Results tagged “Matthew” from Reformation21 Blog

A Better Endgame

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Last week, Avengers: Endgame, the final blockbuster Marvel movie, was released, smashing box-office records. The movie is the culmination of an ambitious story arc encompassing 22 movies that Marvel Studios began planning 14 years ago. Endgame brings that plan to its final conclusion. It may possibly be the most highly anticipated movie ever produced.

By contrast, consider the opening words to the New Testament recorded in Matthew's Gospel:

"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."  

The words may not immediately seem that exciting, but they may be the most explosive words ever written. Though they are the first words of the New Testament, they actually echo the first book of the Old Testament - Genesis 5:1, "The book of the genealogy of Adam..." In other words, Matthew's words are not boring; they are actually incredibly dramatic. Matthew is saying that the story of Jesus is an epochal event that not only continues the story of the Bible, but transforms the story of the Bible and the entire story of humanity into something new. Matthew is beginning his Gospel, signaling to everyone who knows the story, that this is the 'Endgame' of the story of humanity, much more important than a movie, that wasn't planned over 15 years, but over thousands of generations by God himself.

What kind of man can be the transformative figure, the hinge of history? Who is this person and what did he come to do? Matthew may begin with a "boring" genealogy, but he actually answers the very question of the identity of Jesus and gives an entire philosophy of history in the process.

Consider what Matthew is claiming, just in his opening words. He is going to tell the transformative story of a man named Jesus. 'Jesus' was a popular and significant name among first century Jews. It was the Greek version of 'Joshua', a pivotal figure of Jewish history, who famously led Israel into the Promised Land and finally fulfilled God's promises to his people. Appropriately, the name means "The Lord is salvation."

But this wasn't just any regular man whose name was 'Joshua'. Matthew gives him a second title and says this man was Jesus Christ. 'Christ' wasn't his last name. There was nobody in the first century who would give their child the name 'Christ'. Because Christ meant Messiah, 'Anointed One'. In the Old Testament, that title was originally reserved for prophets, priests, and kings. But it came to be associated with the Savior God promised to send to redeem his people - his promise to send a seed who would crush the head of the serpent, to send an offspring who would bless the whole world, to send a prophet who would rescue his people, to send a priest who would cover their sins, to send a king who would restore the kingdom.

Next, Matthew calls him "the son of David" - itself an expansion of the Messianic expectation. The "son of David" was the fulfillment of God's covenant promises to David that one of his descendants would build a house for God's name, would triumph over God's enemies, usher his people into a kingdom of peace, and would rule for eternity.

Finally, he calls him "the son of Abraham". Prior even to David, Abraham was the first to receive a covenant promise from God. After Abraham offered up Isaac, the angel of God told him, "By myself I have sworn...because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven... And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 22:16-18). The end of that promise became part of the Messianic hope - that one of Abraham's offspring would "possess the gate of his enemies", and in him "all the nations of the earth be blessed."

Do you see why Matthew's opening words may be the most explosive words ever written? This is the culmination of the promises of God for thousands of years. This is the most highly anticipated, blockbuster event in heaven or on earth. This is the Endgame. This is the name that changes everything, so that we're no longer talking about the story of humanity under Adam. We're beginning the story of humanity under Jesus Christ. From this point, nothing is the same. From this point, the entire history of humanity hinges on the identity of this man and your relationship to him!

Henry van Dyke, an English literature professor at Princeton University in the 19th-20th centuries, wrote, "As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge." We, therefore, prize spontaneity. Many things that come prepackaged are overly familiar and sometimes boring. It is common to place one's daily activities in the realm of "habit" and "routine."

Every morning you awake to the same tune--whining children, an alarm, whistling birds outside your window. You look in the mirror at the same face, use the same toothbrush, wear the same shoes for work, and drive the same car. You come home at the same time, unless traffic prohibits, to an empty house or perhaps your family. As your evening retires, you awake the next morning, provided the Lord wills, to do it all over again. Where is the freshness? Where is the novelty? With such a life, will "new dimensions of the soul...emerge?"

If you are not careful, the Christmas season could easily fall into nothing more than habit and routine. Every year after Thanksgiving, you begin preparing for Christmas. The brown, red, and orange decorations are buried in the boxes while the green, red, and gold colors emerge. The nativity scene--lest baby Jesus--is placed on a table in your house, and the reef is placed on the front door. The initial days of December afford you the right to purchase a Christmas tree. Your home is now newly revived with a scent of pine. Presents are placed under the tree as you await 12:01am on December 25th. All this is routine. It is a pattern that emerges year-after-year. Where is the freshness and novelty? They both come not necessarily from decorating your home or Christmas tree, though that can provide a sense of joy. The novelty, if I may put it this way, comes from 'what's in the box.' That's the excitement--new presents. That's the freshness--new toys. 

We may not consciously be thinking about this at the moment we open our gifts, but the gifts ultimately point to the Greatest Gift--the Lord Jesus Christ. This costly Gift is ours; we celebrate it every Sunday; we celebrate it during the Christmas season. This is Christmas Doctrine 101--what then does this have to do with the star on your Christmas tree? My observations, I believe, will neither take away nor add to the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Rather, it may provide an insight to the Christmas season that might, according to the late Professor van Dyke, add "new dimensions [to] the soul." 

First, let's consider the historical narrative leading to the birth of Christ. 

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was" (Matt. 2:1-2, 9; ESV). 

Far from Matthew foreshadowing the first On Star navigation system, this star represented something so striking it is no wonder people want to take the Christ out of Christmas. However, in order to comprehend the meaning of this star, and correspondingly the star on top of your Christmas tree, one must take a trip down memory lane to Numbers 24.

There, the king of Moab was fearful that Israel was going to destroy his nation. He, therefore, called a seer, Balaam, to prophesy against Israel. In his final prophesy, he said,

"I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!" (Num. 24:17-19; ESV). 

Contrary to what the King of Moab desired, Balaam prophesied that the enemies of Israel would be destroyed. "Edom [would] be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, [would] be dispossessed." The star, along with the scepter, indicated destruction was near. The scepter represented sovereign rule, the duty of a king, and the star indicated destruction, the movement of a king.

It is fitting that Jesus, therefore, in Matthew's Gospel is portrayed as king (Matt. 1:1, 2:2, 4). He exercises dominion over all nations and peoples (Matt. 28:16-20). It was his duty, nevertheless, to do much more than rule. Jesus also came to destroy. More particularly, he came to destroy all his and your enemies (WSC 26).

The star in Matthew 2, mentioned also in Numbers 24, was a sign for the people that God was going to stretch out his right arm of power. He was going to retrieve what was ruined by sin and Satan. He was coming to destroy. As the wise men, therefore, were somehow led by the star, their final destination--the resting place of the star--indicated that they found the king, the one who exercised sovereign dominion over all the nations and peoples, the one who came to destroy his enemies. 

It must have been striking to be led to a child. How could a child rule and destroy the enemies of God and his people? Whatever their thoughts, Jesus did accomplish all that his Father purposed. Yes, while Jesus offered great hope for sinners, we must not forget that one part of his mission was to destroy the enemies of God. Colossians 2:15,

"He disarmed the rulers and authorities, and put the to open shame, by triumphing over them..."

Therefore, this is an exciting time of the year, one that, while it is filled with routine, provides opportunity for an invigorating taste of the past and the future. The Son of God clothed himself in human flesh to destroy his enemies. Then, it was largely spiritual (Col. 2:15). However, when he comes again, he will destroy people (Rev. 20:11-15).

Does the star atop your Christmas tree point you to destruction? Are you reminded that just as the wise men were led by a star to the Great Gift--one who would destroy his enemies--so, too, you are led by the star atop your Christmas tree at dusk to lesser gifts? As you look at that star, are you reminded that just as your savior came once to destroy, he is coming again? You, who are united to Christ, have a great hope, namely your savior who is coming to bury all your enemies, which includes sin and death, once for all. 

Do not be completely immersed in the idea of routine and habit this Christmas season. It is easy to be conditioned by pattern without experiencing joy. Routine is good; habit can be as well; the new dimensions of the soul, however, is what will come when all that the star atop your Christmas tree represents is fully realized and you see your savior face-to-face, for you will be like him.