Exploring Matthew—Expect the Unexpected
Matthew Has a Story to Tell
Matthew was one of the twelve handpicked by Jesus to be one of His disciples. Matthew had been up to that point a tax collector. That may not seem like much to us, but few people were more despised by the Jews than tax collectors. It was the job of Matthew to collect taxes from the Jews on behalf of the Romans. To a Jew, this was like taking money from the hand of God and giving it to Satan. Even though the Jews were under Roman rule, they saw themselves as a free and independent nation. Even though they benefitted from being part of the Roman empire, they felt they were God's chosen and were above everyone, including the Romans.
Matthew was a tax collector. This made him a hated traitor, yet Jesus chose him and because of that Matthew has a unique story to tell. Matthew could relate to the Tamars and Rahabs of this world. He knew what it was like to be a Ruth.
Notice that after listing the scandal-filled genealogy of Jesus, he steps right into the mess surrounding His birth. Mary was engaged to Joseph. During their engagement she became pregnant, but not with Joseph's child. Joseph had the legal right in that culture to have her publicly exposed and put to death.
He did neither.
Scandal and grace.
This is the unique perspective Matthew offers us. He discovered a Messiah who meets us in our mess and rather than expose us and convict us, He offers grace.
I invite you to join me as we walk through this picture of Jesus painted by Matthew the tax collector. We will read and discuss every verse. We will find that the mistreatment/misunderstanding of women we have been exploring over the past year is only the tip of the iceberg. Jesus was born into a mess to rescue the messy and messed up.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:18-21 NASB1995
How could God reasonably expect Joseph to believe this? His fiancée was pregnant, and he knew he had never slept with her. Now he is being told to marry her because the baby is the child of the Holy Spirit. Was this angel winged and glowing? Was the angel in the appearance of an ordinary person?
There are some reasons why this unbelievable dream was believed by Joseph but that really isn't the point. Let's look at them and then admit what the real point is.
The name “Jesus” is not a new or unfamiliar name to Joseph. He would have known both the name and the meaning of it. When his ancestors were saved from their wanderings in the wilderness and finally entered the promised land, their leader was Joshua. Joshua (Yoshua) is Hebrew. Jesus (Yeshua) is the Aramaic form of the same name. The name means God is deliverance or God is salvation.
Joshua of old was chosen by God to deliver Israel into the promised land. Jesus would deliver humanity from sin into the true Promised Land.
Joseph was familiar with the name and the meaning but not likely with the mission of Jesus. Joseph, like every other Jew (with few exceptions) was expecting deliverance from the Romans.
There were other reasons why Joseph would have been inclined to believe this highly unusual dream. Dreams were significant in the history of his people. Angels were as well. In addition, Joseph was described as a righteous man, meaning he had a connection with God that made him more open to His leading.
But let's return to the real point. Matthew has a story to tell, and his opening words repeat the point over and over. With God you can and must expect the unexpected. Tamar had no proper place in the family of Jesus. The same for Rahab and Ruth and yet there they are. King David was the greatest hero of Israelite history. The coming Messiah was supposed to be his heir to the throne, yet he was less than half Jewish and stole the wife of another man. Scandal. Sin. Polluted bloodlines.
Expect the unexpected.
Matthew was a tax collector yet one of the chosen 12.
Expect the unexpected.
Mary was pregnant and Joseph knew the baby wasn't his but he was supposed to roll with it.
Expect the unexpected...
Matthew is just getting started. See you tomorrow...
Expect the Unexpected
What do we expect? We expect whatever is normal and familiar to us. If we have always had snow in the winter, we expect more of the same when winter rolls around again. If we never get snow in the winter, we expect there to be no snow when winter comes. Texas got a surprise last winter. They got a Matthew-style winter. They experienced the unexpected.
But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. Matthew 1:20-25 NASB1995
Women mentioned in the family line that lead to Jesus is unexpected. Foreigners? Unexpected. Mentioned the deportation to Babylon as a key event? Definitely unexpected. Mary getting pregnant while engaged to Joseph but the baby not being his? Unexpected. Visit from an angel? Unexpected. The father is the Holy Spirit? Unexpected. Joseph finding himself living out the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy? Totally unexpected. Marrying her despite the unexpected circumstances but never sleeping with her until after Jesus was born? Beyond unexpected. In fact, in Jewish custom, a marriage wasn't a marriage until it was consummated by the sex act, a tradition that still holds some merit in our culture.
Very little, if anything, is normal about the opening chapter of Matthew's account and that is precisely the point. If you intend to pursue Jesus, sit up, get uncomfortable, and learn to expect the unexpected.
Exploring Matthew - More of the Unexpected
The beginning of chapter 2:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory—this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2 MSG
You may be more familiar with these visitors as wisemen or magi. Notice that they came to Jerusalem. This was the place you would expect Jesus to be born and to grow up. Jerusalem was the heart of the nation. Jerusalem was where the temple was located. All the best religious leaders, teachers, and scribes were there. Jesus was not. Jesus was in the small village of Bethlehem. His parents were poor and had been living in Nazareth, a town known for being less than...
Jerusalem wasn't expecting visitors of such a caliber. They certainly weren't expecting foreigners who were seeking to worship a newborn king. King of the Jews? The Jews already had a king. Herod wasn't ready to step down. In fact, he had already had one of his wives executed and three of his sons. Most historians/scholars believe this was because he felt they were a threat to his throne.
Imagine how he felt when a large group of wealthy foreigners arrived looking for a newborn king of the Jews. Talk about unexpected.
There was nothing conventional or "normal" surrounding the birth of Jesus and from Matthew's perspective that was and always would be the point. Jesus was and remained always the Man who defied expectations.
Whatever you do, don't miss the fact that in Matthew's telling of the Story, the first ones seeking to worship Jesus were from afar. They were outsiders who seemed to have an inside track. This point will arise again and again.
See you tomorrow...
Exploring Matthew - The Wise?men?
After the blog was posted yesterday, this observation/question came:
"I love this story and it shows me that there really were thinking men who knew the time had arrived. Thinking men who knew the King’s arrival was imminent.
What was, will be again. I wonder who these “wisemen” will be at Christ’s second coming?"
I am going to add some further observations and questions and then propose some answers.
These people who came looking for Jesus were definitely unexpected. Who were they? Where did they come from? Matthew says they came with one purpose in mind - to worship Him.
Those who should have known, did not. Those who should have been seeking Him to worship Him, were not, yet foreigners came from afar. How did they know? Why did they care?
From these questions and considerations from the past come present day questions and considerations. Who will be waiting and watching when Jesus returns? What will set them apart? Will they be equally unexpected?
First, there should be no mystery concerning who these wisemen/magi/scholars were. I know there is much speculation about them even among scholars, but this need not be. The Bible contains the answers. We know they came from the east. We know a star guided them or was the sign that told them when and where to go looking. We know they saw Him as a king and worthy of their worship. Clearly these people had a history that went far deeper than star gazing and curiosity; and even though we haven't progressed that far in Matthew's account, we know they brought three meaningful gifts with them: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
These "foreigners" were not foreigners, they were family. Family? Absolutely.
After Isaac was born and Sarah died, Abraham married again and had several more children. When they were grown up and it was time for Abraham to bless his children and give them their inheritance, he sent them all to the "land of the east" which simply meant he sent them across the Jordan river, leaving the land of Canaan to Isaac. Isaac was the promised one. He was the miracle child given by God. The promises made to Abraham - and don't miss this - were to be fulfilled through Isaac but they were for all people. That included the children Abraham sent to the east.
Think about those children. They were born after Isaac. They were born to Abraham after his faith became reality. They were born to the man who climbed Mount Moriah and there discovered that the Lord Will Provide. These children were born not into a cycle of faith and doubt, but into a family that knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God keeps His promises. They went eastward full of faith and hope.
Here is the Biblical proof:
Abraham married a second time; his new wife was named Keturah. She gave birth to Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan had Sheba and Dedan. Dedan’s descendants were the Asshurim, the Letushim, and the Leummim. Midian had Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah—all from the line of Keturah. But Abraham gave everything he possessed to Isaac. While he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons he had by his concubines, but then sent them away to the country of the east, putting a good distance between them and his son Isaac. Genesis 25:1-6 MSG
Now read this prophecy from the book of Isaiah and compare the names:
“Get out of bed, Jerusalem! Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you. The whole earth is wrapped in darkness, all people sunk in deep darkness, But God rises on you, his sunrise glory breaks over you. Nations will come to your light, kings to your sunburst brightness. Look up! Look around! Watch as they gather, watch as they approach you: Your sons coming from great distances, your daughters carried by their nannies. When you see them coming you’ll smile—big smiles! Your heart will swell and, yes, burst! All those people returning by sea for the reunion, a rich harvest of exiles gathered in from the nations! And then streams of camel caravans as far as the eye can see, young camels of nomads in Midian and Ephah, pouring in from the south from Sheba, loaded with gold and frankincense, preaching the praises of God. And yes, a great roundup of flocks from the nomads in Kedar and Nebaioth, Welcome gifts for worship at my altar as I bathe my glorious Temple in splendor. Isaiah 60:1-7 MSG
That's enough for today. We will keep exploring this tomorrow and by Sunday at the latest we will have a pretty good idea of who will be watching and ready when Jesus returns and why. 🙂
Exploring Matthew - The Wise?men? Part 2
Hundreds of years after Abraham was promised that through his family line someone would come who would bless all the nations, Moses found himself on the run. The descendants of Abraham were slaves in a foreign land just as God had said they would be. Their time to be delivered was fast approaching and Moses had thought he would be the one to do it. Now everything was ruined because he lost his temper and killed an abusive task master. Where was Moses running to?
Remember Moses was raised in Pharaoh's court, as the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter. He would have had the best education available. Moses knew exactly where he was going. He was headed for the land of his relatives. He was going to Midian. If he couldn't be with his own people, he would choose the next best thing. When he arrived, "chance" found him invited to the home of Jethro, who was a priest of the Most High God. The Midianites were sons of Abraham, descended from those he sent eastward in Genesis 25. They were still worshipping Yahweh which means they were still holding on to the promises given to Abraham. It wasn't for them to possess the land of Canaan but when the Seed came, He would bless all the nations.
Do you remember Balaam and his talking donkey? Balaam was a prophet of Yahweh, yet not an Israelite. How could that be? Because he too was a son of Abraham, from the sons who were sent to the east.
Listen to this prophecy spoken by Balaam:
He took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, The oracle of him who hears the words of God, And knows the knowledge of the Most High, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel... Numbers 24:15-17
A star and a king will arise in Israel. The worshiping people of the east held onto this prophecy. They held onto the promises Abraham taught them. They were probably given other prophecies along the way that we don't know about. As each generation came and went, some believed. They worshipped. They had priests like Jethro. They had prophets like Balaam. God was reaching out to them as He does for all.
Those who believed and looked for the day when His promises would become reality were prepared to act when the star appeared over Israel. They had been waiting and watching for centuries. They came with gifts seeking the King to worship Him.
Don't miss that. They didn't come seeking wealth or lands. They came seeking the Promised One. The gifts they brought showed a profound understanding of who and what this Promised King would become. Gold for his Kingship. Incense for His role as Priest, and myrrh for His burial as the Lamb of God. The Lamb who takes away the sins of the whole world.
Jesus was born in Israel, but they missed His arrival. They were looking for a new kingdom more than a king. They were seeking land more than their Lord. They were consumed with dreams of wealth instead of worship, of a Roman-conquering Messiah instead of the Manna from heaven.
Simply put, the people from the east were looking for a Person to worship but Israel was looking for personal gain.
We'll continue tomorrow as we look at what this all might mean for us who live on the precipice of His second arrival...
Exploring Matthew - The Wise?men? Part 3
So far in exploring Matthew, we have discovered him focusing on a lot of unexpected things. As we entered chapter two, we found a caravan of foreigners arriving in Jerusalem looking for a newborn king to worship. No one in Jerusalem was expecting their arrival and few were aware a king had been born:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Matthew 2:1-6 NKJV
It was all so unexpected...
When Herod turned to his experts and pressed them for an explanation, they found one. The prophet Micah (5:2) had written that the Ruler would come from Bethlehem.
Isn't it odd that they could find the answer in their Sacred Texts but were shocked and unprepared when foreigners came actively seeking Him?
The ones who could have and should have known did not, while outsiders came with gifts and a desire to find Him.
Over the past couple of days prompted by a question from Kerry, we have been exploring who these visitors were and what prompted their search. However, Kerry's question was deeper and more relevant than what happened so long ago. Here again is her question:
"I love this story and it shows me that there really were thinking men who knew the time had arrived. Thinking men who knew the King’s arrival was imminent.
What was, will be again. I wonder who these “wisemen” will be at Christ’s second coming?"
Who will be expecting Him, and eagerly so, when Jesus arrives the next time? Listen to how the prophet Isaiah described them:
And it will be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” 25:9
You can see from Isaiah's prophecy that there is an ongoing connection, an expectation, and a precise hope. The people who will be excited when Jesus arrives have been not just expecting Him but waiting for Him. He has been their singular hope. He is their Deliverer.
God made promises to Abraham, and he shared them with his sons and daughters. Each successive generation passed on the promises. Some believed them and others did not. Still others took the promises and twisted them into something else. See, when Jesus was born to two poor nobodies from Nazareth in a barn in Bethlehem, the Jews were waiting. They did have expectations. The problem was that their expectations didn't match His humble arrival. Why would God send angels to announce His birth to uneducated shepherds and leave the "important people" out?
The Jews didn't forget the promises made to Abraham, they just modified them over the generations to the point they were unrecognizable. Gone completely was the part where the Coming One would bless all the nations. Instead, they expected one who would bless only them at the expense of all the other people on earth.
So, who then will be like these foreigners were when Jesus comes again?
1. They will be people who take Him at His word without any self-centered editing.
2. They will hold onto His promises as their most precious possessions.
3. They will be actively seeking to learn everything they can about Him while passing on their knowledge to others, not because they have to but because they want to.
4. They will have a view of humanity that makes us all one and all His.
5. They will have a growing desire to be part of His kingdom of love.
6. They will feel pity and sorrow for those who can't see how good and worthy of worship He is.
7. They will be those who above all else found grace in His sight.
Practically speaking, they are those who desire the King more than a kingdom. They desire His love more than lands. They seek to worship Him above seeking wealth. They cherish His promises more than His power or position.
These are the modern day wisemen. They would rather see others saved than be saved themselves because the same self-sacrificing heart that beat in Jesus when He was here now beats in them.
I cannot say that I am yet one of these wise men, but I trust the Potter to finish the work that He has begun in me.
"...being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6 NKJV
Exploring Matthew - Excited or Troubled?
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Matthew 2:1-3 NKJV
It's odd, isn't it? Travel during the time Jesus was born was no casual undertaking. We can buy a plane ticket and within 24 hours be pretty much anywhere in the world. Our journey is relatively comfortable, and we are warm and fed the whole time.
Not so when traveling from Midian to Jerusalem 2000 years ago.
Isaiah 60 says they came on camels. The distance is hundreds of kilometers. Hot during the day. Cold at night. Risk of bandits and bad weather not to mention wild animals. Who would make such an inconvenient trip on purpose?
What is stranger is that they did it eagerly. They were excited to find the One promised for centuries. Yet when they arrived and explained the reason why they had made the journey, the Bible tells us Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.
The long-awaited Messiah had come and the people through whom He came were troubled? For centuries every male Israelite baby was circumcised indicating they were the people of the promise and now they are troubled? Does that make any sense? Why would the very people so proud to call themselves the sons of Abraham be troubled when the greatest Promise passed down from him to them had come?
I am a Seventh-day Adventist. The name simply means we continue to worship and rest on the seventh day as God designed from creation. Adventist means we believe Jesus is coming soon as He promised He would. My parents are Seventh-day Adventists. My grandparents also. Some of my ancestry goes back almost to the beginning of the birth of the Seventh-day Adventist church. We believe we have been called to proclaim the great news that Jesus is coming again. We sing several songs about it, and one goes like this: “Lift up the trumpet and loud let it ring. Jesus is coming again! Cheer up you pilgrims, be joyful and sing - Jesus is coming again!”
When I was about 12, our pastor asked the question one week, "What would you do if you knew Jesus was coming in a year, a month, a week? What if he was coming today?"
I don't remember much of what his point was after that. I was troubled...
We got home late that night and it was already dark. As we got out of the car, I looked up at the sky. Could He really come tonight? As I did so, the clouds began parting and a light got brighter and brighter. I think I stopped breathing. I swallowed hard. This was it! He was coming and I wasn't ready! Relief washed over me when I saw the light was only the moon.
Relieved that Jesus didn't come...
Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled because Jesus had apparently arrived... Troubled. Why?
Why were they troubled by the best news and why was I relieved when I figured out it wasn't Jesus, it was just the moon?
See you tomorrow...
Exploring Matthew - Excited or Troubled, Part 2
I can tell you why I was relieved that Jesus wasn't coming that night that I looked up at the sky when I was 12. I believed Jesus was coming back for good people and I didn't measure up.
Herod? He was troubled because he was the king but knew enough to know his claim to the throne was tenuous and no match for a messiah. The rest of Jerusalem? Wouldn't you be troubled if a hard-to-miss caravan of camels and their riders arrived looking for your Messiah and you didn't even know He was born?
I was troubled by a profound misunderstanding of the Story. Herod was troubled by potential competition to his position and power. The people were troubled by pride, nationalism, and the very real possibility they missed the arrival of their own long-anticipated king.
The truth is there are a million and one reasons why the thought of Jesus returning might cause more panic than eager expectation. There is only one reason why it would cause excitement...
When my brother and I were in our early teens, our uncle was supposed to be coming to visit driving the 1970 Mustang Cobra Jet convertible he had recently acquired. We were excited! We were so excited that we walked several kilometers and sat on the overpass of the highway watching and waiting for him to arrive.
In the end our hopes were disappointed. I can't remember why at this point, but he was unable to come. We sat and waited until it was too dark to see him anyway and we walked back.
Why were we so excited? First, he was our uncle and we loved him, and we never got to see him much because he lived eight hours away. Secondly, we were excited because he was bringing a cool car, the kind we only saw in magazines. We were eagerly anticipating his arrival. We were waiting and watching. We positioned ourselves for the event so we would be the first to see him.
Too often when religious people talk and/or think about the arrival of Jesus, the focus isn't actually on Jesus. It isn't on the reality that He is coming to usher in a new era that we can only faintly imagine in our best dreams. Instead, the focus is on ourselves and how "fit" we are or on theological questions of when and how for whom He is coming, etc...
The Jews in Jerusalem talked about the coming of the messiah, but he wasn't their focus. Their focus was on themselves and the only reason they hoped for his arrival was so they could be better off. He was just a means to an end.
If our focus is the kingdom and not the King, His arrival will trouble us. If our focus is on ourselves and our worthiness, His arrival will trouble us.
However, if our focus is on Him and His eagerness to bring us home with Him, we won't be afraid at all. If His arrival is the continuation of a friendship we have had with Him all along, then we will be like those Isaiah saw. We will look up and shout with joy, "This is our God. We have waited for Him, and He will save us!"
My uncle didn't make it that day but when he heard we sat for hours on the overpass waiting, he was both sorry and moved. It touched him that his arrival meant that much to us.
We have a song we sing that says, "Are you ready for Jesus to come...?"
I am changing the words for myself. Instead, I will ask myself this question: "Are you eager for Jesus to come?"
Exploring Matthew - Knowing the Book but Not the Author
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
Matthew 2:3-8 NKJV
When Herod asked the Jewish scribes where Jesus was to be born, they answered him immediately. They knew the book. Had a contest been arranged between the Jews and these camel-riding visitors from the east on Bible knowledge, the Jews would have dominated. It's not likely the visitors even had access to the Jewish scriptures. If they did, they clearly didn't have the detailed knowledge that the scribes had.
This fact leads to another unexpected reality. There are people who know lots who are much further away from God than people who know much less.
Growing up we were taught we needed to do three things on a regular basis: study the Bible, pray, and witness (tell other people). Here's the kicker. The Jews did more than study the Bible. They memorized it. They prayed. Jesus said so. Did they witness? They sure did. Jesus said they traveled over land and sea to make one convert (believer) and they made that person twice as much a son of hell as they were! Jesus said that about Jewish evangelism!
How can people study, pray, and witness and miss the Story and the Author of it? How could the scribes instantly know the trivia answer that their Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem and yet not know He was there? Bethlehem was only a few miles down the road from where Herod asked the question!
A couple was driving home from church and the wife asked her husband, "Did you see the dress Evelyn was wearing?!"
"No, I didn't notice" he replied.
"Did you see the shoes Carrie had on today? They were hot pink!"
"No, I didn't see them."
"Surely you saw the outfit Rosemary's daughter was wearing! Just scandalous!"
"No, I didn't see that either" he said.
"My goodness honey, a lot of good it does you to go to church. You don't notice anything!"
Reading, praying, and witnessing are only as good as our focus. Too many Jews searched for personal advantage in the Scriptures. They prayed to remind God how worthy they were. They tried to get others to join their favoured people so they, too, could get the paybacks.
The visitors from the east would have lost a Bible trivia game but they came for another reason. They were seeking the King to worship Him.
Let's be seekers of the Author more than students of the Book.
Expect Liars but Trust Anyway
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
Matthew 2:3-8 NKJV
I find there are generally two kinds of people: those who trust everyone and those who trust no one. See the problem?
Herod was a king. The position commands respect and if the subjects of the king don't trust him, chaos follows. The problem was Herod wasn't trustworthy. He was a liar and a murderer. It seems the visitors from afar didn't know this. Had they known, they likely wouldn't have gone to see him in the first place. Herod said and did all the right things in their presence. He even expressed the desire to worship this newborn King, himself.
It was all a lie:
Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
Obviously, their opinion of Herod changed for these seekers of the King. Well, it should have. However, did it change for all kings for the rest of their lives? Did they go home and look at their own ruler as a lying murderer?
I hope not.
There are liars everywhere. You have lied yourself. This fact does not make it ok to assume all are liars from the start. How would that benefit anyone? We should expect that sometimes there will be bad kings, bad presidents, bad pastors, bad cops, bad teachers, etc... They are the exception, not the rule. Give everyone your trust until they deserve not to have it.
If Covid has revealed anything, it is that there is a strong undercurrent of mistrust toward government and oddly it seems strongest among Christians. I am not certain of the reason for it, but it is unhealthy and unhelpful, to say the least. The Bible says that God is well aware of the human leaders that hold power. He permits them for a time to lead and removes them if need be. While they lead, even if they don't lead well, we are called to respect their authority and pray for them.
They make mistakes. They do stupid things. They even lie sometimes. Do we expect perfection from them? That would be a little unreasonable, right?
Herod was a liar and a murderer, but God intervened as necessary to limit the reach of his evil plans. God is no less active today.
On a humorous note, the next time you find yourself judging the imperfections of leadership, remember that many of us were stockpiling toilet paper for a respiratory illness. 😂
Let's keep a healthy amount of humility as we navigate this life and pray sincerely for those who carry the weight of heavy responsibility.
Exploring Matthew - The Abuse of Power
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” Matthew 2:13-18 NKJV
Could there be a more gross abuse of power? Pharaoh was doing it to the Israelite slaves at the time of Moses' birth. China has been known to dispose of baby girls for a long time now.
Evil comes in many forms and offers many and varied reasons for its existence.
We aren't told what reason Herod offered for his indiscriminate killing of all the babies two years old and under. Perhaps he had enough power that he didn't need one. Perhaps he sold it to the Romans as a pre-emptive strike to maintain peace in the empire. Perhaps he came up with some other reason. Whatever the justification or lack thereof, Herod carried out his murderous plot only for the sake of self-preservation. The irony is Jesus had no interest in his throne anyway.
Unexpected to be sure...
You see, the kingdom of Jesus bears no resemblance to the kingdoms of men like Herod. Jesus rules the kingdom of willing hearts. Herod takes whatever his power allows him to take.
Free will and force are two very different things. They represent the core values of two opposite ways to rule.
Freedom and force are two words at the forefront of my mind these days. If you embrace the value/means of force, you are a believer in Herod-style empires. If you embrace freedom, not just for yourself but for all, you are a believer in the kingdom of Jesus.
It may seem unexpected that the most powerful Being in all the universe chooses to rule by the core value of freedom; but love and freedom go hand in hand. Beware flirting with the enticing benefits of force...
When a couple of Jesus' disciples suggested employing force as punishment against some arguably deserving people, Jesus responded by telling them, "You don't know what spirit you are of".
Freedom and force: choose wisely.
Exploring Matthew - Egypt? Why Egypt?
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
Noah had three sons. Yes, Noah and the great flood. Those three sons were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham's life went off the rails after the flood. Some might call him the black sheep of the family. Two of Ham's sons were Egypt (Put), and Canaan. It was sexual sin that Ham got involved in and it followed through his family line like a forest fire on a dry and windy day.
Without getting into the nastiness and darkness of it all, God called Abraham to move to Canaan and live amidst this darkness. You might remember that a famine struck, and Abraham went down to Egypt. He wasn't there that long, and he returned to Canaan.
A couple of generations later, Joseph, who was born in Canaan, was sold by his brothers and ended up in Egypt. A famine brought the rest of the family later. Moses came along four generations later and lead the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel) back to Canaan.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Canaan). Trouble took Him and His parents to Egypt. Later they returned and settled in Nazareth (Canaan).
If you had studied all the Old Testament clues about the Messiah before Jesus came, it would have been confusing. One prophet says the Messiah is coming from Bethlehem. That made sense. It was the hometown of King David, after all. But then another prophet wrote, "Out of Egypt I have called My Son." Still another said He would be called a Nazarene.
One Messiah can't come from three places, can He?
And while we are scratching our heads over geography and prophecy, we are missing the point. Jesus was born to save us. He followed the path of His human ancestors, a path that led to and through the darkest places on the earth.
Jesus didn't hide from our darkness; He went straight into it. If Ham and his family were in the worst shape, then they also had the greatest need of the Light. Into Canaan, on to Egypt, back to Canaan.
Jesus settled and grew up in Nazareth. It was considered the darkest town in all of Israel. It prompted the question/comment from Nathaniel when he was told about Jesus: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
Yes. The Greatest Light, headed for the deepest darkness because that is why He came - to seek out and save/rescue/heal the lost.
Exploring Matthew - Joy?
We are only part way through chapter 2 and the list of unexpected things brought out by Matthew the tax collector is already considerable. Today I want to back up a little bit and highlight another one: joy.
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Matthew 2:9-11 NKJV
They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy!
Why? Because they found Him. Because they found the One who was the fulfillment of the promises they had held onto for generations. They found the One they traveled so far to find. They found Him whom the star led them to. He was the source and cause of their exceedingly great joy.
Here is how The Message tells it:
Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. Matthew 2:9-11 MSG
They could hardly contain themselves... Overcome they knelt and worshipped Him...
Is there joy in your journey? Too many who claim faith in God lack joy.
Yesterday was a sad day for me. Two young men who were precious to people I know, died. I saw the effects on a nurse I care about as covid ravages the hospital where she works. I heard about the murder of a mom and her 16-month-old baby. I felt the sting of a mom lamenting the ongoing grief of losing her son. I feel the tension of those fearing the implications of a vaccine passport.
There isn't a lot to be joyful about these days, but my joy remains intact. I have found the One in whom all the promises will be realized. I have found the One who suffered the grief of the loss of His only Son, driven by the love He has for you and me. My joy springs from the truth that someday it will be our turn to be overcome. Some day we will fall down and worship the One who is the fulfillment of the promises we have held onto. Some day we will come to the end of our long and difficult journey. Some day we will come face to face with our King.
Grief is present but my joy remains.
Exploring Matthew - Connected?
I sat in a man's home, invited there to study the Bible together. As we did so, we got hung up on a topic on which we didn't agree. This bothered him greatly. I asked him if he believed it was critical for me to understand it as he understood it. He affirmed that it was. Then I asked him if he believed he was saved by what he knew in general. Was God going to accept us or reject us based on our correct understanding? He again confirmed that he indeed believed that.
What a weight to carry. What pressure! No wonder why he was so concerned that I see the issue correctly!
I shared with him from Acts chapter 1 where the disciples had their understanding wrong, yet Jesus neither argued with them nor rejected them. In fact, He gave them His Spirit and sent them out to preach in His name.
The idea was new to him, and we became good friends over time and brothers in Christ even though we never did come to see that issue the same way. 🙂
He was not a Seventh-day Adventist but the idea that we are saved by what we know is certainly prevalent among Seventh-day Adventists as well. Consider these verses:
In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country. After the scholars were gone, God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him.”
Matthew 2:12-13 MSG
The wisemen didn't know how evil Herod was or what his true intentions toward Jesus were. They were not prepared to make the right choice based on what they knew. Left to their own knowledge they would have returned to Jerusalem and told Herod where Jesus was.
Joseph had no intention of taking Jesus to Egypt. Based on his knowledge they would have returned home to Nazareth or remained in Bethlehem. Joseph was not able to save Jesus from the murderous plot of Herod based on his knowledge of the Scriptures or of prophecy.
Both the wisemen and Joseph were equipped to make the right move based on Who they knew, not what they knew. Both had a habit of listening to and following His lead. It was this connection and not their correct knowledge of Biblical things that saw them through an imminent crisis.
It's good to know the Bible. It's good to have as correct an understanding as we can. However, knowledge is not our saviour. The scribes knew the Book but not the Author. They missed His birth even though it is likely they had a better knowledge of the Book than either the wisemen or Joseph.
Isn't it comforting to know these two things:
1. We don't have the immense pressure of having to know everything correctly to be safely His.
2. When we make God our friend and the Lord of our lives, He will navigate us through troubles and situations we don't even know are a problem.
It isn't so much what we know, it is Who we know.
Exploring Matthew - More of the Unexpected
Herod, when he realized that the wisemen had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills. (He determined that age from information he’d gotten from the scholars.) That’s when Jeremiah’s sermon was fulfilled: A sound was heard in Ramah, weeping and much lament. Rachel weeping for her children, Rachel refusing all solace, Her children gone, dead and buried. Matthew 2:16-18 MSG
That Herod would do such a thing is no stretch at all. He had his favourite wife killed and a few of his sons. This is also a man who, when he was approaching his own death, didn't like the idea that no one was going to mourn his loss. To "remedy" this, he hatched a plot to kill hundreds of Jewish leaders so the nation would have something to cry about. The plot failed but it certainly reveals the kind of person Herod was.
Like me, you may have grown up thinking Herod killed hundreds and maybe thousands of innocent babies. The truth is, thankfully, less awful but still horrific. Bethlehem and the surrounding hills had a population of about 1500 people. Estimates are that at any given time there would have been about a dozen male babies. That Herod would indiscriminately kill them all is unexpected for sure but not surprising given his obsession to protect his power and family grip on the monarchy.
His actions would have left a hole in that little community that would have been felt for a very long time. Imagine two classes at school of only girls, as a constant reminder.
Probably the most difficult aspect of this story is the “why” question. If God could save Jesus by warning Joseph, why didn't He save the others? I can't fully answer that question. I know that we all have freedom which explains how Herod was permitted to be the tyrant he was, just as Satan is free to be the monster he is. The perplexing part is that sometimes God saves people from the diabolical schemes of evil people but sometimes He doesn't.
There is much we don't know.
Take, for example, the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot warned his children and their families, but they refused to listen. Is it possible the other parents were warned but didn't leave? Maybe. We just don't know. What we do know is that even when we escape death, we still die eventually. The only solution to evil and death is Jesus. His ultimate plan is not short-sighted. It isn't focused on the immediate dangers of this sin sick world. His plan is to end sin, evil, and death once for all time.
That's why Satan was so intent on killing Jesus through any means available to him, including the murderous tyranny of Herod. Satan knows his grip on this planet is tenuous and coming to a swift end. His complete and utter evil was fully exposed when he went after the Son of God. It was at the cross that Satan was fully exposed, and the sad truth is evil can only be expelled from the universe by letting it expose itself.
Jesus was saved as a baby so He could save us. He was spared as a child but not spared as an adult.
Each of us will in some way at some point suffer unjustly without being rescued. In those darkest of times, we will either abandon God or we will affirm with the Psalmist, "[e]ven as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear the apparent unrivaled tyranny of evil because You are with me and Your rod and staff comfort me."
Herod and Satan won a battle, but Jesus has won, is winning, and will win the war.
Exploring Matthew - No Hesitation
Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.” Matthew 2:14-15 MSG
Have you ever hesitated? I have. It's especially easy to hesitate when it involves losing sleep. Triply so when it involves stealing my wife's sleep. Mary must have really trusted Joseph to agree to leave her home and country in the middle of the night without warning and head for Egypt of all places.
Joseph never hesitated. Mary never hesitated. They just left.
We would all like to think that if God directly asked us to do something we would do it. "If God called me to do some big thing I would do it too," we tell ourselves. Would we? How does a person go from being self reliant and independent to unflinchingly obedient to God to the point of moving in the middle of the night without warning?
Jesus told us how it happens: "He who is faithful in little things is also faithful in much."
We don't have much background information about Joseph or Mary, but this midnight move was not their first submission to God's leading. Mary submitted to being the mother of the Messiah. Joseph submitted to marrying her after she became pregnant with a child he knew wasn't his. God could wake them in the night with a dream and have them respond instantly because they were already committed to and accustomed to following His lead.
There is no indication either Mary or Joseph was unusually intelligent. We know they were quite poor. We know they came from a no-count town. Nothing about them said they should be chosen to be the parents of Jesus. However, they had one thing few of us have. They listened and followed.
As rare as that quality might be, think of how easy it is and how doable it is for all of us. Being smart, rich, well respected, capable, well positioned, etc... are not accessible to most of us. Listening and following is something any of us can do if we choose to.
It starts with the little things. Being kind. Helping your neighbour. Saying you are sorry. Giving to someone in need. Praying for someone's well being. From there it stretches a little. Praying for someone you don't want to pray for. Helping someone you don't think needs it. Giving to someone you don't feel deserves it. Trying to mend a broken relationship when you don't believe you are in the wrong.
Step by step we learn to recognize His leading and follow.
"Follow Me." That's His invitation.
Exploring Matthew - Two Years Old?
They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh...
Herod, when he realized that the scholars had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills. (He determined that age from information he’d gotten from the scholars.) That’s when Jeremiah’s sermon was fulfilled: A sound was heard in Ramah, weeping and much lament. Rachel weeping for her children, Rachel refusing all solace, Her children gone, dead and buried.
Matthew 2:11, 16-18 MSG
Not so common anymore, but in the not-so-distant past it was frequent that schools would re-enact that birth of Jesus before the Christmas break. Some kids got dressed up as angels, some as shepherds, and three boys were chosen to be the three wisemen. The shepherds and wisemen would come to visit Mary and Joseph and the newborn King in the barn or stable.
I am not highlighting this because it's crucial to know that that isn't how it happened. I am showing the discrepancies to illustrate that what we grow up seeing and learning has a profound impact on us.
First of all, the people who came from the east were a much larger group than three men. We know this from Isaiah 60. The idea of three men comes from the fact there were three gifts.
Secondly, this group didn't arrive the night of His birth. They came later, much later.
The Bible tells us that when they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were living in a house. Time had passed since Jesus’ birth and the little family had settled in Bethlehem. It was Joseph's hometown anyway and as a carpenter/artisan he could live anywhere and find work.
We have two distinct clues as to how old Jesus was when the people from the east came. First, we are told that Herod secretly inquired of these visitors about the exact timing of when the star first appeared. Then we are told he gave a decree to have the male babies in Bethlehem killed who were up to two years old. Did he add some time just to be sure? Probably. If you are obsessed enough to kill innocent babies, you aren't going to take the chance that Jesus escaped the age cut off.
This all begs the question: "What else did we grow up thinking we knew that wasn't or isn't quite true or perhaps not true at all?”
The importance of the question is not in identifying the areas where we are off as much as it is keeping a healthy amount of humility about what we are sure is true. Most importantly, we need to always be willing to set what we think is true to one side and let the Bible speak. A Jew back then was certain that their Messiah would never choose a tax collector to be His disciple and yet Jesus did exactly that. It was one of the many strikes against Him. As we continue through the Story from Matthew's point of view, we will find out that the most unexpected development was that the Jews killed their own Messiah! Why? Because they were sure that what they grew up learning was all true and Jesus didn't match their expectations.
If what we believe is true, it will stand up to investigation. Let's hesitate to be certain...
Exploring Matthew - Safe in the Storm
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. Matthew 2:19-21 NASB1995
We don't always get to experience the victory here, but Joseph did. For a time, Herod held all the power but Herod died and Joseph was able to take his family back home. This experience is a witness to us. It's a snapshot that illuminates the entire Story.
Because of an enemy Joseph never asked for or provoked, he and his family were in danger. Because of an enemy we never asked for, we are in danger. Herod existed before Jesus was born. Satan existed before we were born. It wasn't safe to go home for Joseph and his little family until Herod was gone. We won't go Home until Satan is dealt with once and for all.
I am certain Joseph never understood why God permitted a man like Herod to rule in that position for as long as he did. We don't understand why Satan's rule has extended as far as it has for as long as it has.
Here is what we do know:
Joseph listened to God's leading. That faithful submission preserved his little family and kept them safe until the tyranny of Herod was ended.
If Joseph's faithful submission to God's leading kept them safe, will God not do the same for us? Will He not shelter us from the desire of Satan to destroy us?
If you are reading this, you are living proof that He is doing just that already. Keep following. He will never fail you.
Listen to what Paul discovered about choosing to stand with Jesus:
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us! —is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. Romans 8:31-39 MSG
Exploring Matthew - Prophecies Unfolding
Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother, and reentered Israel. When he heard, though, that Archelaus had succeeded his father, Herod, as king in Judea, he was afraid to go there. But then Joseph was directed in a dream to go to the hills of Galilee. On arrival, he settled in the village of Nazareth. This move was a fulfillment of the prophetic words, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:21-23 MSG
Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth - all in prophecy. All seemingly in competition with each other. Apparent contradiction.
How can the Messiah come from three different places? It's impossible...
Could it be that many of our misunderstandings, arguments, and confusion are based on an incomplete picture? We see enough to find problems and apparent contradiction without the patience and wisdom to let it all resolve itself in time or leave it with God until more is known.
I like Joseph. I appreciate more about him after going through this chapter so slowly. Joseph was no fool. You can't be an artisan and be stupid. He had to regularly figure out how to build and repair things. He had to calculate angles and solve problems. He would have definitely had a mind of his own. We first meet him when he is trying to figure out how to free himself from the messy reality that his fiancée is pregnant, and he isn't the father. He had made up his mind to separate from her without shaming her or exposing her to the law. Into that situation God spoke and immediately Joseph changed course. He stayed with Mary and became a father to Jesus. When God directed him toward Egypt, he went. Hardly a small nor easy decision. When God called him to return, he did so. When God directed him to settle in Nazareth, he did so. None of those directives were clean, logical, or without difficulties. Joseph could have pushed back, resisted, and fought against them. He could have made a good case to do so. He didn't.
Joseph's quiet humility and submission to God is refreshing. He didn't understand all those moves. He just went.
There will always be things we don't understand when we choose to follow Him. When we study His Book, we may come away at times with more questions than answers. Jesus certainly had the disciples scratching their heads on more than one occasion. It will be the same for us.
Surrender is better than insisting on knowing. Just as the three prophecies about where the Messiah would come from all came clear in time, so will His leading in your life. Trust Him. He loves you with an everlasting love.