Morning Musing: Matthew 1:17

“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, fourteen generations.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Throughout human history there have been two questions that have had more to do with the kinds of opportunities a person would be given in life than anything else. These two questions could open doors to new careers, exciting adventures, and a lifetime of relative ease. They could also close them just as quickly. Various stories have been written featuring people heroically rising up and achieving great things in spite of having the wrong answers to these two questions. But those stories tend to be just that: stories. The way the world actually works is generally right in line with how it has always worked. And how it has always worked is that your life will be governed by the answers to these questions. Even in this nation which has long been known as “the land of opportunity” they nonetheless still hold powerful sway. They function as a way of keeping order in an otherwise unruly society. And if that order tends to be unjust, well, at least it is better than disorder. What these questions are and what they have to do with the Advent season is what I’d like to talk about with you this morning.

So, I realize this was a strange verse to put as the headline of this blog post. That’s part of why I left you hanging, waiting to discover what these two critical questions are until after the click through. If I gave you the answer before, given the verse, you might have moved right on with your day without reading any of the rest of the post. Now that I have you…

The two questions I’m talking about are these: Who is your daddy? and Where are you from? On the basis of those two pieces of information, a great deal of the rest of your life is determined from the moment you transition from the womb to the world. I don’t mean that the details are predetermined. What I mean is that the kinds of opportunities you will be given are affected by those two pieces of information. The kinds of employers who will be willing to give you the time of day will change. The universities that will allow you to enroll in their institution will change. Who you might marry, how many kids you will have, what your income level will be, and so on and so forth are all impacted by the answers to those two questions.

Now, hold on a minute. Do you mean to tell me I don’t really have any say in the direction and outcome of my life? Nope, that’s not where I’m going. People rise up and achieve things in spite of having answers to these questions that don’t meet with the ones the broader culture is looking for and will celebrate most all the time. Those are powerful and inspiring stories. What I am saying is that, all things being equal, where someone comes from can play a powerful role in shaping where they wind up going. There are zip codes from which only a few people ever escape. In the same way, a person’s family history can impact their path forward in life. A family story rich with successes and great leaders and wealthy entrepreneurs is likely to produce more of the same. A family with business failures and addicts and broken families is likely to produce more of the same too.

This all creates an orderliness to the world that keeps things running smoothly. And as you look back in history, the world has generally run like this in most places and most times. Most cultures across the ages have developed some sort of economic and social hierarchy that fairly well locked people into the place in which they were born. At various times, philosophers have even tried to give this whole sort of system an intellectual justification. Ancient Greek thinkers believed some people were simply born to be slaves while others were born to be leaders. That was just the way of the world as they understood it.

So then, what does your background say about you? Maybe you have a background of which you are immensely proud. But maybe you have a background you’d rather not be shared all things considered. You would be much more content pretending you came into the world without a background and blazing your own trail forward.

When Matthew started writing his account of Jesus’ life and ministry, he understood that he was writing to a group of people who were concerned with genealogies. They placed a great deal of significance in the answers to those two questions. As a result, he opens by offering a genealogy of Jesus. And on the surface, it looks really good. Now, his genealogy is a little different from Luke’s genealogy of Jesus. The reason for this is that they were approaching His background from two different angles. Matthew was establishing Jesus as of the line of David. Luke was simply presenting His actual family line. Matthew’s genealogy past David probably isn’t genetically accurate for Jesus, but again, it is aiming for different purposes than that; purposes which were acceptable at the time. We dare not judge it on the basis of modern standards of literary accuracy.

That being said, Jesus’ genealogy looks really good at a glance. There are a lot of heroes of the faith in there. But then you look a little more closely and you start to notice some cracks. Not everything is quite as clean as the quick coat of whitewash thrown on it would seem to indicate. For starters, there are several women listed in His genealogy. That was a huge no-no. Genealogies only included the fathers then. That’s why you would be hard pressed to find more than a bare handful of female names in the whole of 1 Chronicles. What’s more, when you start to look at the stories of these women, they aren’t really good stories. In fact, their stories are downright scandalous. As it turns out, Jesus’ family and geography mark Him as someone who should be ignored at best. There is much shame in His past. God should have picked someone much more suited to the task He was setting about accomplishing than this.

But He didn’t.

A person’s background says something. Your background says something about you. It can’t not do that. History speaks for those with the ears to listen. Jesus’ background speaks too. In His case, what it says is that God can accomplish His plans through anyone, including you and me. The world wants your demography to be your destiny. But God has bigger plans than that. He has plans to accomplish the advancement of His kingdom in powerful ways through your life if you will only surrender it to Him. It does not matter to Him where you’re from or what your family history may be. He is bigger than all of those things and so are His plans. All He needs from you is a willingness to let Him work through you. If He could accomplish this through Jesus with all the skeletons in His family’s closet, yours won’t pose any threat or even challenge for Him to overcome. This Advent season, whatever your background may be, surrender your life to Him and watch with wonder as He does great things with your life, in your life, and through your life into the lives of the people around you.

And just for fun today, here’s something special for you. I know it isn’t Friday, and this Friday we will indeed have some more music of the season to enjoy together, but since we’re talking about Jesus’ genealogy, here is perhaps the only song ever written putting it to music. This comes from the immensely talented Andrew Peterson. Enjoy.

2 thoughts on “Morning Musing: Matthew 1:17

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