The Promise Keeper? Back to all sermons
Date: September 6, 2013
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Series: The Gospel of Matthew
Category: Gospel of Matthew
Scripture: Matthew 1:1–1:17
Synopsis: In this message, we embark on a study of the Gospel of Matthew. What effect would the opening words of the Gospel of Matthew have had on his Jewish readers? Why does Matthew begin his Gospel with a genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17)? Who are the key figures in Jesus’ genealogy? Why did Pastor Cam entitle this message The Promise Keeper?
Did you ever wonder why there are four gospels; four accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible? I like to think of them as four viewpoints of the same magnificent mountain. I grew up on the edge of the Rift Valley in Kenya. Our house had a wonderful view of an extinct volcano called Mt. Longonot. Whenever I think of Mt. Longonot, I picture it as it looked from our yard, with the lower part of the rim nearest us, and the highest point, the peak, on the far side of the crater. But if you drive 20 miles or so to the town of Naivasha and look back at Longonot, it looks completely different. Because Naivasha is lower than Kijabe, you now can’t see into the crater at all. If you didn’t know it was a crater, you might think it just had a flat top. And the peak is now on the right hand side of the mountain. If you drive around the other way, toward Narok, the mountain changes yet again. The peak is now on the left side of the crater and everything slopes the other way. In fact, if you weren’t paying attention, you might not recognize it as the same mountain at all.
Now, what if I were to ask you the question: Which is the true view of the mountain? How would you answer? Of course you would answer, “All of them.” Each viewpoint simply offers a different perspective on the “truth” of Mt. Longonot.
That is why there are four gospels. Think of Jesus and his life as a magnificent mountain peak. Each of the gospel writers has stood, admiring that peak and given us a vivid description of what they see. But no matter how well they write, they cannot capture the whole peak. The Apostle John, in his Gospel, makes this comment in John 21:25: Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. So each writer has had to be selective. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they have chosen their material and arranged their account to present us with four unique, yet complimentary portraits and accounts of the life of Christ.
During my time here at ECC, I have preached through three of the four gospels. The only one we haven’t done together is the Gospel of Matthew. So we are about to rectify that omission, as we are embarking today on a series of message on the first of the four gospels. Ironically, the Gospel of Matthew was the very first gospel I tackled as a young preacher in my first church in Palmer, Alaska, over 35 years ago. But I have not done it again since.
(I should probably offer this qualification for those of you who have been here at ECC for more than ten years; ten years ago, I did do a series of messages on the Sermon on the Mount, covering Matthew 5-7. But we have not gone through the entire gospel.)
So, what is the theme of Matthew’s account? What unique perspective does he offer us? What is the truth about Christ that he wants us to understand? I am not going to answer that question fully just yet. But I will tell you a little bit about Matthew and his motivation for writing. Matthew was a Jew and he was writing to a Jewish audience. Underlying all he wrote was a burning desire to persuade his Jewish audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.
As a Jew, writing to a Jewish audience, it should not surprise us that his gospel opens with a genealogy. Genealogies were vitally important to the Jews. Tracing one’s ancestry and family and tribal identity mattered. Who are you? Who is your father? What is your tribe? Do you remember Paul’s claim to his Jewish birthright?
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; (Philippians 3:4-5)
But this genealogy does more than establish Jesus’ “Jewishness.” Let’s look at verse 1: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
In these opening words, we see Matthew beginning to establish this fundamental premise: Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.
He will go on to trace the genealogy, starting with Abraham. So let’s start there. The Old Testament is a seed-bed of promises God made to his people. These promises, as they relate to the people of Israel, began with God’s call to Abraham.
Let’s look at the promise in Genesis 12:1-3:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This promise contains several elements which will be expanded in subsequent chapters. They include: numerous offspring who will become a nation and inherit a land, and that, through Abraham, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This specific promise of blessing the nations through Abraham is later specifically tied to Abraham’s offspring in Genesis 22:18:
I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
Somewhat disguised in this passage, there are actually two distinct promises, each growing out of the Hebrew word for “offspring.” The actual Hebrew word is “seed”. In each case in this passage, it is in the singular. So the first promise, “I will surely multiply your offspring (seed) as the stars of heaven,” is a reference to Isaac, the child of promise. But what about the reference to offspring (seed) in verse 18? This is also in the singular. It is Paul who will explain this to us in Galatians 3:8: And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
I like that reference: “the gospel beforehand.”The word “gospel” means “good news.” “Good news beforehand” is a promise, isn’t it? What was this good news beforehand that was preached to Abraham? Paul continues with a further expansion in verse 16, emphasizing the grammar of the original text of Genesis: Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
So, the promise to Abraham, the “gospel preached beforehand”, was the promise that through a particular one of his descendants all the nations of the world would be blessed. So it is no insignificant detail that Matthew uses to begin his Gospel. Jesus is a “son of Abraham” and he then cites his human genealogical descent to back up that claim. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.
Alongside God’s promise to Abraham, there is another nest of promises in the Old Testament, made to another icon of Jewish history; the greatest of all the Jewish kings, King David. Let’s turn to the promises God made to David in 2 Samuel 7:11-13.
Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
As in the promises to Abraham, there was both a near at hand fulfillment and a distant promise. There was an offspring (seed, same word) from David’s own body who would sit on his throne after him and build a house for God’s name. This promise was fulfilled in Solomon. But there is a promise that outlived Solomon: “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” This promise of a descendant or seed of Solomon and of David who would sit on David’s throne is one that the Jews clung to very tightly. Look at these passages from Psalm 89:1-4:
I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
2 For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
3 You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant:
4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’ ”
The Psalm continues in the same vein in verses 35-37:
Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
36 His offspring shall endure forever,
his throne as long as the sun before me.
37 Like the moon it shall be established forever,
a faithful witness in the skies.”
Once again, we have the singular use of the word “offspring” or seed, referring to a specific one of David’s descendants. That is why it is no coincidence that Matthew begins this genealogy by referring to Jesus not only as the son of Abraham, but as the son of David. And in the center of the genealogy we find this listing: David the king. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. He is the promised offspring or descendant whose throne shall last forever.
There is another set of promises and Jewish expectations that Matthew introduces in this opening verse of his Gospel. The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
“The genealogy of Jesus Christ.” We tend to be so familiar with this language and terminology that we read right over it without recognizing the significance this would have had to Matthew’s Jewish audience. “Jesus Christ”. We tend to read it like Christ is Jesus’ surname. But it is not a name. It is a title. The Greek word is “Christos” from the Greek verb, “Chrio” – to anoint. It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”, also meaning “anointed one.” As the Jews awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and to David, they began to refer to the coming One simply as “the Anointed One”, Messiah. In terms of the emotional impact of this word, we could paraphrase or substitute the word, “the Appointed One” or even “the Promised One.”
That there was an expectation among the Jews of Jesus’ day that God was going to send his “Anointed One” can be clearly seen in Andrew’s words to his brother, Simon Peter in John 1:41: He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).
So when Matthew introduces his book with a genealogy of “Jesus, Messiah” he is speaking to the fondest hopes of his own people, and making a startling, dramatic and highly controversial claim. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. Jesus is the Christ; the Anointed One, the Appointed One, the Promised One. And his first stroke is to establish Jesus’ claim to that title by citing his genealogy as a son of David, qualified to sit on David’s throne, and the son of Abraham in whom all the nations of the world would be blessed.
But there is one final wrinkle in this genealogy and it takes us back to one more, even more ancient promise of God in the Old Testament. It is to be found in the careful wording Matthew uses as he wraps up the genealogy in verse 16. There is a break in the formula and a significant changing of the wording. Throughout the genealogy, Matthew has been using a standard genealogical format. The English Standard Version translates it “father of” as we can see in verse 2: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. It is actually an active verb, translated in the King James Version as “begat”, speaking of the father’s role in procreation. This is the formula throughout.
Until we get to verse 16. Then we read: and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
Do you see the change? Joseph is not the physical father of Jesus. He is only identified as “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.” Joseph was the legal father, establishing right of inheritance and lineage, but not the physical, biological father. Matthew will go on to explain how this came to be in the next section which we will study next week. But it is enough for us to sit up and take notice. Jesus is born of his mother Mary. He is from the seed of the woman. That takes us back to an even more ancient promise; one spoken by God all the way back in the Garden of Eden when he pronounced judgment on the serpent in Genesis 3:15:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
It is the most ancient prophecy of all, of the spiritual battle that has raged from that day in the Garden until now. But it is also a promise of final and ultimate victory by the offspring (seed) of the woman over the serpent. And now, buried in this genealogy of one who is a son of David and a son of Abraham is this reference to one who is born of the seed of woman but not of man, who has come to win that victory.
This then, is Matthew’s basic premise. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.
Our God is a Promise Keeper. His time table isn’t our time table and his methods are not our methods. But he always keeps his promises. But we must understand that then, now and always, Jesus is the Central, Ultimate and Final fulfillment of God’s promises. This is what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:19-20:
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
We will never experience life or be prepared for eternity as God desires until we turn in faith to this One: Jesus, Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, seed of the woman. Do you know him? “All the promises of God find their Yes in him.” It is my sincere hope and prayer that as we work our way through the pages of Matthew’s Gospel that if you don’t believe in him, you will believe in him. That if we do believe in him, we will come to know him better and love him more and serve him more faithfully, and say with our lives and actions a resounding “Amen” to the promises of God for his glory and our own everlasting joy.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- Discuss the importance (or lack of importance) of genealogies in your culture. What does this tell you about your culture and cultural values?
- Matthew was a Jew writing primarily to a Jewish audience. Try to read Matthew 1:1 as though you were a 1st century Jew. What kinds of thoughts/feelings might have been aroused by these words?
- Read Genesis 12:1-3. What are the components contained in this promise/covenant given to Abraham? Read Genesis 21:15-18. How does this passage refine/expand our understanding of God’s covenant with Abraham? Then read Galatians 3:8 and 16. How does Paul’s writing further help us understand the promise made to Abraham?
- Read 2 Samuel 7:11-13. What are the two parts to this promise/covenant given to David? Psalm 89:1-4, 35-37 helps us pick out the second part of the covenant. What did the title “son of David” mean to the Jews.
- Discuss the name/title “Christ”. What did it mean to the Jews?
- Scan through Matthew 1:1-17. What are your observations and/or questions arising from the reading?
- How is the wording of Matthew 1:16 significant? Does it matter whether or not we believe Jesus was born of a virgin? How does this relate to Genesis 3:15.
- What is our “take-away” from this passage and our discussion today? (Hearing and doing)