It is not difficult to understand the reasons why Matthew and John were the most widely quoted gospels among the early church fathers. John, for example, writes some of the boldest words about Jesus’ divinity in the New Testament. Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ teaching ministry, and sections like the Sermon on the Mount (chap. 5–7) were widely memorized early on in the life of the church. In fact, Matthew was read aloud more often than even the gospel of John in the years immediately following the death of the last apostle.
Matthew’s gospel is placed first in the New Testament canon largely because of its clear connection to the Old Testament. Certainly, the apostles all wanted to show how Christ and His church fulfill God’s promises to Israel. However, the first evangelist (another title for a gospel writer) alone begins with Jesus’ genealogy, putting Him in the context of God’s plan of redemption and tying Him, through His forefathers, to the Old Testament promises.
Notably, Matthew shows in 1:1–17 that Jesus is a direct descendant of David and therefore the Messiah. Yet Matthew makes other important theological points in his presentation of the historical data. For example, genealogies in the ancient world did not normally include women, but Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba) are found in Matthew’s ancestry of Jesus (vv. 3, 5–6). All of these women were Gentiles or married to a Gentile: Tamar and Rahab were Canaanites (Gen. 38; Josh. 2), Ruth was a Moabitess (Ruth 1:4), and Bathsheba’s first husband was a Hittite (2 Sam. 11). These names could have been omitted, but Matthew includes them to show us that God’s family in Christ is comprised of faithful Jews and Gentiles.
Moreover, Rahab’s inclusion in Jesus’ lineage despite her past in harlotry reminds us of God’s grace. Indeed, the Savior has relatives with a more wicked past than Rahab (Manasseh, for instance; 2 Chron. 33:1–20; Matt. 1:10), but these sinners, because they turned from their evil, were not cut off from God’s covenant blessings. Jesus, Matthew Henry comments, “takes even great sinners, at their repentance, into the nearest relation to himself.”
Not every ancestor of Jesus trusted in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Still, the Lord’s grace overcame what could be called “impossible” odds in working through the sinful sons of David to bring about our salvation. This grace seeks out even the most wicked person and calls God’s chosen to repentance, even if they are as vile as Manasseh or as lost as Rahab. Our status as Christ’s brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11) comes only by such almighty grace.
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