Matthew 1: Christ’s coming into the world


Isaac Ambrose, an English Puritan writer in the 1600s said:

“We preach nothing else but Christ as the object of our faith. … only Christ is the whole of man’s happiness, the Sun to enlighten him, the Physician to heal him, the Wall of fire to defend him, the Friend to comfort him, the Pearl to enrich him, the Ark to support him, the Rock to sustain him under the heaviest pressures. … Looking unto Jesus is the [the most perfect example] of a Christian’s happiness.”

Our goal in and through all we do in Christian ministry is to keep the Lord Jesus front and centre. Equipping Pastors Worldwide wants to help you to keep seeing and savouring Christ as you serve him. Therefore, as we start a new chapter in our own service, it seemed suitable to study Matthew month by month to enable us to keep our eyes fixed on Christ.

However, doing so presented us with an obvious dilemma. We could work through it like a commentary, verse by verse in great detail but that would take us years. We could pick out some key passages and look at them in isolation. But that wouldn’t give us much sense of the Spirit-fuelled genius of this gospel. It would miss out on much of Matthew’s confronting, unnerving but, ultimately, refreshing vision of God acting in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

So, we’re going to try to cover the whole of this Gospel in a way that helps us to get a sense of the flow of this stunning book and to get a glimpse of our wonderful God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all of his glory. And what could be more important than that amidst all the activity, busyness and challenges of pastoral life and ministry? Well, let’s make a start as we consider the coming of Christ in chapter one of Matthew’s Gospel. Notice, first, that:  

1. Our God works on a grand scale

Matthew starts his gospel in this way: ‘The book of the genealogy (literally, the genesis) of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.’ Right from the first verse, Matthew wants us to see that the coming of the Lord Jesus has been thousands of years in the making. It is the result of God’s sovereign work on an epic scale.

In only 8 words in the original Greek, Matthews makes unmissable biblical and theological connections. This new creative act of God deals with the disaster caused in Genesis 3 and it is all focussed on Jesus Christ. He is the seed promised in Genesis 3 to fulfil all the promises made to Abraham from Genesis 12 onwards. Jesus is the everlasting King promised to David in 2 Samuel 7. That is clear from his family tree in Matthew 1:2-17. From the time of Abraham, through the ups and downs of the history of his people, the Lord has been patiently and painstakingly working out his grand plan, which finds its fulfilment in great David’s greater Son. Isn’t that striking? God has been at work, generation after generation to ensure that, at just the right moment, Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham would come into his world.  

God works on a grand scale and that should humble us and remind us that we’re not actually the centre of the universe. It should also put our tasks for this week into perspective because Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham has come as the climax of all human history. But Jesus’s family tree also underlines a second key truth.

2. Our God is with us in the mess

I don’t know if we’re sometimes embarrassed about where we come from or about the skeletons in our family line. But notice the amount of brokenness and mess that exists in Jesus’ family tree in 1:2-17. The appearance of Tamar, Rahab and Ruth remind us that God’s Messiah comes from a racially mixed family line. And both Tamar and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, point to the sexual scandals and shocking sin in Jesus’ background. And the men featured in this list were often very stupid: Rehoboam was an arrogant fool who split the kingdom in two and then lost 10/12 of it. Manasseh’s actions made the exile inevitable. Jeconiah (or as we may recall him, Jehoiachin) was self-interested and weak and led the nation into exile. And the coming of Jesus the Messiah into this world, into this family line tells us that our God is with us in the mess.

If we invented it, I suspect we would have made it much more impressive. However, God’s glorious plan deliberately includes foreign women and sexual sin and a very mixed bag of royals from the house of Judah. Matthew wants us to see that our God stepped into a world marked by lying and pain and stupidity. Why? Because our God is with us in the mess. I don’t know what life is like for you at present. No doubt for many of us, it will be marked by stress and tiredness and weakness. People will be annoying or letting one another down, failing to deal with old and ungodly habits or trying to open old wounds. But, friends, rejoice in this wonderful reality for a moment – our God is with us in the mess.

Matthew makes that clear in Joseph’s dilemma when he finds out that Mary is pregnant (1:18-25). It is shameful and scandalous. The memory of small communities is very long, especially for sexual indiscretion. God the Son became human and grew up in a community who assumed he was an illegitimate child born out of wedlock. Jesus would have been subject, no doubt, to insensitive playground insults, to cruel teenage taunts and to long disparaging looks. He didn’t breeze through life. No, he was born into awkwardness and mess. Jesus was born into embarrassment and shame … for us! As Matthew says in v23, Jesus is Immanuel, which means God with us. How is that possible? Well, that takes us to the final thing to notice about the coming of Christ in Matthew 1. 

3. Our God’s Spirit is amazingly powerful

The words of v18 may be very familiar but they are incredibly understated, aren’t they? We’re not told much about Joseph. The focus isn’t on his heartache or his turmoil or on Joseph at all. Matthew wants us to see that God is working to bring the eternal Son into the world as a human being through the power of the Spirit. So, we read in v20, ‘But as [Joseph] considered these things, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, Son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”’

Unlike Luke, Matthew doesn’t dwell on the people involved. Mary gets hardly a mention. Joseph doesn’t say a word. There is not a shepherd in sight. Matthew wants us to reflect on and to rejoice in the fact that our God’s Spirit brought the eternal Son into the world as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. But you don’t need to have done the Bible overview on one of our training conferences to know that there is little in the Old Testament to suggest that the Spirit of God who hovered over the waters in Genesis 1, the one who would equip God’s Messiah in Isaiah 11 or who comes upon the Servant of Yahweh in Isaiah 42 would be the one to work out the ‘how’ of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. Matthew just says the Holy Spirit did it. As he reflects on Christ’s coming into the world in the light of what was about to unfold in Jesus’ life and ministry and death and resurrection and the outpouring of his Spirit and the explosion of his gospel to the ends of the earth, he traces it all back to this one vital moment: when the Spirit acts to enable God the Son to bring all God’s plans and promises and purposes to fruition.

No doubt there are days in pastoral ministry when we do not feel the power of God pulsing through us as we open God’s word and try to understand it and teach it to others. Spending time in prayer may not always feel like an intense spiritual experience. But if God’s Spirit who enabled the Son to come into the world lives in us then perhaps we need to raise our expectations! The third person of the Trinity has moved into our lives and united us with Christ and brought us into communion with the Father. We must not forget that the same Spirit spoken of in Matthew 1, the same Spirit who enables God the Son to come into the world and enables God to be with us in the mess, the same Spirit who would raise Jesus from the dead lives in us and is at work in us and through us this week and this month.

So, let us reflect on these three truths, that our God works on a grand scale, that our God is with us in the mess and that our God’s Spirit is amazingly powerful. And then, perhaps, we might do as Isaac Ambrose said and keep our eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ who is more excellent than all the world and who is the supreme example of Christian happiness.