Lesson 2: Beginnings

Glorious now behold him arise; King and God and sacrifice: Alleluia, Alleluia, sounds through the earth and skies.

– John Hopkins Jr.

Each of the four gospels is written for a different audience. Mark is aimed at Romans. Luke addresses his gospel and the book of Acts to a man named Theophilus—he has a Greek audience in mind. John is written to a Gentile Christian audience. Our reading today is from Matthew, who writes for a Jewish community. Glance over Matthew 1 and notice the many references to the Hebrew Bible. This will continue throughout his writings.

Devotion: Read Matthew 2:1-23. The Magi are Gentiles—most likely Zoroastrian priests from Persia. And yet, they grasp God’s signs better than Jewish religious leaders. They receive divine instructions, and God uses them to protect Jesus. The Magi demonstrate this Messiah brings salvation to all nations (Lk 2:32). How should Christians approach people of different faiths? What are positive ways for Christians to share their belief that Jesus is God incarnate with people of other religions? What can we learn from people of other faiths?  

The passage ends with a terrible reminder Jesus enters a world of political and social violence. Herod “the Great” is so vile and fearful he slaughters children to destroy a potential rival king. Jesus is not like worldly rulers (Lk 22:24-27). Is it possible to gain, possess, or maintain worldly power without betraying Jesus’ teachings? Why does Jesus not take that path (Mt 4:8-10)?

Personal Worship Option: Christians have always seen symbolic meanings in the Magi’s gifts. Gold is for a king; frankincense is associated with the worship of God; myrrh is an oil used to anoint the dead. King, God, and sacrifice. What roles does Jesus play in your life (Sovereign, God, friend, example, sacrifice, teacher)? What gift do you need to present to Jesus today?

Dig A Little Deeper:

2:1 Zoroastrians weave astronomy into their religion. The Magi see unusual heavenly activity as signs of significant events on earth (Gen 1:14; Joel 2:28; Mk 15:33; Acts 2:17). They affirm Jesus as Ruler. Compare their story to Numbers 24:17.

2:6 The Jewish leaders quote a version of Micah 5:1-3, but it is not the Septuagint version common in their day. They interweave portions of 2 Samuel 5:2 with Micah. (see Jn 7:42)

2:7 The answer to Herod’s question sets the stage for Matthew 2:13-23. The child Jesus is now two years old. What are arguments for and against including the Magi in Christmas Eve nativity scenes?

2:11 Compare this verse to Psalm 72:10 and Isaiah 60:6.

2:12 Dreams are important in Matthew’s infancy narratives (1:20; 2:13, 19).

2:15 Hosea 11:1 refers to the nation of Israel being called out of Egypt in the Exodus. The writer presents Jesus as re-living the salvation history of Israel in his own life. Can you think of other connections between Israel’s history and Jesus’ life?

2:18 Jeremiah 31:15 is quoted. Originally this text concerns the destruction of the northern nation of Israel by the Assyrians in 721 BCE during the “divided kingdom” era.

2:22 Upon his death in 4 BCE, Augustus Caesar divides Herod’s kingdom between his sons. Archelaus rules Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. Herod Antipas gains Galilee and Perea. Philip reigns over Iturea and Trachonitis. Matthew clarifies how Jesus, while born in Bethlehem, is known as a Galilean. However, the text he quotes is found nowhere in Jewish Scripture.

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