Monday, December 24, 2012

Matthew’s Wonderful Christmas Story

Recently I got to write some study notes for the Bible Society and spent a bit of time in Matthew’s advent story. What a joy it was to focus more attention on his version of Christmas. I discovered a whole lot of things I had never noticed before. I thought I would share some of them briefly. I encourage you to read Matthew’s story in light of these and see what else you can find in them. Matthew of course wrote to Jews to demonstrate that Jesus is truly Messiah and the culmination of Israel’s story. There is such depth in it that it is mind-blowing.

First, there is the genealogy. It is patterned on sevens, four times coming to 42 generations. It speaks of Jesus’ true descent from Israel’s father Abraham and the Patriarchs, and from the paradigmatic king, David—he is the new Davidic King, the long awaited Messiah. It is full of people of sinful pasts like Judah who betrayed Joseph and was seduced by Tamar faking that she is a prostitute. There is Solomon born of David’s murder of Uriah and the theft and sexual immorality with his wife Bathsheba. There are the kings of Judah who failed God repeatedly. Such a genealogy gives us all hope with the skeletons in our family closets. It ends with a Jacob who is the father of Joseph—sound familiar? It is Joseph’s genealogy, and we realise that Joseph was royalty, a direct heir of the Davidic king. Perhaps if the Davidic line had not fallen, David would have been king. Instead Tiberius Caesar of Rome, Quirinius on his behalf and the puppet sham King Herod run the show. Realising who Joseph is makes the rest of the story come into focus—Joseph is heir to the throne, and Jesus will be raised in the real Davidic royal family.

Secondly, we see Joseph behaving as a true Davidic heir should. He treats Mary with real dignity despite her seeming “sin.” He will divorce her quietly. Then, when God speaks through his angel, he acts with complete obedience. He marries her and raises the child as his own. We have a great picture of broken families restored by God’s grace—and don’t we need this today! We see that through the whole narrative—Joseph is the exemplary Davidic heir. This continues through the story as he responds immediately to get the baby out of danger, takes him to Egypt and returns home.

Thirdly, we see plays on the OT story all over the place. I have already mentioned Joseph being the son of a certain Jacob, a la the Genesis narrative. Jesus is raised by a “king,” as was Moses. Later he will return from Egypt, he will give the “new Torah”— he the new Moses. We notice that God names the baby “Jesus,” the Greek version of the Jewish name Joshua. Jesus is a new Joshua. This Joshua will not enter Israel with an army to overcome with might and force liberating the land from corruption. He will enter as a defenceless baby, rise to manhood, and then go and liberate all humanity through the cross and resurrection—the power of love, seen in healing, preaching, deliverance and forming a new people on earth. He will use twelve men, ordinary blokes, who will see Israel reconstituted around twelve “tribes.” But it will not stop there, it will go global. Glorious!

Fourthly, he is more than a new David, a new Joshua, a new Moses, he is “Emmanuel,” God with us. He is miraculously conceived by a virgin. He is the Son of God, not merely a man—the mystery of Christology. This is the power of creation life formed by God within the human womb. With a mustard seed in a womb begins the transformation of the cosmos. This is incarnation, as a transcendent glorious God becomes immanent among us, and in the most vulnerable of places in the ancient world. Matthew quotes Isa 7:14 from the Greek OT (LXX), where parthenos is used, to ensure readers realise that Mary was not merely a young woman, she was a virgin.

Fifthly, there is the irony of Herod as opposed to Joseph and the wise men. Joseph is the true penultimate Davidic king in the story—a man with a heart after God. The three wise men are Gentile astrologers from the east, the direction of Israel’s historic enemies. Classic—the first to worship God are corrupt foreign magicians. Yet they see who Jesus is. It continues to be like this, the most expected recognise Jesus. Here we see the Great Commission anticipated as Gentiles across every nation will bow the knee to the Messiah and Lord. They recognise who Jesus is, Herod does not. He and his wise men work out that he is a threat, for the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. However, they do not bring gifts and worship him, they use deceit and bring weapons to kill him. Anticipating the scores of martyrs that will come from Christ’s people, children are slaughtered in the name of power. Herod represents all that is bad in humanity—infanticide, destruction, hubris, power-hunger and more. Jesus came to free the world from such men. Sadly, the “battle” goes on.

Sixthly, he is born in Bethlehem. He will be shepherd. This rings bells from those who know the David story. David the shepherd boy was anointed by Samuel in the same place. The final son of Jesse has arrived. Later on, John the Baptist will play the role of Samuel, and anoint Jesus, not with oil, but with baptism, and the Spirit will fall. It recalls Isa 42 and Ps 2—the Servant King has come to his world to set it free. He will then embody Israel and kingship and his Adamic being and enter the wilderness and do what Israel, David and Adam all failed to do, to overcome the enemy of God. He is the new Adam, the Messiah, the new Israel all in one. He will then set about restoring the world, not with military force, but with the power of love. Magnificent!

The Christmas story is truly wonderful. It heralds the arrival of the new David, Moses, Joshua, Israel, Adam, etc. It is the moment when all of history to this moment comes to its climax in the arrival of God the Son. And he will be one of us. He will then go out and in a three year cameo, set ablaze the greatest revolution of all time. He will live out of obedience, die a slave’s horrendous death, and rise. He saves us and shows us the way. Thank God for his lovolution in which love is made flesh and dwells among us. Our response should be that of the Magi, come to the child and worship him with all we have.
May God bless you and your loved ones this Christmas. Shalom. 

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