Matthew 2.0 – Bethlehem

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | Jul 24, 2016

Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-12)

The account recorded in these verses are some of the most familiar in all of the gospels. They are what we read (and see depicted in nativity scenes) at Christmas. Songs have even been written to commemorate this one event (e.g. “Oh Little Star of Bethlehem”). What however we may not know, is what makes this Bethlehem event unique. Or to put it another way, how it proves Jesus’ Messiahship. This (as discussed before) was among Matthew’ primary goals in writing his gospel. The answer we shall see, is found not so much in what lies on the surface, but what is underneath. (IOW): it is the deeper particulars and events surrounding this main event that are its greatest source of proof. Matthew has provided us w/the historical facts, but it is up to us to discover how they point exclusively to Jesus.

What makes the Bethlehem event unique (or points exclusively to Jesus as Messiah/Christ):

1.1. It was attended by foreign dignitaries bearing their own prophetic confirmation and divine guidance.

(1-2) “wise men from the east” = Magi (from which we get magic and magician) is the word translated “wise-men”. Seeing that they were from the east meant that they were Persian or Babylonian (Chaldean) dignitaries who served in the courts of their king as his advisors and counselors. Their main source of wisdom was through the practice of divination: the interpretation of dreams, visions, and the stars. They believed that these things had special meaning in relation to kings or world events. B/C of such unique ability, these men were very rich and powerful in their kingdoms (e.g. Gen 41:15-16, 44:15; Dan 2:2, 10). It is b/c of such divination (or their astrological studies) that they headed to Jerusalem– most likely referring to Herod’s palace (the expected place to find a newborn king). Though it is hard to say exactly what these astrologers saw (a literal star, comet or simply a bright light in the sky), what we can be certain of, is the fact that they believed it to be prophetic in nature: signaling the birth of a special/unique king to the Jews. So special/unique that, He wb worthy to be worshipped by even non-Jews (such as these foreign dignitaries).

(9-11) = The age at which the Magi find Jesus was approximately 2yrs (see 2:16). As such, this means he is no longer the baby lying in the manger (Luk 2:12). The gifts the Magi bring were how Magi “worshipped” Jesus. What Matthew has in mind by his use of this word is probably not a recognition of Jesus as Deity but rather the idea of paying homage/respect. The gifts themselves bear some support for this; there were the things typically given to kings in ancient times (e.g. Psa 45:8; Son 3:6). That being said, it is highly likely these men viewed the scope of Jesus’ coming reign as much larger than simply Judea [1].

(12) = Once more, it is divination (supernatural dreams), that God uses to guide the Magi. As such, it must be concluded that: 1) not all forms of divination were fraudulent/fake, 2) not all forms of divination were forbidden -(e.g. Joseph, Daniel, the prophets/prophesy – Act 2:17; due to the completion of the canon, all forms wb today – 1Co 13:1-10). More to the point, these Magi were operating on more than just celestial phenomena. Their actions were divinely directed. And this not just as it relates to their departure, but also their arrival. It (too) was a part of messianic prophecy (Isa 60:1-7 – “Sheba/Seba…Midian and Ephah” = countries part of Persia during the time of Jesus; consider also vv 1-3 w/Joh 1:4; Luk 2:32).

1.2. It was recognized by Herod to be confirmation that Messiah had come.

(3-4) = Notice that Herod immediately makes the connection between what the Magi are saying and Messiah (“he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born”). (IOW) He recognized that this newborn king was unique (and that even before he knew the place of his birth!). Notice also he and “all of Jerusalem” (‘s) response: they were “troubled” rather than overjoyed. There are two very probable reasons for this (both of which provide additional evidence as to what Herod believed about this newborn king):

1.2.1. Magi did not announce the birth of just any king.

The last time Magi had indicated the birth of a king, it was Alexander the Great, not only one of history’s greatest ancient empire builders but also military commanders. Alexander was undefeated in battle. Herod’s direct involvement w/Eastern religions (e.g. He was known to have built many of their shrines) meant he was also most certainly aware of this and therefore calculating the personal threat this newborn king posed to his throne.

1.2.2. Herod knew what this meant for Judah as a nation.

“All Jerusalem” most likely refers to the high-priests who also resided in Jerusalem and had been put in power by Herod. Hence why they were so easily accessible for information on the birthplace of Messiah (4). They functioned as his advisors – especially on prophetic/scriptural matters. No doubt (then) the prophecy of Jacob was also mentioned to Herod- along with its ramifications upon the nation (Gen 49:10 – “scepter…nor the ruler’s staff” = authority to execute judgment as a sovereign nation; “peoples” = non-Jews/Gentiles, Ezr 10:2)[2].

Such “troubled” thinking was, therefore more than just a little heartburn on the part of Herod. The word is used to speak of how Jesus felt when contemplating His coming death and utter betrayal by Judas (Joh 12:27, 13:21). It means to be deeply moved or disturbed in spirit (see also Joh 11:33). In the case of Herod, it indicates the beginning of his murderous intentions (see v16). As such, his instructions to the Magi were anything but genuine (7-8 = translation: “that I may come and murder him!”).

1.3. It fulfills Micah’s prophecy within its prophetic time constraints.

(5-6) = What the chief priests and scribes tell Herod is a summary of (Mic 5:2-5 = The Messiah would share the birthplace of Israel’s greatest king and messianic type, David – 1Sa 17:12, 20:6). More importantly, though, is the fact that this particular prophecy had a cut-off date. It had to be fulfilled before the destruction of the Temple. The reason? According to what else the Bible tells us about the coming Messiah, He would minister while the Temple was still standing (Mal 3:1-3 w/Mat 3:11-12; Gen 49:10[3]; Dan 9:25-26[4]; Psa 118:25-26 w/ Luk 19:28-46 w/Mat 23:38-39)[5].

Seeing that the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., meant that the child had to be born at least thirty years prior to that (since 30 was the minimum age allowed for those ministering in the Temple or to God’s people). This coupled with the fact that no-one before or after Jesus’ birth (in 1.B.C.) was ever declared to be the Messiah (other than Jesus) does more (then) than just narrow the playing field, it settles the score. It becomes the crowning star in a series of events that demonstrate Matthew to be anything but a practitioner of convenient proof-texts or the stringing together of what seems convincing to the untrained mind (the bread and butter of false teachers/religions). It means the Bethlehem event does indeed point exclusively to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah/Christ and Savior of the world.

The takeaway = Our Christian faith/hope (in Jesus and the NT testimony) rests not on convenience (or the compilation of only certain portions of God’s Word), but instead on the confidence that comes from seeing it proven from all of God’s Word (most esp. the OT) (Act 17 – what good Christians do in re: to all they believe, Act 20 – what Paul did in convincing others; Luk 222, 24 – what Jesus did as well).

[1] Evidence does exist from this time which speaks of “a wide-spread expectation of a world-ruler to come from Judea” (W.D. Davies). Given the wise-men’s expertise in this area, it is safe to assume that they were aware of this prophecy.

[2] According to the Palestinian/Babylonian Talmud the loss of sovereign authority took place during the lifetime of Jesus, shortly before the destruction of the Temple, “A little more than 40 yrs before the destruction of the Temple, the power of pronouncing capital sentences was taken from the Jews. They [the members of the Sanhedrin] covered their heads with ashes and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming, ‘Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come.'”

[3] Since this prophecy also places constraints on the timing of the coming Messiah, it (too) acts as support for Matthew’s claims regarding Jesus’ birth.

[4] The 69 “weeks” (69 x 7 x 360 Jewish days in a year = 173,880 days = 476.38 modern years) began when Artaxerxes issued a decree to Nehemiah to rebuild the Temple and restore the holy city of Jerusalem (Neh 2:1-8). While other decrees went forth, this was the only one that involved both the Temple and Jerusalem. History records this took place in March/April of 444 B.C. This means Messiah had to appear in the Temple by March of 33 A.D. History does not record anyone, other than Jesus, appearing in this place at that time and claiming also to be the Messiah (Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the Temple – March, 33 A.D.).

[5] The Jews living at the time of the Temple’s destruction and after (even today) are acutely aware of this. As a result, it has become one of the main reasons prayers (or wailing) are made on the remaining west Temple wall.