Scripture Reading: Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2; John 1
Significant Moments in The Story
The announcement of Jesus’ birth to Mary – Luke 1:26-38
The announcement of Jesus’ birth to Joseph – Matthew 1:18-25
The birth of John the Baptist – Luke 1:57-80
The birth of Jesus – Luke 2
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee from Herod – Matthew 2
Jesus calls the first disciples – John 1:35-51
Who is Jesus?
Again and again in the gospels, we will hear people ask this question. It was the effort of each of the gospel writers to try to provide an answer to this question for various groups at various times. At this point, we should take note of several of the ways that Jesus is identified in the earliest stages of the gospels.
Messiah (Matthew 1:1) – Hebrew word meaning “anointed one”. The Greek word for Messiah is the word that we translate as “Christ”. Christ is not Jesus’ last name; it is a title identifying him as the Messiah. The understanding of the Messiah goes back to Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, who spoke of one who was to come, often one from the line of King David. This one would be anointed as a ruler, just as David was. This ruler would be the instrument of God’s restoration of Israel.
Jesus (Matthew 1:21) – Jesus is a form of the name Joshua, which means “he will save”. Thus, the name that Joseph gives to the child that Mary bears identifies him as Savior.
Son of God (Luke 2:35, John 1:18) – In Daniel 3:25, King Nebuchadnezzar sees a fourth man in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that he describes as “a son of the gods”, indicating that this fourth person appeared to be a divine being. “Son of God” was a common term to refer to such heavenly beings. In Exodus 4:22-23, God calls Israel “my firstborn son”. Other passages refer to a king in the line of David as a “son of God” (2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 89:26-27). When we move into the gospels, the gospel writers are in uniformity in identifying Jesus as Son of God. This identification seems to incorporate elements of previous uses of the title – divine nature, a Davidic king who will save Israel. However, the gospel writers are also clear that the title of Son of God given to Jesus is a unique identity that elevates him above all others.
Word (John 1) – the translation of the Greek word logos. The term is not only used to refer to the spoken word; it is also used to describe the action and the will. John, in calling Jesus “the Word”, is saying that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s commands, God’s actions and God’s will. He is, in fact, God – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Mark is the only gospel that does not contain some attempt to explain Jesus’ birth or origin. However, he is united with the other gospels in his statement of who Jesus is. Mark 1:1 reads, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Each of the gospels speaks with a unique voice and for a unique purpose, though they share some common stories. Below, I will share briefly some of the distinguishing marks of Matthew, Luke, and John. We will discuss Mark more next week.
The gospel of Matthew seems to have a very clear structure that seeks to group together Jesus’ teachings around common themes. If you looked at a red-letter version of the gospel (where the words of Jesus are printed in red) you would notice that there are large blocks of Jesus’ teaching, and each of these blocks has a common theme. We believe that the gospel of Matthew was originally written to serve as a teaching instrument. Matthew cites more prophetic texts as proof of Jesus’ identity and calling than any of the other gospels. It would seem that the original audience of Matthew was primarily Jewish.
Luke’s audience would seem to have been primarily a Gentile audience. In Luke 1:1-4, the author indicates he is writing this book for a certain “Theophilus”. We are not told anything about Theophilus, and some suspect that he may have been a high-ranking Roman official. Others, such as Luke Timothy Johnson, wonder if the name “Theophilus”, which in Greek means “God lover”, is an indication that the book is really intended for any believer. In any case, Luke cites the fewest Old Testament passages in his gospel and seems much more concerned with capturing the universal mission of Christ, that his salvation is for all people. Luke’s gospel seems to be organized around the city of Jerusalem – we are often told about Jesus’ spatial and spiritual relationship to the city of Jerusalem.
John is probably the latest of all of the gospels, likely written near the close of the first century A.D. John’s gospel seems less concerned with providing a chronological account of Jesus’ ministry. Instead, John seems much more interested in theologically reflecting on Jesus’ identity and mission. John states the purpose of this reflection in John 20:31, “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John speaks of the miracles of Jesus as “signs”, markers that point to Jesus’ true identity and purpose.
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth – Matthew 1
It is interesting that three women are listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Typically, a child’s lineage was concerned only with the father. It is even more interesting that the three women who are listed are these three.
Tamar (Genesis 38) was a daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. When Tamar’s husband, Judah’s son, dies without having produced an heir, the expectation is that Judah will give his next oldest son to Tamar as a husband to produce an heir. Judah fails to carry out his responsibility, and Tamar is forced to disguise herself as a prostitute and lay with Judah to insure that there is an heir in her family.
Rahab (Joshua 2) was a Canaanite prostitute in the city of Jericho. As the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land, they sent two spies to check out the defenses of Jericho. Rahab hid the spies from city officials on the promise that she and her family would be spared. She knew that Jericho stood no chance against Israel’s God.
Ruth (Ruth 1-4) was a Moabite woman who married a man from Israel during a time of great famine. The Moabites were long-time enemies of Israel. When her husband died, she journeyed with her mother-in-law back to Israel and did everything she could to take care of her new family.
Likely all three of these women were non-Israelites, and all three had backgrounds that would not have made them worthy of much note in Israel’s history. Yet all three are specifically noted in the lineage of the Messiah. Perhaps the intention was to address those who were concerned about the more controversial aspects of Jesus’ own birth. By including these three women in the genealogy, it is a reminder that God has worked through unusual circumstances before.