Word for Today Archive

Pastoral Commentary for Matthew 1
Author: Pastor Bob Nordlie

We all like to be right. Most of the time, we're not. We could all recite a litany of mistakes, failures, neglected opportunities, sins, and regrets. Maybe that's why we delight in being right on those rare occasions when we are.

There's only one way we can truly be right, that is, right with God. Paul wrote in Romans 3:22: "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." Faith is what makes us truly righteous before God. It's also the only thing that can make us just or upright people, who live in accordance with God's standards.

Matthew describes Joseph as a "righteous" or "just" man. As a result, when he learned that Mary was expecting a child before their marriage was finalized he decided to divorce her quietly and not to disgrace her publicly by accusing her of adultery. He was doing what Luther said we should do in his explanation to the Eighth Commandment: "We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything."

Joseph refused to think or speak evil of Mary. At first he could not bring himself to believe her story of the angel Gabriel's announcement, nevertheless he decided to put the best construction on everything, refusing to accuse her of adultery, and concluding instead that Mary must have been taken advatage of against her will.

When the Lord's angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, his faith took an even bigger step. Matthew tells us: "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." Not only did he willingly take Mary as his wife, even though he knew that the gossip would fly about their supposed premature union, but he was also willing to forego his rights as a husband and had no union with his wife until after Jesus was born. As a result, he was able in good conscience to affirm that Jesus was the virgin-born Messiah.

How was Joseph able to do the right thing? It's because he was right with God through faith in God's promises. Because of our sinful nature it's frequently difficult to do the "right" thing. That's when we need to live by faith and let the righteousness of faith empower the righ living that God asks of us.

In particular, we need to do the right thing when it would be easy to gossip, slander, or betray others, upholding God's command even as Joseph did. And we need to do the right thing even when others will speak evil of us as a result, just as Joseph did, obeying the angel's command to take Mary as his wife. Sometimes being right is hard. When that's true, we need to fall back on the righteousness that comes by faith to enable us to do the right thing.

Pastoral Commentary for Matthew 1
Author: Pastor Zach

The other day, as I was on my way to work, I was listening to the WOAI morning show where the question of the day was, "At your child's college graduation, do you stay for the complete ceremony, or do you quietly leave after their name is read?" Caller after caller voiced their opinions on both sides of the issue. Some insisted that you should stay for the whole ceremony out of deference to your child's classmates while others admitted that they intentionally find excuses to excuse themselves from such a long-winded ceremony. Whatever the opinion expressed, however, one thing was for certain: None of the callers really enjoyed sitting through long litanies of names rattled off at most college graduations. Sure, some insisted that a person should stay through the entire ceremony for the sake of politeness, but no one stood elated at the prospect listening to unfamiliar name after unfamiliar name just so they could hear the one name of the person whom they loved.

Oftentimes, whenever we encounter a biblical genealogy, the lengthy list of names contained therein strikes us to be a bit like the innumerable inventories of names announced at college graduations To use the old King James language: "And Zabad begat Ephlal, and Ephlal begat Obed, and Obed begat Jehu, and Jehu begat Azariah, and Azariah begat Helez, and Helez begat Eleasah, and Eleasah begat Sisamai, and Sisamai begat Shallum, and Shallum begat Jekamiah, and Jekamiah begat Elishama" (1 Chronicles 2:37-41).

Now for a brief time of personal confession. Did you read the above genealogy carefully and studiously? Did you ponder over each name, perhaps even looking up a few of the names in a Bible dictionary to learn more about them? Or, did you just skim over the names in bored indifference? How about in our reading for today from Matthew 1? Did you read each name carefully or did you just skip Matthew's opening verses to get to the interesting part where Jesus is born?

I know it can be tempting to breeze through biblical genealogies. Admittedly, I myself have far too often paid little attention to these lengthy lists of names. And yet, these genealogies are much more intriguing, interesting, and invaluable than they might first appear. For behind each name lies a life who is part of God's unfolding story of salvation. Take, for instance, a sampling of the names which appear in Matthew's genealogy. Tamar (verse 3), a woman who pretended to be a prostitute so that she could coax her father-in-law into sleeping with her. King David (verse 6), a murderer as well as an adulterer. Solomon (verse 6), a son of David, who worshipped false and abhorrent gods. Or how about Jeconiah (verse 12), a king who did such terrible evil in the eyes of the Lord that God cursed his family line. These are the names that Matthew marshals to record the family history of none other than "Jesus, who is called Christ" (verse 16).

Hmmm. Perhaps Matthew should have done some selective editing and left a few of these less savory characters out of the family tree of the Savior of the world. After all, this kind of a sordid genealogical reckoning doesn't exactly speak well of Jesus' pedigree. But this is exactly Matthew's point. For Matthew is seeking to remind his reader exactly why we need a Savior. We need a Savior because of Tamar and because of David and because of Solomon and because of Jeconiah... and because of you and me.

The Greek word for "genealogy" is genesis, meaning "origin" or "beginning." Perhaps you are better familiar with this word as the namesake for the first book of the Bible: Genesis. This book's name actually describes its contents. It is a history of the origin of humanity and of Israel. But now in Matthew's gospel, this word has returned, not to describe a garden named Eden, but a person named Jesus. For Jesus is bringing about a new Genesis - a new beginning. A new beginning that is marked not by transgression and folly, but one that is marked by righteousness and compassion. In a very real sense, Jesus is redoing Genesis. Except that Jesus, unlike us, actually gets Genesis right. He does not sin as do Adam and Eve.

This, then, is sequence of Matthew's genealogy: He begins with the old Genesis and with all of the sinfulness and brokenness that marks its people. But he ends with the new Genesis - "Jesus, who is called the Christ." And the new Genesis does everything well. That's the point of all those boring names. For all those boring names point us to Jesus. Then again, now that you know some of the raucous stories behind those names, perhaps they aren't so boring after all.

Read Today's Scripture and Commentary on the Concordia website.

2020-06-05 08:20:33