As we move into another Christmas season, we plan on working our way through the Book of Matthew for our Gospel Wednesday study.
On a personal note, I dislike referring to this book (and the other three) as “the Gospel of Matthew”. there is only one Gospel, and that is of Jesus Christ, not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this and when researching the Encyclopedia of the Bible, I found the following discourse on the title of this book:
2. The title. The title of this gospel in most modern Bibles reads, “The Gospel According to St. Matthew.” This wording is an exact tr. of the title in many Gr. MSS which reads Εὐαγγέλιον Κατα Μαθαῖον, “The Gospel According To Matthew.” But the oldest Gr. copies of the gospel have the shortened form, “According to Matthew” (Κατα Μαθαῖον). Most scholars believe the original text had no title at all. When the early Christians wished to distinguish one gospel from another, they called the first gospel not the “Gospel of Matthew,” as we often say, but “The Gospel According to Matthew,” to distinguish it from the other VSS of Mark, Luke and John. There is only one Gospel, but four VSS or accounts of it. The term “Gospel According to Matthew” is, therefore, not the “Good News of Matthew,” but Matthew’s VS of the “Good News from God.” The Gospel is “God’s Story” of salvation and life, the best news story the world has ever heard. The earliest Church Fathers, for example, Irenaeus (a.d. 180), spoke of the fourfold Gospel canon in this manner; that is, that there is only one Gospel according to four different authors (Against Heresies III. 11, 8).
I will be referring to these from now on as The Gospel According to Matthew. Let us turn to the first chapter of Matthew. It is critically important that we remember that Matthew 1 isn’t the beginning of the story of God’s relationship with His Creation, it is in-fact the start of the final chapter, the last days. God is bringing about the fulfillment of His promise to crush the head of the serpent back in Genesis 3. Let that sink in… while it might be said that for the Gentile everything begins at the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then we have to learn the Law to grow in our faith in God; for Israel, God’s chosen ones, they are awaiting the promised Messiah.
The Genealogy of Jesus Christ
1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud,15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
I don’t want to get into the weeds in this geneology, but this was recorded for a purpose, for God the Holy Spirit’s purpose. For now, I want to highlight that Matthew was being very intentional here to point out how perfectly Christ completes God’s Promise to Abraham. He points out the following:
Abraham – King David – Babylonian Exile – Christ
God promised Abraham the land of Canaan, and King David ruled over it, but Israel fell away after David, and were sent into Exile. God promised Israel that He would send an Anointed One (Messiah / Christ) to sit on the Throne of David again… and He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus. I feel this is significant for understanding the framework of Matthew’s narrative, considering that the Gospel According to John began “in the Beginning was the Word…”, focusing on the Deity of Christ from before Creation.
Matthew 1 | The Birth of Jesus Christ
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
The Gospel according to Luke spent a great deal of time on Mary and the immaculate conception, but here Matthew jumps straight to Joseph. Here, we see Joseph desiring to show mercy to Mary by not putting her to shame. Apart from the intervention of God the Holy Spirit, there was no way for Mary to be pregnant without having had unlawful sex. Joseph is a popular name in this culture, but have you thought about why? Let’s look back in Genesis at one of the patriarchs whose name was Joseph, the son of Jacob/Israel.
Genesis 37:1-3 (ESV) 1 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.
Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel, loved Joseph more than any other of his sons. He was a favored son, and he made him a robe of many colors. Fast-forward to Matthew, and we have Joseph, favored of God to serve as an earthly guardian of Mary and Jesus. And the angel of the Lord appeared to Joesph in a dream. No doubt the Jewish readers/hearers of this Gospel account would already be thinking on Joseph. Where did the dreams given to Joseph, son of Jacob, lead him? To Egypt. Eventually God would preserve Israel in the land of Egypt during the 7 year famine. Let’s continue in Matthew where we will see this connection revisited.
The Visit of the Wise Men
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
So we have the Wise Men from the east coming because they recognized the sign in the heavens, a star, marking the birth of the king of the Jews. Where were they from? Most likely from Babylon, from where Israel spent so much time in Exile (remember how Matthew set apart this event as significant). These wise men were not quoting prophecy as we tend to think of quoting, they were giving their understanding of the meaning of two different prophetic passages (Micah 5:2 and Ezekiel 34:23). Quoting the prophets directly wasn’t necessary given their audience was all of the chief priests and scribes, they needed to convey the interpretation that was undoubtedly revealed to them by God of the fulfillment of these 2 prophetic passages. Reflecting on the life of Joseph, son of Israel, notice that this news troubled Herod and all Jerusalem with him. This is analogous to the response of Joseph’s brothers. Let’s look at some of the their thoughts toward Joseph recorded in Genesis 37 (ESV):
4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. 5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words…
18 They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer.20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”
They hated their brother. Herod and all of Jerusalem were troubled by the news of the birth of the king of the Jews. Now, these parallels aren’t provided to suggest that “they should have seen it coming”; rather, they are being examined to point to God and His Sovereignty. Let’s continue in Matthew 2.
Matthew 2 | The Flight to Egypt
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Herod Kills the Children
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Herod was indeed evil. God warned Joseph in a dream (again) of Herod’s plot to kill Jesus, so Joseph took Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt until Herod’s death. What I find fascinating here is that Matthew (via the Holy Spirit) points to Jesus as a picture of Israel when he quotes Hosea 11:1 (ESV), “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son”. This is right in line with how we’ve been reading the Exodus account and how it points to Jesus. This is how the Book of Hebrews approaches the message of the Gospel. Hosea was prophetically looking backward to the shadow of Christ in the Nation of Israel, as well as pointing forward to Jesus the Messiah. Praise God.
Matthew 2 | The Return to Nazareth
19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
With another dream, Joseph brings his wife and Jesus out of Egypt and settled down in Nazareth. Now, there is no direct quote that I could find pointing to His being called a Nazarene. Again, Matthew seems to be conveying understanding of prophecy (revealed by the Holy Spirit) more than actually quoting it. Being called a Nazarene bore with it some disdain, because there was nothing special about Nazareth, and that was part of God’s point. Let’s look at a few verses that suggest this could be a way of rightly understanding this point.
John 7:40-52 (ESV) | Division Among the People
40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. 45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
Had Jesus begun his ministry having grown up in Bethlehem, he would have had instant buy-in. Instead, God chose a different route. Indeed, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the City of David, but by the time of His ministry He was known as a Galilean, a Nazarene.
John 1:43-51 (ESV) | Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him,“Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him,“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Nazareth had a reputation. Even Nathanael, of whom Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” held an unfavorable view of Nazareth. How does all of this point to what the Prophet said of Jesus? Let’s look to Isaiah 53.
Isaiah 53:3 (ESV) 3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
This was by design, according to His purpose. Jesus humbled Himself in order to redeem mankind. He created all things in the beginning, yet He came to save wicked sinners like you and me. Let us close on this thought, wonderfully conveyed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians.
Philippians 2:1-13 (ESV)
Christ’s Example of Humility
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
In Christ Jesus,