Monday, December 19, 2011

The Christmas Story and the Story of Deliverance

Matthew lays out the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah in three sets of fourteen generations. In this way, he highlights Abraham and David — yesterday we looked at their significance in Israel’s story and the story of Jesus — but it also draws attention to something else: Jewish captivity in Babylon.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations. (Matthew 1:17)
The kingdom of Israel divided in 922 BC, soon after the death of King David’s son, Solomon. Both kingdoms eventually proved to be unfaithful to God, breaking covenant with Him and following after false gods. The northern kingdom, Israel, fell to the Assyrians and began to be carried off into exile in about 740 BC. From 597 to about 586 BC, the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom of Judah, capturing the city of Jerusalem, destroying the Temple and deporting the inhabitants. This captivity lasted for about 70 years, after which they began to be allowed to return to Judea, though many chose to remain in Babylon.

Though the Jews were returned to the land and even allowed to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, they were still held captive by a series of foreign powers that were hostile to them and their God. But God promised that there would be a deliverer, the Messiah, who would come and conquer all His enemies and lead His people into freedom and prosperity. The prophet Ezekiel, for example, writing during the first years of the Babylonian captivity, delivers this message from the Lord.
Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations. Not for your sake do I do this,” says the Lord GOD, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!”

‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken it, and I will do it.”

‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will also let the house of Israel inquire of Me to do this for them: I will increase their men like a flock. Like a flock offered as holy sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem on its feast days, so shall the ruined cities be filled with flocks of men. Then they shall know that I am the LORD.”’ (Ezekiel 36:22-38)
This was the messianic age that the Jews looked forward to, an unprecedented time of peace and prosperity. God promised to cleanse them of their unfaithfulness, to put a new heart and a new spirit — God’s own Spirit — within them. And all the nations would give testimony to Yahweh, the God of Israel. The prophet Jeremiah, writing just before the captivity, brings a similar message in Jeremiah 31:23-40 (which I will not quote here but is well worth the read), saying that Yahweh would make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This covenant would not be like the one they broke but would be one God Himself would write on their hearts (vv. 31-33). This covenant could never be broken because it would be God’s own Spirit fulfilling it in them.

The Babylonian captivity, so carefully highlighted for us by Matthew, reminds us of that dark time and the grimness of the captivity that still remained for the Jews. More than that, however, it puts us in mind of the promise God made of a Deliverer who would come for Israel.

Matthew’s genealogy brings to light the promises God made to Abraham and David, indeed to all the Jews, who were still in bondage at that time, of an Anointed King and Deliverer. These promises are fulfilled in the coming of King Jesus the Messiah into the world.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

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