God’s Unique Son

Explore the Bible Series

September 2, 2007

 

Background Passage: The Gospel of Matthew 1:1-2:23

Lesson Passage: The Gospel of Matthew 1:18-2:3, 7-11

 

Introduction: Some years ago, I determined to preach through the Gospel of Matthew.  The exposition took me over three years, and that study began a gradual transformation of my life.  As I began my pulpit preparations, I tried to read the text with a new freshness, as if I had never studied Matthew before.  Like many of you, years of teaching and preaching, dating back to my “cradle roll” days, influenced my perusal of the text.  I value my rich Christian heritage, but, in a sense, it became a liability.  Previous experiences, in many cases, prejudiced my interaction with the Gospel. Reading the text afresh challenged me to rethink what it means to follow Christ, and I discovered that some of my assumptions about the life  and teachings of Jesus did not bear up to the scrutiny of careful interaction with Matthew.  Frankly, I experienced a great deal of discomfort as I confronted the Christ of Matthew, and the implications of this discomfort have dramatically changed my life.  However, I can give this testimony.  As a result of reading the Gospel of Matthew, I love the Lord Jesus more now than ever before, and I have a deeper, greater understanding of his gracious work and my responsibility as a disciple of Christ. 

 

Authorship and Sources: Like all four Gospels, the Gospel of Matthew is anonymous; however, the Apostle Matthew’s authorship of this book had very early attestation.  Several early church leaders (Papias, Ignatius of Antioch, Ireneus, and Eusibius) attributed this Gospel to Matthew, a former tax collector and one of the Twelve. If, as seems probable, Matthew wrote this Gospel, then much of the recorded materials came directly from an eyewitness to the life of Jesus; nevertheless, it appears likely that Matthew used other sources to reconstruct the life and teachings of the Lord.  For instance, Matthew certainly did not observe firsthand the events surrounding the annunciation to Joseph and the abbreviated birth narrative of Chapters One and Two.  Many scholars, including a number of conservatives like D.A. Carson, believe Matthew may have used the Gospel of Mark (with its strong ties to the witness of Peter) and, perhaps, employed other early written accounts of Jesus’ teachings.  The so called “synoptic problem” arises from the common materials, often recorded in identical language, that one finds in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  During the first three centuries of the Christian Era, Matthew was the most-often quoted and most highly revered account of the life of Jesus, and the universal acceptance of this Gospel underscores the Church’s conviction that the Holy Spirit inspired this work.

 

Date: Liberal scholars have argued for a late date for Matthew, but the evidence, in my judgment, points to a relatively early composition, perhaps the late 60s of the First Century.  As the first generation of disciples approached their senior years, church leaders clearly felt a need to preserve the legacy of Jesus by writing authoritative accounts of his life and teachings.  It seems plausible that Mark (with assistance from Simon Peter) wrote his Gospel first; then, Matthew and Luke, using Mark’s account, added important materials to the Markan text.  If Mark wrote his Gospel early (say during the 50s), Matthew and Luke could have easily utilized his work by the mid-60s.

 

Purpose: We know almost nothing about this Gospel’s place of composition or the apostle’s intended audience.  Carson speculates that Matthew may have written the Gospel from Syria, perhaps in ancient Antioch.  Like the other Gospels, Matthew does not follow a strict chronological format, and the book is not a biography, in the modern sense of that term.  Matthew places a great deal of emphasis on the teaching ministry of Jesus (records five major discourses), and his work has a sermonic tone.  In other words, it seems that the apostle intended to provide an orderly account of the life and teachings of Jesus, an account intended to convince readers of the deity of Christ, and announce the good news of the gospel.

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   The Genealogy of Jesus (1:1-17): At first reading, the appearance of this genealogical information, placed at the very outset of the book, may seem odd.  Contemporary biographers, of course, would not follow this pattern.  Matthew, in the very first verse, stated his purpose for including the linage of Jesus.  He detailed this genealogy to demonstrate Jesus’ connection with the family of Abraham and the house of David. This list reveals Christ as the fulfillment of the great covenants of the Old Testament. Matthew’s account, however, presents some problems.  For instance, Matthew’s genealogy differs from Luke’s (See Luke 3:23-38).  Some have surmised that Matthew presented the legal linage of Jesus (thus tracing Joseph’s family), while Luke recorded the genealogy of Mary.  This view, however, has some problems.  Those who want to examine an excellent overview of possible solutions should consult books like An Introduction to the New Testament, D.A. Carson, et al. 

 

A second problem relates to the symbolism of the number fourteen in Matthew’s genealogy (See v. 17).  The apostle gave no hint to his readers why he arranged the material as he did; nor did he give any explanation of the significance of the number fourteen.  Honestly, having read a number of possible explanations, I do not know why Matthew recorded this information as he did (in particular, the use of the number fourteen).  Perhaps his meaning seemed clear to his First Century audience, but does not seem as apparent to Twenty-first Century readers.

 

II.                The Annunciation to Joseph and the Birth Narrative (1:18-24)

A.    Joseph’s betrothal to Mary (vv. 18-19): Modern, western culture has no parallel to betrothal, but it was a binding agreement for marriage that, in some ways, relates to our practice of engagement.  The betrothed couple did not live together as husband and wife, but this arrangement required a divorce to break.  As Mary and Joseph awaited their coming marriage, Mary became pregnant with a child, and Joseph determined to break the engagement privately.

B.     The angel’s announcement (vv. 20-23): While Joseph planned his divorce, an angel appeared to him and announced that the Holy Spirit had conceived this child.  The heavenly messenger told Joseph to follow these instructions.

1.      Joseph was to marry his fiancé (v. 20).

2.      Joseph was to name the child Jesus (Savior) for the babe would save his people from their sins (vv. 21-23). For the first time in this Gospel, verses twenty-two and twenty-three introduce a common feature of Matthew’s writing.  The author highlights the fulfillment of prophecy by quoting from the Old Testament (See Isaiah 7:14).

C.     Joseph’s obedience and the birth of Jesus (vv. 24-25): Joseph took Mary as his wife, but he was not intimate with her until after the birth of Jesus.  Also, he followed the angel’s directive by naming the infant according to the angelic command.

 

III.             The Visit of the Magi and the Flight to Egypt (2:1-15)

A.    The visit of the magi (vv. 1-18)

1.      the magi’s journey to Herod’s palace (vv. 1-8): These astronomers/astrologists were probably from Persia, and they served both a political and religious function in their society.  No doubt, they came from an idolatrous society, but they came sincerely seeking the Messiah. Naturally, they came to Jerusalem and spoke with the court of Herod the Great.   The Jewish priests informed Herod that the Old Testament predicted Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah (note the reference to Micah 5:2-4).  Herod instructed the wise men to seek the child and, when they found him, return to Jerusalem with news of the baby.

2.      the magi’s worship of the baby Jesus (vv. 9-12): The star that had guided the magi led them to Bethlehem. Some scholars have sought natural explanations for the appearance of the star, but it seems better to see this as a supernatural occurrence that led these men to Jesus.  After offering the child costly gifts, the wise men, warned by in a dream, did not return to Jerusalem to report to Herod.

B.     The flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the infants (vv. 13-18): this material is unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  Herod plotted to kill the Christ child, and an angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect the life of the baby. Again, Matthew understood this journey as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (See Hosea 11:1).  Herod, driven by unspeakable cruelty, ordered the execution of all children in the region of Bethlehem (See Jeremiah 31:15).

 

IV.             The Journey to Nazareth (2:19-23)

A.    The death of Herod the Great (vv. 19-20): Secular history reveals that Herod died in 4 B.C. (Some scholars argue for a slightly later date) After Herod died, at the behest of an angel, the little family of Joseph and Mary determined to return to Israel.

B.     The reign of Archelaus (vv. 21-23): Just before his death Herod the Great decreed a division of his governance to three of his sons, and Archelaus was designated as the ethnarch of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea.  He proved a poor governor, and, in 6 A.D., Caesar deposed him in favor of Herod Antipas.  Of course, by this time, Joseph had relocated his family in Nazareth of Galilee.