What the prophets looked forward to and longed to see came in the person of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, God’s Son. The coming of the “unique One, who is God Himself” is the central point not only of human history but of eternity itself. The New Testament tells of His coming and His impact on his earliest followers. In the pages of the New Testament we encounter the holy God demonstrating His justice and love in relationship with sinful humankind. Some repent, while others resist God’s offer of salvation. Every reader is asked to identify with these people and come to a decision regarding their own relationship with this holy God. The New Testament is the word of God, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Believers must make its teaching the center of their life and conduct, and every nonbeliever must be given the opportunity to hear its truths. The New Testament is divided into three categories. There are the gospels and the Book of Acts. We have the 13 letters written by Paul, and 9 other letters. The Book of Hebrews gives us no author but many scholars believe Paul wrote it. We can ask the question of how could an obscure Galilean carpenter with no academic training and no social status, one who died the most horrific of deaths imaginable, establish a movement that wouldconquer the Roman world and become a worldwide religious force. Moreover, how do we affirm the historical trustworthiness of such incredible stories about a man and His followers who controlled nature’s forces, healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Perhaps the answer can be found in scripture. This is John 1:14,18. “ And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.”
We have four gospels, each different and unique but each pointing to Jesus. Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel. He presents Jesus as the Messiah, the descendant of David, the Branch, who fulfills the Old Testament promises for the King of Israel. In Matthew Jesus challenges hearers to live as citizens of God’s kingdom and leads the disciples to overcome their failuresto find understanding, in spite of their little faith. The second gospel is Mark. He presents Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God who gives His life as a ransom for many. In Mark the disciples misunderstand and fail as they try to follow Jesus. Mark shows the nature of true discipleship through people like the woman from Phoenicia, the father of the demon possessed boy, and blind Bartimaeus. Third is Luke. He presents Jesus as the man whose death and resurrection demonstrated Him to be the Savior and Lord of all. Luke highlights concern for people’s well being and the importance of prayer, the Spirit, and worship.He shows how, though Jesus, God has worked out His salvation in human history. These three gospels are called the synopticgospels. Synoptic is from the Latin meaning same or similar. These three share many of the same traits and characteristics as well as accounts of things Jesus did. The gospel of John is very different. He presents Jesus as the living Word of God, the light of the world, and the bread of life who encounters a people with the need to believe. John writes like he was there. Case in point, when the woman breaks the jar of nard to anoint Jesus feet, it is John who writes of the scent and how it filled the house. In John, Jesus is the unique One, who is Himself God. He has entered the world, bringing the glory of God’s presence and redemption to His own people and to the world. So we begin with Matthew.
Tradition says the disciple Matthew, also known as Levi, wrote the book that bears his name. There is debate as to when it was written. Some believe it was written fairly early, like 50-60 A.D. Others date the book closer to 80 A.D. Matthew’s primary audience were predominantly Jews who already believed in Jesus and confessed Him as the Son of God. His purpose was to prove that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Matthew used typical Jewish terminology but did not explain it because his original audience would have needed no explanation. He referred to the kingdom of heaven often. And Matthew told the story of Jesus as a retelling of the story of Israel. Allow me to explain. Jesus came out of Egypt, just like the Israelites before they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. He passed through the Jordan in baptism just like the Israelites passed through the Red Sea. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and the Israelites spent 40 years there. Both times were times of testing. Jesus gave His law on a mountain, like God the father gave the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Matthew traced Jesus lineage back to Abraham and frequently referred to the Messianic title “Son of David” instead of “Son of God” like we will find in John’s gospel. He did not tell Jesus story in strict chronological sequence but instead grouped facts topically. Matthew’s themes include Jesus the Messiah, Righteousness, and the believers commission. Matthew clearly taught that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament promises, especially that of the coming Messiah or King. Citizens of the kingdom of Heaven are to be called righteous, and ethical issues are a major focus in Matthew. Jesus’s first recorded words in Matthew had to do with fulfilling righteousness (3:15), and He demanded that His disciples invest their treasures in God’s kingdom, not in earthly possessions. In the closing verses (28:16-20) Matthew reveals the plan for the expansion of the kingdom of heaven. Believers are called to be salt and light (5:13-16) spreading the Good News of the kingdom to all the world.
Chapters 1-2 serve to set the stage for us. We see Jesus lineage and birth and the geography of His early years. We also see fulfilled Old Testament expectations and, that attempts to thwart God’s will do not succeed. In the original Greek verse one reads Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, and son of Abraham. Being identified as a descendant of David introduces Jesus as Messiah and the connection to Abraham emphasizes God’s covenant with Israel and the extension of that covenant to include all nations. Matthew’s focus is really on the ancestral line from David to the Messiah. You will note that there are 4 women listed in this genealogy. What is amazing is the kind of women Matthew includes. Tamar was involved in a scandal with Judah. Rehab is the prostitute of Jericho who sheltered the three Jewish spies on her roof. Ruth the was a Moabite who left her home country to settle in Bethlehem with her mother in law, Naomi. She married Boaz, a kinsman redeemer for Naomi’s family, and became the mother of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of king David. Bathsheba was not mentioned by name but as the wife of Uriah the Hittite. She was most likely a Hittite as well. She was involved in a sin of horrendous proportions with king David. Jesus mother Mary is mentioned as well.
Matthew version of Jesus birth focuses mostly on his earthly father, Joseph. He was a man of great faithfulness. He was betrothed to Mary. This was more than an engagement. They were considered married except for having no sexual relations. If Joseph would have died before they consummated the marriage, Mary would have been considered a widow and if either was unfaithful there would have been a public hearing and death by stoning. Joseph wanted to maintain his righteousness and didn’t want to harm Mary so he was going to divorce her quietly. But the same angel who appeared to Mary to announce her pregnancy, appeared to Joseph and told him to take Mary as his wife. The child was indeed of the Holy Spirit. The angel also told Joseph what to name this child…Jesus. This is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yeshua which means the Lord saves, because He will save the people from their sins. All of this fulfills Isaiah 7:14. When Joseph awoke from the dream he did exactly as the angel said. We will see that again later in this reading..twice.
Jesus was the Son of God, fully divine and fully human. One would expect a king to be born in a palace, not a barn or cave. One would expect there would be a gilded bed and fancy bedding. God does not do the expected. He specializes in the unexpected. Maybe that is so we keep watching for Him in places people wouldn’t expect to find Him. Jesus had some very unexpected but important visitors though. So, some thoughts about this. Bethlehem was a small village about 5 miles south of Jerusalem and the name means “house of bread”. It was king David’s home town which is why they had to travel there for the census. After the crowds left it appears Mary and Joseph found a house to live in. Perhaps Joseph was doing carpenter work to support them but they were poor. The Jewish king at this time is Herod the great who ruled from 37-4 B.C. He was a crafty ruler, a lavish builder, and his reigns was marked by bloodshed. He was paranoid and killed anyone who might be a threat to him personally or professionally. When the Magi came from the East, most likely Persia, and they asked where they could find the one who had been born king of the Jews, Herod was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. Those words must have struck both terror and fury in Herod’s heart. This would mean he had a rival and that could not happen. Jerusalem was worried because Herod was somewhat of a lose cannon and people had no idea what he might do. These Magi, or wise men, had followed a star, most likely a supernatural star from home all the way to the Holy Land. As they studied the heavens they believed the advent of a new king was indicated in the heavens by a star of some kind. Because the Israelites had been exiled in Persia for 70 and some were still there the Persians had access to Old Testament scriptures. This may have aided the wise men.
It is interesting to me that when they asked, the learned men in Jerusalem knew where the Messiah was to be born but they didn’t go with the Magi and in fact didn’t even seem interested.The Magi brought gifts for this king..gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold was a traditional gift given to a new king. Frankincense was the incense used in the worship and offering of sacrifices in the temple. This would have been a gift for a priest. Myrrh was used in the preparation for the dead, often called the ointment of death.. These seem like strange gifts for a child but this was no ordinary child. Not only did the Magi bring gifts but they worshiped Jesus. When the Magi did not return to Jerusalem, Herod was angry and ordered the killing of all baby boys two years old and younger. This too fulfilled prophecy. This seems unusually harsh and cruel but Herod had already killed his own son to protect his throne. After the Magi’s visit the angel appeared to Joseph again and told him to flee to Egypt so they would be safe. This fulfilled Old Testament prophecy out of the Book of Hosea, 11:1. Not only did the angel appear to Joseph sending him to Egypt but the angel returned to call him back after Herod had died. After Herod’s death Caesar split up his kingdom into four smaller territories. Herod’s son Archelaus was the ruler over Judaea, Samaria and Idumea. He was even more cruel and blood thirsty than his father had been so Joseph took his family back to Nazareth. Even living in Nazareth was a fulfilling of prophecy.
The next time we see Jesus in Matthew’s gospel he is an adult, ready to begin His public ministry. He was introduced by John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness. John’s location in the Judean wilderness had a symbolic significance. The wilderness was associated with the giving of the law and with God’s final redemption of Israel at the end of history. His prophetic call to return to God in repentance involved total reorientation from pride and sin to humble obedience to God. His clothing and food pointed to his predecessor Elijah. Those who responded to John’s preaching and turned away from sin were prepared to receive Jesus’ ministry. John’s baptism here most likely was modeled after the Jewish rite of purification. From the very beginning of Jesus ministry, here at His baptism, there are Pharisees and Sadducees lurking in the shadows. John had to remind the people that just because they were descendants of Abraham that did not serve as a get out of jail free card. They were not exempt from judgement and God was preparing to judge His people. The axe of judgement was resting at the trunk of the tree. John likened his ministry to God’s axe, clearing His orchard of dead wood, especially that which did not bear the fruit of repentance. Despite his popularity and growing following, John the Baptist had clear sense of what his role was as a subordinate to the Messiah, telling the people that One was coming who was so much greater that he, John, was not even worthy to carry his dusty sandals. In that culture to remove and carry Someone’s sandals, even those of a rabbi, was too lowly a task for anyone but the lowest of slaves. John identified the people with himself and his message of repentance by water baptism. But, the One coming after him would unite people to Himself by means of the Holy Spirit. John knew that the kingdom to come would be characterized by a great display of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people. It would be the work of the Messiah to accomplish this, to baptize people with the Spirit. But those who rejected Him, the Messiah would baptize with fire, which is God’s judgement. In His first advent Christ will baptize with the Spirit but at the second coming He will baptize with fire. The Holy Spirit and fire occur together at Pentecost and fire may also refer to purification along with judgement.
The Messiah’s ministry divides people into two groups, the wheat…that is those who respond, and the chaff…the unrepentant. John had already confessed that he was lesser than the Messiah and he didn’t feel fit to baptize the Messiah. But Jesus reminded John that they must accomplish what the Old Testament foreshadowed and demanded. In Matthew’s gospel, righteousness refers to behavior that conforms to God’s will. When Jesus rose up from the waters of baptism the heavens were split open and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove. This was God’s official recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. This was like a king being anointed with oil at his coronation. Oil in scripture is usually a sign of the Holy Spirit. Here the Spirit empowered Jesus to accomplish God’s salvation and defeat the evil one. This same Spirit empowers us today. The title “Son of God” reveals and clarifies Jesus’ nature and role. In His unique relationship to the Father, Jesus accomplishes salvation as the trusting and obedient Son.
There are parallels between Jesus and Adam. Jesus is the second Adam, and the second Israel. In contrast to the ancient Israelites, Jesus fulfilled its history by successfully wandering through the wilderness without sinning. He proved Himself the obedient Son of God by defeating the evil one in spiritual combat. And because He underwent temptation Himself as a human, Jesus is able to sympathize with the temptations we face today. He will help us overcome them as He did. Once Jesus had been tested in the wilderness the Messiah was prepared for His ministry. He first confronted the Galilean Israelites with the message of the kingdom. John the Baptist had been arrested by Herod so Jesus left Judaea and headed north to Galilee. He was avoiding martyrdom before finishing the work He had come to do. Jesus went to Capernaum, a place that was looked down on by the religious establishment in Jerusalem. They considered the Galileans to be uncultured, with a lazy command of the language. Galilee had a much larger population of Gentiles than Judaea did. These folks were more open to listening to new ideas which made the acceptance of Jesus teaching and preaching much more fruitful. Jesus’s message centered on the imminent arrival of the kingdom of Heaven and the repentance that it necessitates.
The last bit of reading today is the calling of the first disciples. This illustrates one of the purposes of Jesus ministry: to call people to follow Him in self denying obedience. Simon, called Peter became the leader of the disciples. Jesus’s call…come! Follow me! Jesus was so compelling the men dropped what they were doing and went with Him. Simon and his brother Andrew had been fishermen but now Jesus promised they would be fishers OF men. They would participate in the saving and judging work of the Kingdom. Following Jesus as His disciples involved both a commitment and a cost to the men Jesus called to follow Him. That is still true today for anyone who is called to follow. Verses 23-25 is a brief summary that marks the central theme of this section: the ministry and message of the Messiah. His ministry has three main features: teaching, announcing the kingdom, and healing. Synagogues were centers for prayer, study, and the exposition of scripture and tradition. They were the social centers of many Jewish villages. The hypocrisy and hostility of the Jewish leaders was evident at the synagogues. Many times over the course of His ministry Jesus and the disciples faced open hostility, often from the religious leaders.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W