Sunday’s Sermon — Matthew 1:12-17, “A Trustworthy Word about a Virgin-Born King”

23 Dec

Let’s turn again to the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew. We have been looking at the genealogy in chapter one for the last two weeks and we are going to finish it up this week. The first verse of chapter one gives us a summary of Matthew’s gospel. We saw there that this gospel is “One Story, One Savior, One King, for All Nations.” Then last week we looked at the first two sections of the genealogy where we saw God working in unusual ways to bring His grace to the world. Now this morning we look at the last of the three sections in this genealogy and the summary statement Matthew makes about what he has just written. Once again, our outline is a phrase.

 The Gospel of Matthew is A Trustworthy Word About a Virgin-Born King.

Let’s look first at the phrase, “A Trustworthy Word.” This truth emerges as we look at verses 12-15.

The Gospel of Matthew is a TRUSTWORTHY WORD about a Virgin-Born King.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob,

There’s some more great names right? I’m expecting some little Zadoks to be running around here in the years to come. But seriously, have you ever heard of any of these guys? I know a little bit about some of them: Jechoniah and Zerubbabel mainly. But this list of non-descript names actually teaches us just how trustworthy Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy is. You see, there is another genealogy of Jesus in the gospels, found in the gospel of Luke. And in this last section, Luke’s genealogy differs quite a bit from Matthew’s. The names are a good bit different after David all the way to Jesus. Now people have given lots of reasons for this. Some people have said that Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy through Mary’s family line while Matthew traces it through Joseph’s family line. That’s possible, because Mary is a big focus of the early chapters of Luke and many people believe Luke got some of his information for his gospel from Mary. And Matthew does seem to focus somewhat on Joseph in the next section of his gospel. At the same time, both gospels claim to be tracing the family line of Joseph. But how is this possible? How could Joseph have two family lines? The most likely explanation is that Matthew is giving us Jesus’ kingly line through Joseph while Luke is giving us the blood line. Now Luke is clear in his account that Joseph was not the father and so is Matthew. But in that time the son of an adoptive father, in this case Joseph, would be folded into his family line and Joseph’s line would be recognized as the family line of Jesus.

These explanations and others have been suggested through the years. But there are others who use these genealogies as an example of how the Bible is supposedly full of contradictions. The atheist Richard Dawkins ridicules the accounts of Jesus birth and says the two writers unknowingly wrote two different genealogies based on their sources and this is proof that the New Testament is not accurate. And New Testament scholar and skeptic Bart Ehrman has made much of the differences in the genealogy, again saying that differences like this illustrate that the Scriptures aren’t trustworthy.

But as I look at these two genealogies, I come to exactly the opposite conclusion. One of the big charges skeptics level against Christianity is that the early church changed the text. This is at the heart of Ehrman’s criticisms. The early church conspired to shape the text of the New Testament to conform to what they had come to believe about Jesus. Key truths have been emphasized, others have been covered up. This is also the spirit behind some of the most popular fiction of the last decade, Dan Brown’s books Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code.  We love conspiracy theories, so many skeptics in recent years have maintained that the Word is fundamentally untrustworthy because of conspiracy within the Church. But let’s take our case here in Matthew. We go to Luke and find a different genealogy. If you were an early church leader, what would you do if you were trying to put forth a certain agenda? Do you not think that early Christians could see that there were two genealogies? They were not dumb. They knew there were differences. But they let the differences stand. There is no evidence in any manuscript that anyone tried to take away or alter the genealogies in either Matthew or Luke. If we had a conspiracy to change the Bible we would expect one of two things here: alteration or omission. We would expect the early Christians to either change one of the genealogies to agree with the other or we would expect them to drop one of the genealogies (which wouldn’t have been a big deal because Mark and John don’t have genealogies, it wasn’t a requirement that a gospel have a genealogy). But in this case there is no evidence at all that any attempt was ever made to change or delete these genealogies. Therefore, the genealogies, far from pointing to a Word that is filled with errors or is shaped by an agenda from outside the text, show us that the Word as we have it is fundamentally trustworthy. If there was ever a place the early church might have been tempted to harmonize accounts, it was here in these genealogies. Yet there is no evidence of any such attempt. We still have questions about why these genealogies differ and we may never know for sure. But what we do know for sure is that we don’t have a Word that was altered to fit an agenda. We have a trustworthy Word, even when we can’t fully understand differences like the ones we see here.

So this is a trustworthy Word. That is the message of verses 12-15. Verse 16 gives us the second part of our phrase.

The Gospel of Matthew is a Trustworthy Word about a VIRGIN-BORN King.

So read verse 16 with me . . .

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

All through this section the emphasis has been on fathers. Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob. The phrase “was the father of” or “begat” appears forty times in the genealogy. So the emphasis is on the family line of Jesus figured through the fathers. So when we get to this last line, we would expect to find, “and Jacob the father of Joseph, of whom Jesus was born.” But we know the rest of the story, and we know that Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus. And Matthew knows it too and he points it out in two ways in this verse, two ways that point to the virgin birth.

Now hang with me here, I have to get a little technical but the payoff is worth it. First of all, we need to look at the word “whom.” To whom does this word refer? Is it talking about Joseph, Joseph and Mary, or just Mary. In English we can’t know for sure. We have one word for “whom,” the word “whom.” We have to determine who the “whom” refers to be looking at the context. So here, just looking at it in English, it is unclear whether this whom refers to Joseph and Mary together, or just to Mary or just to Joseph. But this is not the case in Greek. In Greek we can know exactly who the “whom” is referencing. In Greek the pronoun whom has a different form based on the gender of the person it is referring to. So if I am talking about a man I use a masculine form and if I am talking about a woman I use a feminine form. So if I use the word “whom” in Greek, I spell it one way if I am talking about a man and I spell it another way if I am talking about a woman. Are you tracking with me? OK, so which form do you think the “whom” in Matthew 1:16 is? If you said feminine, you are right. Matthew gives us all these fathers who father descendants all through this genealogy, one father after another but then when he gets to Jesus he says Jesus has been born through Mary. The pronoun puts the focus on Mary as the mother and away from Joseph as the physical father. And this of course sets us up for the next section, as Matthew will explain the virgin birth in verses 18-25.

There is one more hint of the virgin birth in this section, also from the Greek. In English we have active and passive verbs. If we are talking football and I say “I am passing,” that is an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing the action, I am the one throwing the ball. But if we say, “I was tackled,” that is a passive verb, the subject of the sentence is being acted upon, I am not doing anything, something is being done to me. So let’s go to verse 16 and look at this phrase “was born.” Is it active or passive? It is referring to Mary giving birth to Jesus and it is passive. Now, how many of you have given birth? Was it active or passive? Active. So we’re not talking about the process of labor and delivery here were talking about physical descent. This child was given to Mary through an act of God, and Matthew, in his precise way, makes it clear even in his choice of verb form, a passive verb, that this was the way it was. The Greek word translated born here is the same word translated “begat” or “was the father of” all through the genealogy. It is the word gennao. And all through the genealogy it is in active voice. He fathered, he fathered, he fathered. All through the genealogy the focus is on the action of the men in carrying on their family line. But then we get to Mary and it is passive voice, because she didn’t beget Jesus, God begat Jesus through her. Again, he is setting up verses 18-25 in these verses and his original readers and hearers would have seen this and we can too thanks to the way the Greek Bible was carefully preserved through the centuries.

The final word of our sentence this morning is seen in verse 17 . . .

The Gospel of Matthew is a Trustworthy Word about a Virgin-Born KING.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

So how do I get “King” out of that verse? Well, there are two ways. First, verse 17 brings to an end a focus in the genealogy on King David. He is mentioned twice here and several other times in the genealogy and he is the only one identified as a king in the genealogy as verse 6 calls him “David the King.” But where we really see the focus on Jesus as a great King like King David is in the use of the number fourteen. Matthew uses this number fourteen strategically for two reasons. First, it is a number of completion. Seven is the number of the creation week and seven times two would have the effect of doubling or emphasizing the completion and the perfection of God’s plan through His people Israel. In the world of the Old Testament, the most common way to emphasize something was to repeat it. You see this all the time in the Psalms and even in one of the favorite phrases of Jesus, “Truly, truly I say to you.” So Matthew doubles up his sevens to make these three sets of fourteen probably to show us that God’s plan for His people has found its completion and perfection in Jesus. But I believe there is one other reason Matthew uses the number 14. In the Hebrew language, and Matthew as a Jew writing to Jewish readers would have known Hebrew, there were no numerals in Hebrew at the time Matthew was written. So when Hebrews wanted to number things they used letters of the alphabet. So if they wanted to symbolize one they would use the first letter of the alphabet, aleph. If they wanted to use the number three, they used the letter gimel and on and on it went. So each consonant in a word also had a numeric value. So if we look at the name David, what do we find? We have three consonants, D – V – D. David did not invent DVD’s but those are his consonants. The letter “D” in Hebrew, like in English, is the fourth letter in the Hebrew alphabet so it would be assigned the value of four. The letter we translate “V” is the Hebrew letter “vav” and it is the sixth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. So if we put together the consonants in David’s name according to their numerical value what do we get. D=4 and V= 6. So 4 + 6 + 4 is the numeric value of David’s name. And what is the total? 4 + 6= 10 and 10 + 4 = 14. Fourteen. That number again. Matthew in his precise, organized, careful way, puts together a genealogy with three sets of fourteen generations and in that genealogy emphasizes Israel’s greatest king, who just happens to have a name with the numeric value of fourteen. And just to put the icing on the cake, the 14th name in the genealogy from the beginning is David. Why does Matthew go to all this trouble with the number 14? Is he just trying to be fancy? No, I don’t think so. I believe what Matthew is doing is showing us that in the coming of Jesus God’s plan through the Jews is being fulfilled and now the great King has come, greater even then King David. And again, I believe through the genealogy Matthew is setting us up for what is to come. When the wise men come to Jerusalem after following the star, they say these words, “Where is the one born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” And all through Matthew’s gospel we have this emphasis on Jesus as the great King and the focus on His kingdom. And then on the cross, as Jesus suffers in agony bearing our sin, a sign is put over his head and Matthew is careful to record it. It says, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The Suffering Servant Messiah prophesied in Isaiah gives His life between two criminals but even in His suffering His true identity is broadcast for all the world to see.

Why did I go into all this minute detail this morning? I didn’t do it to bore you or to put you to sleep. I did it because I want you to know what Matthew wants you to know, “This gospel is a trustworthy word about a virgin-born king.” There are all sorts of forces in our world today that are seeking to pull us away from sincere faith in Christ and true hope in His gospel. The scientific world tells us to put away our childish myths of a dying and rising God and embrace reason and a scientific worldview. Our own trials tempt us to despair. As we battle sickness or suffer loss our temptation is to question the reality of God. When life gets hard we wonder whether God is real or if He is real, whether He cares for us. We have the evil done in the name of religion which causes us to wonder whether there is any good reality to belief in God. When we see Muslim terrorism we are reminded that Christians too have sometimes oppressed others. And we wonder whether any faith, even Christian faith, is a positive good in society. Even our society with its desire to protect freedom for all can swing at times to an extreme that seeks to push religious expression out of the public square, along with the backlash where we choose to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays as a political statement rather than as a wish for blessing to another.

So in a world where the true meaning of Christmas is increasingly dismissed or overwhelmed by a wave of materialism, I wanted to share with you this morning the simple truth that in the Bible we have a trustworthy word about a virgin-born king. These three truths will help you through a thousand storms of doubt and a thousand trials of life. That God has spoken, that He has acted, that He is Lord, faith in these truths will get us through life and into eternity with great joy, free from the despair of a merely material world and free from the detached, empty spiritually of self so prevalent in our culture.  I don’t have anything for you to do today. You’ve got way too much to do already. I’ve just got something for you to believe. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. He’s the King. Bow your heart before Him this Christmas and trust Him to shape you for a lifetime as His son or daughter.

 

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