Who Are You?!
Who Are You?!
A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matt. 1:1)
Not all Bible commentaries are created equal. In preparation for last Sunday’s sermon, the first in our Advent series entitled “The Mothers of Jesus,” I read several commentaries on the sermon texts from Matthew 1 and Genesis 38. Many were very scholarly works, going into great detail on textual and grammatical issues of great interest to individuals who make their living writing articles about such matters but not particularly helpful for gaining insight into the redemptive message of God’s Word. However, two commentaries on Matthew stood out from the others: one, by William Hendriksen (Baker), for its warm, pastoral approach, and the other, by Daniel Doriani (Presbyterian & Reformed), for its ability to help Bible readers (like you and me) bridge the gap between the ancient text and the modern context of our world. Below is an excerpt from Doriani’s comments on Matthew 1:1-17…
The biblical accounts of the birth of Christ answer all the questions people like to ask. How? By the direct, miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit, a virgin conceived. Why? To usher in the climactic stage of God’s plan of redemption. When and where? In Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of Herod the Great, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Yet there is no doubt that the Gospels, not least Matthew, take greatest interest in the question “Who?” Who is this who is born after such preparation, amid such great signs and portents?
We know intuitively that Matthew’s interest in the identity of Jesus is right. We know that all hope of making sense of events rests on a knowledge of the characters. This is true of the birth of Jesus as it is true for any striking event.
One Saturday I headed off for a doubles tennis match against the best team in the league. I arrived hoping for an upset, and those hopes surged as I began to warm up with one of our opponents. He was a big, hard-hitting lefty, but he looked erratic and slow-footed. Much hinged on his partner, who had not arrived. The minutes ticked away and the time for a forfeit approached when Lefty asked a club pro to find someone to fill in. The pro returned with a slender man named Altof, who moved like a leopard and held his racket in a faintly menacing way. I began to hit with Altof. In league play, men warm up watchfully, trying to judge their opponents’ skills and deficiencies. As I watched Altof, I saw all skill and no deficiencies. His strokes were effortless, his footwork flawless. Every ball he struck came in deep and hard. I leaned over and told my partner, “We need to hit to your man; mine looks very solid.”
We tried to hit everything to Lefty, and it worked well enough that the score was tied 4 - 4 after eight games. Then, suddenly Altof was everywhere, crushing the ball for winner after winner; we lost the first set, 6 - 4. Before the second set began, I heard Altof whisper to Lefty, “I need to finish soon.” I told my partner, “If we lose the second set in fifteen minutes, we’ll know something is up.” Indded, we lost 6 - 1 in 14 minutes, with Altof covering the entire court, punishing us in point after point. As we shook hands at the net, I said, “That was impressive. Now tell me who you are.”
“Well,” he confessed, “I’m a pro here, just filling in so you could have a match.”
“Oh, I figured that out a while ago,” I smiled. “I want to know: who are you?!”
“OK,” he said, “I’ll tell you. I was touring pro till a year ago; I played for India’s Davis Cup team.” He had been one of the top 200 players in the world. Now that I knew who he was, I could make sense of our match.
The gospel of Matthew operates on this very principle. Events make sense if and only if we know who the characters are. Matthew 1 certainly describes some very unusual events. There is a virgin who is pregnant by the agency of the Holy Spirit. An angel appears to prevent a young man from setting aside an unwed mother. Later, an angel picks the name of that child and declares that he will be the Savior.
It’s an incomprehensible story, unless you know the characters. So, then, who is this child? It’s a good question; people ask it over and over in the Gospels:
- A storm threatens to swamp a boat and drown everyone on board. Jesus stands up and rebukes the wind and the waves, and they stop at once. His disciples see this and ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41; cf. Matt. 8:27).
- He forgives sins and they ask, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49).
- He enters Jerusalem attended by a crowd that lays cloaks and palm branches on the road before him. They call out, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and the city asks, “Who is this?” (Matt. 21:9-10).
- At his trial before the Sanhedrin, the high priest of the Jews says, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” The Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matt. 26:63; 27:11).
The whole gospel of Matthew asks and the whole gospel of Matthew tells who this is. The reader starts to learn who Jesus is in the first chapter. The child’s name is Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (1:1, 21). He is the Christ, anointed by God for a given task (1:1, 18). He is born of the Holy Spirit (1:18). He is Immanuel, for he is “God with us” (1:23).
Jesus received names such as Jesus and Immanuel not because they were fashionable, not because they were manly, not because of family heritage, but because they were fraught with significance. Each name reveals part of Jesus’ identity. The question “Who is this?” leads next to the vital question, “Why is he important?” The answer is traced through the hopes and fears of 2,000 years of Israel’s history. So Matthew 1 introduces us to our hero by stating his name and his origin.