Son of Adam, Son of God

Advent season has begun. Pastors all around the world are desperately looking for texts and angles on the theme that will enable them to bring fresh light on the light of the ancient story that I known so well, yet which can so easily lose its lustre.

The essence of the message is majestic and beyond words. The eternal Son assumed a true human nature – like ours in every respect, apart from sin – and he made his home among us. The aspects and ramifications of what this entailed are myriad. It was the dawning of a new day: the blazing of the light that first shone at the dawn of creation, banishing darkness and chaos. Only this time, it was the day of salvation. It marked the fulfilment of promise, the greatest promise ever given: that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head.

For veteran preachers of the advent season, each Christmas brings an even greater challenge to open the eyes of our people to the wonder that should never cease to make us wonder. Sometimes this will mean digging a little bit deeper into the well-known texts and stories that anticipate, record or explain the great event. But it may also mean that we reach for what may look like throwaway remarks in the Bible record that are actually loaded statements, deserving a closer look.

One such detail is found in the genealogy recorded in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 3.23-38). As with his fellow-evangelist, Matthew, he recognises the importance of tracing the Redeemer’s family line. In keeping not only with Jewish tradition, but also Roman practice, having a record of birth and ancestry was vital for a person’s legitimacy and entitlements being recognised. (Luke has just told his readers about the census decreed by Caesar Augustus, requiring everyone in the Roman Empire to be formally registered.) However, the two Gospel genealogies are different in many respects.

Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry from the past down to the present; while Luke traces it from Jesus’ birth back to where it began. Matthew’s genealogy is deliberately stylised and presented in three groups with 14 names in each; Luke’s is a continuous flow. Matthew begins his Gospel with this record; Luke introduces it in connection with Jesus’ baptism by John as the prelude the commencement of his earthly ministry.

There has been much discussion about these details and differences (and many questions still remain as to the reason behind them), but one thing is clear. Each Gospel writer is concerned to establish the identity of Jesus in order to commend him to their respective readerships as the true Messiah. For Matthew, he was seeking to persuade a largely Jewish readership that Jesus was indeed the true Messiah-King promised to David and who would inherit the true Davidic throne for the blessing of the nations. For Luke, writing as he was to Theophilus (Lk 1.3) – possibly an official in the Roman Empire – his concern was to make the case for Jesus as Saviour of the world. In both cases, these evangelists wished to make it clear he is the Jesus of history.

This same challenge devolves to every generation of gospel heralds who are called, not merely to rehearse the age-old story; but to proclaim it as the good news every generation must hear.

In that sense, the little detail we find at the very end of Luke’s genealogy is potent for a generation caught in a desperate quest to discover who we really are and what, if anything, gives us true significance.

Having led us backwards in time from the birth of Jesus, who was generally ‘supposed’ to have been ‘the son of Joseph’ (Lk 3.23), he brings us right back to where the line really began. And it comes as a surprise to everyone: ‘…the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God’ (Lk 3.38). In other words, to understand who Jesus is, we need to understand who Adam was – not just in terms of what he became through his rebellion; but who he was intended to be when he was created.

His creation was unique and so too was his God-given purpose. All of this is plain from the Genesis record. And even though he is remembered for his fall and the disaster it brought upon himself and the race descended from him, Luke reminds us of his original identity and calling. Why? – To show how what was lost through Adam’s sin would, by God’s own promise, be restored through the one that Paul describes as ‘Second Man’ and ‘Last Adam’. Where Adam failed, Jesus, the true and faithful head and representative of the race would succeed. And all of this ultimately that, for all who believe in him as God’s promised Redeemer, we find our restoration in him. And the pinnacle of this restoration lies in our being restored to our God-intended status as ‘sons of God’.

Because Jesus is the archetypal ‘Son of God’ in his humanity, when we are restored to God through our union with him – for women as well as men – our God-intended status is restored forever. Here is an angle to the advent story that we can easily miss; but which, more than anything, is a cause for our rejoicing.

Mark Johnston