Thursday, December 13, 2018

Devotional: The Birth of the King, Matthew 1:18-2:12

Outline of Matthew 1.18-2.12

The theme of Matthew’s Gospel is that the kingdom of God (heaven) has come to earth in the person of the king, Jesus Christ. In one sense, with Jesus walking on the earth the kingdom of God, as prophesied by the prophets was already present. But in another sense the full manifestation was yet to come. Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension would bring in a New Covenant (26:17-30) that would extend the blessings of God’s presence to all the nations of the world (the “already” blessing we live in now). God’s kingdom plan would then be completed at the return of the Son of Man (24-25) (the “not yet” completion of the kingdom when heaven and earth are renewed and joined). In telling the birth story of Jesus, Matthew looks back at how the history of God’s plan in the story of Israel pointed to Jesus and looks forward to how Jesus would accomplish God’s future plan to accomplish his purpose on earth to disciple the nations and to fully realize God’s presence and rule on earth.

The birth story is framed by two visions in which an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph to give him instruction about what his role was to be in God’s plan to bring his Son into the world. The first dream informed Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy was a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit and that he should not divorce her (1:18-25). Instead, he was to name the child Jesus as a sign that Jesus “will save his people from their sins.” (1:21) In the birth story of Jesus, while Luke emphasizes Mary’s story, Matthew emphasizes the righteousness of Joseph. Joseph chooses to obey what God tells him in a dream rather than cling to his honor which would have allowed him to divorce Mary. Joseph provides the example of what our devotion to Jesus should look like as he chooses obedience over cultural norms and the honor of his peers.

Matthew points out that Jesus is the “fulfillment” of the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7-9 (1:22-23). Just as Isaiah’s children were a sign to the nation 700 years before that God was present with them to bring blessing and deliverance to those who trusted and acted on God’s promises in the Assyrian crisis, so Jesus was a sign that God was acting decisively in the world again. Isaiah had predicted that a greater Immanuel was coming who would bring God’s rule, rest, and peace to the entire world. (Isaiah 9:6-7) This greater Immanuel would bring God’s presence into the world in an even more concrete way. God himself would take on a human body and come into the world through a miraculous virgin birth. God himself was coming to free all people, not just from tyrants like Assyria and Rome, but from the dark spiritual forces behind them, from sin, death, and all its consequences. Like in Israel of old, our response to the sign child Jesus determines whether we receive the Immanuel of blessing or the Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isaiah 8) of judgment. Joseph models the proper response as he obeys completely.

In the next section (2:1-12) Matthew records the visit and worship of the Gentile Magi from Persia. The story of the Magi is another of the indications that Matthew is concerned for the mission to the Gentiles. It would have reminded Jewish readers of the many prophecies that, in God’s kingdom, people from all over the world would come and worship God and his king. This is the context of the prophecy in Micah 5:2 that the Jewish priests use to confirm that Messiah will be born in Bethlehem of Judea. This same prophecy (Micah 4:1-5) predicts that people from all nations will come to God’s king and worship. The Magi would be the first in a long line of Gentiles who would worship Jesus.

The worship of the Magi is a model for how we are to worship King Jesus. As they brought gold so should we worship by using our possessions and resources to serve Jesus’ mission and Jesus’ people. As they brought frankincense, the incense that went up to God in the temple symbolizing the prayers of the people, so we should privately and publicly lift up our prayers and praise to the throne room of God because we know he hears them. As they brought myrrh, burial perfume, so we should remember the cross of Jesus and what it accomplished and take up our own cross and follow him.

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