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Some Thoughts on
"Christmas at Matthew's House"

By Jess Hall, Jr.

religion, articles, christianity

The November 1992 issue of Wineskins published an article by Andre Resner with the catchy title, "Christmas at Matthew's House." I have never met Andre Resner. I have "met" Matthew. Matthew is a friend of mine. A review of the article demonstrates that Andre Resner is no Matthew. (For starters, Matthew never mentioned the "immaculate conception." In Resner's article this Roman Catholic doctrine is mistakenly applied to Mary's conception of Jesus. The doctrine actually applies to the conception of Mary and teaches that Mary is free from the effects of the fall of Adam.)

The article appears to be an attempt to "modernize" (and thus make relevant) Matthew's account of the genealogy of Christ. Apparently Matthew's "sneaky" account left the Wineskins' author high and dry. Resner apparently thought he would add a little water to help us survive crossing Matthew's desert. (Of course, it could be that the Wineskins' author was just overcome by discovering "after 24 to 25 years" that Matthew recorded a genealogy, not to mention the murdered children of Rachel, which, incidentally, Matthew did not mention. He does refer to "Rachel weeping for her children" [2:18], but only as Jeremiah's prophetic utterance figuratively describing Herod's slaughter of the innocents.)

Now don't get me wrong. The concept of biblical relevance is a good one. I believe in it. (The danger is that some, in this quest for relevance, have replaced faithfulness to the scripture with relevance. By such conduct, they have not only compromised the old wineskins, but the sacred wine itself.) The only problem is that Matthew doesn't need "intonation ... exclamation marks ..." or "a couple of winks" to be relevant. "Christmas at Matthew's House" neither creates nor adds to relevance; it both detracts from relevance and insults the earthly mother of Jesus. It is not surprising that a man who reads so much sex into the genealogy of Jesus had trouble seeing something like a genealogy. While no one condones Tamar's behavior or Rahab's occupation, it is a stretch across many generations, numerous assumptions, and miles of imagination to attribute such behavior to Ruth and Mary. Ruth lay at Boaz' feet while he slept on the threshing floor during harvest, undoubtedly surrounded by people. By custom, such sleep was done while fully clothed. Ruth's conduct was no solicitation of sex but a permitted reminder to impress on Boaz the solemnity of his duty as a near kinsman. And Mary - no words are strong enough to denounce the article's affirmation that Matthew included these women to "set us up" for the statement "she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit." Resner's assertion that Matthew's language is intended to imply about Mary, "'Here we go again, folks ...' Another sexually questionable woman," is nothing short of blasphemous.

Even granting a good motive - to make a present day application of the gospel - the method is wrong. It smacks of the error that Paul fought in Corinth, where the gospel of Christ was not enough. False teachers undermined the gospel with their wisdom and philosophy in an attempt to attract the sophisticates of Corinth. To really make the gospel relevant and to market it in Corinth, the false teachers had to throw in their two-cents worth where the scripture was silent. The gospel that earthly wisdom proclaimed had no room for sin, guilt, grace, or judgment. They were interested in having "their needs" met. (This is a form of idolatry where "felt needs" are elevated to the highest value. A person's highest value is his god.) They searched for the key to happiness and had seminars on success. Paul did not address their "felt needs"; he addressed their true need, whether felt or not. If they were not "feeling the right needs," it was not because the gospel was irrelevant, but because the message of the cross was foolishness to those who were perishing (I Cor. 1: 18). If they were not asking the right questions, it was not because the gospel was dead, but because they were dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2: 1).

The false teachers appeared to be more popular than Paul. They offered the recently converted pagans something that was little, if at all, different from what they had believed as pagans. They probably even addressed the Corinthians' "felt needs." Their felt needs were probably not much different from those about which Paul wrote to Timothy - lovers of self, lovers of money, proud (2 Tim. 3:2-4). The problem was that in their effort to capture the wisdom of the age, the false teachers overlooked the triumph of divine wisdom in Jesus Christ -the satisfaction of divine justice and the redemption of sinful man. The false teachers and the Corinthian sophisticates didn't want to win their neighbors as much as they wanted to be like them and to be liked by them. As Dean Inge observed, "The church which marries the Spirit of the Age will find herself a widow in the Age to come."

In response to their reaching for a god who would show them how to live instead of a God who died for them, Paul said,

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (I Cor. 2:1-5).

Could it be that when the gospel is the least marketable, it is the most relevant?

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