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Monday, August 8, 2011

Our Spiritual Lineage

Recently my wife and I attended a family reunion of cousins on her side. What binds the various cousins and their families together is a common lineage from Grandpa and Grandma. All of her cousins can trace their lineage back to their grandparents through either their mother or father. They are related by blood.

However, there is in this family a problem. Who was Grandpa's real father? One of the genealogists of the family claims that this information has been lost in a fire. There is no record remaining, at least as far as we know. Further research is needed.

Searching for ancestors' grave sites

Interestingly, the Bible makes a big thing about family lineage and genealogical records. Consider one major example in the New Testament, the lineage of Jesus, found in the Gospel of Matthew:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers . . . So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (Matthew 1:1-17)
This repetition of fourteen three times seems too slick. How could this possibly be? Biblical scholars have discussed Matthew's genealogical record of Jesus in great detail. I'll not go into that. Here rather are some conclusions based upon the work of Donald A. Hagner, Fuller Theological Seminary professor, as written in his commentary on Matthew

 It is unnecessary to examine in detail the genealogy between Adam and Abraham. The Gospel of Luke records that (Luke 3:23-38). His genealogy, like Matthew's, appears to derive from the Old Testament (1 Chr 1:1-4, 24-27; Gen 5:3-32;11:10-26). However, Matthew gives no listing from Adam to Abraham. His focus is upon Jesus as the one who has fulfilled the promise given to Abraham that all families on earth were to be blessed from his descendant. 
    We don't know for certain why Matthew used the 3 x 14 structure to record his genealogy. It is possible that this is a veiled reference to six sevens. Thus it could mean that with the coming of Christ we enter the seventh seven, the period of perfection and fulfillment. 

    Another possibility is that the number 14 alludes to Daniel's reference to seventy weeks of years—70 x 7— (Daniel 9:24). By reckoning a generation at 35 years (35 x 14) one comes up with 490. Forgive me if I do not get into the vast and very confusing discussion of all that Daniel means by 70-weeks of years. Suffice it to say that Matthew teaches that after three periods of seventy weeks of years (490 x 3 = 1,470 years) God sends his Messiah into the world. Those who get deep into teaching about the millenium make varied use of Daniel's writings. 

    That aside, does Matthew intend to say that Abraham lived 1,470 years before Christ? Probably not. Matthew does not give us dates. He rather gives us generations and points us to God's providence and guiding throughout that history. Indeed there have been hundreds of attempts to date Abraham's lifetime. The Jews claim he lived sometime between 1812 to 1637 BC. The 17th century British Archbishop James Ussher dates him from 1976 to 1801 BC. The Lutheran Study Bible has him being born around 2166 BC (pg. xciii). The most that can be said with any degree of certainty is that he lived around the later part of the third or the earlier part of the second millennium before Christ. 

    Matthew intends to teach us that God was at work throughout that history of the people of Israel. The promise given to Abraham was renewed and deepened in the promise given to David (1 Samuel 11; Pss. 2, 8, 16, 22, 45, 69, 110, etc. ; Isaiah 11:1-10). From David, the anointed king of Israel, comes the name Messiah or Christ, the Anointed One. The heavenly Father structured events that ultimately led to the birth of His Son, the Messiah and thus to the salvation of all mankind. When Abram left his homeland the LORD told him in a vision, 
    "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:1-3)
    Abraham's grandson, Jacob, heard the promise renewed in his vision at Bethel, 
    And behold, the LORD stood above it (the flight of stairs) and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 28:13-14)
    What that teaches us is that our God is not a God afar off who has no interest or involvement in the affairs of this world. He is at work in the great events of history and he is at work in the events of our personal lives. Indeed He has come among us in the person of Jesus, promised across the generations. Matthew records the final comforting words of Jesus as his Gospel ends, 
    And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
    Yes, He is with us, His chosen people (Galatians 6:14-18). We are more than cousins. We are the newborn children of God, members of the new Israel. And the best is yet to come.