Introducing the Messiah

given on Sunday, December 14, 2008

Have you ever thought about how you meet someone?  When the TV talk hosts introduce the next guest, the introduction is usually based on the latest movie or project that the guest is there to promote.  When a news anchor interviews a subject, the introduction is very brief with a text connection on the screen as the anchor jumps right in to the purpose of having the interview—usually a hot topic in the breaking news or a follow up on an issue.
On a more casual level, introductions are quite different.  For the past six months, the introductions I have experienced here in your churches are more along the line of storytelling.  And I love it!  At first the introductions were pretty straightforward:  Hi, I am (add your name).  Then as the weeks continued, the stories were added:  Hi, I am (add your name).  I am the wife of such and such.  We have been coming to this church since….  I am sure you are getting the picture.
Still the introductions serve a very critical purpose.  The introductions connect people to people.  The more formal, the more detailed, the more stories which develop around the introductions can clearly outline the roles a person fills.  The introductions explain some of the history within the community.  Sometimes the introductions are so important to even understand the dynamics of the community, the families, and the management of the church even.
Today we are in the third Sunday of Advent.  We are still waiting the arrival of Jesus Christ.  We have heard the prophecies.  We have looked at how the gospels compare in the stories.  But we really have not examined who the Messiah is.  Today we are introducing the Messiah as part of the preparation for his birth, just like we would tell about a friend who is getting ready to have a baby.
I certainly can relate to the anticipation of a new arrival.  We have been dealing with expected births all year.  When we tell someone about our kids and the upcoming birth of our grandchildren, we certainly do not just say the due date is August 25 or October 19.  Whenever we have an opportunity to talk about the approaching birth, we tend to add in as much of the story or the relationship as possible.  I am guilty of that, I know.  I have to explain who the moms are; I have to explain where they live; I have to explain about the complications.
This is exactly what Matthew did as he began his gospel.  Remember that Matthew was talking to a Jewish audience.  His purpose in the introduction was to explain how Jesus Christ was indeed the fulfillment of the Jewish prophets.  When ancient introductions were made, one’s lineage was your birth certificate in a sense.  The connection to one’s ancestors explained the position in the community; even the career path one was expected to follow.
In Matthew, the direct connection established for Jesus was that through his earthly father Joseph.  Even though he was not biologically Joseph’s son, he was raised as Joseph’s son.  To prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and fulfilled the prophecy, the critical connection was to David, the king.  The Jewish people were anticipating a strong, political leader to carry them out of exile.  The genealogical connection of Jesus to David was a legal link to the Jewish people; it was critical in their hope to be an independent people.
Looking at Matthew’s list of ancestor’s, one can see the Old Testament unfold, too.  For instance,  using the Message translation, you notice that the family tree is broken into three sections:  first you have Abraham through Isaac, on through Jacob, a series of less familiar kings, on through Boaz, Obed and Jesse who had David who became king.  Then there is a break in the listing beginning with David who had Solomon.  From there the family tree continues including Jehospaphat, on through Hezekiah, Amon, Josiah, and Jehoiachin all before the Babylonian exile.
Now I am not very familiar with most of the names listed, nor am I knowledgeable about the Babylonian exile, but when it ended, the family tree continued which carries the lineage through Jeconiah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, and on to Matthan who had Jacob who had Joseph.  Finally we reach a generation I recognize—Joseph.  And Joseph only married Mary who was already expecting Jesus.  Joseph did not genetically father Jesus.
Still, Matthew had to develop the legal connection for the Jewish people in order to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah that had been prophesied for hundreds of years.  The Jewish people were waiting for a king who was a descendant of David and Abraham.  The sad thing is that the Jewish people were expecting an earthly, political-style leader, but Jesus was not that type of king.  Jesus’ kingdom is heavenly, not earthly.
The Life Application study notes has one statement that has really stuck in my mind:  “We must be willing to recognize Jesus for who he really is and worship him as king of our lives.”  Here we are today, 2008, still challenging ourselves and others to accept Jesus as our own Messiah. Yet Matthew was writing this gospel as long as 1,940 years ago trying to convince the Jewish people that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.  These people personally knew Jesus the man, heard his teachings, witnessed the healings, and walked with him.  So many of them still did not “recognize Jesus for who he really was.”  Nor did they “worship him as king” of their lives.
Oddly enough, Herod recognized Jesus as a king and feared him.  Fortunately others also recognized Jesus.  Those who did recognize Jesus as the Messiah, worshiped him, too.  Matthew was just doing his best to assure the non-believers that the king they had been waiting for was indeed the Jesus Christ.  The remaining chapters of the gospel continue to develop the history of Jesus’ life on this earth so the non-believers would understand how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies.
Still, we all know that a child is born of two parents, and Luke relates the story of Mary with her family tree.  Interestingly enough, Mary can trace her roots back through the generations to Levi, a priest.  By looking over the family tree, Mary’s family interweaves back and forth with Joseph’s family.  It takes a little effort to follow the list of names, but you can see that Joseph is in there, Jesse, Obed, Boaz, Salmon, Jacob and even Abraham.  Mary’s line is traced all the way back to Adam, while Joseph’s ancestors are traced only as far as Abraham.
As interesting as it is to look at the geneaology for both of Jesus’ earthly parents, I cannot get rid of the statement:   “We must be willing to recognize Jesus for who he really is and worship him as king of our lives.”  Matthew was working hard to convince Jewish non-believers, but Luke is using his arguments to convince a non-believer who was not Jewish.  In his dissertation, he chooses to develop Mary’s family tree.  Why?
The Jewish people were looking for the legal king to save them from the political exiles they were experiencing, but Theophilus, Luke’s audience, did not need the legal connection to a king.  Instead, Luke looked at the role of Jesus the priest and developed the connection to the Levites, the Jewish people who were designated to serve as priests.
According to the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Levi, the third son of Jacob, was probably one of the original twelve tribes of Israel.  Unfortunately when Levi and Simeon attacked Shechem, Jacob was afraid that it would cause major problems so broke up the tribe and assigned them to serve as priests.  Now the history of Levi and the tribe of the Levites may not be clearly defined and might even be confused, but they were priests, and Luke felt that providing the legal connection between Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Levi was important.
As people do today, families often follow in the same profession as their ancestors.  Even though today’s family farm is in jeopardy, so many of our farmers continue the work of their fathers on the land of their fathers and the fathers before them.  In education, the first method of teaching was to follow the example of a parent.  Therefore, the need to connect Jesus to the professions of his earthly parents is important.  For the Jewish people, the prophets had them prepared for a king.  For the non-Jewish people like Theophilus, understanding Jesus as a priest was a stronger argument.
Understanding the culture of the priests also is important in understanding the story of Jesus.  The Archeological Bible explains the culture of priests.  For instance, the age of thirty is when one usually began his service as a priest.  A priest was responsible for a week’s service at the temple every six months.  The temple was not just for worship and for schools, but it was also used as the center for a community’s administration and as a detention center.  Another part of the priest’s culture was that they did not hold property.
The priestly role that Jesus assumed became one of Luke’s stronger arguments for accepting Jesus as the Messiah.  Even though it was not important that Jesus was a strong political leader to Luke, the role of servant or priest was.  This connects right back to the statement in the Life Application note:   “We must be willing to recognize Jesus for who he really is and worship him as king of our lives.”  Luke’s efforts puts the emphasis on recognizing Jesus as worthy of worshiping and understanding how he fulfilled the prophecy as one who would die for us and give us eternal life.
Look again at the scriptures:
Isaiah 7:13-17     Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us).
The Old Testament was preparing the Jewish people for the Messiah.  The Jewish people were looking for a strong king to lead them out of exile.  Matthew had to clarify that Jesus was the king they were expecting only this king was to save each one of us from our own sins, not the sins of others.
Matthew 1:20-22    While he [Joseph] was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—’God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Fortunately, Luke wanted to make sure that Jesus, the Messiah, was to save us from our own sins.  In his gospel, he focused on the role of Savior.
The introduction is complete.  The gospels have given us the formal introduction to the Messiah.  The concern now is whether or not we have personally met Jesus.  Has our introduction to the Messiah prepared us “…to recognize Jesus for who he really is and worship him as king of our lives…”?  Do we recognize Jesus in our own lives?  Do we worship him as king of our lives?  Do we want to introduce Jesus to our family and our friends? 
Dear Heavenly Father,
We are eager to meet Jesus.  Thank you for providing your Holy Scriptures so that we may meet Jesus and know him personally through your word.  Help us to recognize Jesus for who he really is and to worship him as king of our lives.                    –Amen

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