STUDY 2: MATTHEW 1:18-2:23 - THE BIRTH NARRATIVES

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2012

A. THE IDENTITY OF JESUS CHRIST:

As we read the birth narratives Matthew gives us insight into the identity of Jesus. 

Read these verses. What do they teach us about the identity of Jesus?

1:18,20

 

 

 

1:21

 

 

1:23

 

 

2:2

 

 

2:6

 

 

 

 

2:11

 

 

2:15

 

 

 

A.1 The Holy Spirit and the conception of Jesus - 1:18,20

Matthew 1:18 and 20 teach us that the conception of Jesus was the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit was active in the creation of the world out of nothing [Genesis 1:2] so here the Holy Spirit creates an embryo in the womb of Mary, using only her ovum [read Genesis 3:15 where the ultimate conqueror of Satan is referred to as the ‘seed’ or ‘offspring’ of the woman, not the man]. This creative action of the Holy Spirit is necessary for this virgin birth foretold by the prophet [Isaiah 7:14]. 

 

A.2 Jesus - 1:21

The name ‘Jesus’ [Matthew 1:21] is the Greek form of the name ‘Joshua’ which means ‘God saves’. Thus the angel gives his explanation: ‘because he will save his people from their sins’. Notice that in this the angelic messenger testifies to the deity of Jesus. He does not say ‘because through him God will save his people from their sins.’ The name means God saves, and the angel states that he, this son who will be born, will save because this newly conceived embryo is God.  

In this name ‘Jesus’ we are introduced, not only to the deity of Jesus Christ, but also to his saving, redemptive purpose, a purpose which is far removed from the popular expectations that the Messiah would be a national, political deliverer. The deliverance accomplished by this son of Mary will be a spiritual deliverance. 

 

A.3 Immanuel – God with us - 1:23

In 1:23 Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 which specifically states that the son born of the virgin will be called ‘God with us’. Here is a further testimony to the deity of Jesus Christ: he is ‘God with us’ – God in human flesh. This event in which God comes in human form is termed the ‘incarnation’.

 

A.4 The king - 2:2,6

The Magi, or ‘wise men’ came to Judea looking for ‘the one who has been born king of the Jews’ [Matthew 2:2]. They are right in referring to him as ‘king’, but their ‘of the Jews’, although not incorrect, is minimal and incomplete. King Herod is afraid of this new born ‘king’, this ‘ruler’ who will come out of Bethlehem [2:6]; he is correct in fearing his power, but he also is incorrect in his understanding of how the power and the kingship of this ‘king’ will be exercised. In his attempt to destroy him in order to protect his own position he is trying to destroy the one on whom his own spiritual destiny depends, had he but known it. But his focus on his own earthly kingdom blinds him to the eternal kingdom that will be established by this ‘King’. 

 

A.5 The Shepherd - 2:6

In 2:6 the priests and teachers of the law refer to Micah 5:2-5 in answer to Herod’s question. If we check this out in our English Bibles what they said is not a complete quote of one verse, but it captures Micah’s meaning spread over four verses – that out of Bethlehem will come a ‘ruler’ who is also ‘the shepherd’. If we go back to Micah and study these verses they give us even more insights into the person and work of Jesus:

 

  • God states that he comes “for me” [Micah 5:2]. There is a divine plan and purpose in his coming. He comes on God’s mission and by God’s appointment.
  • His ‘origins are from of old, from ancient times’ [5:2]. The Hebrew means ‘from eternity’.[as in Proverbs 8:23]. He is the eternal Son of God.
  • He is the Shepherd, who “will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God” [5:4]. The concept of the shepherd has two points of significance: the first, that the rulers of Israel [prophets, priests and kings, but particularly the kings] were considered by God as the shepherds of his people; and the second, that God himself is the Shepherd. In Ezekiel 34 these two concepts come together: the shepherd who will replace the failed shepherd of Israel is God himself [verses11-22, 30-31] and a descendent of David [verses 23-24]. This Shepherd depicted in Micah has in himself ‘the majesty of the name” of God. Here is a Shepherd who will not fail, because this Shepherd is both a human descendent of David and God.
  • His ‘greatness will reach to the end of the earth’ [5:4]. Rather than be restricted to Israel, this Shepherd has a worldwide impact.
  • ‘And he will be their peace’ [5:4]. This new Shepherd/King brings not a war in which Israel triumphs over her enemies, but peace in which both Jew and Gentile live in peace with God and in peace with each other.

There are many people involved in this scene in Jerusalem shortly after the birth of Jesus: the wise men, Herod, the priests and the teachers of the law, but none of them were aware of the deep significance the Micah passage given in answer to Herod’s question.  

 

A.6 The focus of worship - 2:11

The wise men ‘bowed down and worshipped him’ and ‘presented him with gifts …’. In both of these actions the Greek verbs used are commonly used in reference to worshipping [proskuneo]and bringing offerings [prosphero] to God. There is no record of the wise men honouring Herod in this way, even though he was the King. But to this small baby these wise men render the honour due also to God. 

 

A.7 God’s Son - 2:15

In quoting from Hosea 11:1 [‘out of Egypt I called my son’] Matthew, while describing this historical event in the life of the young Jesus as fulfilment of the prophetic word, also affirms that Jesus is the Son of God.

 

B. GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY 

As we read these narratives we become aware that the sovereign God is a work here, bringing his eternal purpose to pass [1] through human agents, with or without their prior agreement, and [2] despite the deliberate opposition of other humans.  

Throughout his Gospel Matthew points out that God overrules in human lives in such a way that the inspired words of the Old Testament prophets come to pass.

Read these verses. List the fulfilled prophecies.

Matthew 1:23

Isaiah 7:14

 

Matthew 2:5-6

Micah 5:2

 

Matthew 2:15

Hosea 11:1

 

Matt 2:16-10

Jeremiah 31:15

 

Matthew 2:23

Isaiah 11:1

 

[Note that the root of the word Nazareth is ‘branch’.]

Now read these verses and note the way God intervened or interfered in human lives to ensure his sovereign eternal purpose came to pass.

Matthew 1:18,20

 

 

Matthew 1:19,20; 2:13,19-22

 

Matthew 2:2,7-10

 

 

Matthew 2:12

 

 

 All of this assures us that nothing can thwart the establishment of God’s kingdom.