The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. . . and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:1; 16)
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with Go. All things were made through him and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” These words are the beginning of the literary classic written by Charles Dickens called, A Tale of Two Cities. A good introduction captures the attention of the audience leaving them to want to hear the rest of the story. Sometimes the introduction is the most compelling element of the story while other times it undersells how important the rest of the story will be. I think the beginning of each gospel account fulfils the latter because of the importance and power of the gospel. We are going to look at the prolegomena of each gospel account as we think about what the author was communicating to his audience.
Matthew: The Genealogy of God’s Fulfilled Promises
Matthew is unique from the other gospel accounts because he begins with a lengthy genealogy divided by 3 sections as he summarizes in Matthew 1:17, “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.” This genealogy seems logical and we could have many lengthy studies on each person as they are notable, but Matthew announces what truly is important.
Matthew 1:1 begins with the phrase “the book of the genealogy,” which is more powerful than one might think. Many people today are interested in genealogies especially as we age and gain a certain perspective. I remember as a child my grandmother telling me stories about my great-grandfather as a young man and his parents whom I never met. I only knew my great-grandfather during the last ten years of his life but was interested in his stories even though I am certain they were not true, and I can barely remember my great-grandmother as she died much earlier than him. Now, we can do so much better than genealogies as you can send a sample of your DNA and then have it tested. If we think the same way about Matthew 1:1; that it is a genealogical account of those who preceded Jesus on this earth, we have missed the main point. The phrase “the book of the genealogy” can be translated as “a book of the genesis.” This is a powerful point as one considers this is a book of the genesis of the gospel being realized in Jesus. Genesis 1:1 is the book of the beginning of God creating the natural order, and Matthew 1:1 is the book of the beginning of God redeeming his creation. What a powerful beginning creation account!
The irony of this genealogy is the son is honored more than the father. In other words, the glory of the familial line is found at the end and not the beginning. Jesus is to be honored more than any of the patriarchs who came before him in the genealogical record. This is an irony in the ancient world because fathers were honored more than their children, and Jewish people held the Patriarchs, namely Abraham to a high honor. This genealogy is not about Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, but it is about Jesus! Even the Patriarchs knew this fact as they knew it was never about them. Hebrews 11:9-10 describes Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s desire in life, “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder if God.”
Matthew 1:1 gives a summary of verses 2-17 with a single phrase concerning Jesus, “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Do you notice anything interesting by this phrase? Isn’t it backwards for a genealogy? Yes, it is. We would think it should say the son of Abraham, the son of David, but it does not. He only mentions two names out of this long genealogy, and he does this because he wants us to focus on something about these two men. They were given the promises of God. In one sense, David receives precedence because of the nature of God’s promise to David often called the Davidic Covenant. 2 Samuel 7:12-16 is the text concerning God’s promise, “when your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” This promised summarized means one will sit on the throne of David forever, and this promised one is no one other than Jesus Christ. This is an incredible promise from God and the one he made to Abraham was also important because the Lord promised him one who would bless the nations. Listen to the great promise of God in Genesis 12:2-3, “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.” How will the nations be blessed? It will be by the one who will come through Abraham’s line. Revelation 7 describes the fulfilment of that promise as it describes “the multitude no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” as they worship our Lord in heaven.
Mark: The Beginning of the Gospel
The gospel is synonymous with the birth of Jesus. If Jesus was not born then there would be no gospel, and if we understand the gospel to be the good news then we conclude there is no good news without Jesus’ birth. The gospel must begin with the arrival of God’s Son on the earth and the miracle of his birth is no less amazing than the miracle of his resurrection. They both are incredible and necessary in Christianity. Many people will place a manger scene somewhere in their house or in their yard during Christmas season, but I wonder how many people think about the miracle of God in the virgin giving birth to Jesus, the eternal Son of God?
Mark describes Jesus by two names. He first calls him “Jesus Christ,” which causes the reader to think about the promises of God. The Christ was understood to be the one who deliver his people. The Jews throughout the pages of the Old Testament were looking for this Christ. The promise of the Christ is first found in what is called The Fall. God, speaking to the serpent said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his hill.” This may sound odd at a first reading, but Satan is being told that he will be destroyed, and the woman will be saved by her offspring. Jesus is the promised offspring and he destroyed Satan on the cross while Satan stroke a blow when Jesus died on that cross. In other words, Satan’s crushing blow to Jesus’ feet led to a crushing blow of his own head. Jesus death was temporary while Satan’s is eternal. Perhaps John Owen said it best when he titled his book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
The second name he assigns to Jesus is the Son of God which shows his belief that Jesus was not an ordinary man but divine. All Christianity affirms that Jesus is the Son of God throughout all generations. This is a non-negotiable and if one does not affirm Jesus as the Son of God, then he or she is not a believer. I believe Peter’s confession must be the confession of every member of the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was asking his disciples who people say he is and they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” This is a good and honorable list, but it is not enough for salvation. Jesus then turned the question on them, “But who do you say that I am?” They probably looked at each other while God was doing a work in Peter causing him to speak up as he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, claiming to be God’s Son after Lazarus’ resurrection caused the Jews to quickly put Jesus on the cross. Jesus announced before the death of Lazarus concerning his friend, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John never could get over Jesus being the Son of God because at the end of his gospel account he announces the reason why he wrote his gospel, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Luke: A Doctor’s Perspective on the Gospel
God used imperfect people to communicate his perfect word and Luke’s personality is easily seen throughout the pages of his gospel account. Luke was a doctor by training and his lengthy introduction makes this point clearly as he is logical by training and clear in communication. He states that many people have attempted to organize narratives about Jesus, and he wanted to put together one that is orderly. Of course, many people were writing about what Jesus did, because what Jerusalem beheld was no small thing but a constant conversation discussing the importance of the events surrounding Jesus. Luke summarizes his gospel account when he wrote in Acts 1:1-3, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
He doesn’t actually say much about Jesus during his introduction, but he does become very specific as he writes later. He does tell us that he wrote it for Theophilus which has been confusing for me throughout my Christian life. Is this an actual person or does it represent a type of people? Theophilus means lover of God so it would make sense that he is writing this letter for those who love God, but he also might be writing this for one person. Logically, it makes sense that he is writing it for public consumption. Luke/Acts are lengthy books and would seem to be written for Christians and those who would become part of the family of faith. Either way, it doesn’t really matter that much, but God knows.
The gospel is clearly seen in Luke’s account but not in the introduction, however we quickly see Matthew’s point of Jesus fulfilling the Davidic Covenant and Mark’s emphasis on him being the Son of God in the very first chapter of Luke when the angel named Gabriel spoke to Mary saying, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
John: The Eternal Son of God
The first truth that should catch the attention of the careful reader is the closeness between the beginning of John and Genesis. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and John 1:1 reports, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The idea being communicated is the eternality of Jesus. In other words, Jesus was in the beginning with God when the material world was being created and he makes the point Jesus was creating it as he says, “all things were made through him.” Jesus’ was not born into existence in 3-5 B.C. when he was born but was always alive even before Abraham breathed his first breath. Jesus is eternal.
Jesus relationship with the Father is seen in his sonship from the very beginning. Jesus called himself the Son of God and this point is made early in the gospel account in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Genesis 1:26 makes more sense when we understand the Son’s role as Creator with the Father in the beginning as the text says, “the God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” The Jews understood this to mean God with the angels, but it makes more sense that it is the Father speaking to the Son.
In summary, John mentions Jesus’ eternality and relationship with God the Father in the beginning as his Son who creates. Lastly, Jesus is also called life and light which describes his ministry. John communicates the connection between light and life in his introduction as he says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Jesus is life because of the gospel that brings life to those who were dead in their sins and trespasses. Paul makes this point clearly in Ephesians 2:1-2;4-6, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. . .But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. . .”
There is so much more we could say about Jesus, but a brief look at these introductions should result in our joy when we consider how great Jesus is and the gospel he brings. Each of these gospel accounts are unique in their own ways, but there are exists so many similarities resulting in praise. Obviously, the good news of the gospel accounts is the gospel itself so in this understanding let us conclude with perhaps the most beloved passage of Scripture describing the glorious gospel in John 3:16-18, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Pastor Steven Lookabaugh has been our pastor since 2016 and is passionate about proclaiming the gospel of God through the weekly exposition of God’s Word; believing application is possible when one understands the historical/cultural meaning of the text. He leads our church in fulfilling our purpose toward the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, and to the Great Commandment as we seek to love one another. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in Expository Preaching from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis on parabolic exposition. He is married to Jennifer and they have three children, Andrew, Kate and Olivia.