Politics and religion were so intertwined in the ancient world that if you wanted to become king (other than by birth), you needed a prophet to announce that you were God’s chosen leader. Samuel was the king-maker for Saul and David (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13). Nathan anointed Solomon (1 Kings 1:34). There’s an awkward moment when Jeroboam takes most of the realm from Solomon, but it could not have happened unless YHWH decreed it, so Jeroboam had his prophet (1 Kings 11:29-40). Nehemiah’s enemies accused him of sedition, claiming he had lined up prophets to proclaim him king (Nehemiah 6:7). So if Jesus is to be the king of the Jews, he needs a prophet to announce him.Continue reading “A king announced by a prophet (Matthew 3:7-12)”
Christian baptism has its origins in John’s baptism, but why did John baptize?
Why did Jewish people come out to John to be “baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (3:6)? There’s nothing about baptism in the Old Testament. Sure, John would have been a curiosity: there were few prophets in living memory. But why did people take the plunge with John? Continue reading “Where did baptism come from? (Matthew 3:6)”
He wasn’t a Baptist. Or a Protestant. But John the Baptizer certainly was a protester.
John shunned the benefits that human rulers provided to their towns: streets, markets, wells, walls, peace and security. He wouldn’t trade with them. His clothes were an anti-fashion statement, fashioned from whatever he scavenged — like hair from a dead camel. He survived on bush tucker — like grasshoppers and wild honey (3:4). Who knows where he took shelter from rain and wind. Continue reading “A voice in the wild (Matthew 3:1-6)”
What kind of ruler could bring an end to war and injustice? He’d need to be a very different kind of ruler, and all humanity would need to submit to him.
As you read the Christmas story, do you see how rulers today still rely on evil and death as Herod the Great did? The spirit behind Herod reigned in the rulers who came before him: Antiochus Epiphanes IV, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh Neco, Sennacherib, …
Grief had always been at home in Bethlehem. Rachel died there, giving birth to Israel’s final son (Genesis 35:19). Maybe a parent would give her life so her children could live. But Rachel’s hopes were dashed as empires invaded, killing her children. Assyria decimated the tribes of her older son Joseph. Babylon crushed the remnant of Benjamin.
Jeremiah imagined Rachel weeping inconsolably as God’s promises fell apart:
Jeremiah 31:15 (NIV) This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Beautiful. Tender. Vulnerable. Helpless. Disarming. How can anyone hate a newborn? How can an infant seem like a threat? You’d have to be power-crazed to kill a baby. Herod is. He executes all the baby boys in Bethlehem. There can be no rival “king of the Jews” (2:16).
Herod’s acts are treason: he attempts to assassinate of the heavenly king’s heir. It’s part of the long-standing war over who rules the earth. On one side of this battle is the oppressor of God’s people, bearing down on them with the military might of Rome. On the other side is an infant bearing the promise of restoring heaven’s rule on earth. But how can a toddler stand up to a tyrant? Continue reading “God as asylum seeker (Matthew 2:16)”
Matthew says Jesus fulfilled many Scriptures (1:22; 2:15,17, 23; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9). But please read these before you claim that this proves Jesus was the Messiah. Some of these seem odd to us. Matthew 2:15 might be the most problematic:
Matthew 2:14–15 (NIV) 14He got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
You’ve seen the Christmas cards. Three wise men. On camels. Following a star. Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior — three kings of orient according to western tradition. So we build nativity scenes with a manger and kings and camels and shepherds and sheep and the donkey that carried the very pregnant Mary. There probably weren’t three wise men: their caravan would have been larger for safety’s sake. The Bible doesn’t say they rode camels either. We made up the bit about the donkey too.
And they weren’t “wise men.” Magi were originally a class of Persian priests who practiced astrology and other magic arts. In Daniel 2 (LXX) they’re bundled with enchanters and sorcerers as advisors to the king of Babylon. In Acts 13:6-8, a Cypriot ruler had a magos advising him, and Paul despised him. The word usually has negative connotations in Jewish literature—a trickster/deceiver. Matthew hints at that when he says that Herod was “tricked” by the magi (2:16). Continue reading “How did the magi find Jesus? (Matthew 2:1-12)”
Mary, Joseph, wise men, shepherds, and perhaps angels. Ask people to name the key players in the Christmas story, and that’s probably what you’ll get. There’s someone else who doesn’t make our Christmas lists. That’s because we don’t read the Bible as a kingdom story. Continue reading “King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-10)”
How do you understand Immanuel? Matthew explains it means, God with us.
What does that mean to you? A warm and fuzzy feeling that you’re not alone? A comfort? Assurance of safety? Yes, God’s presence does make a huge difference to us individually, but there’s so much more than that going on in Matthew’s story. In fact, what Matthew has in mind is pretty close to the core of the Bible’s whole story. Continue reading “Our king among us (Matthew 1:22-23)”
Matthew 1:22–23 (NIV) 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).