Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Day 1: Matthew 1:1-17 & Psalm 1 - Why open the New Testament with a list of names?

Today's Reading: Matthew 1:1-17; Psalm 1

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Why open the New Testament with a list of names?
When we sit down to read a good book, we're used to beginning with a strong opening, a hook, something that grabs our interest and holds it for the first chapter. When God begins to tell us the story of Jesus Christ, He begins with a list of names. Some of them are very familiar - Abraham, Ruth, David, Solomon - while others are very obscure - Shealtiel, Eliakim, Matthan. So, what's the purpose?

I see three things worth noting briefly . . .

1. The New Testament is continuing God's story begun in the Old Testament. God begins the Gospel of Matthew by going all the way back to Genesis with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and coming all the way through the return from the Babylonian exile with one of the last people named in the Old Testament, Zerubbabel (see Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai). God is telling us that this is not an entirely new story but is the continuation of the story of God's faithful dealings with the people. So, from the call of Abraham to the establishment of the kingdom of David to the exile into Babylon and on to the birth of Jesus, the Bible tells one whole story that finds its climax in Jesus.

2. God keeps His covenant promises. Matthew highlights that Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, which is a reminder that God made special covenant promises to Abraham and to David. In Genesis 12, 15 & 17, God called Abraham and promised to make him into a great nation, the father of a multitude of people, and to bless all the nations on earth through his offspring. In 2 Samuel 7, God promised David that He would build a dynasty for him and would make one of his descendants sit on the throne over God's kingdom as king forever. The genealogy that begins Matthew shows us how God keeps His covenant promises in Jesus.

3. God's plan of salvation includes all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Jesus' genealogy has some unique features: It includes four women and several non-Israelite foreigners. Tamar is included, though she was apparently a Canaanite, and who dressed like a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law Judah, who had wronged her by not giving her in marriage to his third son, as he had promised. Rahab the Canaanite prostitute is included, as is "the wife of Uriah," who committed adultery with King David. Ruth the Moabitess, who married Rahab's son, Boaz, is also included, though she came from one of the most cursed people in the region. God includes women and foreigners, people of questionable character and shady background to show that Jesus is the Savior of all people, all who call on Him in faith.

Together, these three points remind us that God is sovereign, faithful to keep His promises and gracious. We need a God who is in control, who never fails, who does what He says and who has mercy on sinners. A reminder that we have such a God is a great way to begin a Gospel, a book of good news of salvation!

Oh, and you really must watch this song video from Andrew Peterson, "The Ballad of Matthew's Begats"

Prayer Based on Psalm 1:

Heavenly Father, Your ways are right and good and true. Your law is righteous and holy. Those who follow after You and walk in Your ways are blessed indeed and find life and strength and fruitfulness.

Father, I confess that I often fail to measure up to the measure of a godly man according to this Psalm. Too often, I fail to meditate on Your word and instead listen to the wicked counsel of the world. I listen too readily to lies and follow after foolishness. Father, keep me from the counsel of the wicked, from the way of sinners. Keep me focused instead on Your wise and holy counsel and on Your righteous and wonderful way.

I thank You that Your Son, Jesus, is the perfect fulfillment of Psalm 1. He never went astray from Your ways and He fulfilled all of Your law perfectly. He is blessed forever and I am blessed in Him. I thank You that He is my blessing, my righteousness, my life and my hope in the day of judgment. Keep me trusting in Jesus today and always. May His life and light live and shine in me. I pray this not only for myself but for all of Your people.

For Your glory and honor and in the name of Jesus, I pray, Amen.