LINEAGE OF THE KING Matthew 1–2
“Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star inthe east, and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2).Matthew invites us to look beyond the scenes of history’s most crucial birth. What he shows us is that Jesus had His origins in God’s eternal plan, and that the Babe of Bethlehem embodies that plan’s fulfillment.
Jesus’ genealogy established His descent from Abraham and David (1:1–17). His virgin birth fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (vv. 18–25). Other events (2:1–23) prove that Jesus is indeed the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament prophets.
Understanding the Text
“A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” Matt. 1:1. The Greek phrase, “a record of the genealogy,” is found in the Septuagint only in Genesis 1 and 5. This indicates Matthew intended this phrase to mean “record of the origins.” Thus the first verse launches us immediately into the central issue of the New Testament. Who is Jesus? What is His role in God’s plan, and in our lives? Matthew’s answer is given in this two-chapter introduction, which demonstrates that Jesus is the “Anointed One” predicted in the Old Testament. That term, “Messiah” in Old Testament Hebrew and “Christ” in New Testament Greek, is Jesus’ title. It means that He is the One through whom all God’s promises will be fulfilled. As the “Son of David” Jesus fulfilled the promise God gave David that a descendant of his would sit on Israel’s throne, and rule a universal kingdom (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12–16; Isa. 9:6–7). Additional quotes from the prophets in these two chapters are from Old Testament passages that underline the theme of Messiah’s rule (Jer. 23; Hosea 11; Micah 5). (See DEVOTIONAL.) As “Son of Abraham” Jesus fulfilled the promise given the father of the Jewish race. He is the “Seed,” through whom the entire human race would be blessed (Gen. 12:1–3; cf. Gal. 3:16). Thus Matthew’s very first words alert us. Jesus is the focus of all Scripture. He is the essence—the substance and the spirit of its message. He is both Lord and Saviour. Our response to Jesus determines our destiny. “The father of” Matt. 1:2–17. Like other ancient genealogies, this one is organized to accomplish a specific purpose. While it is stylized, and does not include every ancestor, it is rooted in historical information that was available to Matthew in Old Testament documents and genealogical records maintained at the Jerusalem temple. Even as late as theA.D 90s, after the temple had been destroyed, when the Emperor Domitian ordered all descendants of David killed, the remaining few were located by referring to Jewish genealogical records. The church historian Eusebius tells us that when the last two appeared before the Emperor, he looked at their calloused hands and let them live. What threat could mere farmers offer, whatever their line? How fascinating. Jesus, born of poor parents, growing up in obscurity, working with His hands at the carpenter’s trade, would likely have made just as slight an impression on the Roman ruler. How difficult for us to judge greatness and humility if we look only at outward appearances. Jesus, the Son of God, the destined Ruler of the universe, King of an eternal kingdom, lived the most humble of lives, and died the most abject of deaths. As we read on in this Gospel we will see it over and over again. Jesus was a King, but a Servant-King. And as our King, Jesus calls us to a servant lifestyle like His own. “Whose mother was Rahab” Matt. 1:5. Hebrew genealogies characteristically mentioned only male ancestors. Matthew departed from this pattern, and included four women, three of whom were Gentiles, and the fourth of whom he noted had been married to a Gentile (Bathsheba, who “had been Uriah’s [a Hittite’s] wife”). Furthermore, with the exception of Ruth, the women were hardly models of morality! Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba had all engaged in adultery, even though by the first century they were highly regarded by the Jewish people. What point was Matthew making? We can perhaps suggest several. Perhaps Matthew was telling us that in the new era Christ introduced, women would have an increasingly important role alongside men. Very possibly Matthew was reminding us that Jesus has come to be the Saviour of the world, not just of the Jewish people. God introduced Gentile blood into the Saviour’s line as a grand reminder that He values every human life, and sent His Son to redeem us all. And, perhaps, these particular women are there to remind us that human flaws do not cut us off from being recipients of God’s grace. In fact, it is our flaws that led God to send His Son, that in a single grand redemptive act Jesus might cleanse not only our sins, but also those of the generations that preceded His birth. “Joseph her husband was a righteous man” Matt. 1:18–25. Joseph is one of the most admirable characters in Scripture. Following Jewish custom, he had sealed the betrothal contract that was the first but binding stage in marriage. Many assume that Joseph was an older man, and that after the betrothal Mary stayed with her parents until she was old enough to conclude the marriage and move into Joseph’s home. When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant, he showed unusual compassion. Despite his feelings of hurt and betrayal, he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace.” Explaining this, Matthew called Joseph a “righteous” man. Why, in view of the fact that the Law’s penalty for adultery is stoning, would this suggest righteousness? Some might feel it would have been more “righteous” to demand Mary be punished to the full extent of the Law! The answer lies in the fact that “righteousness” in the Old Testament is conformity to God’s heart as well as His Law. Even Saul realized that grace better displays righteousness than strict legality, for he once cried out to David, “You are more righteous than I. . . . You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly” (1 Sam. 24:17). Joseph took this principle to heart, and though he thought Mary had treated him badly, he determined to treat her well. Thus in a spiritual sense as well as the physical, Joseph was truly a “son of David” (Matt. 1:20). The New Testament tells us little about Joseph beyond this. But how much these few words convey. He was a man like his ancestor, who had a heart for God and deep compassion for others. No matter how little known beyond our circle of family and friends you or I may be, we are spiritually great if Matthew’s word about Joseph is true of us as well. “The virgin will be with child” Matt. 1:20–25. The Hebrew term ’almah means “young woman,” and while it is typically used of young unmarried women, it lacks the technical force of “virgin.” However, there is no question about the Greek word Matthew chose here: parthenos. This is a young woman who has never had sexual relations with a man. When the angel that appeared to Joseph in a dream quoted Isaiah 7:14 he definitively interpreted the prophet’s meaning: it was Mary (a virgin) who bore Jesus as her Son. The message, that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, was accepted by Joseph, as it has been by Christians throughout history. The name, “Immanuel,” explains the implications. The Child conceived by the Holy Spirit is Himself God: God, come to be “with us,” not simply as a presence, but as one of us. Why the name “Jesus”? The name means “deliverer” or “saviour,” and expresses the purpose of His coming. God became one of us in order to “save His people from their sins.” Some who claim to be Christians do deny the Virgin Birth. Yet if Jesus was not both God and man, united through a miracle in Mary’s womb, He was merely a man. And no mere man, doomed to struggle with his own sins, would be free to save us from ours. Without the Virgin Birth there is no biblical Christianity. With it, our destiny is secure. For with it, the Jesus on whom we rely is God, and as God He guarantees the salvation He won for us on Calvary. “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews?” Matt. 2:1–8 The familiar story of the magi, a name given a philosopher class in Persia, is told in order to further define who Jesus is. Alerted by the appearance of an unusual star, the magi traveled to Judea to honor One born to be King. Their arrival caused consternation, and Herod demanded to know where such a Person might be born. The answer was found in Micah 5:2: the promised Ruler was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod’s claim that if the Child were identified he would “go and worship Him” was a revealing lie! It was a lie, because the aging Herod, destined to live only a few more months, intended to kill the Infant. The determined king, who had ordered the execution of his own sons when he thought they threatened his throne, could not bear the thought of anyone but him ruling his domain. The phrase “go and worship” was revealing, because the word “worship” helps us realize that scholarly Jews in the first century understood the Old Testament to teach that the Messiah would be God as well as man (cf. Micah 5:4). It’s never enough to know who Jesus is. Those who acknowledge His supernatural birth, but fail to commit themselves to Him as Saviour, are very like Herod. They too are unwilling to acknowledge Jesus’ right to the throne—this time the throne of their lives. Yet because of who Jesus is, we are to gladly bow, worshiping and welcoming Him, not only as Saviour but also as our Lord. “They were overjoyed” Matt. 2:9–12. The magi serve as a positive model of response to Jesus, even as Herod serves as a negative model. These foreign visitors came joyfully to the house where the little family lived. There they worshiped the Babe, and “opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts.” The gifts recorded are the traditional gifts given to royalty-gold, incense, and myrrh. More significant, however, is the pattern we see here. They worshiped Jesus. They then opened their treasures. And then presented Him with gifts. Too often we human beings worship our treasures. Money, or the things money can buy, become the focus of our lives. When we worship wealth we have no room for Jesus, or for others. We hug our treasures close to us, unwilling to part with them for any cause. Worshiping Jesus frees us from materialism. Our “treasures” lose their grip on our hearts, and as we discover the joy of serving Christ, we willingly present our material treasures to Him as gifts. “Take the Child and His mother and escape to Egypt” Matt. 2:13–17. Though the wise men never returned to direct the demented Herod to Jesus, Herod determined to see Him killed. To be sure he destroyed one Child, Herod ordered all male children under two in the neighborhood of Bethlehem killed. The act underlines the cruelty of Herod, and also the futility of such cruelty. God had spoken to Joseph again in a dream and, no doubt using the gifts brought by the magi to finance the journey, Mary and Joseph escaped with the Christ Child to Egypt. Matthew quoted here from Jeremiah 31:15, picturing the anguish of those who lost their children in Herod’s purge. Yet Matthew 2:16–17 reminds us of a great truth. Even as the people of Jeremiah’s day were told that after their suffering “they will return from the land of the enemy,” so through the cross the infants who died will live again. “So,” the Lord declared through Jeremiah, “there is hope for your future.” Jesus did live to die for us. Because of Him, even when we suffer painful tragedies, we too have hope for our future. “He went and lived in a town called Nazareth” Matt. 2:19–23. After Herod died, an angel directed Joseph to return. The family settled in Nazareth, in Galilee, and there Jesus grew up and began His ministry. This is the third occasion on which Joseph is given guidance by an angel appearing to him in a dream. How responsive Joseph was to the Lord. In each case the text says that “when he woke up” Joseph did what the angel of the Lord commanded. In verse 14 we read that “he got up, took the Child and His mother during the night and left for Egypt.” Joseph was not only willing to obey, he did so without hesitation. Mary is rightly honored as the mother of Jesus. She was a special young woman, highly honored by God. Yet what a human surrogate father Jesus had in Joseph! He was truly a special man, and his obedience was highly honoring to God. May you and I honor Him as much, and as well, by our readiness to obey.
Behold Your King(Matt. 1:18–2:6)
Babies are cute. They are not supposed to inspire awe. Perhaps that’s one reason why people find it so easy to trivialize Christmas. Baby Jesus, lying helpless in the manger, can be viewed with mild affection. Folks can smile down at Him, and then move on to the real business of the season-shopping, vacation, being with the family, sending cards that say “holiday greetings” and so are unlikely to offend with an overly religious message. Despite what people may assume, Matthew wasn’t interested in having us meet “Baby Jesus.” We know, because over and over this Gospel writer quoted from the Old Testament. And the passages he selected and applied directly to Christ are passages that insist we see not an Infant but a King; not a Babe, but the Master of the universe. Who is Jesus to Matthew? Matthew 1:23 identifies Him with a virgin-born Child predicted by Isaiah. What did Isaiah say about Him? He is “Immanuel,” a name that in Hebrew means “With Us Is GOD!” Look at the Babe in the manger, not with mild affection, but in awe. For in this Child all the glory of God shines through. Matthew also quoted from Micah 5, which predicted the birth in Bethlehem of a Ruler who would be the Shepherd of God’s people Israel. Looking in Micah, we discover that “He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord.” In fact, “in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.” His people will be secure, for His greatness will “reach to the ends of the earth.” Why not, when His strength is the strength of God, and His majesty the name of the Lord, which He bears! And when Christmas comes again, don’t be concerned if the Supreme Court rules against local government displays of creche and cradle. The plastic replicas, however cute, hardly represent the King of kings. To catch the spirit of Christmas, read again Matthew’s account—and the prophecies he quotes. And then bow down in awe.
The Christ we need to keep in Christmas is not the Babe so much as the King of kings.