I. Genealogy, Birth, and Childhood (Matthew 1:1–2:23)


I. Genealogy, Birth, and Childhood (1:1–2:23)

1:1 The apostle Matthew opens his Gospel account with a genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the Son of Abraham. Many people tend to skip over this record and the one in Luke, but that’s a mistake. These genealogies demonstrate that Jesus had a legitimate legal claim to be the Messiah—the Son of David and heir to the throne (see 2 Sam 7:12-16; Isa 11:1-10). Though Jewish gene-alogical records would be destroyed in AD 70 when Jerusalem fell to the Romans, Jesus’s genealogy was supernaturally preserved in the Gospels.

1:2-17 Matthew’s genealogy reaches back to Abraham (1:2) and proceeds through King David (1:6) to reach Jesus’s assumed father, Joseph (1:16). There’s a problem, though, with Jeconiah (1:11)—also known as Jehoiachin and Coniah (see 1 Chr 3:16; 2 Chr 36:8-9; and Jer 22:24). According to Jeremiah, Jeconiah would not have a biological descendent sitting on David’s throne because of his own sins (Jer 22:30).

So, although Joseph had a legal right to the throne, because of Jeremiah’s prophecy, it would never happen biologically. Thus, Matthew makes it clear that Joseph is not Jesus’s biological father but his adoptive father, who was the husband of Mary (1:16). Interestingly, Luke provides Jesus’s genealogy through her (Luke 3:23-38). This shows that Jesus is related to David biologically through David’s son Nathan (Luke 3:31). Therefore, he’s related to David on both sides of the family tree. And because his biological relationship is through Nathan and not through Jeconiah, he can sit on the throne.

Notice that Jesus’s genealogy is filled with imperfect people. Jacob (1:2) was a deceiver. David (1:6) committed adultery and murder. Solomon (1:7) took an abundance of wives and concubines. Manasseh (1:10) was one of Judah’s most wicked kings. Moreover, and while women do not normally show up in genealogies, the women in Jesus’s line were particularly questionable. Tamar (1:3) was a Canaanite who posed as a prostitute. Rahab was a prostitute; Ruth was from Moab, a non-Israelite people that worshiped false gods (1:5). Another observation about Jesus’s genealogy is that it is mixed racially, including both Jews and Gentiles and indicating that Jesus’s kingdom identity and rule includes all races of people.

All of this points to God’s sovereign grace. He accomplishes his glorious purposes in spite of difficult circumstances and the character of the people involved. If he can use the people listed in 1:2-16 to bring the Christ into the world, God can surely use you too.

Notice also that of the five women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy, four are of Hamitic descent: Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Ruth. That doesn’t mean that Jesus was black. To assert such, as some black theologians and religious leaders do, is to fall into the exclusionist perspective of many whites, who would make Jesus an Anglo-European, blue-eyed blond with little relevance to people of color. It would also fail to respect the distinct Jewish heritage of Christ. Jesus was a person of mixed ancestry.

It blesses me to know that Jesus had black in his blood because this destroys any perception of black inferiority once and for all. In Christ we find perfect man and sinless Savior. This knowledge frees blacks from an inferiority complex, and at the same time it frees whites from the superiority myth. In Christ, we all have our heritage.

Black people, as all other people, can find a place of historical, cultural, and racial identity in him. As Savior of all mankind, he can relate to all people, in every situation. In him, any person from any background can find comfort, understanding, direction, and affinity—as long as Christ is revered as the Son of God, a designation that transcends every culture and race and one to which all nations of people must pay homage.

1:18-19 In biblical times, a marriage in the Orient included several stages. The betrothal or engagement period was not like our modern engagements. The engagement of Joseph and Mary was a legal contract, as binding as marriage. So when Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, he decided to divorce her secretly. He was a righteous man and thought she had committed adultery, but he didn’t want to disgrace her publicly (1:19).

1:20 Before Joseph could carry out his plans, though, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Angels are divine messengers, and one of the ways they carry out their role in Scripture is by faithfully delivering God’s message to humans. This angel told Joseph to take Mary for his wife because the child conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit.

God has created laws (such as the law of gravity) that govern the universe. When he intervenes in the regular course of events, interrupts those laws, and demonstrates his power over creation, a miracle takes place. This would be the most unique birth in history because Mary had never been touched by a man. A virgin would miraculously give birth because of the activity of the Holy Spirit.

Even so, this miracle involved more, for hers wasn’t just any baby. The greatest miracle in human history occurred when God became man. The eternal Son of God took on human flesh, combining full deity and full humanity in one person. Jesus Christ is the God-man.

1:21-23 They were to call their son Jesus, a Greek name corresponding to the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “the Lord saves.” Thus, according to the angel, the child’s name was to indicate the reason he had come into the world—that is, he will save his people from their sins (1:21).

Matthew doesn’t want his readers to think these are unexpected events; instead, they are a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (1:22). Mary was part of a plan that God had been orchestrating for centuries. Long before, Isaiah had prophesied, The virgin will . . . give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel. And Immanuel, Matthew tells us, means, God is with us (1:23). That is the essence of Christmas. The baby in the manger was God himself in the person of his Son. He was deity in a diaper. Heaven was coming down to earth; eternity was invading time. The King of the universe had come to be with us (see John 1:14) and save sinners (Matt 1:21).

All the problems in this world can be traced back to sin, and the Son of God came to save you from your sins because you couldn’t save yourself. Jesus Christ entered the world to identify our sins, forgive us for our sins, give us victory over our sins, and give us an eternal home free from sin. That truth is what Christmas is all about. If you miss that, you’ve missed the point.

1:24-25 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel had commanded him (1:24). Again, he was a righteous man (1:19). So, when he understood what God was doing, he complied in full obedience. He did not have sexual relations with Mary until she gave birth: Jesus was to be born of a virgin (1:25).

2:1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem . . . wise men arrived. There are two common misconceptions to clear up about these visitors. First, according to legend, there were three wise men. However, we only know that they brought three specific gifts (2:11). We don’t know how many men there were.

Second, contrary to how the scene is often portrayed, the wise men weren’t present at the nativity. They weren’t there for Jesus’s birth. By the time they arrived, Joseph and Mary were living in a house (2:11). In addition, as we’ll see, Herod sought to kill all the male children two years old and younger (2:16); therefore, Jesus was a toddler when the wise men saw him, not a baby.

Matthew tells us their origin was from the east (2:1)—perhaps Babylonia or Persia. They were looking for the king of the Jews, had seen his star, and had come to worship him (2:2). The Greek term for these men is magi. They were astrologers—students of the heavenly bodies. Whatever religious practices they’d engaged in previously, when they saw the manifestation of God’s glory in the heavens, they responded and traveled to worship the true King.

2:3-8 They entered Jerusalem (the obvious place to find a king) and went to the palace of King Herod, also known as Herod the Great. Herod wasn’t a Jew. He was an Idumean whom the Romans had made a ruler of the Jews. So when he heard what the wise men had to say, he was deeply disturbed (2:3). As far as he was concerned, there was no room for any king but him.

Herod asked the chief priests and scribes to tell him where the Christ would be born (2:4). And while these leaders clearly knew the Scriptures, they never pursued the Savior (see John 5:39-40). They didn’t act on what they studied. Nevertheless, when Herod learned that Scripture foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (2:5-6; see Mic 5:2), he secretly summoned the wise men (2:7). He told them he also desired to worship and asked them to search carefully for the child and report back (2:8). But Herod had ulterior motives. He wasn’t about to let anyone take away his kingdom.

2:9-11 The wise men continued their search, following the star until it stopped above the place where the child was (2:9). Whereas Herod was deeply distressed over the news of a new king, the wise men were overwhelmed with joy to see him (2:10). They fell on their knees before the child and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (2:11).

True worship can’t be contained. These men had traveled an incredible distance for perhaps as long as two years to worship this King, but they knew he was worth the journey. How much are you willing to be inconvenienced to worship the King of kings? How badly do you want him?

2:12-13 Since they had faithfully sought the Savior, the wise men received inside information. They were warned in a dream about Herod and returned home by another route (2:12). Joseph also—since he had obeyed the Lord’s word (1:24-25)—received further information and understanding. An angel warned him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus for safety from Herod (2:13). When you obey God’s revelation you get further divine illumination for your destination.

2:14-15 Joseph took the child and his mother and escaped to Egypt where they’d be safe until Herod died (2:14). Matthew tells his readers that this was to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet Hosea: Out of Egypt I called my Son (2:15).

In his prophecy, Hosea was talking about Israel, whom God called his son and delivered from Egypt (see Hos 11:1), but Matthew understood that Israel was a type of God’s Son who was yet to come. A type is a historical person, institution, or event that pre-figures a future corresponding reality. Thus, as God called his son Israel out of Egypt, so he would call his true Son out of Egypt. Matthew knew that many Old Testament texts point forward to Jesus.

2:16-18 When he realized that he had been outwitted by the wise men, Herod displayed his true, murderous colors. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under. He used the information learned from the wise men—which they had learned by divine illumination—to slaughter innocent children (2:16). Matthew recognized this as another fulfillment of prophecy—this time from Jeremiah (2:17). Here too there is a connection between Israel and their Messiah. As Israel wept in Jeremiah’s day for their children in exile (see Jer 31:15-16), so they wept again in Matthew’s day for their children who were persecuted in connection to Jesus.

2:19-22 After Herod’s death, God once again communicated to Joseph in a dream to take the child and his mother back to Israel (2:19-21). When Joseph heard that Archelaus, Herod’s son, was ruling over Judea in his father’s place, he was afraid to go to there. But God addressed his fears and sent him to Galilee (2:22).

2:23 There the family settled in the town of Nazareth and thus it was fulfilled that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Actually, though, such a statement is not found in any of the Old Testament prophets. So likely Matthew was thinking of statements like Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men” (see also Ps 22:6; Isa 49:7), because Nazareth was viewed as a despised community from which no good thing could come (see John 1:46). God sovereignly wove his plan in history to bring the Messiah into the world.