Chapter 1: The Promised King
Chapters, sections, and paragraphs, such as our Bibles display, were unknown in antiquity; so that the divisions we make within the Gospels are artificial. They are ours, not the authors.
Matthew uses the first few pages of his Gospel, which have been designated as the first four chapters, to introduce Jesus to the readers of his Gospel. Matthew wants us to know at the outset who Jesus is and why he is writing a book about him.
1.Ancestry (Matt. 1:1-17) What better way to introduce a person than to describe that person’s ancestry! Matthew, in keeping with the messianic theme of his Gospel, traces the ancestry of Jesus back to King David and also back to Abraham. The Messiah in Old Testament prophecy would come from the line, or lineage, of David. But before David, God had promised that from the seed of Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed. So Matthew opens his Gospel with the statement: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matt. 1:1). This is an echo of what God said to David:
And it shall come to pass, when thy days be expired that thou must go to be with thy fathers, that I will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall be of thy sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build me an house, and I will stablish his throne for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son: and I will not take my mercy away from him, as I took it from him that was before thee: But I will settle him in mine house and in my kingdom for ever: and his throne shall be established for evermore. 1 Chronicles 17:11-14
This refers to Solomon and Solomon's successors. But the proof of its truthfulness had to await the coming of Jesus.
Luke traces the ancestry of Jesus back to Adam. That is because he wrote especially for the Gentiles and presented Jesus to them as the universal man. But Matthew felt it was enough when the genealogy of Jesus reached Abraham, for he sincerely believed that salvation for everybody would come only through the Jews. They were God's chosen people. God did not choose them just to favor them and bestow all benefits upon them. He chose the Jews to prepare and use them for the benefit of all others. "That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:17-18).
The nation faltered and fell. The earthly successors to David and Solomon on the throne of Judah were no more. Nonetheless, the work of God had not been invalidated, nor God's promise forfeited. The Messiah had come. He was of the race of Abraham and of the family of David.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. Isaiah 9:6-7
Matthew divides the genealogy of Jesus into three historical eras consisting of fourteen generations apiece. The first era is from Abraham to David, the second from David to the captivity of Judah and the exile of the Jews in Babylon, and the third from the captivity to the birth of Jesus. Each of these three eras has special significance. The first is a period of formation: the development of a small clan into a large society of people; the unification of disparate tribes into a nation; migration in and out of slavery, through the wilderness, and into the land of promise. The second is a period of fulfillment and deterioration: the grandeur of David and the glory of Solomon, followed by deterioration and decline under their successors. The third is a period of patience, long-suffering, and expectancy: the captivity and exile, the return and temporary restoration of the nation, and subjugation by Rome.
Within these periods there are three arresting pieces of information. Matthew does not mention the wife of Abraham, the mother of Isaac. Nor does he include the wife of Jesse, the mother of David, or give the wife of Josiah, the mother of Josiah's son who was king when Jerusalem fell. He omits the names of the women throughout the whole genealogy before Joseph and Mary except for three persons. He says that the mother of Pharez and Zarah was Tamar and their father was Judah, and he calls our attention to the fact that the mother of Boaz was Rahab and that Ruth was the wife of Boaz and the mother of Obed, who was the grandfather of David. Why are these three women included when all the others are not?
Tamar was Judah's daughter-in-law. Her husband had died. The younger brother of her husband failed to honor his obligation to take her as his wife and rear children in honor of the deceased. So Tamar disguised herself as a harlot and tricked her father-in-law into committing adultery with her, and the offspring of this act of adultery were twins, Pharez and Zarah (Gen. 38:6-30). Salmon's wife who bore his son Boaz was Rahab, the harlot of Jericho, who concealed and protected the Israelite spies (Josh. 2; 6:22-27). And Ruth was not Jewish. She was a Moabitess, a foreigner, a woman from a despised enemy of Israel (Ruth 1:4).
There are skeletons in the closet of every family, no matter how respectable. But Matthew insures an accurate record. There was an act of incest and adultery in the ancestry of Jesus. One of the progenitors of the Savior was a prostitute. And the blood of the Messiah was not pure Jewish blood but had mingled with it the blood of an alien people.
This draws our attention to the inclusiveness of the genealogy of Jesus. He belongs to the Gentile as well as the Jew. Even the sinner can identify with the ancestry of Christ. Here at the outset of the career of Jesus we are made to realize the strange and unpredictable providence of God.
But then, after Matthew has gone to such pains to lay out this complicated genealogy, we find it is not that of Jesus after all. It is the genealogy of Joseph, who was only the stepfather of Jesus. The Davidic ancestry is lent to him, because he is the adopted son of Joseph. Mary had conceived her son before her marriage to Joseph took place. To be sure, in the eyes of the general public, he was Joseph's son, and Joseph looked on him and treated him as his own boy. But this in itself would not have been enough to confer Davidic sonship on him, nor would it have thrown on his shoulders the true messianic mantle. Matthew would not have bothered to supply his readers with the family tree unless it had been Jesus' true and authentic lineage.
Matthew knew that Mary, like Joseph, was of the house of David. The two came out of the same family and remained within that large family through marriage. This was not unusual in Jewish society in Bible times. Moses' parents, for example, came from the same family. "And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi" (Exod. 2:1). Zechariah realized Mary's Davidic origins when he said: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began" (Luke 1:68-70). Though it is not explicitly stated in the New Testament that Mary's ancestry is Davidic, this has been the tradition of the church since its inception; and this is the only way satisfactorily to explain the genealogies in Matthew and Luke who both report the virgin birth of Jesus.
2. Birth and Childhood (Matt. 1:18-2:23) Only two persons had to know of the virgin birth of Jesus, the mother who bore him and the alleged father who realized the child was not his. Indeed, Mary alone might have known the exact circumstances surrounding the event, and her husband could have misunderstood what had taken place. As a matter of fact, this was about to happen when God intervened in a dream and told Joseph that his pregnant fiancee was still a virgin and that the embryo in her womb had been miraculously conceived.
Betrothal in those days was different from an engagement today. Back then it gave the man extensive rights over and privileges with the woman he planned to marry but left the woman altogether dependent upon the honor and faithfulness of her affianced. If he decided she was unsuited for him, he could nullify the betrothal simply by telling her in the presence of two witnesses. If his fiancee had illicit relations with another man after her betrothal to him, the Mosaic law was that she should be sentenced to death, together with the guilty male (Deut. 22:23-24). Evidently the betrothed couple could have sexual relations with one another. Therefore, had Joseph broken his engagement to Mary without making a public issue of it, people would have assumed that her child was Joseph's. She would have been disgraced but not physically harmed.
Luke tells the story of the conception of Jesus from Mary's point of view, but we are indebted to Matthew for the same account from the perspective of Joseph.
We think of the name Jesus as unique. It was not in that time. Its Hebrew equivalent is Joshua, which is still quite frequently used. The meaning of the word in Hebrew is "God is salvation." Jesus will save his people from their sins. Here in Joseph's dream, Jesus is given his name -- a name with a mission to and in behalf of the people. Immediately Matthew attaches the messianic people to their Messiah. In his thinking, the two are inseparable. The uniqueness today of the name Jesus is as a result of his mission. We seldom name a person Jesus, because only Jesus of Nazareth is able to save us from our sins.
At this point Matthew uses his rubric to introduce a quotation from the Old Testament, which he amplifies a bit by explaining what the name Emmanuel means (Matt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14). In Jesus, God will be with the people, for Emmanuel means "God with us." Oddly enough, the word also means "prosperity." If God is with us, we will always be prosperous, not necessarily in material goods, but rather in the spiritual satisfaction of being with God. Then we will be rich indeed.
Matthew gives us information about the birth of Jesus not given by Luke, just as Luke supplies us with details not found in Matthew's Gospel. The two Gospels complement and supplement one another. Matthew tells of the Wise Men from the East who were led to Judea by the light of a wandering star. They came to Herod in Jerusalem and asked him about the habitation of the newborn king. Herod's Sanhedrin gave them the probable place of birth by consulting the Old Testament and finding a prophecy which designated Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah (Mic. 5:2). Herod pretended to be pleased. He sent them ahead but told them to come back for him when they had found the babe. Herod lied, saying that he, too, wanted to worship the Messiah.
The Wise Men followed a star, which means they were astrologers and had received guidance by divining the heavens. Hebrew thought was divided concerning the value of astrology. Some rabbis accepted it as a gift from God. Others condemned it as necromancy and witchcraft. There are the signs of the zodiac in the mosaic floors of some synagogues, though those are later than the first century. More important than their being astrologers is the fact that the Wise Men were Gentiles. In them, people beyond Jewry paid tribute to Jesus. They were rich and powerful, too, which means that Jesus came not to the poor only but to all people, no matter what their class or station might have been. To delimit the work of Jesus to one class or group is to restrict God's mission of salvation.
Herod was in the last year of his reign, and his life was fast coming to a close. His body was ravaged with disease. Indeed, he was infested with worms which were eating away his flesh. Yet his pride had not waned, and he was maniacally jealous and hungry for power to the end. Herod knew he was hated by the people, so he decreed that members of the Sanhedrin be slain when he died in order to guarantee mourning at his funeral. His sister mercifully lied, saying he had countermanded this order on his deathbed, and so spared the religious leaders of the nation. But there was mourning aplenty anyway, for just before his death Herod had slain all the male children of Bethlehem two years old and younger in an effort to kill the little Messiah whose identity the Wise Men had withheld from him. Fortunately Joseph and Mary had already fled with Jesus into Egypt.
If the Wise Men and shepherds had come to Bethlehem at the same time, there would be a conflict in the accounts of Matthew and Luke. Luke says that Jesus was taken to Jerusalem to be circumcised eight days after he was born. But if we allow time for the Wise Men to get from the East to Bethlehem, there is no conflict. Thus Christmas is the day of the shepherds, and Epiphany is the day of the Wise Men.
The holy family stayed in Egypt until Herod was dead. They did not go back to Judea but returned to Nazareth. Herod's murder of the children in Bethlehem reminds Matthew of a prophecy from Jeremiah when Rachel, who is buried near Bethlehem, weeps for her children jet. 31:15). Matthew thinks of Jesus as a second Moses, who will add his new teachings to the Mosaic law, making him a second but greater lawgiver. Therefore, it is appropriate that Jesus should, like Moses, come up out of Egypt. This also is fulfillment of prophecy (Hos. 11:1).
3. Baptism (Matt. 3:1-17)-For Matthew, John the Baptist is the equivalent in the New Testament of the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. Elijah preached the wrath of God. He condemned Ahab and Ahab's subjects in the Northern Kingdom for their apostasy and their sins. They worshiped Baal, a Canaanite god of fertility, caring more for their crops and the yield of their fields than for righteousness and the service of God (1 Kings 16:29-22:38).
The Pharisees and Sadducees cared more for their ancestry and tradition than they did for the people. They were like vipers to John, who refused to baptize them. He baptized those who were genuinely sorry for their sins and wished to do better. In his appearance, his habits, even his diet, he imitated Elijah. He fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy of a voice crying in the wilderness on behalf of God and God's righteousness (Isa. 40:3). His influence over Judea was considerable, so great in fact that he embarrassed Herod Antipas and his corrupt court.
But John's importance to Matthew was that he heralded the coming of the Messiah and that he was the authentic forerunner of Jesus. John is the first to use the phrase "kingdom of heaven," so frequently on the lips of Jesus, and his assurance that the kingdom is at hand provides Matthew with his first opportunity to use that phrase.
Jesus accepted baptism of John in the River Jordan, not that he needed it as a sign of his own repentance for sin, but only to conform to the providential pattern. The children of Israel had experienced the baptism of deliverance along with adversity when they had come out of slavery in Egypt and crossed the Red Sea into the wilderness. The Apostle Paul says that they "were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10:2). So Jesus was baptized of John and signified thereby his fulfillment of the old dispensation and inauguration of the new, though it meant for him also the experience of alienation and death on the cross.
Matthew says the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and lighted on Jesus, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"(Matt. 3:17). Was this an event observed by John and those with him? Was this a public announcement of Jesus' mission? Such could hardly have been the case, since Matthew is careful to remark that the heavens were opened unto Jesus, who saw the spirit of God descending. What is seen by him is also confirmed by what he heard. What does this mean?
In my opinion it means that the kingdom of God, which Matthew usually calls the kingdom of heaven, can now through Jesus be seen on earth, for this will be the central concern of Jesus' ministry. The spirit of God that moved upon the face of the waters in creation (Gen. 1:2) now lights on Jesus to signify that Jesus will by his life and work effect the new creation. "Therefore," says Paul, "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5.17).
4. Temptations (Matt. 4:1-11)-Even the Son of God had to be tempted. Matthew is careful to point out that God himself led his Son into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. The apprentice is not the master, but neither does anyone ever become a master until as an apprentice he has learned the master's art. Aristotle was a pupil of Plato before he became a teacher with pupils of his own. According to William Wordsworth, "The child is father of the man, which is to say that a grown person has no more at his disposal than what he has acquired in the process of growing up. Like Ulysses, we are a part of all that we have met.
Jesus met the devil, and because he did he knew how to cope with him and how to instruct his disciples to do the same. Goodness is not synonymous with innocence. Goodness, if it is genuine and enduring, comes only after a struggle with evil.
The first temptation had to do with physical and material needs. Jesus had fasted forty days and nights and was depleted and hungry. The devil said, "If you are who people say you are, then your present state should present no problem to you. If you really are the Son of God, then make bread out of these stones" (Matt. 4:3, AP). Jesus answered the devil with a quotation of Moses: "And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live" (Deut. 8:3). This shows the inadequacy of material things. The acquisition of goods and the purchase of services, self-indulgence, personal opulence and ease are not consistent with being human. We were created not to please ourselves, but to please God. And knowledge of God and God's will for us is more important than what we can get for ourselves from material things. Jesus would not misuse his divine powers for purely personal ends. He would not employ a miracle to get what he could earn from hard work.
The second temptation had to do with reputation. The devil set Jesus on the pinnacle of the Temple, which is the corner of the wall overlooking the Kidron Valley. "Jump off," he said, "for it is written, 'He shall give his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone, (Psalm 91:11-12). The devil shows Jesus that he can quote scripture, too. Jesus refuses to jump, recalling another verse from Deuteronomy, Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God" (6:16). The quest for fame and notoriety is just as unworthy as the quest for material things.
In the last temptation the devil comes out in the open. He does not flatter Jesus anymore by calling him the Son of God. He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and tells him they will be his if he will forget who he is and fall down and worship him, the devil. Again the second Moses recalls the first, and Jesus answers with still another statement of the great lawgiver in the Book of Deuteronomy, "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name" (6:13).
The trial is over. The testing period by the devil is at an end. The threefold temptation of wealth, fame, and power, in ascending order, has failed to seduce Jesus. The voice from heaven heard at the baptism of Jesus has been confirmed. He has proved that he deserves the plaudit: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). 5. Vocation (Matt. 4:12-25)-The student has been graduated. The apprentice has left the master's studio and is now on his own. The new master assumes authority on his own credentials. Just as John the Baptist goes to prison, Jesus goes into Galilee, the Galilee of the Gentiles, where Jews live alongside people of other races and where many of the Jews themselves have been Hellenized.
Jesus establishes himself at Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, a city with a synagogue built by a Roman centurion and not far from Julias, a thoroughly Hellenized and pagan city. As master, he is now in position to have disciples of his own. He calls Simon and Andrew from their fishing nets on the Sea of Galilee, saying, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19). Later, he sees James and John with their father in a boat. The three men are mending their nets. He calls to them, and they leave their equipment in the boat with their father and follow Jesus. It could be that these four men, the nucleus of the later Twelve, had been disciples of John the Baptist and had been with John when he baptized Jesus. If so, they no longer had a master since John had gone to jail. Also, they would have remembered what John had said about Jesus. This would account for the ease with which Jesus won them. In going to Jesus from John they had exchanged the lesser for the greater.
Shortly it seems the reputation of the new master was established. His fame spread. He healed all manner of sickness and disease among the people, including lunacy and demon possession. Folk came to him in Capernaum from all around: Galilee, the Decapolis (ten Romanized towns), Jerusalem, and even from beyond the Jordan. Jesus had found his vocation, which was to perform in behalf of the people the role of God's messiah and minister on earth. He proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He fulfilled before their eyes the prophecy of Isaiah:
Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death upon them hath the light shined. Isaiah 9:1-2
Matthew says Jesus is that light, and in Capernaum and the region of Galilee it has begun to shine.
1. Do you think of yourself as having a Jewish faith heritage ? Why or why not ?
2. John the Baptist as a prophet in the Old Testament mold, dressing oddly and living a separate life. How night a contemporary prophet signal holiness and complete dedication to God ?
3. Why is a public act of repentance valuable ? Should repentance be a public, one-time act ? Why?
4. Consider yourself and your faith. What of the "old you" has disappeared because of your relationship with Christ ? What about you is new because of your faith in Christ ?
5. The author says that goodness is not synonymous with innocence. What rules of morality seem to equate the two ? How did Jesus deal with the sin and evil around him ?
6. Do you know anyone who proclaims god’s truth uncompromisingly ? Is it possible to be a prophet privately ? Is private holiness a different kind of devotion than being a prophet in public ?