Imagine standing on the banks of the Jordan as Jesus surfaced, hearing a voice proclaiming, “This is my Son, the one I love, who pleases me.” What would that mean to you?
You would not have thought, “Just look at that! The Father called him the Son, and the Spirit descended on him. There must be a trinity!” That understanding didn’t come until much later. So how would a first century Jew have understood the heavenly announcement? Continue reading “Heaven’s proclamation of Jesus (Matthew 3:17)”
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)”
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 (my translation) 22 This whole thing has come about to fulfil the word of the Lord through the prophet, 23 “See, the virgin will conceive and bear a son and they will call him Immanuel” which translates as “God-with-us.”
The New Testament is not a stand-alone story. It’s the surprising plot twist that resolves the old kingdom struggle in a new way.
We’ve spent six months reading the first book of the Bible, showing the kingdom of God is the theme that binds the story together. We’ve seen why Jesus thought God-as-king was the central plot line. So I’ve been bursting to bring that understanding of the kingdom over from the OT into the New. Today we’re starting with Matthew’s account of the Gospel. Continue reading “Matthew’s main message”
Before we resume our series in Genesis, would you like a taste of how a familiar text jumps to life when read from a kingdom perspective?
John 3:16–17 (ESV)
16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
This text expresses God’s love for his world, i.e. the gift of his Son who changes everything. Jesus is indeed the central character of the entire biblical narrative, so let’s situate this familiar text within the story of God’s kingdom. Continue reading “John 3:16 — a kingdom perspective”