Our lead in to Matthew 2

What an interesting transition. Our lead-in to Matthew 2 tells us: That Joseph was a good man. Mary was probably in trouble, though she had done nothing wrong. Joseph took her into his home before the usual time, disregarding the pressure that may have come at him as well.

Suddenly I realize that am not aware of where they came from. Sadly, I have never been aware of where they were living when all this started. Nazareth, as we learn from Luke’s gospel, was not Joseph’s hometown. I assumed that Bethlehem was where Mary was from as well. This is one of those reasons that we should compare notes with the other gospels when we are trying to get the bigger picture.

Luke’s gospel tells us that they came from Nazareth, and went to Bethlehem. Here is why:

“Now in those days an order was published by Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be registered. This was the first registration taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all the people went to their hometowns to be registered. Joseph, too, went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was a descendant of the household and family of David. He went there to be registered with Mary, who had been promised to him in marriage and was pregnant.” (Luke 2:1-5 ISV)

So all my rants and perceptions about them being outcasts have more to do with Joseph’s family rejecting the two of them, as they tried to find a place to stay in Bethlehem. Perhaps I am wrong in assuming that common courtesy and hospitality existed in this period of history. Maybe Joseph has been gone so long that he is barely remembered. Who knows? Even here in Bethlehem, if challenges came up, how easy would it be to say, this is my wife and she is with child. Who would question that?

It is clear that Mary and Joseph did not go around announcing that this was the coming Messiah. If they had done that Herod would have had been no need to question the wise men, or the religious Jews about where this Messiah and rightful heir to the throne was.

I do not think that most people would have paid attention if they had declared that this coming baby was the Messiah. All of Israel expected some grand entrance associated with a warrior king, not some poverty-stricken family, with a baby coming.

Matthew 2:1-2 NET.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Wise men?

They were Magi: A magus, the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc. (Thayer’s definitions)

These wise men were men that had emerged from Daniel’s tutelage of the Magi.

Daniel 4:9 LITV O Belteshazzar(Daniel), master of the magicians(astrologers), because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no secret troubles you, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and its meaning.

Did it ever occur to you that there could have, and should have been others that understood and paid attention?

Certainly, the shepherds were wise enough to come. Around Christmas of every year you see the sentence, “Wise men still seek him” and that is certainly true. However, this is very telling of the Jewish people; they knew by oral tradition, based in the Law and the prophets that the Messiah was coming.

Many have decided, after having read the bible, that it borders on impossible to figure out when future events should occur. We are even told, concerning the coming our Lord, that no man knows the precise time. Nevertheless, Daniel was able to figure out that the end of Israel’s captivity in Babylon was near. Did that mean freedom was immediate? Daniel sought the Lord for an answer.

Daniel 9:2-3 KJV “In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. (3) And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:”

God’s response spelled out: Israel’s release from captivity; the death of the Messiah; the destruction of the temple in 70 AD; Antichrists covenant with Israel for seven years, and his breaking of that covenant at the mid-point; the abomination of the final temple, and the desolation of Israel. Once it starts, this time will continue until the end of those seven years.

Why then, if Daniel can figure things out, no one else can? Ah, but they could, and several did. The religious Jews, when brought before Herod, were able to tell Herod that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem. Apparently, they knew.  What we see is an intentional refusal of the Messiah.

Matthew 2:3 NET. When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him.

Herod was an insecure man. You can rest assured that his lookouts saw the wise men coming. The Magi had done their homework, and were looking for the sign of His arrival. Having found it they began their journey. I can understand Herod’s fear, but why is all of Jerusalem afraid, unless, they fear the repercussions of a bipolar king.

Josephus can well understand the meaning of these words. Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus. He had made will after will and was now in a fatal illness and fury over the question of the Magi. He showed his excitement and the whole city was upset because the people knew only too well what he could do when in a rage over the disturbance of his plans.” (RWP)

Having Herod perceive this as an attempt at an uprising, and the repercussions of that, may well be the basis of Jerusalem’s fear. It will only be days before Herod tries to kill off this young contender for the throne.

Matthew 2:4-6 KJV “And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”

Herod quickly gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together. He demanded an answer, and they gave him what they knew. However, you find these same men denying the deity and veracity of Jesus, even though they knew that his birth fulfilled prophecy. Their hypocrisy screams in the face of God.

Now Herod knows that he has a potential threat. A young boy should be an easy target. Perhaps these wise men have a more precise location, seeing as they are interested in going there; a blatant and notable difference from the religious Jews.

Allow me to insert a break here.

While the general population of religious Jews is in denial about the Messiah, some are not. We are aware of the shepherds and the wise men, but who else has been paying attention?

I want you to look at Luke chapter two with me.

Luke 2:15-17 DRB “And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us. And they came with haste: and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child.”

Luke 2:21-33 DRB “And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons: And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon: and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. And the Holy Ghost was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, He also took him into his arms and blessed God and said Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace: Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel. And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him.”

The Message version describes Simeon like this:

Luke 2:25 MSG  “In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him.”

Then there was Anna. She was very old, but she understood.

Luke 2:36-38 ISV “Now Anna, a prophetess, was also there. She was a descendant of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow for 84 years. She never left the Temple, but continued to worship there night and day with times of fasting and prayer. Just then she came forward and began to thank God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

No, not everyone was blind to his birth.

Matthew 2:7-10 ISV “Then Herod secretly called together the wise men, found out from them the time the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. He told them, “As you go, search carefully for the child. When you find him, tell me so that I, too, may go and worship him.” After listening to the king, they set out, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were ecstatic with joy.”

The wise men understood that Herod had an alternative motive and they were going to have no part of it. Notice when they relocated the star that they were ecstatic with joy.

Here comes the part where you get your traditional Christmas manger scene destroyed.

Matthew 2:11 ISV “After they went into the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, they fell down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure sacks and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Nope, He is no longer in a manger. In addition, notice that there is nothing said about how many wise men are here, or the quantity of treasure containers. This is another of those things in scripture about which we have made assumptions.

Matthew 2:12 ISV Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they left for their own country by a different road.”

God cared about wise men, and warned them in a dream that they should take another way home. I can see this serving two purposes: One, it keeps Herod from killing them since they are no longer useful, and two, God has a plan, and it does not include having His only son killed prematurely.

Matthew 2:13 ERV “After the wise men left, an angel from the Lord came to Joseph in a dream. The angel said, “Get up! Take the child with his mother and escape to Egypt. Herod wants to kill the child and will soon start looking for him. Stay in Egypt until I tell you to come back.””

How old is Jesus at this point? Our evidence is really based upon Herod’s assessment. He had questioned the wise men, because his intent was to kill the child. They apparently told Herod that it had been two years since they had seen His star in the East. Since the star appeared at His birth, then all male children, two and under would be killed.

I think I have always wondered what became of the gifts the wise men brought. I think it is safe to say that these gifts financed, not only the trip, but their lives while in Egypt.

Matthew 2:16 KJV “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.”

What horrors as so many children were innocently slaughtered.

Matthew 2:17-18 ESV “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: (18) “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.””

Jeremiah 31: 15 is what they pulled from. Rachel is now symbolic and gains it fulfillment with the deaths of these children. However, this is yet to be fulfilled in the destruction of Israel during the years of wrath.

“But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 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.” (Matthew 2:19-23 ESV)

Most people fear the prophetic. Maybe they mostly fear prophetic people. I suppose that is understandable considering the television representations we get to watch. At this point in history, God had been silent for four hundred years. Suddenly he shows up in dreams. It was not unusual for God to talk to his people in this way. That made Mary’s story a little easier to handle.

Given the green light to go back home, with the disclaimer, “all who seek the death of Jesus are dead” you might think Joseph would be comfortable going back to Bethlehem. Life had worked out okay there. But when he learned that Archelaus was ruling Joseph goes around Judea and back to Nazareth. Matthew writes this as though Nazareth is a new and unfamiliar experience for them. They have been gone for a few years but comments made toward Jesus, as far south as Jerusalem, show that his birthing reputation was well-known.

Matthew 2:23 ESV 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.

I have looked in scripture for the prophet that spoke these words but cannot find him. In reading the notes in my Dakes’ bible, he says, these words were spoken but not recorded. Considering that so much of what we read is passed on through oral history and learning, it makes sense.

             Everything was going according to God’s plan.

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