"Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ."
For most of us, the Christmas story begins in verse 18 of Matthew 1: "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about..." But Matthew begins his account with a long (dare I say boring?) genealogy. Why?
Matthew is writing his gospel for a Jewish audience, an audience who would have been far more interested in this genealogy than we may initially be. One reason for this interest would have been that the genealogy involved their history. Key figures such as Abraham and David appear in lineage. Matthew's original audience remembers that God promised to bless all peoples through Abraham's offspring. Even more interesting to them was the fact that Jesus is of the line of David, who reigned during the Golden Age of Israel. God promised David that his kingly line would never fail, yet at the birth of Christ, no Davidic king sits on a throne. When will God keep His promise? When will He raise up another David to restore Israel to her former glory? When will He anoint this king to rule in power and truth and righteousness to renew the hearts of the people? Matthew is stoking the coals of his people's desire.
Matthew's audience also would have had great interest in this genealogy because of one other significant detail: the number fourteen. Matthew purposefully sets up his genealogy to emphasize the number fourteen. The whole thing is divided up into three groups of fourteen. Why is this important? Hebrew letters have a feature lacking in the English alphabet. Each letter has a number assigned to it. This means that every word, every name, also has a numerical value. The numeric value for king David? Fourteen.
In this genealogy, Matthew is screaming at his audience, "King David! King David! Jesus is the King we have been waiting for! Jesus is King!" This is why Matthew chooses not to tell of shepherds and angels, but of Magi who bring royal gifts, and a rival king who has every reason to fear. May we, like the Magi, enter into this story though we do not share a Jewish lineage. May we share in the fulfillment of God's promise to bless all peoples through Abraham's seed. May we crown Jesus not as a foreign king, but as the King of kings, who reigns in power and truth and righteousness. May we join Matthew in proclaiming: Jesus is King! Jesus is King! Long live the King!