Fools Despise Him (Matthew 2:13-23)

My young daughter has asked a lot of good, thoughtful questions about God in the past two years. She is not yet born again, but she is asking the deep types of questions about Christianity that often trip up older students and even adults. One day, she asked me during one of our car ride theological conversations, “Why doesn’t everyone pray to Jesus?” I gave her the most simple, biblical answer I could: “They don’t want to.” (See Romans 1:18-32 for the long version of this response.)

When we read about Herod’s slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem in his attempt to kill the baby Jesus, we shudder and think, “How could anyone be filled with such hatred against God’s Son?” But we must remember that as Christians, our hearts have been supernaturally changed to love Jesus. Without God’s intervening grace, we could have been hardened against the Lord like those who despised Him in the gospels and throughout church history, and like those around us who continue to reject Him today. I have watched students and adults become uncomfortable and even visibly angry during gospel preaching and teaching and small group witnessing. That’s because, like Herod, we are all born wanting to be the kings of our own lives. We are all born with sinful, selfish hearts that do not naturally want to love and follow Jesus. When we first hear the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins, a sacrifice that we must accept by turning and looking to Him in faith, we feel threatened and challenged. As I often explain to my daughter, we are all born wanting to be our own boss, but being a Christian is about letting Jesus be our boss. Not everyone is happy about the thought of surrendering control of their lives to Christ.

Herod failed to destroy the baby Jesus. Instead, he killed a dozen or more innocent children before dying as a miserable soul bound for hell. He could not hold onto his throne or life for even a few months, let alone eternity. But Jesus survived every attempt by man and Satan to kill Him until He was ready to willingly lay down His life for our sins on the cross, to finish accomplishing His father’s plan of salvation for rebels like us. Now He reigns again by His Father’s side in heaven. He waits for the appointed time when He will return in full power to rule His kingdom in the new heavens and new earth forever and ever. The question is: Are we willing to let Him be our King? Or will we go the tragic way of Herod and all those who despise the Lord Jesus to their eternal hurt and sorrow? As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. How about you?

The Text

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Questions to Think About

  1. How did you react to the gospel message when you first began to understand it? Did you experience any anger or stubborn resistance in your heart before giving up control of your life to Christ?
  2. Are there any areas of your life where you might be currently resisting God’s call to repent and change?
  3. Do you have any friends or family who are still resisting the gospel like Herod did in today’s passage? Instead of getting angry and frustrated, commit yourself to praying for God to change the hearts of these lost loved ones the way that He changed your heart. And keep showing them the love of Christ whenever you can!

Notes

  • Three times in today’s text we see that God guided Joseph with dreams to escape the threats against His family. There are actually a total of five dreams recorded in Matthew’s account of the Christmas story, all given from God to protect humble, godly people from harm. Four times the Lord speaks to Joseph, and once to the magi. Matthew wants us to see the personal nature of our Lord’s care for His servants. In the same way, God still guides Christians today through His Word, His Spirit, our circumstances, and the counsel of other believers. If we ask God for wisdom, He will give it (see James 1:5).
  • No prophecies in the Old Testament specifically refer to Nazareth as the home of Jesus. Matthew’s reference to a prediction that Jesus would be “called a Nazarene” (verse 23) is probably talking about prophecies like Isaiah 53, which describe the humble appearance and reputation of the coming Messiah. Nazareth was known in Jesus’ day as a rustic, backwater type of place; not a likely town for the upbringing of anyone important. This is why Nathanael in John 1:46 is shocked that someone from a place like Nazareth could be the Messiah, asking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” This should remind us that the call to follow Christ is a call to be humble and be willing to be rejected by others because of our faith.

Wise Men Worship Him (Matthew 2:1-12)

The wise men traveled hundreds of miles by foot and camel across the desert to meet Jesus. They had spent years studying books and the stars of the night sky to determine when this special king would be born. These magi from the East probably came from the remnants of the Persian Empire, from somewhere in what would today be Iraq or Iran. Somehow they knew the prophecies of the Jews, perhaps through records from the days when Daniel and his friends served Nebuchadnezzar and Darius in Babylon. They were educated, wealthy men who left the comfort of their homes for a long and dangerous journey to a place they had never been. They brought expensive gifts for the newborn king and risked ridicule, imprisonment, and even death. They were visiting the notoriously evil current “king of Israel,” Herod the Great, to ask him where the real “King of the Jews” had been born. But none of that mattered to them. The wise men were truly wise because they had come to worship Jesus, and they would not be denied in their quest. Like the disciples of Christ that we read about in the rest of the gospel accounts and the book of Acts, these magi showed devotion to Jesus as the top priority in their lives. Follow their example today: Be wise and worship the King!

The Text

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Questions to Think About

  1. Do you enjoy worshiping God at church, chapel, and other places? Why or why not?
  2. What have you given up in the past year so that you could worship Jesus better and more? How do you now view these “sacrifices” that you made compared to the “exceedingly great joy” (verse 10) of knowing Christ more deeply?
  3. Are there any changes that God might be calling you to make in your life in the next year to help you experience a closer walk with Jesus?

Notes

  • There might have been more three “wise men.” The Bible doesn’t give us a number, but we often guess it was three because today’s passage mentions three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (one gift in each guy’s hand in the classic nativity scene). Also, notice that these magi visit Joseph, Mary, and “the young child” Jesus in a house, not the stables of the inn. It appears that a few months have passed since Jesus was a baby lying in a manger. He is now sweet little toddler Jesus!
  • It is interesting and sad to note that the religious leaders of Israel knew the prophecies about Jesus better than the magi, yet they would not travel the short distance to Bethlehem themselves. Look at the irony. These foreign magi were willing to journey hundreds of miles from their homeland to simply follow a supernatural star and meet another nation’s ruler, while these Jewish experts in the law would not go six miles to see their own King. We sometimes see non-church attending students who are brand-new to our Christian school and the gospel become more excited about loving and serving Jesus than others who have been around the things of God all their lives. Worship has always been a matter of heartfelt devotion to God, not just time spent in physical closeness to His people and His Word.

God Our Savior is With Us (Matthew 1:18-25)

The name “Jesus” means “the Lord is our salvation” and the name “Immanuel” means “God with us.” Both of these names for our Lord are given in today’s passage from Matthew’s account of the Christmas story. We saw in the last post in verses 1-17 that Jesus is called the “Christ” or “Anointed One” because He is the Messiah, the Promised King of Israel who will one day rule over this whole world with perfect justice and righteousness. Now we are shown the other important parts of Jesus’ mission on earth. He came to save us from our sins, and He saved us by becoming one of us, still fully God yet now also fully human, too. The high King of heaven is not a cold and distant ruler. No, King Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to temporarily set aside the glories of heaven to be born a man and go through all the hardships of life that we face in this sin-cursed world. He obeyed the Father’s plan to very end, even being willing to die for our sins on a blood-stained cross just to rescue us. Our God is a personal God who comes to be with every one of His disciples. He does this by putting His Holy Spirit, the Comforter, inside every Christian when they come to believe and trust in Jesus for salvation.

The Text

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Questions to Think About

1. Have you thanked God recently for saving you from your sins? It is certainly not healthy to constantly walk around thinking about sins that we have already confessed (admitted to God) and repented of (turned away from). However, whenever we read a verse like Matthew 1:21 – “He will save His people from their sins” – it can be good for our souls to take a moment to thank God again for rescuing us from the punishment and power that sin once held over us. The more that we hate our sin, the more that we love Jesus for dying to save us from it.

2. As a Christian, how can remembering God is with you help you in your life today? In what ways do you need this great encouragement from verse 23?

Notes

• Matthew makes it very clear that this baby born to Mary and Joseph was not just a prophet or teacher, but God among us. An angel announces that Jesus’ conception is “of the Holy Spirit,” meaning that Joseph was not His physical father. Matthew then tells us that Jesus’ conception fulfilled a prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin, or woman who had not yet been with a man, would have a child. Jesus’ birth fulfilled this prophecy because Mary was engaged to Joseph but they were not yet living together as man and wife when she became pregnant with Jesus.

• The engagement between Joseph and Mary was much stronger than engagements in our culture today. In Jesus’ time, a man and woman spent a year as being legally married in almost every way except not yet living together as man and wife. To break an engagement was a very serious matter because it basically required a divorce. If adultery was suspected on the part of the woman, the man could have his wife stoned to death. This is why the angel comes to Joseph, a just man who would have quietly broken the engagement, and warns him not to divorce Mary after she becomes pregnant.

All Hail King Jesus! (Matthew 1:1-17)

Jesus is the King of Kings. He is God in the flesh, born as the God-Man to rule over not just this world but the next, too. He came to earth in His Father’s perfect timing as the Messiah or Promised Savior of the Jews but also of the whole world. He came offering the hope of eternal life for all who would turn from their sins and trust in Him. The incarnation, or earthly birth of Jesus as the God-Man, is what we celebrate as Christians each Christmas season. We remember that our God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to become one of us in every frail and human way yet without sin. The first two chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke both tell us about some of the key events right before and after the birth of Christ. Many of our middle school students have already studied or will study Luke’s account, which is longer and more detailed. Here we will have a few devotions teaching through Matthew’s shorter but equally important history of the incarnation.

Matthew’s gospel was written to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah and King to the Jewish people. A long tradition throughout church history held that Matthew’s gospel was written first, which makes sense when we remember that Jesus always taught that He came first to save the Jews before opening up salvation to everyone else (Gentiles). Jesus’ first disciples were Jews, and Paul’s strategy in the book of Acts as he planted churches all over the known world was always to preach salvation in Jesus to the Jews in each town first before then teaching the gospel to the Gentiles. With Matthew’s Christmas story, then, the main focus is to show Jesus’ birth as the Great King of Israel and the world, a King whose throne and kingdom are everlasting.

This explains the opening of Matthew’s gospel, which is a really long list of names. This is a genealogy, or family history, of Jesus’ ancestors through His earthly father Joseph. While Matthew is careful to note that Joseph was not Jesus’ physical father (all the other fathers “begot” their sons, but Joseph is only listed as the “husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus”), this genealogy would still have been powerful evidence to Jewish readers that Jesus was their rightful King. In our culture today, discovering one’s family tree is seen as a fun and interesting activity, but usually not crucial to our sense of who we are. But for first century Jews, knowing your heritage was very important. Being able to trace a family line through your father was especially critical to knowing your identity as one of God’s chosen people. As verse 1 says, Jesus was a descendant of King David and a descendant of Father Abraham. The rest of the line, while not given in its entirety (some names are left out to shorten the list), would have been proof enough that Jesus had every right to rule over His people. And as the rest of Matthew’s gospel and the New Testament show us, Jesus has every right to be our King, too. The challenge for us each Christmas is this: Will we let King Jesus rule in our hearts and lives?

The Text

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:

2 Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. 4 Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. 5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6 and Jesse begot David the king.

David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. 8 Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. 9 Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. 11 Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.

12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor. 14 Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. 15 Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. 16 And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.

Questions to Think About

1. Have you ever thought much about the miracle of the incarnation? We rightfully think and talk a lot about the miracles of the atonement or death of Christ for our sins as well as His resurrection from the dead to make the resurrection possible for us. But how about the amazing fact that God Himself would come to earth as one of us? A great passage to help us meditate on this miracle is Philippians 2:5-11. Check it out and give thanks to Christ for being willing to temporarily set aside His glory to come to earth and save us.

2. Are there any areas of your life where you are struggling to let King Jesus rule? How can you use the Christmas break to help refocus your life on letting Jesus be your King?

Notes

  • Even though family lines were traced through fathers, Matthew includes five women in Jesus’ genealogy. Three of them had immoral backgrounds (Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba) while another, Ruth, was a foreigner and idol worshipper before marrying into the Jewish heritage. We also see some ungodly kings, and we should remember that even the most godly men from the list, men like Abraham and David, were guilty of famous sins. The point of this observation is that God’s grace overcame the family’s human sinfulness when He sent Jesus to this earth, just as His grace can still overcome our sinfulness today.
  • Matthew skips several generations and names, which seems strange to us but was considered an acceptable form of shorthand (like using Cliff’s notes today) for ancient Jews. The biggest gap is from the time of Joshua and Judges to the time of King David (verses 4-6), but there are also a few missing kings in verses 7-11. We must trust that the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to include enough names to prove that Jesus was a rightful Jew (“Son of Abraham”) and our rightful King (“Son of David”).

Why We Fight (Ephesians 6:21-24)

What is the point of the Christian faith? Why should we bother to submit ourselves to Jesus and His teachings? Why should we surrender our lives to the authority of God and His Word? To be more personal, if you are a Christian, why? What persuaded you to commit your life to Christ? Was it just to avoid hell and judgment? Or did you want something more? Can living the Christian life as Paul has described in the book of Ephesians give us more than just eternal fire insurance?

The answer, of course, is a big “YES!” Jesus came to give us the joys of heaven now, not just when we die. Finding a relationship with Jesus, becoming “in Christ,” and then learning how to live out that awesome spiritual reality is the secret to true happiness. As Paul closes this important New Testament letter, he gives his Christian readers a blessing of great encouragement. He prays for both the first century church and us today to enjoy God’s comfort, peace, love, faith, and grace. Aren’t those the very things that we long for? When you are hurting and beat up by life, don’t you want to feel the Lord’s presence? When you are exhausted from chasing the passing pleasures of this world, don’t you want to find rest in the God who alone can satisfy the deepest desires of your heart? When you have been stung once again by the bitter consequences of sin, don’t you want to be set free from its horrible grasp? When you have been let down by friends and family, don’t you want to trust and receive the unchanging love and grace of your Heavenly Father? These are the spiritual blessings that God wants His people to enjoy! If we will learn to walk humbly with Jesus, we will enjoy the abundant spiritual life.

The gain is worth the pain. Learning spiritual disciplines like Bible study and prayer and self-sacrifice is work, but the payoff is absolutely worth the investment. Jesus, though a man like us, showed us that enjoying eternal life on earth was possible. Paul experienced it, as did his fellow ministers like Tychicus, and we can bet that many of his Christian readers did, too. And if you are saved, you have tasted God’s goodness, too. You know that life can be better than the muck of sin and the world that tries to drag you down. You are a new creation in Christ. Now if you can learn how to abide in Him and live like the new person whom God has already declared you to be, you can walk in God’s comfort, love, faith, peace, and grace every day. That is His desire for us. May we all experience more of the Christ-centered life this year.

The Text (Ephesians 6:21-24)

21 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.

23 Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

Questions to Think About

  1. Why did you first want to become a Christian? Since you were saved, what other benefits of following Christ have you enjoyed?
  2. What has God taught you from Ephesians during this study?
  3. Are there any changes that you could make in your life that might help you to enjoy more of God’s presence, joy, and peace?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel