Honoring the Saviorís Birth

Explore the Bible Series

December 24, 2006

 

Background Passage: Matthew 1:18-2:12

Lesson Passage: Matthew 1:18-2:5, 9-11

 

Introduction: Like the writer of the Lifeway lessons, I have many warm, tender memories of Christmas.In particular, I recall many happy occasions in the homes of my dear grandparents, John and Minerva Sisk and Annie Tullock. Though born and raised in Texas, I spent almost every Christmas in Saint Louis with my extended family.Keen reminiscences flood my mind: the aroma of ham in the oven, bitter cold weather, church bells, presents under the tree, and the warm glow of deep family bonds. I would not exchange any of these memories for all the money in the world.Nevertheless, Christmas is not merely about tender recollections of happy times; rather, it commemorates the most remarkable event in human history, the incarnation of the Son of God.Clive Stapes Lewis captured the essence of this event in some observations in Mere Christianity.

 

But supposing God became a manósuppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with Godís nature in one personóthen that person could help us.He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because he was a man; and he could do it perfectly because he was God.You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us: but God can do it only if he becomes man.Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in Godís dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share Godís dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which he pays our debt, and suffers for us what He himself need not suffer at all.

 

Some religious groups refuse to observe Christmas on the grounds that we do not know, with any certainty, the time of year Jesus was born.Indeed, few scholars would affirm a December date for the nativity, and most would speculate that Catholics merely high jacked a worldly holiday and infused the seasonal pagan celebrations with new meanings. Our beloved Puritan forefathers held such a visceral distaste of papist trappings that they did not, as general rule, celebrate Christmas (please recall that the Puritanism was a broad movement that included some who followed the liturgical calendar). Whatever our individual views on this, perhaps we can all agree with the wisdom of regularly rehearsing the essential events in the earthly ministry of Jesus, including his birth in Bethlehem.Like many of you, I was raised in the Baptist tradition that did not mark the ebb and flow of the liturgical year; nevertheless, I see significant value in regularly commemorating the birth of the Savior.In the Old Testament, the ancient saints followed a set pattern of worship that, when observed properly, brought great blessing to the Lordís people.During this season, let us all determine that we center out attention on the great essential verities of the Christian faith, a faith grounded in the historical events of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus.Let us, at all costs, abandon the variousĒ hobby horsesĒ that draw away our attention from the rudimentary issues of Christian gospel and celebrate together the glory of God become man.

 

Perhaps we should briefly touch on the critical problems related to the nativity narratives in Matthew and Luke.Some liberal scholars have disparaged the historical reliability of these accounts. E.P. Sanders, Marcus Borg, and Bart Ehrman (among many others), believed these accounts are irreconcilable and, for all practical purposes, are simply manufactured stories that suit the theological purposes of the Gospel writers.While I have respect for the academic achievements of these scholars, I believe both Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus come across as straightforward historical material.Furthermore, conservative scholars have ably answered the objections raised concerning the historical integrity of Matthew and Luke.Please consult, for instance, the writings of men like William Hendriksen (his excellent commentary on Matthew) and Gleason Archer (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties) for insightful discussions of the problems with these texts.Also, Robertsonís Harmony of the Gospels proves very helpful.

 

 

Outline of the Background Passage:

 

I.                   The Angelís Annunciation to Joseph (1:18-25)

A.    Maryís untimely pregnancy (vv. 18-19): Matthew does not tell us where this annunciation took place, but Luke indicates that the angel appeared to Mary in Nazareth of Galilee (See Luke 1:26), and we may safely conclude that Joseph and Mary lived in the same village during the months of their betrothal.The Bible tells us very little about Joseph.He was a descendant of King David, a carpenter (See Matthew 13:55), and a devout man.His betrothal to Mary constituted a binding covenant of marriage.This arrangement was taken so seriously that it required a divorce to break it.During the period of engagement, the couple did not live together as man and wife, but they had already agreed to a covenant that all recognized as a very serious relationship.During their betrothal, Joseph discovered that Mary was with child.The text asserts that the young womanís pregnancy resulted from the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, but, apparently, Joseph did not know of the miraculous conception.Remarkably, Joseph did not want to make a public spectacle of Maryís apparent infidelity; so, he determined to divorce her privately.

B.     The angelís appearance to Joseph (vv. 20-25):

1.      The content of the announcement (vv. 20-21): The angel, appearing to Joseph in a dream, proclaimed that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.Mary would bear a son, and the couple, by the angelís command was to name the baby Jesus. The childís name carried great significance for he would save his people from their sins.

2.      A brief explanatory parenthesis (vv. 22-23): All of this, according to the angel, had occurred in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (See Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; 8:10).

II.                The Appearance of the Magi (2:1-6)

A.    The timing of the visit of the wise men (v. 1): The text introduces readers to Herod the Great.This man was the second son of Antipater, procurator of Judea.Herodís father appointed him tetrarch of Galilee in 47 B.C., and, in 40 B.C., Herod led an impressive military campaign against the invading Parthians.After three years of bloody warfare, Herod managed to secure his region, and Rome named him king of Judea (37 B.C.). He mollified the Jews by building an impressive replica of the Temple, but he had little regard for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.We know that Herod died in 4 B.C. at about seventy years of age.The events recorded in Matthew Chapter Two must occurred a few weeks or month after Jesusí birth and, obviously, before Herodís death.

B.     The arrival of the magi (v 1a-6): In all probability, these men were Persian astrologers who observed the unusual astronomical phenomenon recorded here in Matthew.The Bible tells us neither the number nor names of these men, but their arrival had profound effect on Herod.Apparently, the king had some knowledge of Jewish messianic teachings, and he rightly anticipated that the appearance of the star signaled the birth of the Savior.Herod consulted Hebrew scholars and discovered that the Scriptures predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (See Micah 5:2).

C.     Herodís deception (vv. 7-8): The cunning king lied to the magi in an attempt to identify the child king.

D.    The worship of the Christ child (vv. 9-11): The star led the wise men to Bethlehem where the holy family had secured a house.Perhaps Joseph had contracted some work during the familyís sojourn in Judea, and they appear to have resided in Bethlehem for some months.The wise men found Jesus in this house, and they lavished expensive gifts on the little family. This action by the magi reminds us that Jesus came to offer redemption to the whole world.The Old Testament has a number of texts that predict that all the nations of the earth will be blessed in the arrival of the Son of God.

E.     The return of the magi (v. 12): The wise men returned to Persia without reporting to Herod. Later in this chapter, Matthew records the unspeakable cruelty of Herod in his conspiracy to execute all of the small children of the region (See vv. 16-21).