Matthew’s Christmas Story

As a way of review of last week’s post I want to remind us of what we learned the last week. Mark’s gospel has no Christmas Story narrative. He opens with John the Baptist and his message of the birth of Christ to come. John quoted both Isaiah and Malachi as saying prepare the way because the Messiah was coming. One was saying prepare yourselves to be a vessel through which God’s love could enter into human history. And the other was saying be prepared for a major event that was coming. John’s preaching of a baptism of repentance for forgiveness and that One was coming that was mightier than him carried that same meaning that the two prophets were emphasizing.

Now let’s start with our study of the Christmas Story from Matthew’s perspective. Matthew was also known as Levi and was one of the 12 Apostles as we see in Matthew 10:3. Matthew was a Jew and collected taxes from his own people for the Roman government. Although he was despised by loyal Jews his gospel was originally written for these same Jews.

Matthew presents Christ with three different title; Son of David, Son of Abraham, and Christ the King. Only in Matthew’s account does Jesus speak of “His glorious throne”. Only in the gospel of Mark is Jerusalem referred to as “the holy city”. Matthew uses the word “kingdom” more than 50 times in his gospel. The expression “kingdom of heaven” is found nowhere else in the New Testament but appears thirty or so times in Matthew’s gospel.

The Christmas Story according to Matthew is found in Matthew 1:1-2:18. It actually begins with a lengthy description of the Genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1-17. In this passage the ancestral tree is based on the number seven. Numbers were very important to the Jews of that day, especially the number seven. Whenever the number seven is used in the Bible it suggests completeness, wholeness, restoration and healing. Seven is the number of days for a complete week. The Sabbath was the seventh day of the week when there was rest, healing and restoration. Jesus used the number seven when questioned about how many times one should forgive another when he replied to Peter not seven but seventy times seven.

Matthew gives us a very detailed description of the genealogy beginning with Abraham and ending with Joseph the husband of Mary. But in verse 17 he describes three distinct sets of 14 generations to match three prominent eras of Jewish history. This is obviously equivalent to 6 sets of seven generations. However, in verse 18, he begins his story concerning the birth of Jesus which ushers in the seventh set of 7 generations. In other words, Jesus was the ultimate completion of the promise of the Messiah. He was the greatest and final work of God to bring wholeness and healing to a broken, bruised and conflicted world.

A Truth for Today: In His perfect timing God sent His Son into the world to begin the completion of his plan to redeem man and reconcile him to Himself. The plan that originated in the mind of God before the foundations of the world was now on its way to full and final completion.

As we continue in Matthews gospel we find a short story of the conception and birth of Jesus in Chapter 1, Verses 18-25. The Bible says in this passage that Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. In other words, Mary conceived the baby who would be named Jesus, but Joseph was not the baby’s father.

Can anyone explain how this is possible? Keep in mind that Mary would go through the normal time span of carrying the baby and most likely encounter the same discomforts that any mother-to-be would expect. The real question is this. Why was it necessary for Jesus to be physically born of a woman? May I suggest that it was necessary in order for Jesus to be able to relate and empathize with all aspects of being human. However, we will spend more time on Mary when we consider the Christmas Story from the gospel of Luke.

Continuing is this passage we can take a look at Joseph’s faith and character. In this passage we can find out a great deal about Joseph and his character traits. We see in verse 19 that Joseph was a righteous man. Apparently Joseph had a good understanding of the need to act according to divine and moral law and so he attempted to stay free from guilt and sin. In other words, he obeyed God. Joseph was also a humble and unselfish man. His reaction to finding out Mary was pregnant was to seek a divorce privately in order to keep the shame and embarrassment to a minimum for Mary.

Can you imagine how he must felt when he heard that Mary was with child? How would you have reacted? Joseph was a man of tremendous faith and placed his trust in what God was doing in his life. He heeded the instructions of the angel. In this account of the birth of Jesus, Joseph is what I call a hero of the faith.

Now here the story changes directions as we look at the wise men’s visit and Herod’s evil plot. This part of our study is found in Matthew 2:1-12 and really bring’s out Herod’s ego and fear. So let’s take a closer look at this character.

Herod was a nominal Jew and the Tetrarch of Galilee. His grandfather had been governor of Idumea and his father had been procurator of Judea, all positions appointed by the Roman leader at the time. All of these were more loyal to the Roman government than to God or his people. Known as Herod the Great, he was responsible for the erecting of the temple at that time and built other buildings that added to the splendor of Jerusalem. All of this was to fuel his ego.

The visit by the wise men however brought out fear in the heart and mind of Herod. Herod’s concern was the idea that the Messiah had come and He was a king. Being a Jew, I’m sure he had knowledge of the expected arrival of the Messiah but certainly was not expecting Him during his reign.

The situation at hand was much like that of the Pharaoh of Egypt when the children of Israel were multiplying very rapidly while being held in bondage by the Egyptians. The Pharaoh feared that they would become so numerous that they could overwhelm and overpower Rome so therefore they were a threat. That’s when Pharaoh ordered that every new male child born to an Israelite woman was to be drowned in the Nile. So after determining from the wise men when the star first appeared Herod ordered all the male children under two years of age to be killed after he realized that the wise men had returned to their country without coming back through Jerusalem.

But God already had a plan for the protection for Jesus as we see in Matthew 2:13-15. Joseph had a dream in which God revealed to him Herod’s plot and had Joseph to take Mary and the baby into Egypt. They remained there until after the death of Herod. The angel appeared once again to Joseph and told him that they could leave Egypt and return to Israel. Joseph brought them to Nazareth where Jesus would grow up and become a man.

A Truth for Today: In His perfect plan God uses people to bring His plan to full and final completion. Satan’s attempts to interrupt God’s plan in hopes that his ultimate end can be changed has never been nor will ever be successful.

From this story I think we glean a couple of reflections and applications. We should approach the celebration of the birth of our Savior with the same faith and trust that Joseph did realizing that His birth began the completion of the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem and reconcile us to himself. Matthew reminds us that Jesus is not just any man, He is the King of Kings. As we have lit the Candle of Faith on this second Sunday of the Advent we should exercise that faith to be what God desires us to be.

Note: Next week we will consider the Christmas story from Luke’s perspective. Our text will be Luke 1:1-2:20