Where Is Your King?

We generally don’t do royalty in the United States (apart from a certain fascination with the British Royals). In order to understand the point of Matthew 2:1–12, appreciate that much of the world for much of the time has been ruled by kings—some good, others evil. Matthew introduces your King and challenges you to as where he is—where he is in relation to your daily life.

Thank God for the star that led the Magi to the Messiah. God sent a star to point to the birth of his Son. Matthew quotes the Magi’s reference to seeing his star. We are not given an explanation of just how this appeared, or what it was like. It was an astronomical event that drew them to Jerusalem. God ordains the heavens to proclaim what he has done on earth. Somehow the Magi knew that the star signified the birth of the King of the Jews. Could they have known of Daniel’s prophecies? Was there some historical record of what Balaam, that prophet from the east, had said about a star coming from Judah (Numbers 24:17)? “[W]hat really led the magi to the feet of Jesus was not astrological calculation, but the prophecies of God’s Word—the prophecies which spread abroad throughout the East the expectation of a Messianic king.” (J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, pp. 227–228).

Acknowledge the ruler who came. The Magi (number unknown, no indication that they were kings) seek a newborn king. The mention of “the King of the Jews” foreshadows the title over his head on the cross, Matthew 27:37. They come with the purpose of offering homage. The prophecy of Micah, somewhat loosely quoted here, describes this ruler as being from eternity, Micah 5:2; and as ruling in strength, Micah 5;4. King Herod, the Idumean (or Edomite) appointed as king over the Jews, is troubled, and “when Herod trembles, all Jerusalem shakes.” He assembles the leading priests and experts in the law. They promptly identify the location of the birth of the messianic king. In doing this they merely select one of the many prophecies of the Messiah. His coming had been promised since Genesis 3:15, with Isaiah and others giving details regarding his coming and work. Matthew emphasizes the recognition of Christ by Gentiles at the beginning of the book. Even here the stage is being set for the Great Commission.

Believe what God says. Your Ruler was born in Bethlehem. This is Matthew’s first mention of the location of Jesus’ birth. It was not essential to the narrative in chapter 1, but is important for the events here. Bethlehem is a sign of humility. The Magi naturally come to Jerusalem seeking the King. But he is unknown there. Micah 5:2 reads, “small among the clans of Judah…” It was a tiny, unimportant neighboring town to Jerusalem. Yet Bethlehem has royal ties. Matthew’s loose quote, “by no means least among the rulers of Judah…” may sound like a contradiction of the Hebrew, but it is not. The town was unimportant. What gave it significance was that it was the home town of King David. Micah’s prophecy and the promise to David (2 Samuel 5:2) had given rise to an expectation that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, John 7:42.

Respond to God’s Word. Appreciate the multi-faceted references to Old Testament Scriptures. Foreign dignitaries bringing gifts would bring to the mind of those who had heard the Scriptures read in the synagogues, the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon (1 Kings 10:10), as well as messianic prophecies on Psalm 72:10–11 and Isaiah 60:5–6), all in addition to the location in Bethlehem. Matthew is underlining for you who this Baby is. “The story of the homage of the magi is thus not only a demonstration of the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of Mic 5:2 but also a multilayered study of the fulfillment of scriptural models in the coming of Jesus, with royal, messianic motifs at the heart of these models.” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 64). The leaders of Israel ignored the prophecy of Christ’s birth. They maintained neutrality. They could swiftly quote the prophecies detailing the place of his birth, but were unwilling to travel less than the distance from Newberg to Sherwood to investigate the report of his birth. Much of the world will ignore any significant interaction with the Messiah. It may be nice to hear of the Baby in a manger, but that is as far as it goes. The unbelief of the leaders sets the stage for their rejection of the Messiah later in the Gospel. But Matthew calls you to respond in faith.

Serve the newborn King, protected by a dream. This ruler is the shepherd of his people. This ruler serves as shepherd in God’s strength, Micah 5:4. He does his work in the majesty of the name of the Lord, for he is God himself. He is the Good Shepherd of his people. The reference to the shepherd picks up a theme of the old Testament Scriptures: 2 Samuel 7:7; Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 40:11. The work of shepherd carried out by the Lord in the Old Testament comes to its fulfillment in the One who identifies himself as the Good Shepherd, John 10:27ff. He is the true Shepherd-King. The care and concern of the shepherd contrasts with the brutal administration of King Herod. This Shepherd, the true Shepherd, is your peace, Micah 5:5. The entire messianic work is involved in him serving as shepherd for his people. God uses a dream to protect the newborn King from the hatred of the world. The conflict between the kingdom of God and the world is very real. God reveals himself in a dream, this time not to Joseph, but to the Magi, warning them not to return to Herod. The dream comes to foreigners from the East.

Worship the King. Herod rejected the Christ. He was the king of the Jews, and he was about to brook no competitors. Some who come to know something of the Christ react the same way. They openly reject him. Matthew makes clear that the subject of his Gospel is indeed the Messianic King. You cannot remain neutral about him. Join the Magi in worshiping the King. Matthew emphasizes the joy they experienced when the star stopped, showing them where the King was. Christ, rejected by his own, is worshiped by the Gentiles. Present to him, not just your gifts, but yourselves, as living sacrifices to his glory. “The scribes had more and better information than the Magi did, but the Magi acted on what they knew. They traveled to see the baby king…. They brought the most expensive gifts they could find. When they arrived, they worshiped, then gave gifts. They knew little, but they acted on what little they knew.” (Daniel M. Doriani, Matthew, Vol. 1, p. 34). Matthew has given you more information about the King than the scribes had, more than the Magi had. He expects you to commit yourself to worship and serve this King.

The star points you to the newborn King. The prophecy tells you of his work of ruling and shepherding. Acknowledge him and serve him as your King, as your Savior.

Immanuel: God with Us!

Grasp the grandeur of the God put the galaxies in place—and continues to uphold the movement of the stars. Matthew 1:18–25 tells you that this God is with you. He has not only come down to help when you need him, but in this corner of the universe, God has become truly man. He doesn’t stop being God, but he also becomes truly human. He is with you. He will be with you to the end of the age. And he will be with you for all eternity.

Pay attention to what God reveals. Joseph was faced with something almost unbelievable. Matthew has told you that he is giving you the book of the record, the book of the genealogy of Jesus, the Christ. He has traced his human ancestry back to Abraham. Now he is going to tell you that this Jesus is God with us. The event which disturbed Joseph was his fiancee’s pregnancy. Engagement in 1st century Jewish culture was a much more binding relationship than in ours. Although it was not marriage, and the couple were involved in neither a domestic nor a sexual relationship, its violation was virtually equivalent to adultery. Joseph discovers that Mary, this quiet woman who seemed so godly, this woman whom he loved so deeply, his Mary was pregnant. Mary being unfaithful seemed incomprehensible–but Joseph knew that he was not the father. You can appreciate Mary’s apparent silence. One choice was to charge Mary with unfaithfulness, with adultery. Although apparently the death penalty was not in force for the sin, the shame and public humiliation would have been great. Joseph made another choice. God’s Word informs us that because he was a righteous man, Joseph was inclined to quietly divorce her. Alternatively, it may be that Joseph did hear from Mary the account of the annunciation to her, and did believe her. He may have questioned, in view of Gabriel’s message that her Son would be the Son of the Most High, whether it would be appropriate to continue the engagement, much less enter marriage with Mary. In either case, Joseph was seeking to act justly, in what must have been a most difficult situation. “As a natural phenomenon the virgin birth is unbelievable; only as a miracle, only when its profound meaning is recognized, can it be accepted as a fact.” (J. G. Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, pp. 217–218).

Listen to the message of the angel. Matthew does not describe the angels appearing directly. Instead, he describes a series of dreams, and related fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Now, after 400 years of silence, God is again revealing himself. Appropriately, the angelic message comes to Joseph in a dream. God’s revelation in the Old Testament had come in a number of ways, including dreams. God graciously sends an angel to explain the situation to Joseph. What a load must have been lifted from his heart! Mary had not been unfaithful. The child is indeed the Son of God, the Savior. Joseph would become the adoptive father, the one through whom Jesus would legally be the son of David. Joseph’s role would be that of earthly father to the One who would be his Savior. The graciousness of God is evident, not just in the explanation to Joseph, but in the fact that God has reached down into our painful, sin-cursed world, and has touched it with his own saving presence.

Understand the words of the prophet. Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14. He emphasizes that God is fulfilling what he had said he would do. The One who is Son of David and Son of Abraham is also God himself. And he is not a God who exists only in some distant, unapproachable place–he has come to you. He is Immanuel, God with us. In the person of Jesus Christ, all that makes God who he is is there, and all that is essential to our humanity is there. He is like us in every way, except without sin. Remember the context of Isaiah’s prophecy. He was speaking to wicked King Ahaz, a king who turned everywhere but to God for help when his kingdom was threatened. When Isaiah assured him of the deliverance that God had promised to come, he doubted. Rebelliously, he refused God’s instruction to ask for a sign. The sign God gave seemed unbelievable. Contemporary questioning of the incarnation and virgin birth display a similar refusal to take God at his word. “While Matthew presents the quotation [Isaiah 7:14] as his own editorial comment rather than as part of the angel’s message to Joseph, he expects his reader to incorporate this scriptural authentication for Mary’s unique experience into their understanding of why Joseph changed his mind.” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 48).

Experience the promise of “God with us” come to fulfillment. Understand what the name “Jesus” means. Grasp what “Jahweh saves” means. Matthew emphasizes the name Jesus, a name so familiar that perhaps you need to stop and reflect on what it means. In it’s Old Testament form you recognize the name as “Joshua,” meaning “Jehovah (or Jahweh) saves.” You know the story of the man who followed Moses as the leader of Israel, and brought them into the promised land. But this is a greater Joshua. Appreciate the precision in the reason given, “he will save his people from their sins.” He will save, not just make salvation possible. He saves you from your sins, not just from the problems you face. Understand the depth of your rebellion against God and appreciate more deeply what he has done. There is no more important question that you can ask yourself today than whether you truly know this Jesus as the One who saves you from your sins. Matthew wrote his Gospel as a call for you to trust him. By the end of his Gospel he will have explained quite fully who this Jesus is and what he came to do. Live as the people Jesus has saved. He came to save a people, not just isolated individuals. He came to build his church. The body of Christ is important. If he is the King of his kingdom, he summons you to obey.

Do what God says! Joseph awoke, and rather than dismissing the dream, rather than looking for excuses to avoid involving himself in this complicated situation, rather than being put off by the anticipated gossip of neighbors, he simply obeyed. “He did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him…” v. 24. He took Mary as his wife. He assumed the role of (adoptive) father to this Child. Matthew makes clear that although he took Mary as his wife, he had no sexual union with her until after the birth of the Child. There would be no question about whose Son this Child is. He played his faithful part in the plan of salvation as the Lord unfolded it. He gave the baby the name, Jesus. Understanding the message of the angel and appreciating the fulfillment of the promise in the prophets, always involve obedience. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus approves of of the person who not only listens, but “who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). That is the path to which Matthew’s account summons you. That is not just a dream. It is life in the real world. “Christ saves, he delivers us from sins. This deliverance consists of two parts. Having made a complete atonement, he brings us a free pardon, which delivers us from condemnation to death, and reconciles us to God. Again, by the sanctifying influences of his Spirit, he frees us from the tyranny of Satan, that we may live ‘unto righteousness,’ (2 Peter 2:24).” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospels at Matthew 1:21).

God is with you! Matthew, like Luke, makes clear that this Jesus is truly human, he is truly the Son of Mary. But both make the point that his conception was by the power of the Holy Spirit in some mysterious way beyond our understanding. While Mary is not the source of the divinity of her Son, she is truly the mother of God in the sense that her Child is truly God (theotokos). Isaiah promised that God would be with his people as they faced what seemed like overwhelming enemies. He was picking up on a theme that ran through the Old Testament, particularly focusing on the presence of God in the Tabernacle and then the Temple. Now what had been a symbolic and preparatory presence has become a permanent reality. The incarnation is never reversed. Jesus did not stop being human when he ascended. He continues to be God with you, Immanuel. At the end of his Gospel Matthew records Jesus’ promise, “I am with you to the end of the age.” That is your comfort as you face issues that seem to be overwhelming. That is your assurance as you look at the end of your life here on earth. And it is the glorious reality of the new heavens and earth—where God is with his people in a fellowship that is unmarred by any sin.

As you work through the week ahead, do so with the knowledge, the assurance, that as you trust in Christ, God is indeed with you—and nothing can separate you from him.

“Why All These Names?”

Why does Matthew, as he begins his Gospel, includes the names he does in 1:1–17. It may seem to us today as an unlikely way to begin a book, but the Holy Spirit wanted Matthew to give you this at the beginning of the good news.

Honor the Son of David as your King. Jesus fulfills God’s promise to David. Matthew 1:1 introduces not only the genealogy, but the entire gospel. The expression, “the book of genesis” is found twice elsewhere in Scripture: Genesis 2:4 and 5:1–2. Matthew seems to have this in mind. “Matthew is narrating the record of the new age, the new creation, launched by the coming death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And since Matthew is narrating a genealogy of Jesus, it is likely that the Gen. 5:1 reference is uppermost in mind, and that Jesus is being painted with the genealogical brush of Adam.” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 389). “The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The promise had been made in 2 Samuel 7:12–17. David later sang of this promise as “an everlasting covenant,” 2 Samuel 23:5 It was not exhausted in Solomon, for the kingdom was to be established forever. Jesus is David’s descendant. The genealogy traces the royal line. Joseph, as Jesus’ legal (adoptive) father, is included. Matthew’s genealogy differs from Luke (who traces back to Adam, not just Abraham). Some have suggested that Luke gives Mary’s line, and Matthew that of Joseph. Perhaps, more likely, Luke’s is the physical descent and Matthew the legal (and royal) line. Genealogy may be a hobby for you, but it is serious business for a royal family!

Continue reading ““Why All These Names?””

“Good News by a Follower of Jesus”

If you had retired from a career with the IRS, how eager would you be to admit that? In Matthew 9:9–13 the human author of this Gospel, a tax collector, recounts Jesus call to him to be his disciple.

Listen to the good news. This is the good news about Jesus Christ. In the opening verse of the book Matthew tells you what, or better, whom, he is writing about. He is writing about Jesus, the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Joshua, Jehovah saves. He concludes the birth narrative with the Baby being given that name. Christ in Matthew is usually a title. It means Messiah, or Anointed. Early in the life of the church, including in other Scriptures, the title became part of the name. The heart of the good news, which is what “gospel” means, is that God has sent his own Son into the world to save his people from their sins. As Matthew describes his own call by Jesus he will explain what that means.

Continue reading ““Good News by a Follower of Jesus””