What do you see when you look at Matthew 1:1 – 17? A list of names? Nameless names? Nameless names in the sense that the names mean nothing? Names without faces, names without stories? Is this passage analogous to walking through a graveyard and reading unfamiliar names? Perhaps if Matthew 1:1-17 had some interesting tombstones the journey would not be quite so boring?
I’ve never heard this passage read on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Have you? I’ve never seen people rushing to be the first at the lectern to read, Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers….
Perhaps the fact that we’ve not heard this passage read at Christmas is an indictment on our Biblical illiteracy? Perhaps the fact that we don’t celebrate this passage also calls into question our profession that we have a high view of Scripture? After all, if we really have a high view of Scripture why would we not read what is, after all, the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel? Why would we not read this passage at Christmas if we are a people who know the Bible and hold the Bible in high esteem – for again, this is the beginning of the Matthew’s Gospel; but it is not only the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, it is the first page of the New Testament.
These verses are a record of a perfect God working through an imperfect people; of an imperfect people fulfilling the perfect Word of God. Some of these people are not simply imperfect, some of them are downright wicked, and some are people who are usually decent doing some pretty evil and deplorable things. Through it all, God preserves His promise for the blessing of all peoples of the earth through His Son Jesus Christ.
Of course to know these people, to see the tapestry that Matthew weaves, we must know the Old Testament, we must know Genesis and Exodus and Joshua and Samuel and Kings and Jeremiah; to touch and feel the texture of this genealogy we must have first walked the corridors of Genesis through Malachi – otherwise these are but nameless names.
There are treasures among these names, lessons to be learned, tears to be wept, songs to be sung, pathos to be felt, joy to be shared. Among these names are promises both fulfilled and broken, friendship sustained, treachery in all its wickedness, remorse, arrogance, humility and repentance. Have I mentioned murder and adultery? Have I mentioned tender love?
The Bible is raw and uncensored; but it is raw and uncensored not in a gratuitous sense, but rather in a descriptive sense – the Scriptures will not aid and abet us in hiding from our true condition, a practice which many churches seem intent on propagating with cheap grace and a cotton-candy Gospel.
Many of the men and women in this genealogy knew what God’s grace and mercy are because they knew what sin is; they knew who they were apart from a relationship with God. As Jesus teaches, He who is forgiven much loves much. They couldn’t afford to put on their Sunday best and pretend to be something they weren’t – they had real sin to deal with and they needed real forgiveness.
These first seventeen verses in Matthew are an epic in and of themselves – but alas an epic experienced by few –most see simply a list of names.