Matthew: Jesus’ Heritage, Birth, Escape and Return

Read: Matthew 1-2

Following the ReadScripture plan, we start with the first two chapters in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew begins by establishing who Jesus was in human terms that we can understand and historians can validate. It’s quite interesting to read chapter 2 in parallel with Exodus as we see Joseph leading his little family to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, then return to begin the process of truly setting all people free!

Genealogy of Jesus — Notable Men

Matthew does an amazing job of framing the story of Jesus by firmly pointing back to family heritage. Names like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Boaz, Jesse and King David where no doubt known by everyone in their contemporary context as well as those of us who have the privilege of reading the most modern version of the Bible.

He runs through a list of prominent kings: Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa,  Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. When we look back through 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles, we notice that all of these kings are from the southern kingdom since the northern kingdom’s kings were all accounted for as evil and ultimately swept away by the Assyrians.

The list continues after the exile to Babylon: Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abihud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Akim, Elihud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, Joseph, the husband of Mary. Most of these names are not particularly notable, but serve to make Matthew’s point: Jesus comes from the line that can be traced back through King David and, of course, back to Abraham.

Joseph’s Challenge

Having fully established his awareness of the lineage of Jesus, Matthew points out a huge problem for Joseph to deal with–his betrothed is pregnant and he’s not the father!

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. Matthew 1:19

An angel visits Joseph in a dream and assures him this is a divine appointment, so Joseph has to make a decision. This is quickly overlooked, but rather profound: the angel didn’t threaten Joseph, rather, he set him up for success and allowed him to decide. When Mordecai challenged Esther to approach the king, he made sure to tell her that God would save his people through her or someone else if she didn’t follow through (see: Esther 4:12-14). I wonder if Joseph thought about this when he decided:

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1:24-25

Not only did he make the right decision, Joseph proved himself to be a very honorable man. We know very little about the life of Joseph, but his example here leads me to believe he was incredibly humble and well respected in his small community.

Wise Men Visit

The story of the wise men, magi or kings, coming to visit the newly born Jesus is really astonishing. For centuries, the Jews have been saying (through the writings of the prophets) that this was going to happen, suddenly the future is current news.

wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2

With these few words we see they knew Jesus was born to be king and it is their honor to worship him. When they appeared in town, Herod was informed, or perhaps they started their search by going to the town center to find out where this great thing happened. I can imagine the logistics and politics of their actions: First, they’re from out of town–something you simply can hide, the authorities know the wise men are there for a reason. Second, they’re looking for the one who fulfills great prophecy–surely the local people are aware of this, right? They saw “his star” and have come to worship. This is the appropriate response!

They find Jesus, Mary and Joseph and present their gifts in a way that seems so modest given their journey and status, yet appropriate. They were warned in a dream to slip away without letting Herod know the details, so they vanish into the desert without a trace of where the Holy family was residing. That’s pretty amazing all by itself!

Escape and Return from Egypt

Of course Herod doesn’t see it that way and responds by deciding to kill all the male children that are 2 years old or younger. I can’t imagine being part of a military force that could execute such orders. A strange and sad time. Joseph was warned by an angel in a dream to hide in Egypt to escape such wrath. Again, this is fantastic! Surely Herod’s orders were secretly given…there’s no way he would have announced to the public that he was going to kill male children. The military operation would have been completed in secrecy and swiftly to ensure success.

Joseph gets another visit from an angel and returns to the quiet town of Nazareth to raise his family. This is the last time Matthew mentions Joseph, but I just can’t help being in awe of the man who led this family. I’m not sure if he is the father of James, but I’d like to think so just because of his character.

Born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, the Savior of all is about to begin His ministry.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

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Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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