Faces of Jesus: the King
Matthew’s first five chapters show the different faces of Jesus as revealed in His birth–catch up on the introduction!–so we begin with chapter 1:1-17.
Starting off with a genealogy, the introductory chapter of Matthew appears anticlimactic. No one starts off a book with an historical record! Well, no one today. But the Biblical authors did this often. If you put yourself in 1st century Jewish shoes while reading this chapter, you’ll get sucked into the drama instantaneously.
A better hero
Socio-Rhetorical scholar, Craig S. Keener, points out that “The names in the genealogy — like Judah, Ruth, David, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Josiah — would immediately evoke for Matthew’s readers a whole range of stories they had learned about their heritage from the time of their childhood.”1 What appears tedious for contemporary readers is a type of literary device used by the author to open the eyes of the readers of his day, and to focus them, “by evoking great heroes of the past like David and Josiah, Matthew points his readers to the ultimate hero to whom all those other stories pointed.”2
In fact, genealogies usually list a person’s descendants, not ancestors (Gen 5:1; 10:1). “Matthew’s point here is profound: so much is Jesus the focal point of history that his ancestors depend on him for their meaning.”3
A better ruler
“Son of David” has messianic connotations, and is used by Matthew 17 times, more than any other book in the NT.4 The connection to David in these “boring” genealogies shows Jesus’ royalty. To see this, you have to go all the way back to an early royal prophesy:
2 Samuel 7:11-13 ~ The Lord declares to you: The Lord Himself will make a house for you. When your time comes and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (HCSB)
In this book, God makes a promise to King David, telling him that a king from his lineage will rule from his throne forever. In all of the Old Testament, this promise is left hanging in the void until Jesus is born; he claims every Old Testament promise for Himself, and promises to return again after his death and resurrection to rule the earth! In fact, all of history is poised in waiting.
The shape of history
Even the shape of Matthew’s first chapter has a distinct angle to it. You can separate it into different stages of Israel’s history. Verses 2-6 are the period between Abraham and David, which was largely an upward-moving highlight reel of their past. But verses 7-11 highlights the slow but sure downfall, division, and denigration that resulted from Solomon’s apostasy and ended with Israel in Babylonian captivity. Lastly, verses 12-16 brings us out of the exile and towards the birth of Jesus, which is the climax of the story of Israel. Think of it in visual terms:
Abraham –> David (up)
David –> Babylonian Exile (down)
Babylonian Exile –> Jesus (UP!)
Shape of Israel’s history is like a good story. With Abraham and David, everything starts out promising, but hits a conflict with the Babylonian exile, but meets its redemptive resolution in Jesus, who “is the climax of Matthew’s genealogical story of Israel’s past, at once representing Israel’s story while profoundly transforming the very categories of its existence.”6 As one author puts it, “We see the creative way that God the Father shaped history for the coming of his Son by his Spirit.”5
Jesus is the hero of the story, the protagonist of the narrative, and most importantly, the King on the throne of David, with all of history is set up to usher in this cosmic fireworks display of God’s glory in Him.
So what does this genealogy have to do with your life?
It means Jesus is King. And if he is King over your life, that means nothing in your life is hidden from allegiance to Him. There are no secrets, no breaks, and nothing off-limits from His rule. This is good to keep in mind, because it’s easy to compartmentalized certain parts of our lives as “ours.”
It also means that with that rule comes comfort from all other rulers, because Jesus Christ is the King of kings. Now, we are still to render to Caesar what is his (Matt 22:21), but we are not to fear Caesar or lend him our ultimate allegiance. We need not cower in our bunkers when we hear rumors of wars (Matt 24:6), or the latest threat to plaster the local headlines. Jesus is King. And that means he is in complete control, even when our life is out of control. So don’t worry about your life, or what you’re going to do tomorrow. The worst thing you can do is try to be king, when God knows, you aren’t one. C. Joy Bell cleverly tells,
I once knew a man who was heir to the throne of a great kingdom, he lived as a ranger and fought his destiny to sit on a throne but in his blood he was a king. I also knew a man who was the king of a small kingdom, it was very small and his throne very humble but he and his people were all brave and worthy conquerors. And I knew a man who sat on a magnificent throne of a big and majestic kingdom, but he was not a king at all, he was only a cowardly steward. If you are the king of a great kingdom, you will always be the only king though you live in the bushes. If you are the king of a small kingdom, you can lead your people in worth and honor and together conquer anything. And if you are not a king, though you sit on the king’s throne and drape yourself in many fine robes of silk and velvet, you are still not the king and you will never be one.
Freedom is truly experienced when people embrace that they are subjects, and Jesus as their King.