Why the Long Delay?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
This lineage is an amazing tribute to God’s Sovereignty. He truly does rule in human affairs. Abraham and David had been promised their heirs would bless the world. Sometimes the promise looked shaky, but God never let His Word fail.
We live in a planned universe. Sin complicates life, and muddies the waters of our existence, but God will always achieve His purposes for and through us. He is sovereign. He will not be thwarted. We do not live in a chance world. The Father orchestrates history. It is His story. He oversees and superintends.
This genealogy is not a flawless, seamless story line. It contains troubles aplenty. Life is complicated, difficult, filled with problems, but God is in control.
Every person in this genealogy is a vital link, a testimony to the faithfulness of God. Wars, drought, famine, sin, exile – all seemed chaotic and meaningless until a village carpenter and virgin maiden came together in Nazareth.
God never let His plan fail. The purple thread of the King of king’s baby quilt was stitched through royal robes, slave garments, harlot dresses, Gentile clothes. The fabric changed, but the thread of royal purple was always there.
Jesus came in the fulness of time, or as the Holman Bible says it, in “the completion of the time” (GL 4:4). When the Father, by His own choice, felt the preliminary time was completed, He sent His Son to be born in Bethlehem.
In the first third of Matthew’s genealogy, the patriarchs seemed feeble at best. They were nomads, lowly shepherds awaiting a farfetched vindication.
In the second third, kings arose. The monarchy was impressive, having pomp, but failed. Government inevitably does. It requires something better.
In the last third, Israel, having sinned, had been sent into bitter captivity. Life had fallen apart. People were in despair, yearning for deliverance.
From Abraham, a wandering nomad who lived 100 years in a tent, to David, a king who ruled a kingdom from a palace, to a nation that cast off God. All the while, Israel waited, waited, waited. In the darkest days, during the captivity, this hope for Messiah, though frustrated, was all that sustained them. Israel somehow knew not all was lost. They had failed, but faith told them God was faithful.
Life’s delays often try our patience, but never weaken God’s promises. Heaven will come. Victory will be ours. Someday we will never again disappoint Jesus; “Lord, hasten the day.” Pain will end. Tears will stop.
We believe, yet sometimes wonder why the delay. This was the struggle of the prophet Habakkuk (1:2-3a), “How long, Lord, must I call for help and You do not listen, or cry out to You about violence and You do not save? Why do You force me to look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing?”
We all have times when we wonder why God doesn’t hasten a bit? By faith we believe His reasons are always valid. His delay in fulfilling promises to us in the present can be softened by seeing why the promise of Messiah was so long in being fulfilled in the past. When we for sure see God delayed Messiah’s arrival for valid reasons, this helps us know His delays today are also for valid reasons.
Abraham lived 2000 years before Christ. David preceded Jesus by 1000 years. Why did God allow a long delay in letting His promises to them be fulfilled?
First, the logistics needed to be right. Jesus was born when a common language, good roadways, and one government eased the spread of His fame.
Second, all other possible remedies for our redemption had to be tried and failed in order for us to appreciate Jesus. Government had to be given a chance to do all it could to save the world. Rome brought to the West the Roman Peace, but its ability to provide public security eventually came unglued. It totally collapsed.
Culture and education had to be given their chance to do all they could to save the world. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle – the world has maybe never matched the triumvirate of Greece. They were human philosophers at their best, but could not stave off the demise of their civilization, or of any other since.
Law had to be given a chance to do all it could to save us. Mosaic law and Roman law were the best the world ever produced, but neither could redeem us.
When we had tried everything else, and nothing had worked, when all else was crumbling, the Sun of Righteousness came rising with healing in His wings.
Third, the long delay helped vindicate the Bible. The long awaited fulfillment made the original predictions almost as amazing as their fulfillment.
This highlights an important trait unique to our Holy Book, the Bible. No other religion’s holy book claimed to be able to predict future events. The Bible speaks to past, present, and future, as a timeless book sent from a timeless world.
Fourth, the long delay gave time for Jesus’ ancestry to become attractive to all people everywhere. Jesus appeals to all kinds of people because He came from all kinds of people. Everyone finds themselves represented in this genealogy somewhere: men, women, Jews, Gentiles, royals, commoners, old, young, religious, irreligious. The unholy, as well as the holy, are included. There’s a connection here for everybody.
Fifth, the long delay allows us, by viewing it, to be reminded of what matters most in life. What’s done for God is the only work that will last.
We are primarily, above all else, spiritual beings. The physical, mental, and social matter, but not nearly as much as the spiritual.
Through business success and failure, whether life rises to dizzying heights occupationally, or crumbles into disaster, never forget what matters most. Whatever our lot in life, our greatest destiny is Christ and what we do with Him.
In Jesus, we are part of something that precedes, supercedes, and succeeds us. Serving Jesus is our best hope, our best dream, our best aspiration, our best heritage to try to pass on to those who come behind us.
As long as we are Christ’s and seek to convey Him, this world and our lives in it are not on a road to uselessness. When all is said and done, be sure we have done our best to convey Christ. Always be passing Him on.
Note a final thought. Verse 16 is profound. Matthew carried this genealogy through 41 generations only to show a disconnect with generation 42. The genealogy took a sudden sidestep. Jesus’ birth was not ordinary, as the following verses will confirm.