Devotion #1

Browsing through the headlines…

This is what we do every morning:  Wake up.  Grab your smartphone.  Grab your coffee.  Fox News.  CNN.  Maybe a quick perusal of the big media outlets, too—ABC, NBC, CBS.  Facebook.  Email.  That’s the usual order. 

Most of it seems biased in one way or another. Many of the articles are just quotes of tweets from people I’ve never even heard of (insert eye roll here).  So, I usually just stick to the headlines. Why bother reading the whole article when you feel as if you already know what it’s going to say, anyway?  Always more of the same.  Some of it makes me shake my head. Some of it makes me angry.  Only a few articles really pique my interest.  None of it really changes anything.  None of it makes a real difference. 

That’s the news. 

But how refreshing to read what the Gospel of Matthew reports.  In fact, as I write these devotions, I’m going to make a concerted effort not to do my reading of Matthew on my phone like I do the news.  Instead, I’m going to pick up an actual bible, with pages creased and well-worn, because deep down inside, I want this experience to be something different.  This is God’s Word!

How strange that I don’t read it more often.  How sad that I’m so quick to check the media outlets every morning for the latest headlines, but I don’t give something as wonderful as Matthew’s gospel the time it deserves.  I want this year to be different.

I hope you will join me. 

Now, of course, from a journalistic perspective, what Matthew has to say may seem like old news.  It’s certainly not journalism as we know it.  We’ve heard these words before. However, what Matthew reports has the sure and certain feel of something that makes a difference.  For all who look heavenward and pray to God above, this news is really something… something to pause over and ponder.   

Today we read the Genealogy of Christ.  It is by no means an exciting or sexy introduction; I dare say it seems a little boring.  However, don’t just skim past it like the headlines in the news.  Slow down and really take some time and consider what this article has to say.   

Most of the folks mentioned in this genealogy are people you’ve never heard of before.  If they tweeted, posted, blogged, snapped, tictoked, or twitched, you never saw it, you never read it.  They lived lives we know nothing about.  Some were famous.  Some were terrible sinners.  Individually, and on the surface, most of these names mean very little. However, I don’t believe Matthew wants us to focus so much on particular names—although, a few noteworthy—in fact, I’m not even sure that Matthew lists everyone in Jesus’ family tree, for if you count them up, you see that he gives us only three lists of fourteen names each, or put another way, six lists of seven names each.  Whatever the case, these numbers have a slightly symbolic feel.  There seems to be more going on here than just genealogical recordkeeping.

Indeed, if you look at it as a whole, you see very clearly that this genealogy proves something very basic yet very, very important.  What is it?  Well, it’s that God actually kept His promises, promises made to men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Through something as basic and boring as Abraham’s family tree, Matthew shows us that history has a purpose and a goal.  With true journalistic flare, Matthew goes to a lot of trouble tracking down all these names, because He wants you and me to see that Jesus is the goal and purpose of history.  But in contrast to the news reported by the Associated Press, which is nothing more than random events that only affect a given number of individuals, Matthew shows us that the real news is a profound gift that God has been working out for all people, for all time.  

We see that God has been at work making a family!   

Yes, while most of the individuals on this list, don’t matter much anymore, Matthew shows us that they were a part of something that remains and endures and is eternal.  They were and are connected to Jesus Christ! 

Now, it’s interesting to consider that from a biological perspective, perhaps we all are…. biologically related to Jesus. Just consider the magnitude of the fact that we all have 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, 32 great-great-great grandparents, etc.  Surely somehow, somewhere, our family tree intersects with the biological family tree of Jesus Christ, but if you do the math and calculate the fact that each person in Matthew’s genealogy (there are 42 names listed) each had 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, and 32 great-great-great grandparents, that’s 2,562 people—not counting great-great-great-great grandparents and beyond.  And if, again, you do the math on those 2,562 people and figure all the grandparents and great-grandparents they had to the 4th degree, that comes to a whopping 151,200 people. But then continue doing the math and you get 9,072,000, then 544,320,000, and then an incomprehensible 32,659,200,000.

But hold up… that’s almost 33 billion people!  There’s currently less than 8 billion people on the planet (and our math is only calculating parentage to the 4th degree).  If we can establish that many connections going back only 4 degrees, well then, truly, we must all be more closely related to Christ than we think.  It really is just as the Bible says, that just as we are all descendants of the first Adam—through whom sin entered the world, making us all sinners—so then also, we are all descended from the second Adam, Jesus Christ, through whom comes mercy and grace (Romans 5:12-19).   

However, in Romans 5, Paul isn’t talking so much about a biological connection.  Indeed, thank God we don’t have to try to figure out our connection to Jesus by tracing it through some genealogy (I am not even sure I know who my great-great grandparents were).  Therefore, as an alternative to blood relations (which don’t really bring salvation, anyway) in the very next chapter, Paul reminds us we have an even better connection to Jesus.  He reminds us that we have been connected to Jesus by water.  Paul says in Romans 6:3-5, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Through something so simple and yet so very profound, we are born again not by blood but by water. Just as a person has no say in choosing who is a part of their family tree, so also, we don’t get much of a choice when it comes to our membership into God’s family.  No matter who we are, what we do, or where we live, Jesus sent the Church to make disciples by baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28:19-20). Thus, Like it or not, if you are baptized, you belong to the family of God!

Of course, don’t take this for granted.  Just like a biological connection to Jesus means nothing without faith in Jesus, so too, baptism is a relationship that requires faith. God is your father because you are “in” His son, Jesus Christ—you have died with him and now live with him (Romans 6:3-5)—and so we can live with confidence in knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Baptism establishes the fact that our heavenly Father will always love us like any father loves his child.  So then, even when we go astray, like the prodigal son, we never need fear that our Father will welcome us back.  He will! Baptism is the proof of that.     

So even though, Matthew isn’t telling us anything about baptism, per se, just consider how baptism nonetheless connects with what Matthew is doing with Jesus’ genealogy.  He’s reminding his readers that for as much as we are all individuals with complicated, busy and weird lives, we are just as much, and even more so, a people. And even when we look at our individual lives and wonder:

  • Why things turn out the way they do sometimes,
  • Why our plans don’t always succeed,
  • Why the details don’t always fall in place,
  • Why we constantly fluctuate between feeling like a success or a failure,
  • Why we sin so much and can’t maintain any control over it,

Through it all, nonetheless, God is at work making our lives purposeful in and through Jesus Christ. He’s always been at work transforming a world full of sinful, selfish individuals into His holy family.  

I think trusting this truth is what faith is all about.   

Faith is rejoicing in the fact that our status in the family of God is about something so, so much more profound and precious than our actions, choices, ambitions, and goals—these are the things by which we gauge everything else in life—rather, the way God gauges you and me is by seeing us less and less as individuals and more and more as a part of the whole.  Just a crumb of the pie… and what a sweet, sweet pie it is.  It’s God’s family!

Yes, how trivial our lives can seem when we try to list it all out like a biography or memoir.  Even more depressing are obituaries, which typically say nothing more than that the deceased was a good person who loved his/her family, had some hobbies, a job, and belonged to certain community organizations and clubs. That’s it! Then they died.  How sad and seemingly pointless. 

But at a funeral you and I know that what matters even more is their family… who they leave behind.    

Well, today, Matthew reminds us that our story and legacy is so much bigger and because of Jesus Christ, one day, your obituary and mine will be infinitely more profound.  You are connected to Jesus who is the Christ, the Son of God.  You are a part of the family of God.  Matthew will show us all this as we read through his gospel, that whether by blood or by water, our family is one that goes all the way back to Abraham.  And one day, our children’s children will be a part of this family, too. 

And so, Matthew begins with so much more than mere “news.” He starts in a big way by giving us our family story, the story of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham… the Son of God! 

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