Summary: The way the book of Matthew begins tells us something about earning a right to be heard.
We live and operate in a society that we can recognize to be religious. Some are Christian, in their religiousness. Others are of many different faiths. Some practice mystical eastern religions. Some follow the practices of New Ageism. In Canada, millions of people practice hundreds of religious paths.
This is the environment in which we are involved in God’s Work, which is the ongoing work of helping people from their exile from God and into a relationship with God. Many think they’ve found that relationship, already, and don’t know that it can be better. Others are happy just living their daily lives as they choose. Some are actually seeking. Many don’t care to hear anything about religion. However, the environment is religious.
In fact, the environment in which Jesus has us doing evangelism is quite similar to the environment in which He carried out His 3 ½ year ministry, ending in the greatest reconciliation event that could occur. Jesus’ functioned in a religiously Jewish and Samaritan environment. Many came to Him believing that they already knew the way and were living it quite well. Others weren’t so sure. Some were seeking something more, with a lot of this seeking focusing on the expectation of Messiah. Others didn’t care one way or another and were quite happy seeking to be happy through accumulating money and possessions. I think it’s rather uncanny how similar the environments are- for Jesus then, and for Jesus now, in Canada.
Understanding this, though, can lead us to a profitable study of part of the scriptural record of Jesus’ ministry, and can lead us to understanding of one important principle for evangelism in our world. This is a timeless principle in religious environments, yet one that we can quite easily overlook in our enthusiasm and desire to ‘make a difference for the Kingdom’!
Let’s look at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew and see what we can discern there. I believe that there is a ministry principle that Jesus understood and practiced, that Matthew, the author, understood and used in arranging this gospel account, and a principle that God, the real author of the book, wants us to capture.
So, you’re not left guessing, the principle is simply: Earn a right to be heard. It’s a hard principle. It’s one that Christians have been incredibly guilty of overlooking or bypassing in their zeal to ‘bring Christ to the nation’. Yet, this is a principle that we must practice in order to accurately represent Jesus and in order to expect any measure of success at all!
Look first at Matthew 1 with me. What do you see here? Well, this can be one of those ‘boring’ chapters to many of us. We see genealogies and our eyes can simply glaze over… just like yours are doing right now!!! But there’s something here that you might not have recognized before, and neither did I. When you look at scripture through a different lens, you see some different things. If we look to see how to do evangelism, we see different things.
Consider the gospel of Matthew- it’s a gospel written for a Jewish audience by a Jewish author, with the purpose of putting forth Jesus as the Messiah foretold by the OT prophets. So, why the genealogies? They give some history- they set Jesus’ life within a national history. What does that tell us? When you understand the Jewish population, then and now, you understand that historical connection is very important. They are proud of their history and see theirs as the history around which all other history of the world revolves. It was vital for them to understand the line- the right line- that Jesus came from.
For us, historical connection is not the big deal. We are a diverse nation, with multiple ethnic strains living in our town, block, even in our own bodies, when we get down to it. However, what we must understand is the need for Christians to make an appropriate social connection with the people surrounding them. In our religious environment, it’s important to be one with something in common with those we hope to evangelize. We cannot simply be the ‘great righteous one’, but need to have a connection.
I’m reminded of Mr. Tkach’s story he told us in Montreal in May. He lives in a suburban area, now, east of Pasadena. He is getting to know those on his block. He gets to watch football games with some of them, for instance. That’s a beginning to whatever might develop over time.
Also, if we consider Matthew 1, from the perspective of Matthew, the author, who had a purpose in mind- to set forth Jesus as the prophesied Messiah, we can consider this idea even further. He didn’t want people who read to simply reject Jesus out-of-hand, but to be drawn to the story and to consider Him as Messiah. So, notice what else he includes in this first part of his story.