19 January 2017

What makes this a "Good" news book?


Tonight we began a long series again in our book shop. Each Thursday, even next week on Australia Day, we study the Bible together and this week was no different. Although tonight we started a new book, the Gospel according to Matthew. The word "gospel" means "good news" and the question is begged... what makes this book such good news?
Good question.

Then the book begins with a long list of names, Hebrew names at that, which no one since Jehoshaphat has used. There was the exception like Jacob and Ruth, but mostly names like Eliud and Zerubbabel. Didn't exactly roll off our lips. And that's not a great way to start a biography of this Yeshua fellow. Good news? Barely news at all.

Until we started investigating some of the unusual listings. Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and Bathsheba, along with Mary, who was no Catholic. There were five women listed in a Jewish genealogy. That's rare times rare to the 5th power. Men are listed in Jewish listings. That's it. That's all we need. That's all we ever needed. Until Matthew.

And those women all had some serious flaws or hung out with guys who had them or came from some history of bad stuff. All involved sexual activity. Tamar, who pretended to be a hooker and snagged her father-in-law in a lie and a furious outburst against her. He had tossed her aside and dismissed her from their family. Horrible start.
Rahab is next-- another hooker, for real-- who took care of some Jewish spies in her apartment upstairs and by faith in the reports about the Jewish people, went against the mayor and the chief of police in her village of Jericho. Only her family was spared when the walls came a-tumbling down.

Ruth was from Moab, which today would be in Jordan. And her ancestor, Moab, was the product of incest between Lot, nephew of Abraham, and Lot's daughter. Moab was both the son and grandson of Lot. Not a good start to a family tree.

All three of these women were Gentiles, and participated in Jewish life in such measure that they made it into the genealogy of Messiah Yeshua. But wait, there's more.

Bathsheba was the wife of a man named Uriah, the Hittite. Hittites were one of the seven people groups who lived in Canaan when Joshua and the Jewish people entered after the Exodus from Egypt. The Hittites were to have been eradicated, but Joshua thought better of that. So here's Uriah, and in the story he turns out to be a righteous dude. But King David, usually a good guy in the Book, turns out to be a very bad dude. He sleeps with Bathsheba while Uriah is out on his military assignment. She gets pregnant. David has Uriah killed, and the guilt and shame are catching up with him. His good buddy, the prophet Nathan takes him to task about all this, and David acknowledges his sin in the famous 51st Psalm. Bathsheba has a kid with David, of course, and this is Solomon the king. And he's in the line of Yeshua, too.

Finally there's Mary, the teenager who was engaged to this man Joseph, whose genealogy is what we are reading. Before Mary and Joseph tied the knot and enjoyed the marriage bed, she is informed that she's going to have a baby, as a result of God making her pregnant. Seriously. Virgin conception. That's a miracle.

OK< so all five of these listed women have a bit of sexual impropriety in their lives, or so it appears. Why did Matthew choose to indicate this was 'good' news? For whom would this be good anyway?

I believe the key is found later in two places in the book. First, in chapter 9, Matthew self-describes as a tax collector. Those folks were not the best, not the most liked by either Roman or Jewish society. They were cashed up, to be sure, but his riches left him no pleasure, and no assurance of God's life being his. When Yeshua called Matthew to 'follow' him, immediately he left all that he knew, and did just that. Tax collectors, just like today's IRS or ATO, are unloved by the masses. In fact, we could safely say they were despised.

The other statement of note in this question of the listing of the sordid women is found in chapter 21.
Yeshua used a question about two sons, and which son did the will of his father to describe this single category of people. The father asked the sons to do something. One said, "no" and then later regretted his statement and went to accomplish his father's request. The other son said, "Sure thing," and then didn't follow through. Yeshua asked the people, "Which of the two did the will of his father?" Obviously the first one. And to whom does he compare that first son? To prostitutes and tax collectors. Wow, what a linkage!

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him." (21.31-32)

Tax collectors were people of status; prostitutes had another, a lower reputation. But both were an embarrassment to proper Jewish society. That Matthew links the two classes of rejection into one, that's very telling. The listing of the 'bad' women in the genealogy says that Matthew says there is hope for everyone. There is hope for hookers. There is hope for the IRS man. There is hope for every person in society-- not because of a new class on offer at the university or because of a new John in the 'hood-- but because God can make good come out of the worst of situations.

Grace abounds where sin abounds. So Paul said in Romans 5.20 "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." God can and will override all the bad news the world offers, and bring us 'good' news. That's what Matthew and Paul and I and countless millions have discovered. Good news comes to those who believe in the Grace and Goodness of the Almighty. Even dark clouds have silver linings.

I'm counting on God just now in my life.
I invite you to count on Him just now in yours as well.
And I wish you a good 2017 because of the forgiveness and grace of God.

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