We began a new endeavour at St. Matthew’s this evening. Namely, we started to read through the Bible. The whole Bible (well, most of it). In one year. This is a parish wide project that all are invited to participate in, including neighbours that may want to join us. We read throughout the week and then get together on Thursday evenings to talk about it and pray. This first evening was fantastic. We looked at the first four chapters in Matthew and some things really struck me that hadn’t in the past.
What struck me in these first four passages is the extent to which Matthew goes to root Jesus in the story of Israel. I mean, he really goes at it. For example, the opening line of the gospel is: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” (1.1). Jesus is the Messiah. Boom. Matthew just begins with this. It’s as if he states his conclusion, so to speak, at the outset.
The genealogy which immediately follows is also interesting, particularly when compared with Luke’s genealogy. Luke, for example, anchors his genealogy (and thus Jesus) in, “Adam, son of God” (3.38). In contrast, Matthew anchors his genealogy in, “Abraham…the father of Isaac,” (1.2). This detail may seem insignificant but I believe it reveals the extent to which Matthew roots Jesus in Israel. Abraham; David; Babylon; The Messiah (1.17). Israel’s story is the story of Jesus.
Note also the recurring phrase, “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,” (1.22; 2.15, 17, 23; 3.3; 4.14 etc). In other words, all of Scripture (and by Scripture I mean the Hebrew Scriptures, or what we commonly call the Old Testament) points to Christ. In the words of the Fathers, the Old Testament is a treasury which contains Christ. Or, as Luke tells us about the resurrected Jesus who met the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures,” (24.27) and how they spoke of his having to suffer (24.26).
The most striking of Matthew’s emphasis on this in the opening four chapters, in my opinion, is found between 2.13-4.17. Here we have Israel’s story parallelled in the life of Jesus:
2.13-15 – Jesus is taken into Egypt by his parents. Thus entering into the enslavement of the Israelites at the hands of the Egyptians.
2.16-18 – The massacre of the innocents. Compare with the Passover (Ex 11-12). Jesus, the firstborn, the lamb that was slain.
2.19-23 – Joseph and Mary return from Egypt with Jesus. The lamb of God leads his people out of Egypt – the Exodus.
3.1-12 – John baptizing in the wilderness. The Israelites led “by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea,” (Ex 13.18).
3.13-17 – The baptism of Jesus in the water. Israel passes through the water (Ex 14).
4.1-11 – Jesus led out into the wilderness to face testing. Israel wanders in the desert post-Egypt.
4.12-17 – Jesus returns from the desert into the land where he proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” (4.17). Foreshadowing Israel’s promised shalom that is to come (in Christ).
All of this to say: Israel’s story is taken up and fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The imagery is rather astounding, and hit me in a fresh way this evening. We cannot know Jesus apart from Israel, nor can we know Israel apart from Jesus. Who are the children of Abraham? Surely it is those who are in Christ. As with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, may the crucified and risen Lord Jesus open our eyes to see that it’s all about him.
Grace and peace.