The Beginning of the End
Like a good architect, Matthew has structured his narrative of the life of Jesus in a certain way. He begins with Jesus’ genealogy in 1:1-17 to show that Jesus comes from ‘the right line at the right time and how it is just the right design.’ That’s the groundwork he puts in place. From there he sinks five anchors. Starting in 1:18 and ending in 2:23, Matthew gives us five fulfilments of what has been said through the prophets – 1:22, 23; 2:6, 15, 17, 18, and 23. The first two are what we know as precise fulfilments; the latter three are patterned fulfilments.
Douglas O’Donnell writes, ‘By precise I mean: This is that.’ He explains further:
“I borrow this phrase from Acts 2:16, where Peter uses it in his first sermon. This (what is happening now) is that(what was said would happen). Thus, in Acts 2 the coming of the Holy Spirit is this, and the prophecy of Joel is that. Patterned fulfilments (i.e., typology) work differently. Here is my description of them: this is THIS. Something that happened in the past is a pattern for something that happens in the life and ministry of Jesus.”
The two precise fulfilments are the manner of Jesus’ conception (birth) and the place of his birth. The first one comes from Isaiah. In Isaiah 7-11 we read that there will be a king from the line of David who will be called such titles as ‘Mighty God’ and ‘Prince of Peace’ and that this king will be born in a most unusual way – of a virgin. In Matthew 1:18-25 the Evangelist is saying: Listen, this is that. This Mary is that virgin, and this Jesus is that God-child, that prince upon whose shoulders the whole world’s governance will rest.
The second involves the place of the child’s birth. The wise men know enough about Israel’s prophets to know the Messiah will be born. They believe this star testifies to his birth. But they don’t know the Bible well enough to know where the Messiah will be born. So they travel to Jerusalem perhaps thinking, as many suggests, ‘If the king of the Jews is to be born, he will be born in the capital city.’ However, when they arrive and start asking around – ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?’ – the current jealous and malicious king, Herod, naturally wants to help. Herod’s wise men – the scribes – inform Herod, who in turn informs the magi, about the prophet Micah’s prophecy, which said in essence: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’ (Micah 5:2, 4). When the Messiah comes, he’ll be from Bethlehem, a small town about five miles south of Jerusalem, the same place where King David was born. So again this is that. Jesus was born in this particular town. Micah predicted that the Messiah would be born in that same town.
In this section, Matthew is helping us to see Jesus as he is, yet in a bit of a different way. As we listen to the different movements in what we might call ‘Matthew’s Symphony,’ there is a melody playing in the background drawn, as it were, from ‘Moses’ Symphony.’ There are echoes of the story told in Genesis and Exodus. Furthermore, Matthew’s nativity account is a reminder to us that the first Christmas not only brought joy; it also involved lament.
If it helps, think of what Matthew is doing here as viewing the Old Testament texts as a puzzle that has seemingly random pieces that, when pieced together, fit just as they are supposed to. Again, O’Donnell offers helpful insight as he writes,
“In fact, what we have here is a double-sided puzzle with the pieces fitted together and lying on a glass table. When you look at it faceup, sitting on top of the table, the pattern is of two key Old Testament events and what I think is the combination of two key Old Testament ideas. But when you look underneath, beneath the glass, facedown, you’ll see the face of Jesus Christ, or as Paul put it, ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6).
“If it helps, think of what Matthew is doing here as being similar to what the author of Hebrews does. In Hebrews we have laid on a glass table the pieces that comprise the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifice. Once those are nicely fitted together, we look under the table and see Jesus. Jesus is the fulfilment of the whole sacrificial system. In a similar manner (although he’ll deal more with history than typology), Matthew is not thumbing through his Bible looking for random proof texts that Jesus might somehow fulfill. Rather, he is reading through the whole story of Israel and noticing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, how this story is like THISone.”
Matthew closes his nativity account with an enigmatic statement: “And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene” (2:23). Rightly understood, this passage alerts us to the truth that the Christmas story was heading to the Cross from the very beginning. All together these texts paint a beautiful portrait of our Savior and Lord who came to rescue his people.
I trust and pray that you have enjoyed a wonderful Christmas celebration with family and friends. I invite you to join us this coming Lord’s Day as we continue our journey in ‘What Child Is This’ from Matthew’s nativity account. Chad will present the truths of this wonderful text from Matthew 2:13-23.
Michelle and I will miss you this Sunday as we are recovering and quarantining. Like several others from our congregation, and many from our area, we tested positive with Covid. We are grateful for the mercies of the Lord that our symptoms have been light, and we are doing fine. Thank you for your prayers – we are doing well and are eagerly anticipating joining you soon and moving forward with the work of Redeemer. Grace and peace to you.