Christianity: History and Hope

The New Testament begins in a rather odd fashion.  Here are its words:

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:

What follows is a long list of names of parents – mostly fathers – and their children.  What is so odd about this?  Well, this is not how I would start the greatest story ever told!  This is not how I would begin to lay out the history of the salvation of the world.  I would begin in a totally different way!

I could start with some action:

This is the account of the man who raised Lazarus from the dead just by calling him out of the tomb.  This same man walked on the water, fed five thousand people with only a few pieces of bread and fish, destroyed a corrupt religious system with one encounter and even resisted temptation by the devil himself.  Here is how it happened:

Doesn’t that seem more interesting and more exciting?  Surely the New Testament could start in a more exhilarating way!

Yet the way the New Testament begins is actually a demonstration of its truthfulness and is also a demonstration of one of the shocking and difficult things about Christianity.

How does a genealogy demonstrate truthfulness?  Very simply, it does so by placing what happens in the context of history.  As a people, the Jews kept very good records of their family lines.  They knew who was the father of whom.  They knew whose daughter any one woman was.  They wrote these things down and memorized them.  If someone claimed to be the Messiah, the Jews knew whose family this person should come from.

By beginning in this way, the New Testament begins with a demonstration of faithfulness to history.  These records could have been contradicted by anyone with sufficient evidence and yet they have never been seriously challenged.  Instead, they stand as a marker for the New Testament’s truthfulness.  If the New Testament is truthful about these details then it can be trusted with the rest of its message as well.

What is so shocking and difficult about this?  Quite simply, it is that Christianity is tied, from the beginning to the end, very tightly to history.  Either this was the lineage of Jesus (and so the Bible can be trusted) or it was not the genealogy of Jesus (in which case the Bible is either wrong, misled or deceptive and thus not trustworthy.  The Old Testament begins with an account of the Creation of the world.  Either this is correct or it is not.  If it is not correct then the rest of the Bible immediately becomes suspect.  In the New Testament, Paul wrote about the effect of history on the Christian faith.  He said that if Jesus was not raised from the dead – a fact from history – then the Christian faith was useless.

This should be shocking to the people who would like to simply dismiss Christianity as something which has been invented.  If a person set out to invent a religion it is very, very unlikely they would come up with Christianity.  Its demands are too great.  Its claims are too easy to test.  It requires faith in the concrete and not merely the abstract.  Christianity is a religion which s bound up with history.

Hope is also at the heart of these few words which begin the New Testament.  David was the pinnacle of the Jewish kingdom and the promise God gave to David was that a king would rule on his throne forever.  This was a tremendous promise of hope to the people.  Abraham was a man God chose to protect a people for Himself.  Abraham’s life is the beginning of God’s dealings with Israel as a nation.  Abraham is a figure of hope for the Jews because he represents the promise God gave to bless them and to bless the earth through him.

Thus Christianity begins with an affirmation of both its history and its hope.  God, the God of history, has come to the planet to carry out His plan of Salvation and bring hope to the world through Jesus Christ.

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