Formations lesson for July 18: History is Not Meaningless : Friday, June 25, 2004
June 25 2004 by Ken Vandergriff

Formations lesson for July 18: History is Not Meaningless : Friday, June 25, 2004
Friday, June 25, 2004

Formations lesson for July 18: History is Not Meaningless

By Ken Vandergriff
Focal Passage: Matthew 1:1-17

After glancing at today's text, teachers may be tempted to bang their heads against a wall and scream: "They expect me to teach a whole lesson on a genealogy? Of mostly unfamiliar and unpronounceable names?" As it turns out, though, this one can be both informative and fun.

Functions of genealogies

Genealogies served various functions in the ancient world: they organized families, tribes and nations in terms of kinship (the function we most associate genealogies with); they showed the continuity of a people over long periods of time; they magnified an individual through the presentation of renowned ancestors; they legitimized individuals in an office; and they characterized an individual in terms of his function. The last two items are particularly important for Matthew.

Matthew is as interested in making a theological affirmation, as he is a genetic connection. His main point is in verse 1: Jesus is "son of David, son of Abraham."

These two connections assert something of Jesus' theological function. In God's initial invitation to Abraham was the promise that "in you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). Matthew wants his readers to make that connection. The rest of his gospel shows blessings coming not just to the Jews, the physical descendants of Abraham, but to non-Jews as well - all the families of the earth (2:1; 4:15; 15:21-28; 24:14; 28:18-20).

"Son of David" was a royal designation. The messiah hope of the Old Testament grew out of God's promise to David in 2 Samuel 7, God's promise to David that one of his descendants would rule forever. Jesus' Davidic credentials were important for his function as the Messiah.

Surprising members of the family

It is intriguing that Matthew included several women of questionable character or ethnicity.

Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law, Judah (Gen. 38); Rahab was a prostitute (Josh. 2-6). Ruth, a Moabite woman, becomes significant in the lineage of David and Jesus, even though the law forbid Moabite entry into the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:3-4). "The wife of Uriah" (v. 6), Bathsheba, although probably an innocent victim of David's sexual advances, has long been seen with suspicion. All these women were Gentiles.

Isn't it surprising who God chooses to place in the family tree?

The implications for mission

This month's Bible study theme is the implications of mission. What, then, does this genealogy have to do with Christian mission for us?

First, the Christian mission stands in continuity with a plan God set in motion at least as far back as Abraham. God worked in and through Israel for many centuries before Jesus, prodding Israel to see her mission to others (see Ex. 19:6; Is. 2:1-4; 49:6); Jesus' saving activity extended and enlarged what God had begun in Israel; the Christian mission extends that of Jesus.

Second, it's interesting that most of the individuals named in verses 12-15 are unknown, forgotten to history, yet links in the line that led to Jesus.

Most of us are ordinary folk. We're known among our circle of family and friends but not beyond that. Our names will appear in the newspaper only when we marry and die.

We might wonder how significant we are to God's mission. This text suggests that common folk are important; without them the line to Jesus would have been broken.

Finally, this genealogy shows God's inclusion of those with questionable morals. Think about your own family tree. How many of us have a scandalous member who eventually made good? Do we remember them more for the scandal or the good? Why? While God clearly can use those of scandalous character, could we ever bring ourselves to partner with them in God's mission?

6/25/2004 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff | with 0 comments

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