A Strange Way To Begin
Matthew 1 is an interesting way to start a book. A long list of “begats,” the genealogy of Jesus, isn’t the most captivating opening paragraph, unless you’re Jewish. For if Jesus is really who Matthew claims he is a few things must be cleared up. The question of his heritage is of utmost importance. You see, the long awaited Messiah can’t be just anyone’s son.
And so Matthew begins by tracing Jesus ancestry back through history. There are some pretty big names in that list. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David all get shout outs. And there are a few surprises. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba four gentile women show up, and of course Mary is there, but that is for another post. You see the Messiah was promised to come through the line of Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) and the line of David (Acts 13:22-23). So without establishing the family tree for his Jewish audience, it would do no good for Matthew to try to convince them who Jesus was.
Who’s Your Daddy?
Matthew establishes the line leading up to Jesus, except there is a minor problem. As you read through the list of so-and-so was the father of so-and-so things change when you get to Joseph. It reads that Joseph was the husband of Mary, from whom was born the Messiah. For many of Matthews readers this presents some huge problems. Joseph and Mary were engaged, or betrothed. And in their culture that was a pretty big deal. According to the Mishna, committing adultery when betrothed was actually worse than committing adultery when married. Both were punishable by death. And Joseph knew he wasn’t the father. The scriptures say Joseph decided to do what was right, not what was lawful, but what was right. He would quietly break the engagement and not subject Mary to more public shame and possibly death. It is after this decision that the angel appears and confirms Mary’s story. And after this angelic encounter, Joseph takes Mary home to be his wife and took the child as his own. Thus legally claiming father-ship. It is this claim by Joseph entitled Jesus to his inheritance, and through that the throne of David.
Faith and Obedience
Often as I read this chapter I think of Mary and how difficult it would have been for her to return home from her visit with John and Elizabeth as a young pregnant teen. But I am amazed at Joseph and his faith. His willingness to be obedient, knowing how it would tarnish his reputation, showed his character and dedication to God. His obedience in taking Mary in, and claiming Jesus as his own, brought about the fulfillment of what was promised to Abraham in the early part of Genesis.
One act of obedience, required to fulfill a promise from centuries earlier, all part of God’s plan for bringing about the salvation of the world. What is God calling us to be obedient to today that will have eternal impact?