The Answers Are in the Front of the Book
by Derek Thomas
One sometimes gets the impression that the Bible doesn’t make it easy for someone just to pick up and read. Let me be more specific: the New Testament starts off with some difficult paragraphs. Editors can get a little snippy about “backstories” that bog down the first chapter of a book. We can imagine an editor saying to a prospective author submitting a first novel, “What the reader wants is the plotline, and this doesn’t happen until well into the third chapter.”
Take Matthew, for example. The first book of the New Testament begins with several paragraphs of “begats” and “begottens.” Seriously? Yes. Instead of a nice story about a manger and Bethlehem and angels and the baby Jesus, Matthew gets into genealogy and ancestry.
Why does Matthew do this? Is it because first-century readers were easier to please than twenty-first-century ones? Hardly. Matthew is telling us that if we are ever going to understand who Jesus is, we cannot simply make a beeline for Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Joseph, the adoptive father. No, we have to go back—a long way back—into the Old Testament. The story of Jesus begins with David and Abraham: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1).
Why David? Because God made a promise to him that his kingdom would be universal and eternal (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3–4, 20–29; Isa. 9:6–7).
Why Abraham? Because God made a promise that through the patriarch blessing would come for the whole world (Gen. 12:1–13; 22:15–18).
Long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God made a promise to bless the entire world—it would have cosmic parameters, a blessing that would last for all eternity. Note that at the end of Matthew’s introduction, he cites a passage from Isaiah that states that the Messiah will be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14). Yes, despite the claims of philological and semantic naysayers, Isaiah did intend to say “virgin” and not simply “young woman.”
A lesson follows immediately: Matthew is saying that you cannot understand the story of Jesus (or the New Testament) without understanding the story of the Old Testament. Without the Old Testament, nothing in the New Testament, including Jesus, makes any real sense.
A quick question, then: How much time are you (or your church) giving to the Old Testament? Your daily devotional reading should include the Old Testament (as well as the New). Your diet of sermons and Sunday school instruction should have ample reference to the Old Testament, too. Without it, you are going to have a very deficient understanding of Jesus and the gospel. And perhaps, not only deficient, but degraded.