What an extraordinary book Matthew is! It is the first of the Gospels, the longest, the most Jewish, the most evangelistic, and, in many ways, the most compelling. For the first three or four centuries, it was the most highly regarded and most often quoted Gospel of the four. To some people, now as well as then, Matthew is the most important book ever written.
It is about Jesus of Nazareth, of course. Each Gospel writer has his own way of handling the material regarding Jesus’ life and has his own unique emphasis. In Matthew’s case, the emphasis is on Jesus being the Messiah or King of Israel. Jesus is introduced this way at the beginning of the book: “Jesus Christ [Messiah] the son of David” (Mathew 1:1), & the theme is evident throughout.
We could express Matthew’s unique qualities this way: As the first of the Gospels, Matthew is a bridge book linking the Old Testament with its fervent anticipation of the Messiah to the realization of the Messiah’s kingly rule over the new people of God, which is the Church. Matthew is the only Gospel to use the word church. It occurs twice, in 16.18 and 18.17, the first having to do with Jesus building his Church and the second with Church discipline [i.e. biblical accountability to Godly behavior].
Is the Book of Matthew relevant today? In a largely secular age, as ours, we need to know that Jesus is truly God’s King. In a day of nominal Christianity, we need to hear Christ’s call to “follow me.” In a day of lazy discipleship, we need to hear once again the command of Jesus to take the message of His death and resurrection to the world.
Matthew does not want us to forget that his message about this Jewish King and Savior is not only for Jews but for everyone. Since Matthew’s genealogy (ch.1.1-17) contains the names of women, Gentiles, and even notable sinners, the book shows that barriers between (1) men and women, (2) Jews and Gentiles, and (3) saints and sinners were crumbling through the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ancestry also provides a clue on this matter.
We are only at the beginning of a long study of Matthew, but already there are a few important conclusions we can draw: First, the problem (differences) with Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies teaches us how to deal with difficulties in Scripture. When we come to a problem such as this on which sometimes even conservative scholars disagree, we tend to think the problem is unsolvable. But as we work on it and think about it, we often discover how the difficulties can be resolved. This encourages us to be patient when we deal with other difficulties.
Years ago, a Bible teacher was riding through New York State on a train on his way to New England and went into the dining car for dinner. A man sat down across from him who, as it turned out, was an atheist. Finding that his companion was a Bible teacher, the atheist began to rehearse the difficulties he perceived to be in Scripture. He cited one difficulty after the other, but the man who was being attacked went right on eating. He was eating New England cod, a very bony fish, and as he ate he pushed the bones aside. Finally the atheist said, “Well, what do you do with all those difficulties in the Bible?”
The Bible teacher said, “I do with the difficulties just as I am doing with this cod. I eat the meat, and I put the bones aside for some fool to choke on.”
Such an illustration can be improperly applied if by it we ignore perceived problems. We must give the best possible answers we can give. But if we come to a problem we cannot resolve, it is not dishonesty but a mark of humility to lay it aside for a time until more information comes along, as it tends to do.
Another lesson we can learn is patience in waiting for the second coming of Jesus. Through the years of Old Testament history, men and women looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Every child of David was a potential Messiah, and the people kept their genealogies straight because they wanted to know who might possibly reign on the throne. Generation after generation went by, yet the Messiah did not come. It was only after a long wait that Jesus was at last born in Bethlehem, and those who had been waiting, people such as Simeon and Anna, saw him and rejoiced at His coming.
By comparison, in our day the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ seems delayed, and skeptics say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But all things have not continued unchanged from the beginning. There have been radical judgments of God in history. Moreover, Jesus came as promised, and He will soon come again. Knowing this, we should be patient and trust God to work in His own way and in His own time.
The conclusion to the genealogy of Matthew, is the value of all Scripture, Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is … profitable [useful].” That includes even the genealogies! We sometimes say, “What possible value can these things have?” But they do have value, and even these problem genealogies have been used to bring people to faith in Christ.
The world has no use for Christ, so it is not surprising that it has no use for Christ’s words. But we know the power of the Word and should not be afraid to proclaim it, allowing the Spirit of Christ to work even through the alleged problems to bring many to the Savior.