was to be brought to the four corners of the world, others have imagined that just as the Ark of the covenant was carried through the wilderness by four people, so the Ark of Christ’s gospel is to be carried through the wilderness of this world. I don’t know that I am convinced by either of those views, but there is something appealing about them. Nevertheless, whatever the reason in the mind of God, it is four gospels that present Christ to us from four different perspectives.
When I first became a Christian and started to read the NT I read through Matthew and began the Gospel of Mark and thought, hang on, I’ve just read this story! There certainly are areas of the narrative that are revisited in all four Gospels.
• The ministry of John the Baptist.
• The feeding of the five thousand.
• The betrayal by Judas.
• And the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But there are also differences. One writer may miss out, what another has included. That would not mean the accounts were contradictory.
Also, what we do not have is four biographies. We don’t have every detail of the life of Jesus. John says, ”And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written everyone; I suppose that even the world could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:25) In fact, after his birth, we have virtually 29 years of silence (apart from a few verses in Luke.) Neither do the writers of the Gospel give their personal opinions, or reflections on Jesus, rather his actions and his words are allowed to speak for themselves.
We have four different viewpoints, yet there is a coming together of the narratives, like four pieces of a jigsaw, we have what is known as the harmonization of the gospels; no contradictions, but some similarities, some differences:
- John deals largely with the deity of Christ.
- Luke deals with the historical Christ.
- Mark’s gospel is far shorter and deals more often with the ministry of Christ.
- Matthew, the gospel we will be looking at tonight, deals more with the fulfilling of prophecies concerning the Messiah and has what we might call a Jewish feel to it.
The Gospel according to Matthew was written somewhere between 37-65AD approximately. Which is actually quite amazing, When you think that the writings of Confucius, were not written down until about 600 years after his death!
Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy. Why? A genealogy is perhaps not the most exciting, or engaging way of beginning the first book of the NT. But the genealogy, that many of us pass over, is vitally important, particularly for Jews.
When we look at the list of names, Boaz, Jesse, David, Solomon, Abraham, Isaac, we see that the New Testament, is inextricably linked to the Old Testament. And that in fact, they make up, not two books, but one book. It is this one book that we call the Holy Bible.
The beginning of Matthew’s gospel is a peculiarly Hebrew one. I remember hearing the testimony of Helen Shapiro, a successful 1960s pop-singer. She was Jewish and yet she came to faith in Christ. She was astounded when she read (initially with great trepidation) the opening verses of the New Testament and discovered all those Jewish names! It came as a huge surprise (and relief) to her!
The genealogy begins in a straightforward and matter of fact way and yet I wonder if you have considered, just how theologically explosive that first verse is for a Jew. Let’s read verse 1 (Read)
The first thing we realise is that Matthew is using an ancient Hebrew idiom of genealogy here. It is clear that Jesus is not the literal son of David, they are separated by some 870 years! Neither is he, or David the son of Abraham; rather the writer is drawing attention to both of them in order to present Jesus’s credentials as the promised Messiah.
In 2 Samuel 7:12 and 13 “And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee…He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Being the son, or descendant of David, is indication of Christ’s kingship.
Again, in Genesis 12:3 a seed was promised to Abraham, a child through whom “shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Being the son, or descendant of Abraham, is indication of Christ’s obedience to death as what we call, the Isaac-type.
And so begins this long and notable list of all those whom are in Christ’s genealogy, the purpose of which is to bring conviction on the Jews, that Jesus really is the Messiah that they have been waiting for. Now what is interesting is that this genealogy follows the male line, that is, it is tracing the ancestry through Joseph; and Matthew does something very interesting in verse 16 (Read) Matthew is very careful to avoid calling Joseph, Jesus Father. Because, as John puts it in John 3:16 Jesus is God’s “only begotten son.” Suddenly the focus shifts, deliberately from Joseph to Mary. He is Jesus “who is called Christ.”
Christ means Messiah, or Anointed one. It refers to the Jewish practice of pouring anointing oil, to signify the office of Prophet, Priest, or King. Jesus is unique, in that he fulfils all three offices.
- Prophetic, in the sense that he teaches the will of God. (See Deut 18:15-19)
- Priestly, in the sense that he alone is our Mediator and Advocate. (See Psalm 110:4)
- Kingly, in the sense that He is Lord and “behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” As Luke puts it. (See also 2 Samuel 7:7-10)
Just as they were anointed with oil, so Christ was anointed with the Holy Spirit, as we will read in Matthew Chapter 3.
So we have 3 sets of fourteen generations. Wesley comments, “When we survey such a series of generations, it is a natural and obvious reflection, How Like the leaves of a tree one passeth away, and another cometh! Yet the earth still abideth. And with it the goodness of the Lord, which runs from generation to generation, the common hope of parents and children.” (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the New Testament.)
Read verse 18 (Read). This is called “The Incarnation.”
Matthew Henry says this of the matter, “If we know not the way of the Spirit in the formation of common persons, nor how the bones are formed in the womb of anyone that is with child, much less do we know how the blessed Jesus was formed in the womb of the blessed virgin.” (Matthew Henry's Commentary.)
The thing that is really important to note about the Incarnation is that Mary was “found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Philippians 2:7 puts it like this (He)”made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” In other words, the Son of God took on humanity, He took on a human nature.
The Scriptures talk about 4 different types of humanity.
- Prefallen humanity.
- Postfallen, unregenerate humanity.
- Postfallen, regenerate humanity.
- Glorified humanity.
Because Jesus Father was not human and because Christ came as “the last Adam,” as Paul puts it, his humanity was in essence a prefallen humanity. It was not corrupted by sin, Christ was without sin; he also maintained a free will that was not influenced by a sinful nature, in the way that we are influenced by our fallen lusts, as in James 1:14. He could choose to sin, as Adam did; he “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
We see that Joseph was convinced by the angel of the Lord that Mary had not been unfaithful to him, (thus removing the Biblical exception for divorce that Jesus gives in Matthew 5:32) but was in fact carrying the Son of God.
Verse 21 says, (Read)
“Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Jesus means saviour, or he saves. What is interesting to me is contextually, “his people” are the ethnic Jews and yet Matthew, a Jew, does not revert to the Hebrew “Yeshua,” but rather records it in Greek. I think part of the reason may have been that the Holy Spirit saw that a Hebrew roots movement was coming along that was going to insist that all Christians should refer to Jesus as Yeshua and not as Jesus! If one is going to be extraordinarily pedantic, then we should be saying Iesus Christos!
Matthew is a Gospel of prophetic fulfilment. Go to Isaiah 7:14 (Read)
One of the titles that must surely reveal the Deity of Christ is the title here in Matthew 1:23, “Emmanuel which being interpreted is, God with us.”
In Hebrew, a person’s name reflects their character and in this manner of speaking, to be called Emmanuel, means that Jesus would be effectually and actually God with us, or as Paul calls him, “God…manifest in the flesh.” (1 Tim 3:16)
Verse 25 says (Read)
What is the significance for us, as Gentiles, non-Jews? Well, there are a number of foundational observations:
- Through the genealogy, we see that Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham and David and as such is a blessing to all nations.
- The birth of Christ is important for all men and women, since it is the revelation that God came down and entered into His own creation for the purpose of redeeming that fallen creation.
- The significance of Christ’s Incarnation is in the fulfilment of a number of Old Testament prophecies, particularly Isaiah 7, and has the effect of connecting both Old and New Testaments and making them important for all Believers.
Timothy Dudley-Smith wrote a hymn based on what we call the Magnificat, that is Mary’s response to being told that her child was the Son of the Holy Ghost :
"Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of his word;
In God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his Name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
His mercy sure, from age to age to same;
His holy Name--the Lord, the Mighty One.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by.
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight,
the hungry fed, the humble lifted high.
Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
to children's children and for evermore!"
Copyright © Paul Jennings.