Reading: Matthew 1
The story of Jesus opens up at at time that the Jewish people were looking for salvation. After they returned from the Babylonian captivity, they returned to a land that was occupied first by the Persians, then by the Greeks, and at this point by the Romans. While there were brief periods of hope, the truth is that Judah was not able to re-establish itself. The independence won from the Greeks was lost to the Romans, and there was no illusion about who pulled Herod’s strings.
While Herod had the support of Rome, there was some dissatisfaction with his claim to the Judean throne. Herod was not from the line of David, he had no claim to the historic throne at Jerusalem. Not only that, but Herod was not of the line of the Maccabeean priest-kings who held the throne before him. Herod not only was not of lines that traditionally had power, but Herod was not of any of the tribes of Israel. Herod ruled over a people with whom he shared a believe in God, but not a common ancestry. Herod’s reputation for cruelty brought out complaints that he was a foreign ruler.
Matthew starts with a genealogy. This genealogy gives the line from Abraham to David, making somebody who’s connection with Israel and Judah had been there from the very start. Following David, the line goes through the Royal line of David, listing every king of Judah, the pretenders in Exile, and Zerubbabel the man who almost re-established David’s kingdom when Persia allowed the resettlement of Judah. Joseph had the bloodline claims that Herod lacked. Those who were waiting for a Messiah to be anointed King of the Jews had somebody who had a great narrative to say that he was the man.
The heading is: “The genealogy of Jesus”, but, until we get past the name list, we don’t realize the most important thing about this list: Jesus is not part of this genealogy. Where Joseph came from only matters if Jesus were the son of Joseph. In verse 18, we see that Jesus was not the messiah that was expected. He does not have this great claim to David’s throne. He is not born the man to overthrow Herod and Rome, instead he is legally a bastard. Politically, Jesus has fewer claims to Judah’s throne than Herod.
The repeated teaching of the gospel is here, right in this story. We want a king — Jesus does not come as a King but as God with us. We want somebody who will overthrow Rome, and rule in God’s name, but when God comes, Jesus humbles himself and lives and dies under Rome’s rule. Our Messiah does not save us from Rome — our Messiah saves us from, in the words of verse 21 “our sins”. As much as we think we will find salvation in a government — what we most need saved from is ourselves.
This is the genealogy of Jesus: Jesus was not the son of Joseph therefore Jesus was not a pretender to David’s throne. While Jesus has no claim to David’s throne, Jesus has a much higher claim than one king out of many. Mary was found pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Joseph was told this, by God’s messenger in a dream. Joseph could look back at his ancestors and see that he was of royal blood, but Jesus was the son of God.
As Mary and Joseph wait for advent, they know a secret that is hidden from the world; they knew a secret that even Jesus’ disciples missed: Jesus did not come to be king of the Jews, but to be Emanuel, God with us.