Christmas and the messy Family Tree

advent.wreathThis Advent I am preaching twice on the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1-17.  It turns out to be pretty interesting.

In verse 1 and 17 Jesus is linked to Abraham, David and the Babylonian captivity.  This is how the family tree breaks out in the verses between.

  • Abraham to David is where the history of Israel goes from start to golden age.  We could call this section of history “creation” in the sense that God created and shaped a nation to be a blessing to the world.
  • David to Babylon is where the history of Israel falls on hard times.  David is both the high point and the dividing line, because of his adultery and murder, the House of David starts a sharp descent.  The kings that follow are mostly bad, even the good kings such as Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah are flawed. This section of the history could be called the “fall”.
  • Babylon to Christ is the story of Restoration – slowly with many starts and stops – the nation is restored under Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. But it ends in the birth of the Messiah.

So the family tree shows a parallel to the history of salvation;  Creation, fall and restoration.

There are three important titles:  son of Abraham, son of David and Christ.   Jesus was born to fulfill the calling to Abraham to be a blessing to the nations, he is to be a good ruler from the line of David who brings peace to the nations, and he is the Anointed one – the Messiah who was promised from the prophets on.

Then there are these odd additions to the family tree.

  • Tamar who was tricked by her father in law out of her rights who then turned a trick on him.  This Gentile adulteress-trickster is int he line of Christ.
  • Rahab was a prostitute who put her trust in the God of Israel
  • Ruth was a gentile who took the faith of her husbands people as her own.
  • “the wife of Uriah” is Bathsheba, who was the “other woman” in David’s life, yet she is also the mother of Solomon and in the line of Christ.
  • Mary, an unmarried young woman who carried a child under very unusual circumstances.

So the Gospel comes as a fulfillment of the historic promises of God to Abraham and David.  It is also a promise that the Messiah comes as part of the history of sinners.  He did not come to a world that looked like most Christmas cards, but to one that looks like the real messy world we actually live in.

The mission of Jesus is for messy people.  Good thing that.

Genesis 22 and Jesus – Fair?

John Walton says that it is not really fair to compare Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac to the sacrifice of Christ.  He says that it is not mentioned in the New Testament.  (Bible Story Handbook)  Then again, a good OT scholar, Derek Kidner is not averse to making the link. (Tyndale OT Commentary).

One question is whether the NT is the only fair interpreter of the OT when it comes to Christological passages.  That is, we can only go where the NT has already gone.  On the other hand, it would seem in several places that there is a rich mine in the OT that is fairly compared to the NT, not all of which is in the NT.  Note these two comments:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  Luke 24:17  This is the risen Christ giving a tutorial to the disciples on the Emmaus Road.  the book of Hebrews makes many connections as does Paul in I Corinthians.  For example, ” Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, to whom the end of the ages has come.”

There needs to be some care taken, so we don’t make up what is not there.   So what then is the case for comparing Isaac to Jesus?

1.  The phrase “your son, your only son, whom you love” evokes the feel of John 3:16 “…who sent his only son.”

2.  Isaac is the entire promised Seed of Abraham (seed can be singular or plural as in english) at that point of Genesis 22, all of the promises of God to Abraham, to bless him and the nations are down to Isaac.  There is much exegetical material indicating that Christ is the fulfillment of the “seed” promise, first mentioned in Genesis 3:15.

3.  The idea of a sacrifice and of a substitution is in Genesis 22.  The NT sees the cross as a sacrifice and as a substitution of Christ for the sinner in bearing the cost of sin.

4.  Isaac does not, in the end, have to experience death, but Christ does.

5.  God will provide (twice in Genesis 22) fits with Christ as God’s provision – for example John’s call, “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (Jn 1:29)

Now what for the arguments against.

1.  The NT does not cite this event in this way.

2.  Abraham’s sacrifice is a test, not a substitute.

3.  Jesus was willing, but we don’t know what Isaac thought.


In all it is fair to be careful, and not to overstate or over emotionalize the passage. However, it seems to me that the comparison is in the text when viewed from teh NT perspective.  Just as it seems to be that Moses offered to give his life in exchange for the people is also fair. (Ex 32:32)  What Moses was not permitted to do was what Christ did.  This also is not mentioned in the NT.

Also, we need to be careful not to allow the typology overwhelm the actual NT teaching.  There is a suggestion or a shadow of what is to come.  What came later can be understood in the light of what came before.  However, what came later more or less supersedes the previous.  The light of Isaac is not from Isaac, so much that he is a suitable surface from which the light of Christ can reflect.




From Jesus to Christ? – Luke 24

          There is a TV documentary called “From Jesus to Christ.”  The idea of this PBS series is that Jesus was really a simple teacher, a rabbi who preached a simple spirituality.  Then along came Paul, and Paul changed Jesus into the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer.

The assumptions of the scholars that think this way is that there can be no miracles.  All that exists comes about by the natural process of evolution.  We can explain mountains, stars, and duck-billed platypuses all by the gradual change in things over time.  So then, that is how Jesus a man became Jesus the Son of God.

There is another way to explain these things.  It does involve a miracle.  Probably we have to say it involves a history of Miracles.  And the one who took the idea of Jesus the man and showed him to be Jesus the son of God is in fact Jesus.  This is what we learn from Luke 24.     Luke does not tell us what it was that Jesus told the 2 on the Road to Emmaus – but he does tell us that Jesus told them, and later the groups of disciples a new way to read the bible and a new way to Know Jesus.

Luke 24:25-27   “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” 

This is repeated with the 2 plus the 11 Apostles (minus Judas)

While these two were telling the 11 what had happened, and they were talking about it. Jesus appeared with them.  They were talking about Jesus, and then they were with Jesus.  They at first thought they saw a ghost.

So Jesus gave them some concrete evidence.  Look at my hands and feet.  The marks of his crucifixion remained as testament to what had happened.  Then he asked for some food.  They gave him fish.

The Point? Ghosts do not have bodies and they do not eat fish.

Now came the bible study again:

                44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Again he shows them from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings – which are headed by the Psalms, all that was said about him. Then he sent them to tell the story.

Where did Jesus go from Jesus to Christ, the son of God?  It happened on Easter Sunday.  It happened long before Paul came along.  Paul did preach Jesus as the Christ – everyone knows this as it is a matter of historical record.

But years before Paul, starting on Easter, the Disciples began to preach Jesus and the Savior and the Son of God.

Part of the Whole – Revelation 1 and the letters

There is a lot of deep Christology in Revelation, and particularly in the first chapter.  Some thoughts:

  • the Revelation of Jesus Christ – this book certainly reveals much about Jesus, is it also a revelation from him (and I can never remember the subjective from the objective genitive).  v.1
  • A summary of his life and work – v. 4-7: witness (teacher), savior/victor (firstborn of the dead), king to come (ruler of kings); sacrifice (freed us from our sins by his blood), lord of church (made us a kingdom of priests), departed to return again (he is coming…).
  • His “physical description” is taken up in parts in the later letters, to wit
    • Ephesus – lampstand (1:12)
    • Smyrna – life (1:17)
    • Pergamum – sword/truth (1:16)
    • Thyatira – eyes/feet (1:15) – the judge who sees all, are bronze feet swift? strong?
    • Sardis – seven spirits and seven stars (1:16,20)
    • Philadelphia – key (1:16)
    • Laodicea – beginning/firstborn (1:5)
  • Since the letters to the churches are issued individually, but they are given the tag: ‘…hear what the Spirit says to the churches”.  The message to the church is unified in Christ and relevent to all by our union with Christ.
  • the value of the above is that 1.  The letters are relevant to us bc the Lord is the source of the messages and he does not change.  2.  They are more about Christ than a supposed history of the church (dividing the church age into 7 periods that correspond to the strengths and weaknesses of the 7 churches.)
  • Laodicea seems to point forward to Chapter 4,5 more than backward to Chapter 1 (door, throne(s))
  • The works of God are undivided – He who sits on the Throne (the Father), and the Lord/Lamb/he who walks among the lamp stands and the Spirit/7 spirits work seamlessly and undividedly.
  • Jesus has the keys to the kingdom and we are all priests – looks like the Lutheran/reformed view here.


Where is “Double Imputation”?

Double Imputation is the theological idea that our sins are “imputed” to Christ and his righteousness is imputed to us.  “Imputed” would then mean something like “considered to be” or “given to”.

Does the Lord count our sin as paid by Christ? (Our sin imputed to him)

Does the Lord count Christ’s goodness towards us? (His righteousness imputed to us.)

By what text?

How about 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

and Romans 5:18-19 (NIV)

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

I had occasion to teach about Justification twice last week, which for a bible, theology and history geek passes for cool.

How Far Would You Go? Magi vs Scribes

For fun I Google mapped the distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.  It was about 5 miles – though Google Maps could not trip route it.  Then I Googled Babylon (Iraq) to Jerusalem, and it was about 500 miles (as the crow flies), but again Google could not trip route that distance.

The Magi travelled, most likely from Babylon (in current day Iraq) by the roads of the Fertile Crescent – well over 500 miles.  That is because of a Star and the memory of a prophecy of a King.  The Scribes did not bother to go from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, though they had the text in front of them, and some interesting travelling companions – it was only 5 miles.

How far are you willing to go to find wisdom?

“But the answer must be Jesus!”

what is grey, climbs in trees....

Sunday School Teacher:  what is grey, climbs in trees, eats nuts and has a big tail?

Sunday School Kid: Well it sounds like a squirrel, but the answer has to be Jesus.

  I have been wondering about the frequent claim that all sermons should be tied to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is said that we need to tie whatever text we read to the main story line, which is the history of redemption, or the story of salvation.  We fall into the danger of becoming moralists, bible information dispensers, self-help gurus, it is said, if we don’t make the link.

Here is the issue, are we thereby imposing on a text the need to say, “But the answer is Jesus.”  One can present the book of Ruth as the story of God’s providential care in the lives of ordinary people, of the importance of keeping the laws regarding the poor and needy and of the value of faithful living.  Or one can focus on the Jesus connection: Boaz and Ruth are in the line of David, which is the line of the Messiah and of Christ.  It is even possible to turn the book into an extended parable of the Gospel.  I would cover all those points, but make the “Jesus connection” at the end, where the book does.

I prefer to think that the connection should be made when it is evident in the text itself.  We are in a church which is all about the history of redemption, but sometimes the text is practical advice (A gentle answer turns away wrath – Prov 15:1) or a reminder of God’s mercy to the weak and the alien (the servant Girl and Naaman in II Kings 5).

A friend was surprised in a message from Proverbs 1-9 that I did not tie the text to Christ – but the passage was about the value of wisdom.  Now in the series the theme of Wisdom was tied to Christ – “in who all wisdom dwells”, but that sermon allowed the passage to speak to one aspect of the life of wisdom.

In other words, sometimes you can talk about a squirrel.