Friday, November 30, 2007

Matthew 1:1-17 - Revolutionary King

Here is a short quiz for you. Who is this person?

- He was sometimes painted as though he was a living star, with rays of light coming out from his face.

- His people believed they would be the fountain of divine justice (or righteousness) flowing out to the entire world.

- His followers believed he was sent from heaven to renew the earth.

- His followers believed he could set them free from their sins and guilt.

- His kingdom was based on faith, faith to believe that he would bring peace, health, security, and wellness to the world by uniting all peoples into his kingdom.

- One popular saying about him was: “There is no other name under heaven by which people can be saved than that of ______.”

- His messengers spread the “gospel” (the good news) that he is bringing peace and security for the world.

- He claimed to be god incarnate – God in human form.

- His followers built buildings to worship him and developed liturgies and various kinds of art worshiping him as God in the flesh.

- His followers celebrated a season called “Advent” to celebrate his birth, his “coming” to earth from heaven.

- When people gathered as a group and committed to worship him as Lord, they were called his ekklesia (or church).[1]

- He was called:

o “Prince of peace.”

o “Lord.”

o “Savior of the world.”

o “Son of God.”

o “King of Kings”

o “Lord of Lords”

This is easy, right? I could have stopped a long time ago. You all know who I’m talking about, right? I mean come on: Advent, Savior, Son of God, Savior of the world, church. This is too easy. Of course, I’m talking about Caesar. … Come on. … Is anybody awake here? Is my mike on? … Caesar Augustus! The ruler of the Roman Empire! His genius was the well-spring for the entire Roman system, the Roman economy, the Roman roads, and most importantly the Pax Romana (the Roman Peace).

If you were taking this quiz 2000 years ago, in 07 AD, you would have naturally answered, “Caesar Augustus,” and you would have been right.

The Roman Empire covered the entire Mediterranean world. All heads bowed to one man: Caesar. (You either bowed your head or lost your head.) Caesar Augustus was worshiped throughout the Roman Empire, but especially in the east. In the eastern half of the empire, whole cities petitioned Rome for permission to build temples in honor of the great god Caesar Augustus. People gathered in the temple, offering sacrifices and singing songs to Caesar, the provider of all their wealth and security and peace. The Roman world was a deeply religious world, and that political religion was dominated by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Caesar Augustus.

But the Pax Romana was not all peaches and roses, peace and prosperity for everyone. The Roman Peace had a dirty underbelly of injustice, corruption, violence, and oppression. In many places, people wanted to be free from Roman rule, Roman taxes, Roman prisons, and the whole Roman system. The Jews looked for a Messiah to come and set them free, but others also looked for a fearless leader to rise up against Rome to bring freedom, peace, and justice.

With all of this tension, Rome had to have a plan to maintain authority. They did. The Roman Peace was upheld and maintained by two Roman instruments: the coin and the cross.

Romans maintained peace and prevented rebellion by making the local rulers rich. Rich people don’t rebel. People made wealthy by the Roman system were very unlikely to rise up against it. Golden coins directed to the right people prevented chaos. The rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. And because the system was rigged against the poor, they didn’t have the resources to stage an effective revolution.

But when the coin didn’t work, and fools tried to be revolutionaries, Rome had another option: the cross. Anyone who directly challenged the rule of Caesar was challenging the very fabric and foundation of the Roman Empire. Throughout the Roman Empire, people guilty of treason against Rome, rebellion against the government, revolt against the empire, these people were nailed to crosses – or if time was short, to a tree. They were left there to hang as a living or dying testimony to the foolishness of revolution against Rome.

Jesus was born into this context. He was born in Israel as a Jew, among a people who longed for a Messiah King to set them free from Rome and a Roman King who claimed to be God.

When Jesus died and rose again, his followers preached and taught in this context. They lived in a world where Rome was a god and the Roman Emperor was the god-King of the world. They preached a “gospel” of a new King, a better King, the perfect King, who was sent by the one true God, who lived the very life of the one true God. The followers of Jesus were starting a revolution. (No wonder the Romans killed them!)

Jesus came as a Messiah to the Jews, who were longing for the Messiah. For centuries, the Jews had been oppressed and conquered and taxed by outside armies and Gentile kings. David was the best king Israel ever had, and God promised that one of David’s descendants would always be king. So the prophets were always reminding the people that a king like David would come, and this king – the Messiah – would make everything right again. Listen to Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah in Isaiah 11:1-10:

1 Out of the stump of David’s family[2] will grow a shoot—
yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 He will delight in obeying the Lord.
He will not judge by appearance
nor make a decision based on hearsay.
4 He will give justice to the poor
and make fair decisions for the exploited.
The earth will shake at the force of his word,
and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
5 He will wear righteousness like a belt
and truth like an undergarment.

6 In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.
7 The cow will graze near the bear.
The cub and the calf will lie down together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow.
8 The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra.
Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm.
9 Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,
for as the waters fill the sea,
so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.

10 In that day the heir to David’s throne
will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.

So the Jewish Messiah King was often called the “Son of David.” After Jesus healed a man who was blind and couldn’t speak, the people were amazed, and they asked, “Could it be that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah?” (Matthew 12:23). Several times when people want Jesus to heal them, they cry out, “Jesus, Son of David!” They were saying, “Jesus, you are the Messiah King. Heal us like the Messiah is supposed to do.” The “Son of David” was the “heir to David’s throne,” the King of healing, the true King who would bring salvation (which meant healing and peace) to the Jews and to all the world. The “Son of David” was a direct challenge to Caesar as the King of Kings and Ruler of the World.

That leads us to another important point. The Messiah King was coming to Israel to restore Israel, but the promises were for more than Israel. The promises were for the whole world. The Messiah reconnected people to God’s promise to Abraham. “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others … All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).

Isaiah understood this. The Messiah would come to Israel, but the Messiah would be for everyone. The Messiah would be the healing, peace-giving King for everyone everywhere: “He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. … Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world” (Isaiah 11:4, 9, 10).

Paul understood this. Let’s read Romans 15:8-13.

8 Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises he made to their ancestors. 9 He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for his mercies to them. That is what the psalmist meant when he wrote: “For this, I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing praises to your name.”

10 And in another place it is written, “Rejoice with his people, you Gentiles.”

11 And yet again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles. Praise him, all you people of the earth.”

12 And in another place Isaiah said, “The heir to David’s throne will come, and he will rule over the Gentiles. They will place their hope on him.”

13 I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul and all of the first Christians were asking people everywhere to believe that the promise of Abraham was coming true through Jesus the Messiah. Christians preached that Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah to bless the whole world, to heal the whole world, to save the whole world. They were asking people to worship Jesus instead of Caesar. Jesus, Son of David, the promised Messiah of the Jews, has become the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for everyone everywhere.

The book of Matthew was written in this context to this message. We will be preaching through the book of Matthew for one full year. The message of Matthew is simple, dangerously simple. Jesus is King. Caesar is not.

So we begin our journey through Matthew today with Matthew chapter 1. The beginning of Matthew is often considered the most boring passage in the Bible, but this is simply because we read this passage through our 21st century glasses.

In fact, this is how we approach most of the Bible. We read the Bible like it’s yesterday’s newspaper or a history of World War 2. We import into the Bible our expectations and our way of thinking. Sure we understand that their technology and their clothes were different, but we expect those people to think and to feel pretty much like we do.

When we come to the Bible like this, it’s like we are wearing tinted glasses. We see everything through our worldview, our experience, our culture, our history, our context. It’s as though the Bible was written to us in our time, not to a completely different people in a completely different place in a completely different culture. The Bible is different from us, very different. If we are really going to understand the Bible, if we are really going to understand Jesus, we’re going to have to learn how to take off our 21st century glasses. We’re going to have to learn to see the world through Jewish eyes, through Roman eyes, through 1st century eyes. We will never really understand what Jesus was saying until we understand the context in which he said it.

We need to re-learn who Jesus is and what Jesus did and what Jesus wants us to be and to do today. The only way to do that is to go back deep into the Bible and to begin to take our glasses off to see the text through 1st century eyes. We’ll never be perfect at this, but we have to keep trying.

Let’s start taking off our glasses by trying to see Matthew 1:1-17 through 1st century eyes.

1A record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife,
7Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
8Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
11and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13Zerubbabel the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
14Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Eliud,
15Eliud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

17Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who has become the King of the universe! Worship him, not Caesar!

We are going to sing some worship songs that celebrate Jesus as King. These songs were written within the last 350 years, but the wording of these songs is very similar to the theology of the early Christians. As we sing, as we worship Jesus together, pay attention to the words, and ask yourself some questions.

- What it would have been like to sing these songs with the first Christians, in the Roman Empire, say in 50 AD?

- What it would mean for us to worship Jesus as King with the same passion and commitment as the first Christians?

- Who are our Caesars?

- What does it mean for us to say, “All hail King Jesus?”

- What kind of revolution does King Jesus want to start today in our world?

“All Hail King Jesus”

All hail King Jesus. [[Hail = greet with honor, as to a king.]]

All hail Emanuel, [[Emanuel = “God with us”]]

King of Kings, Lord of Lords,

Bright Morning Star.

And throughout eternity,

I’ll sing His praises,

And I’ll reign with Him,

Throughout eternity.[3]

“All Hail the Power of Jesus Name”

All hail the power of Jesus name!

Let angels prostrate fall. [[Let angels bow down with their faces to the ground.]]

Bring forth the royal diadem, [[Bring out the royal crown.]]

And crown him Lord of all.

Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race, [[You chosen people of Israel]]

Ye ransomed from the fall, [[You who are saved from sin]]

Hail him, who saves you by his grace,

And crown him Lord of all.

Let every kindred, every tribe [[Let every family, every nation]]

On this terrestrial ball [[On this earth]]

To him all majesty ascribe, [[Say that all majesty (kingly glory) belongs to him.]]

And crown him Lord of all.[4]

[1] These come in mixed order from: Rob Bell and John Dart. Rob Bell, Velvit Elvis, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 162. {Bell cites Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London: SCM, 1952).} John Dart "Up against Caesar: Jesus and Paul versus the empire", Christian Century. Feb 8, 2005. 28 Nov. 2007.

[2] The Hebrew reads: the stump of the line of Jesse. (Jesse was David’s father.)

[3] Dave Moody, 1979.

[4] Edward Perronet, 1779.

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