What is it about Matthew's account that got my attention this time? It was the fulfillment of the ancient prophesies. After studying the "mystery" in Ephesians, it was quite interesting to look back at the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah and see how difficult it would have been for the original readers to have understood the plan of God. He kept it a mystery until it was time for the prophecies to be revealed.
Now, as we look back on the fulfillment of the prophecies, we can see clearly that Jesus was the fulfillment and will continue to be the fulfillment in the future. But let's take a closer look at the narrative and the prophesies. What we will find in this section will be a blessing to all believers.
1. The birth of Christ (Matt. 1:18-25)
Matthew very carefully explains the birth of Christ, how it happened, the response of Joseph, and the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies. From this we will gain a greater understanding of who this child was and is.
a. Joseph's dilemma (18-19)
At some point during Joseph and Mary's engagement, Mary was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. But to Joseph, it appeared that Mary had been unfaithful to him. So, he decided to divorce her privately instead of publicly.
I've always wondered why Matthew describes Joseph as being just or righteous in not publicly divorcing her. The evidence was against her and she deserved to be punished for her act of unfaithfulness, right? And yet, Joseph decided not to make a scandal about the whole thing. Some times even obvious cases of sin need to be handled carefully.
b. The angel's explanation (20-21)
While Joseph was considering what to do, an angel spoke to him in a dream. The angel told him it was okay for him to marry Mary because the conception was from the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the son should be named Jesus (Savior) because he would save his people from their sins.
What an emotional roller coaster this must have been for Joseph! He went to bed with a heavy heart but God took away his troubles by clearing things up for him. Instead of being the downcast man about to divorce an unfaithful fiance, he now could awaken as the adopted father of the Son of God! Our God has a way of making even the worst situations turn out for the best.
c. The Scriptures fulfillment (22-23)
Matthew now turns our thoughts to Isaiah 7:14. In the context, Isaiah was relating God's sign to the unbelieving King Ahaz of Judah. Israel and Syria were attacking Jerusalem and he was very frightened. Isaiah told him that he needed to believe. Then Isaiah told him to ask a sign from God to prove that God would keep his promise. Unbelieving Ahaz refused to do this. Despite his unwillingness to cooperate, God gave him a sign.
The sign to Ahaz was that a virgin would have a child and call him Immanuel. By the time he was old enough to know right from wrong, the lands of the attacking kings would be forsaken. This was a prophecy that should have encouraged Ahaz to trust God's promises. It wouldn't be long before his enemies were defeated.
So, why does Matthew say that this is a fulfillment of Jesus' birth? The answer is found in what type of prophesy is being used here.
i. Some prophesies are directly fulfilled.
"Direct prediction consists of an Old Testament prophetic statement which refers to nothing prior to the New Testament times and which has its fulfillment solely in New Testament times." —A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Eerdmans, 1963, pages 300-301
A good example of this is Micah 5:2 where the birth place of Jesus is foretold as Bethlehem. This is exactly what happened and it was only fulfilled when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
ii. Other prophesies are typologically fulfilled.
"A typological prediction is an Old Testament prophetic statement that does refer to something prior to New Testament times although it finds its highest application of meaning in the events, people, or message of the New Testament." —A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Eerdmans, 1963, pages 300-301
These types of prophesies are only revealed to us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And this is how Matthew knew to tell us that the prophesy was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. The original fulfillment was a sign to King Ahaz 700 years before Christ's birth. But the ultimate reason for giving that prophecy was to point people to Christ. Just as a young woman gave birth to a child and was a sign of God being with Judah during Isaiah's time, so Jesus was born of a virgin and was Immanuel, God with us. The original audience saw God's promise fulfilled and so did the future audience.
d. Joseph's response (24-25)
So, how did Joseph respond? He believed what he had been told by the angel. And violating the custom of the day, he took Mary to be his wife before the year was completed. He kept her a virgin until after the baby was born. And when the baby was born, he named him Jesus just as the angel had commanded him to do. The Savior was born!
2. The birthplace of Jesus (2:1-12)
Matthew was also very careful in explaining the location of Jesus' birth. Luke's gospel goes further by revealing the census, the search for lodging, the manger scene, and the shepherds. Matthew concerns himself instead with the wise men and their visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. He also shows us the importance of Bethlehem and what it says about the baby born there.
a. The wise men's arrival (1-2)
After Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, magi from the east arrived who knew of his birth. I have always wondered how they knew that the King had been born.
i. Who were the Magi?
Magi were wise men who could interpret the stars. The came from the east perhaps being religious/political leaders who were acquainted with astronomy and astrology.
ii. How did the star tell them about Jesus' birth?
Matthew tells us that they saw his star. But how can a star tell us anything? In Genesis 1:14, God created stars and decreed that they would be for signs and seasons. Although we are not told how to interpret the stars, God has established that they are a sign of certain things. Apparently the magi knew how to read them.
iii. What did they know?
They somehow knew that a king had been born for the Jewish people. But they did not know anything else. Apparently, the stars can tell of general events to a certain specificity, but nothing more. I find it interesting that these wise men could know a little bit of God's plan but not the specifics. This reminds me of Romans 1 where Paul says that truths about God are seen in Creation. But until you read the Bible, you will not know any more.
b. Herod's inquiry (3-4)
Herod and all of the city were troubled by this news. So, Herod gathered the religious leaders of the day to find out where the Messiah was to be born. The scribes were the copiers and teachers, while the chief priests were the heads of the divisions of priests.
c. The Scripture's fulfillment (5-6; Micah 5:2)
The leaders told Herod that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. There was not doubt or hesitation in their minds. This was a direct prophesy which had not yet been fulfilled. The passage is taken from Micah 5:2.
Micah also prophesied during the reign of King Ahaz. His prophecies are for both Israel and Judah and were given during enemy opposition.
God promised that a ruler would be born in Bethlehem of Judah. He would be a leader for God and would be eternal. He would shepherd the people like a flock of sheep. And he would be their peace.
The priests and scribes knew that the promised leader would come from Bethlehem but didn't realize who he would be. Jesus was to be the same Immanuel promised in Isaiah 7 who would eventually bring peace, and leadership to the land.
d. Herod's request (7-8)
Shrewd Herod secretly called the wise men for a meeting for two reasons. (1) He wanted to know when the star had appeared to know the time of the king's birth. (2) He wanted to know the child's exact location. Herod was known for his insane fear of opposition. He had executed multiple wives and children for fear of them taking his throne. In fact, Caesar said that he would rather be Herod's pig than his son because of this. The wise men probably didn't know much about Herod and so agreed to do this for him.
e. The star's guidance (9-10)
Astrologers are known for watching the slow movement of the stars throughout the years. But never had they seen a star that moved enough to identify for them a specific house. But that's exactly what happened with this star. God supernaturally created a star which guided the wise men to the exact house where Joseph and Mary were living at the moment. Being poor people, they probably had setup shop in Bethlehem until they could afford to move back to their home town.
f. The wise men's response (11-12)
The wise men responded in interesting ways. When the star guided them to the child, they rejoiced greatly. Then when they saw the baby, the fell on the ground and worshiped him. Why such joy and reverence for the king of another country. The Bible doesn't say, but I am beginning to wonder if the Holy Spirit had opened their eyes to the truth.
After worshiping the child, the magi gave their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each was a costly gift that must have fueled the trip to Egypt and back. As for the wise men, they never went back to Herod. God warned them in a dream to not return to Herod so they went another way home thus saving the child's life and fueling Herod's anger.
3. The results of the prophesies
The story is a nice one to read. It is interesting to read Joseph's perspective and that of the wise men, but the greatest blessing should come from who the baby is. Who is he?
a. Jesus is the Savior (Matt. 1:21).
b. Jesus is God and man (1 Tim. 3:16).
c. Jesus is the Shepherd (John 10:11).
d. Jesus is our Peace (John 14:27).
And knowing these things ought to bring joy to our hearts and worship from our hearts.