With the commercialized Christmas season upon us, I thought it would be good to remind us of the birth of Christ. Over the next several postings we will be looking at both the account of His birth we find in Matthew and, later, the one that is found in Luke.
I’m going to break up our Matthew study into two parts:
Part #1 – Matthew 1:18-2:7
Part #2 – Matthew 2:8-23
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
An espousal is a legally binding engagement. Back in the NT times, when the couple made it public knowledge that they are intending marriage, they became legally responsible to be faithful to one another. Although they were not yet actually married, nor did they have marital relations; the law said they had entered into a legally binding agreement, and were to be held accountable if the did not uphold that agreement.
Mary, becomes pregnant during this time of espousal. Therefore, in the eyes of the law, she appeared to be guilty of adultery, even though she was not yet married to her husband to be, Joseph.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
Although not married, according to the espousal law, Joseph was her husband. Therefore, if he did not intend to go through with the marriage he must give legal grounds and have her “put away” (ie do away with his legal obligation to marry her – in other words, he was legally severing the espousal contract.) However, because he still loved her, he did not want to put her to shame by using a public meeting to sever the espousal contract. He opted for a private meeting with the city elders to sever the contract instead.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
The identity of this “angel of the Lord” isn’t specified in Scripture. Some believe it is the same “angel of the Lord” that is talked about in the OT scriptures (Gen 16:7, 22:11, Ex 3:2, Num 22:22 etc). Others believe this is a more generic term that is used for any angel that does the bidding of the Lord on the earth. The identity of this angel is not of great significance to our story. What is important is his message to Joseph…
- Fear not to go ahead with the marriage to Mary
- Mary has conceived through divine intervention of the Holy Spirit, she has not been unfaithful to you.
- She will give birth to a son
- You will call Mary’s son “Jesus”
- The reason for this name is to reveal His person and one of the purposes of His coming… – Jesus means “Jehovah is our freedom” or “Jehovah is salvation” . In other words, in this one name “Jesus”, we learn that this baby would be God Himself (Jehovah), who would bring freedom from our sins (salvation)
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
This is a prophecy found in Isa 7:14. Here the name Emmanuel is Hebrew for “God with Us”. When Joseph gave the baby the name “Jesus” the same truth was brought forth. He was Jehovah (or God) with us.
Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
Joseph, by faith, accepted the message of the angel and then changed his plans to obey the angel. This was true faith at work! Every human indication was that Mary was unfaithful to him, but based on the message from God, Joseph chose to marry her, trusting the truthfulness of God’s message.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king,
“Bethlehem” is from the Hebrew language. It means “House of Bread”. This is the birthplace of Christ. Who is self described as the “bread of life” (John 6:32-51). Truly, Bethlehem is the “house of bread”!
Herod, this was a family name. There were many individuals who carried the name of “Herod”. This man, in the account of Christ’s birth, was a man commonly referred to as “Herod the Great” or “Herod the first” or “Herod the Ascalonite”.
behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
The wise men were religious priests from Persia. By their words and actions, we can see that they were acquainted with teachings about a coming King of the Jews. Also, they were familiar with the role of the star (perhaps from Nums 24:17). They had a submissive attitude toward this coming King, they were coming to worship Him and bring Him gifts, even though they were not Jewish but of Persian descent. All of this seems to indicate it is possible they were actually worshippers and servants of Jehovah.
There is nothing in Scripture to indicate these men were currently practicing “astrologers” nor “mystics” nor “seers”. It is much more likely they were highly educated scientists studying the heavens (astronomers). The other possibility was that these men were reformed “astrologers” who were no longer practiced the sinful craft. Keep in mind, these men appear to be in submission to Jehovah and His Christ. It is this same Jehovah that makes it clear that astrology and mysticism is sinful and should not be pursued. (see my blog entry “Ask the stars… they will tell you”)
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
Herod, the current “King” of the Jews, was concerned at the news another “King of the Jews” was to be born. This troubled him, so he gathered together his religiously educated counselors to find out more information.
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
The counselors quote to Herod the prophecy found in Micah 5:2, which tells of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the coming ruler of Israel. This Bethlehem was a very small village in the province of Judah (the southern portion of Israel). That is why it is described as “the least” among the towns (princes) of Judah.
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
Herod would use this information to calculate an estimate of the Messiah’s age, as He sent forth His decree to slay all infants two years and under (Matt 2:16).
And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
Herod had no intention of worshipping Christ, he wanted to kill the Christ child. Here, we see his deceit and his attempt to use the wise men for his own evil purposes.
To be continued in part #2 of our study which includes Matthew 2:8-23.