In previous blog posts, I began telling the story of my brain tumor and the depression which followed it. The second article in the series described my faith in God which sustained me through both trials.
Having recently started a word-by-word translation of Martin Luther’s Bible from German to English, I introduced the project and Matthew Chapter 1 (copy attached). Here is my commentary on it; my church background and theological training is added to my Patch bio.
This is also a gift to a Catholic friend who is traveling on business for several months in a Middle Eastern country where there is no freedom of religion. Maybe he can find an expatriate community worship service, but there is nothing like the open forum we enjoy in America where people are free to choose or ignore religions of many flavors.
Unlike North Korea, which recently staged internet access for Google executives (last year they finally learned of John Lennon’s death), my friend can at least visit the internet. I hope he enjoys this with the links to the worship music.
Hopefully people will contribute to a discussion on what the Bible text says and debate my opinions on it.
Music Prepares Hearts for Worship of the Living God
Knowing a lot of good hymns helped sustain me during my illnesses. Solid theology in the words resonates with the mind and the music connects with the soul. Click on the links to listen to the music as you read the article.
Old hymns of Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, Fanny Crosby and others, plus new songs like those linked here. The one I’d pick for opening worship for Matthew Chapter 1 is “By Faith” by the Gettys since it describes the faith of Old and New Covenant believers in God.
The first verse opens with Creation: "By faith we see the hand of God, in the light of Creation’s grand design, in the lives of those who prove His faithfulness, who walk by faith and not by sight."
Jesus’ Family Tree - Martin Luther's text
“This is the book of the history of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob, Jacob begat Judah and his brothers.
"Judah procreated Perez and Zerah with Tamar. Perez procreated Hezron. Hezron procreated Ram. Ram generated Amminadab. Amminadab generated Nahshon. Nahshon generated Salmon.
"Salmon produced Boaz with Rahab. Boaz produced Obed with Ruth. Obed produced Jesse.
"Jesse created the King David. David created Solomon with the wife of Uriah.
"Solomon begat Rehoboam. Rehoboam begat Abijah. Abijah begat Asa. Asa procreated Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat procreated Joram. Joram procreated Uzziah.
"Uzziah generated Jotham. Jotham generated Ahaz. Ahaz generated Hezekiah.
"Hezekiah produced Manasseh. Manasseh produced Amon. Amon produced Josiah.
"Josiah created Jeconiah and his brothers around the time of the Babylonian captivity. After the Babylonian imprisonment, Jeconiah begat Shealtiel. Shealtiel begat Zerubbabel.
"Zerubbabel procreated Abiud. Abiud procreated Eliakim. Eliakim procreated Azor. Azor generated Zadok. Zadok generated Akim. Akim generated Eliud. Eliud produced Eleazar. Eleazar produced Matthan. Matthan produced Jacob.
"Jacob created Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who then was called Christ.
"All the limbs from Abraham up to David are fourteen members. From David up to the Babylonian internment are fourteen limbs. From the Babylonian confinement up to Christ are fourteen members.”
Many people skip over Matthew 1:1-17 as boring and irrelevant. With limited parchment, Matthew packs it with meaning for his mainly Jewish readers and us. It’s his summary of the entire Old Testament and the Kingly rights of Jesus the Messiah according to the lineage of His earthly adoptive father Joseph.
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, and that through him all families of the earth would be blessed. This covenant has been fulfilled partially and will be completed eventually, like all of God’s promises.
Around twenty years later this old man did become the father of many nations (the descendents of Ishmael and Isaac – the promised child from a barren wife past childbearing years) and through his seed the earth has certainly been blessed with scientific discoveries and humanitarian advances. All people, believers in God or not, are created in His image and reflect partially His glory.
Women in the Geneaology
Matthew is establishing the right of Jesus to be the Messiah according to the flesh. With limited space, sometimes an entire life was expressed in three words. Some might say it is sexist since only four women are mentioned. Note however, that each of the four women point to a greater issue: either a man’s sin, or a greater truth. No skeletons are hidden in the closet.
Tamar – “More Righteous than Judah”
The story of Judah and Tamar shows the sin of Judah withholding his sons to make an heir for Tamar according to the marriage customs of his day, yet he was also the one who pled for his brother Joseph to be sold into slavery instead of murdered. Later he stayed in Benjamin’s place to spare his father Jacob the pain of losing the other son from his favorite wife.
Jacob’s messed up family (sibling rivalry and jealous wives) points to the wisdom of the original creation mandate for one man and one woman in marriage, and Judah’s self-sacrifice in staying behind points forward to the Good Shepherd Who would come from his line.
Rahab and Ruth – Foreigners Grafted in by Faith
How is it that a Canaanite prostitute is mentioned in the line of Christ? By faith she chose to obey God rather than men, giving shelter to the spies of the living God, allowing them to escape.
Later her son Boaz married another foreigner, Ruth the Moabitess. Ruth gets a whole book, showing that God loves all people regardless of ethnic background, especially those who believe in Him.
Moses was criticized for his foreign wife, a Cushite, the first interracial marriage recorded in Scripture. By implication Noah and his wife had to have all the genes for the rainbow of skin, eye and hair colors we see, descended from Adam and Eve, probably the first interracial marriage.
King David’s Sin of Adultery – Leads to Murder
Not even the man after God’s own heart was without sin. In the spring when kings go off to war, he drifted and his eye was caught by the wife of another man. Bathsheba is not mentioned by name in the geneology, but David abused his power as king by seducing her and stealing her from one of his faithful soldiers.
Later when she became pregnant, he tried to have Uriah sleep with her to cover his sin. Uriah refused the comfort of his own bed when his fellow soldiers were in harm’s way, so David went from bad to worse and arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle. Later when he took Bathsheba as his wife he was confronted by the prophet Nathan; their love child died as a judgment from God.
Then David confessed his sin against God in Psalm 51 and was forgiven for adultery and murder. He was the greatest king of Israel and wrote many of the Psalms, including the famous Shepherd’s Psalm 23. The Messiah would come from David’s line, and the kingly scepter would not depart from Judah, as Jacob had prophesied when blessing his sons.
God’s Mercy and Glory Revealed in Human Frailty
The knots and scraggly branches in the Messiah’s family tree should help anyone feel accepted, yet point to their need for a Redeemer to meet God’s perfect standard. The wild olive branches grafted in to the cultivated tree should have made the Israelites realize that all people of faith were welcome, yet it’s understandable that they misinterpreted what God had planned.
They were, after all, more righteous than their pagan neighbors, who had some detestable practices like child sacrifices and rampant immorality in their cultures.
Andrew Peterson’s song describes the geneology in an upbeat way suitable for both children and adults.
Roman Catholic, most Protestant, and Orthodox churches agree on the Virgin Conception and Birth of Jesus, one of the basic doctrines of historic Christianity. Liberalism would reduce Jesus to a mere man, a good teacher who was born of a young woman in the natural way.
Individual beliefs within churches about the Virgin Birth, the eternal triune God becoming a man, vary, including pastors. However, Jesus either had a miraculous birth by union of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, with a virgin or he did not. There is no middle ground.
Jewish Marriage Customs
The footnote in Luther’s Bible glossary reads: “The Jewish betrothal represents a legally binding promise of marriage. The conjugal intercourse would first be taken up after the home-taking of the bride by the bridegroom.”
Marriages were often arranged by the families, and the bridegroom prepared his home for his bride during the betrothal, then took her home weeks or months later. If she was discovered to not be a virgin, it would bring disgrace on both families.
A Tough Spot for a Good Man
Joseph knew the baby wasn’t his. Mary had told him about the visit from the angel, but it seemed pretty far-fetched.
Jesus’ Birth - Martin Luther's text
"The birth of Jesus the Messiah happened like this: It became apparent that Mary, His mother, whom Joseph had trusted, was pregnant by the Holy Spirit before he took her home.
“But Joseph, her husband, was merciful and did not want to bring her into disgrace, but thought to leave her secretly.
"While he was still considering this, see, there appeared to him the angel of the Lord in a dream and spoke, “Joseph, you son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, to yourself, for what she has conceived, that is from the Holy Ghost. And she will bear a Son, whom you shall give the name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
"This all happened, so that it would be fulfilled, what the Lord said through the Prophets, who then spoke (Isaiah 7:14):
‘See, a virgin will conceive and bear a Son, and she will give Him the name Immanuel;’ which means when translated: God with us.
"When now Joseph awoke from sleep, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took his wife to himself.
And he did not touch* her until she bore a Son; and he gave Him the name Jesus.”
*Or “handle”, meaning in this context to have sexual relations with her.
An Obedient Carpenter
When the angel appeared to Joseph, he “did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” No doubt he might have been "afraid to take Mary, your wife, to yourself." People would surely whisper, and perhaps their own families would disown them.
The angel addressed him as “Joseph, you son of David,” reminding him that he was in the kingly line and thus eligible to be the adoptive father of the Messiah. Michael Card sings of how Joseph might have felt, “Joseph's Song."
More than 300 Fulfilled Prophecies
Matthew lists five Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled in the early part of his account; the Virgin Birth is the first.
Isaiah had predicted a virgin birth for the Messiah some 700 years before it happened. Isaiah’s other prophecies about the Messiah were so accurate (Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant and others) that skeptics constructed a story that it was written by several of Jesus’ followers a few hundred years after His crucifixion and resurrection.
This story was proven false with the 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were dated 318-408 B.C., including the entire book of Isaiah.
His name shall be Jesus
Names meant a lot more in biblical times than they do now. The angel told Joseph to name Mary’s Son Jeshua, which means Savior, “for He will save His people from their sins.”
Jesus came to live the sinless life we couldn’t live, then He took our sins upon Himself on the cross for all who would believe and place their trust in Him. Best of all, He defeated death by His resurrection; those who die as believers will live forever in heaven.
Humanity is divided into two camps: believers and unbelievers in God. Within those camps, people are either moving toward Him or away. It's up to us to decide whether we minimize Him or magnify Him.
Every sunrise and sunset testifies to the glory of God; they come right on time. Whether we notice them or are jaded by them is our choice. Our planet is the precise distance from the sun for life, unique in the known universe.
Each person is created in the image of God with a unique fingerprint; whether we treasure life or treat our fellow human beings callously is also our choice.
Keith and Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend have it right, “By faith the prophets saw a day when the longed-for Messiah would appear, with the power to break the chains of sin and death and rise triumphant from the grave.”
And the stirring chorus, “We will stand as children of the promise, We will fix our eyes on Him, our soul’s reward, Till the race is finished and the work is done, We’ll walk by faith and not by sight.”