As we have entered into the 2019 baseball season, I am excited and thankful for another season of being able to serve as the chaplain for the Atlanta Braves and being able to help players learn a new way of life and a new way of thinking about the world based on the life and teachings of Jesus. This season’s Baseball Chapel teaching schedule has us teaching weekly messages from the gospel of Matthew which is a careful arranged collection of stories that reveal Matthew’s understanding of who Jesus is and what he came to accomplish.
Matthew introduces us to Jesus by beginning his gospel with these words, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” (“The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ” in the original Greek). And although many of us skim through or just skip over genealogies in the Bible, this is actually a very intentional phrase used by Matthew that would have definitely raised the antennas of his original Jewish audience.
This phrase is meant to remind us of a very similar phrase that is used eleven times in the book of Genesis. It is the phrase, “These are the generations of _____.” This phrase is used in Genesis as a title and a link that connects what is about to happen next in the story with what just came before it. Another way that you might interpret this phrase is, “Here is a fuller development of the story of ____.”
This clues us in on what Matthew is doing by introducing his readers to Jesus through this genealogy. By echoing the language of Genesis and by listing the particular names that he mentions, Matthew is portraying the birth of Jesus as a new genesis, and he is linking Jesus to the storyline of the Old Testament (OT).
Matthew wants to show us how the life of Jesus is the continuation and the fulfillment of the story of God and Israel that had preceded him. Matthew wants to show his readers how Jesus is the Son of Abraham through whom all the nations on earth will be blessed, how Jesus is the promised King from the royal lineage of King David, how Jesus is the new authoritative teacher that is greater than Moses, and how Jesus is none other than God himself, dwelling among his people and coming to rescue them.
This echoes the hope expressed by Israel’s OT prophets during a time in their history when it seemed like all hope was lost. They believed that God could be trusted to fulfill the promises that had not been fulfilled yet because a day was coming in the future when God would come to be with his people and finally fulfill all of those promises himself.
And so even though genealogies are not the most exciting part of the Bible, let’s set our minds on what Matthew is doing when he uses one to introduce Jesus. This genealogy is Matthew’s way of demonstrating that Jesus didn’t just burst into history out of nowhere. He was born out of the OT story, and he was the one who came to carry that story forward to its intended destination.
In his own unique way, Matthew is showing us how the genesis of Jesus was the moment in history when the Creator stepped into his creation in order to rescue it and to initiate the new beginning of his new creation project.