For Matthew, Jesus is the Messiah. A key qualification of the Messiah was that he must be a “son of David,” coming from the tribe of Judah as did the great Jewish king. God made a covenant with David and promised that one of his descendants would always rule over God’s people (2 Samuel 7:16). During David’s reign, Israel enjoyed freedom and prosperity. In light of Roman occupation at Jesus’ time, it should come as no surprise that the Jewish hope was “that God would send to his people a king such as David had been, a king who would deliver his people, a king who would restore the greatness of Israel, and lead them to a glory such as they had never known before” (William Barclay).
The importance of David impacted the structure of this genealogy. Matthew has conveniently arranged the ancestors of Jesus into groups of fourteen. That number would immediately catch the attention of Jewish Christians, for the practice of the day was to assign a numerical value to the consonants in the Hebrew alphabet. Hence with David’s name (d+v+d) we have 4 + 6 + 4 = 14. Matthew used this guide for dividing Israel’s history into three important periods: (1) the ancestry from Abraham to King David (1:2-6); (2) the ancestry from David until the Babylonian exile (1:7-11); and (3) the ancestry from the Babylonian exile to Jesus (1:12-16), which included the return from exile to live in the promised land without a Davidic king to rule. But those dark days are over, for Matthew concludes his genealogy with Jesus the Messiah, the long-awaited son of David who was born to free Israel.
But there was a problem. Matthew’s understanding of Jesus as the “son of David” (1.1) and the proclamation of the same title when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (21.9) didn’t mesh. The declaration of the people that the son of David was entering Jerusalem was accurate but their expectations of Him as the one to free them from the Romans were not. Jesus didn’t come to solve the problem of Roman occupation; rather, He came to free Israel from its greatest enemy—the sin that held it captive! What Jesus was doing for Israel, He was doing for the world—paying for sin. To accomplish this, Jesus came as the Messiah of Israel so He could be the Savior of the world.
Have our expectations of what God should be doing in our lives led to disappointment and even anger? Have we found ourselves frustrated in who Jesus turned out to be for us? Has COVID impacted our particular world to the point that nothing will ever be the same? Have financial hardships, deaths, broken relationships and shattered dreams, impacted our lives, only to discover that our pain and grief are intensified during the holidays? Following the exile, Israel suffered over six hundred years without freedom or a Davidic king; it seemed God was taking too long to bring restoration and healing; it seemed He had forgotten His people and His promises.
But He was working: He is always working—often behind the scenes—to bring His will to fulfillment. The pain and suffering that life brings speak against His love and care; the lack of immediate proof of His rescue often leads to doubt and fear. Until the resurrection, Matthew held the popular view of the Messiah as a warrior sent to drive the Romans out, and no doubt he felt let down by God at the crucifixion. It was the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit that enabled him to come to grips with the fact that, in a mysterious way, God has set His people free through the coming of Jesus Christ (“Jesus the Messiah”). The promise is there; the fulfillment will not be rushed, even for those who trust and await healing.
by Dr. Rich Menninger
O God of Comfort, come to our aid soon for at times we don’t feel Your Presence or see You working. It may take us less than a minute to read the third group of ancestors in Matthew’s genealogy, but such a reading covered a long time of pain and doubt. May we ponder and learn. I pray this is the Name of the One who is always on time, amen.