Well, after so many months in the Old Testament, we’ve finally graduated to the New Testament, and especially to the Gospels. As we do so there are a couple of “housekeeping” details to note.
The Gospels tell the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and although they are contained in what is known as the New Testament books, Jesus life was clearly lived in the era of the Mosaic covenant. This becomes increasingly important to realize as we march through the four tellings of His life. It was not technically until after His death that the New Covenant was actually initiated, that is, in force.
Secondly, you may notice as we read the four Gospels that some of the narratives might seem to differ in some details. The Gospels are inspired by God — specifically, the Holy Spirit — and differences are really only apparent and not real. One example of an apparent difference is in today’s reading of the genealogy of Jesus; the Matthew genealogy differs from Luke’s genealogy. But the explanation of the apparent discrepancy is simply a tracing of the family lines through Mary in Matthew’s account and Joseph in Luke’s account. Other cases can be similarly and satisfactorily explained.
Third, there is some 300 years of silence between the end of the Old Testament (Malachi) and the beginning of Jesus’ life. In a nutshell, the Persian empire (under which Daniel, Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi prophesied) eventually fell to Alexander the Great’s Greeks. Alexander died soon after conquering the world (including Israel), and four of his generals divided and ruled his vast new empire. In this era, those living in Israel were intensely persecuted by rulers who were bent on conforming their subjects to the Greek way of life, including the Greek gods. Israel rebelled and gained their freedom for a short while, until the Roman empire arose and conquered the old Greek empire — and then some. Each empire made significant contributions to what the New Testament calls the “fullness of time”, the right circumstances for God’s plan of redemption and the quick spread of the Kingdom of God. For more details, read up on this period of history known as the Intertestamental period. If you’re into history, it’s a fascinating study.
Getting to the subject at hand, Matthew, however, it should be pointed out that Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels. Throughout his Gospel, Matthew tried to underscore the fact that Jesus is the king prophesied to sit on the throne of David and that He came to establish the Kingdom of God. It also is the richest in Jesus’ actual teachings. Matthew was one of the original 12 apostles. He was an tax collector and his he was known by another name, Levi. Having said all that, let’s begin the story of the life of Christ…
Genealogies are pretty boring to Americans, unless it’s your hobby, but it was crucial to Jews and especially to Jews who were looking for the Messiah. Matthew’s point in listing all these folks (1:1-17) is to emphasize the fact that Jesus came from the right family to be the Messiah, the King of Israel who would sit on the throne of David and rule forever. Once we know this, it becomes interesting to us, too, because it is simply one more piece of evidence that Jesus really is who He claimed to be.
This prophetic reference to Jesus’ being born of a virgin comes from Isaiah 7:14. On the surface of it, we can see the original fulfillment was a sign to King Ahaz that his kingdom would be safe from enemies; but this prophecy also had a secondary fulfillment, like many of them do. Immanuel, God with us, was to be born of a virgin, not just a young woman; and this was to be a sign to men that the Messiah had arrived. And by the way, it was only for the purpose of being a sign — there was no theological purpose behind it, like avoiding the original sin or “impurity of sex.” God actually commanded being fruitful and multiplying; sex was God’s idea.
Here’s an interesting portion of Matthew’s story that’s worth a look. Although the manger scenes around Christmas time always include Wise Men, the truth is that they were not part of the birth story. Chapter 2:7 notes that Herod asked and found out when the star had appeared and later acted on that knowledge by having all the male children 2 years old and under killed “according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi.” So Jesus was about 2 years old at the time of the magi’s visit. This is further evidenced by the fact that Jesus is called a child rather than an infant (v. 11) and also the fact that they came to a house (v. 11) rather than a stable and manger. Indeed, it would have taken a while for the magi to arrive at Jerusalem after having seen the star and having determined its meaning.
But why would Matthew, the most Jewish of the Gospel writers, tell us about foreigners, astrologers no less, looking for the star of a Jewish king and bring him gifts from afar. An interesting detail in all of this is that the Old Testament prophet Daniel was a magi — in fact, the well-respected, very long serving, chief of the magi, a widely respected collection of scholars and early scientists originally coming from Chaldea. Daniel wrote a book of prophecies about the empires of the world and their interaction with Israel; would it be too great a stretch to think that he may have left some wisdom and prophecy for later magi to read and follow up on? If so, the inclusion of the story of the magi was Matthew’s attempt to give Daniel’s prophetic support to Jesus as the Christ.
And one last thing, please notice that the Bible doesn’t say there were three magi (Wise Men), just that there were three categories of gift: frankincense, myrrh, and gold.
The baptism of Jesus
Baptism is not sprinkling. Although some of the artistic masterpieces depict John sprinkling Jesus, he did not. The original word means to immerse; so when Jesus was baptized, He was immersed. But why was he baptized? Everyone else who was baptized to demonstrate their repentance, so that their sins could be forgiven; but Jesus had no sins to repent of or be forgiven of. That’s why John the Baptist originally balks at Jesus’ request for baptism. But Jesus gave a reason, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus wasn’t interested in just getting by on the minimum requirement; He wanted to fulfill all righteousness. What a great lesson for us! Salvation was not purchased as a bargain basement price — Jesus was be best of Heaven. Why should offer to the Lord a minimal effort; just enough to get by? What does that say of our “love” for the Lord? God’s response to what Jesus did should be a great lesson, too, “This is My beloved Son with who I am well pleased.” He didn’t say that it was did OK, or that it was good enough; He was well pleased. What’s your aim?
The wilderness tempatations
Immediately upon being baptized the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness where He was tempted for 40 days. We only know of three of those temptations, but they are full of lessons. 1) Jesus foiled them by quoting scripture: knowing whether something is right or wrong is crucial and Jesus knew the word of God well enough to quote it. 2) Satan knows how to quote scripture, too: there are plenty of false teachers who know how to quote scripture, but they use it wrongly. 3) Temptation is not the same as sin: we get this confused sometimes; but we often have no control over the temptations that come our ways, whereas we do have control over whether we give into them or not.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.