Christmas According To Matthew

Matthew 1-2

December 6, 2014 | Brian Bill

Shalom!  My name is Levi Bar Alphaeus, but most folks just call me Matthew.  I had the honor of writing what has become known as the Gospel of Matthew.  This title was added in the second century and I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with it because the Holy Spirit is the one who moved me and breathed life into the words.  That’s why I wrote in the third person and never used my name as the author.  It’s really not my gospel anyway – it’s the gospel according to Jesus!  Actually, there aren’t four gospels – there’s one gospel presented by four different writers.

I understand that there’s quite a bit of confusion in your culture about Christmas.  Some ignore Immanuel and are all wrapped up in consumerism.  Others seem to be at war with it.  I understand that the American Atheists have put up a billboard in several cities with a picture of a young girl in a Santa hat saying these words: “Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is to skip church!  I’m too old for fairy tales!

Fairy tales?  Are you kidding me?  I saw Jesus.  I spoke with him.  He changed my life.  I died as a martyr for Him.  

I also heard that a satanic temple has been given approval to put up a holiday display in Florida’s Capitol rotunda.  This was rejected last year because it was “grossly offensive” but this year they’re allowing this display that shows an angel falling into the fires of Hell.  A spokesman added, “We hope that, this holiday season, everybody can put their religious differences aside and respect that the celebratory spirit of responsible hedonism is available to all.”

Since I wrote a relatively long account, especially compared to Mark’s manuscript, I’ve been asked to give you my perspective on Christmas.  I’m going to give you the facts, not a fairy tale!  And the fact is that Satan will spend eternity in Hell because Jesus crushed Him on the cross!  

I’ll focus on the highlights of this most holy event that happened on a most holy night.  But to do that, you need to know a little about my entire book.  Actually, if you haven’t read it for awhile I encourage you to do so since it’s the most systematic arrangement of all the gospels and has been used for years to help new converts learn about the Lord Jesus Christ.  

I focused on some of the details surrounding His birth and then I ended my report with His death and resurrection.  The two bookends are the womb and the empty tomb.

As I read the other gospel accounts, it strikes me that the four of us emphasized different elements.  When it comes to the Christmas story, I stressed the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture and I give more attention to Joseph.  Luke, on the other hand, wrote for the non-religious and helps us see Christmas through the eyes of Mary.  Mark, who always seems in a hurry, actually skips Christmas and races ahead quickly to the cross, while John goes back to eternity past to show that the infant is really infinite.

While I used Mark for some of my source material, are you aware that I’m the only Gospel writer who mentions the church?  In chapter 16, I record what Jesus said in response to Peter’s faith: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it…”  And as I look around here, I see that Jesus is still at work building His church.  

My book is like a bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  One early Christian leader said this, “In the Old Testament the New is enfolded, in the New Testament the Old is unfolded.”  I’ve been told that no other account so closely links the Old Testament and the New Testament.  I guess I’ve never really counted but I quote from almost every book of the Old Testament.  

Here are just two quotes that correspond to the Christmas story.

  • Isaiah 7:14 tells us that the Messiah would be born to a virgin and that His name would be Immanuel.  Listen to what I wrote in Matthew 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.”
  • Micah 5:2 is clear that Christ would be born in Bethlehem.  In Matthew 2:5-6 I recorded what the religious experts knew to be true when they declared where the King was to be born: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler, who will shepherd my people Israel.”

That’s also why I spent so much time in chapter one listing the genealogy of Jesus.  I understand that most of you have access to several copies of the Bible – I can’t even imagine that!  Where I come from we might have had one scroll in the synagogue but what a privilege for you to have it in print and even electronically (whatever that means).  I bet you’re reading it all the time because you have such free and open access to it!  If not, could I challenge you to “Take 15 in 2015” and read through the entire Bible next year?  I understand that your pastors will be giving more details about how to do that in the weeks to come.

I know that most of you Gentiles skip right over these hard-to-pronounce names in my opening chapter.  But genealogies were very important to those who were raised in the Jewish faith.  

The Genius of Genealogies

  • Genealogies were records of family history and were often memorized because ancient people did not have access to written records.  
  • Genealogies were used to decide inheritance rights, to make land allotments, and to organize censuses.  That’s why my buddy Luke said in Luke 2:3 that “everyone went to his own town to register.”  Joseph traced his heritage from David and his family was from Bethlehem, the city of David.  
  • Priests were determined by genealogy.  They had to be from the tribe of Levi and the house of Aaron (see Nehemiah 7:64).  Actually, my lineage goes back to Levi, but more about that later.
  • Royal succession and the credentials of the Christ are linked to King David’s lineage (see 1 Kings 11:36).

It was important for me to establish the lineage of the Lord because His enemies enjoyed making disparaging remarks about Him. In John 8:41, they even implied that He was an illegitimate child.  

I won’t take the time to go through this entire genealogy so let’s just look at the very first sentence: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.”  Jesus is the fulfillment of the two most important Old Testament covenants – the one made with David and the one with Abraham.  I wanted to make four things very clear right at the beginning.

  • His name is Jesus.  This means “the savior” or more literally, “He will certainly save.”
  • His title is Christ.  He was the “anointed one,” the one qualified for the task of saving sinners.  In Hebrew, the word is “Messiah.”  
  • He is the Son of David.  I listed David before Abraham, even though Abraham came first in history.  In fact, I wrote David’s name five times in this genealogy.  Why did I do that?  Because first and foremost, Jesus Christ is a direct descendant of King David and therefore qualified to be the eternal king.  In 22:41, Jesus asked His enemies a question so that they would state clearly what was becoming very evident: “What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?’  ‘The son of David,’ they replied.”  Jesus Christ is the supreme sovereign, descended from David.  
  • He is the Son of Abraham.  That means that Jesus was Jewish.  Abraham was promised that through his bloodline would come forth someone who would bless all nations in Genesis 22:18: “And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed….” 
Jesus came for the faithful, the failures and the forgotten.

If you were to read this genealogy carefully, you would find three types of people hanging from the branches in Jesus’ family tree: the faithful, the failures, and the forgotten.  I wanted to let people know right from the beginning that there is a place for everyone in God’s family, whether you are religious or irreligious or even rebellious.  Jesus came for the faithful, the failures and the forgotten.

The Birth of the Messiah

After focusing on His ancestry I moved to an account of His infancy.  This is how the birth of Yeshua the Messiah came about.  Mary, who was about 14, was engaged to be married to Joseph, who was a little bit older.  Marriages were arranged by parents and once a couple was engaged it was legally the same thing as a marriage, except that they did not live together, and many times hardly even spoke until the wedding.  They certainly would not be intimate with each other.  When it was discovered that Mary was pregnant the whole town started wondering and talking. 

When Joseph found out he was really mad but he was also very sad.  How could Mary do this to him?  He was embarrassed and humiliated and wanted to just climb in a hole somewhere.  All of his hopes were dashed.  He could have had her stoned to death but instead, because he was a righteous man, he decided to break off the engagement quickly and quietly so as to not cause her any more pain.

But in the middle of the night, as he tossed and turned, an angel appeared to him in a dream and said in 1:20-21: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  When Joseph woke up, he told Mary the wedding was back on and they immediately got married.  

Joseph knew he wasn’t the father, and as I pointed out in 1:22-23, this was to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet Isaiah.  Jesus is the promised one!  My people had been waiting for Him for a long time and now He had finally come!  God had not forgotten us after all!  Immanuel was now with us.

The Worship of the Wise Guys

From the very beginning God’s plan has been for the redemption of people from other countries as well.  I’m the only writer that mentioned the story of the Magi, who came from what you know as modern-day Iraq.  I understand there are a lot of problems there today.  

We’re introduced to these mysterious men in the opening verses of the second chapter of my gospel: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’”

I’m not quite sure how you’re going to take this, but many of your nativity scenes get this wrong each year.  The wise men showed up way after the birth of Jesus, perhaps up to two years later.  These men finally find Jesus, who is now a toddler, in a house, not in a stable.  

These professionals were brilliant and highly educated scholars who were trained in medicine, history, religion, prophecy and astronomy.  Your modern word “magistrate” comes from the word magi.  These men thought deeply about life, so it certainly makes sense to call them “Wise Men.”  Since I’m correcting your Christmas confusion, there’s also no evidence that there were three of them or that they rode camels.  We know there were three gifts but we don’t know if there were just three guys.  It’s more likely that they traveled in a caravan (not a Dodge) with an entire entourage of attendants.

These men were also trained in astrology.  Back then, astrology was connected with people’s search for God.  The ancients studied the skies in order to find answers to the great questions of life–Questions like: Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?  Actually, people in your culture are still asking these same questions, aren’t they?  Maybe you’re still searching for answers yourself.

I’d like to also point out that these highly influential men served as advisors to the king.  While they were not kings themselves (I know that messes up one of your favorite Christmas songs), it would not be far from the truth to call them kingmakers.  What possibly could have motivated them to make a treacherous journey like this?  There’s only one answer to that question — they came to see a King.  They knew a baby had been born but they didn’t know where.  They knew he was a King but didn’t know His name.  

After being with Jesus for over three years and doing research on his birth, I saw time and again how people bowed before Him, collapsing and hitting the ground.  Listen to what I wrote in 2:11 “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.”  He possessed more royalty in a cradle than Herod had in his fine palace.  

Somehow these sincere seekers saw beyond the present and into the future — and in deep faith, they worshipped Him.  That word literally means “to kiss toward and to intensely adore.”  They somehow knew that this child would one day rule the world and they were not ashamed to fall on their faces before Him.  That reminds me of what John did in Revelation 1:17: “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.”  Have you fallen at His feet yet?

Gifts Fit For a King

Almost everyone is aware that these wise guys brought gifts to King Jesus.  By the way, your tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time did not originate with Santa.  It started with the Wise Men.  I wonder if you know what these presents really portrayed: “And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” 

Back in the culture Christ was born in, bringing gifts was particularly important when approaching a superior.  

  • Gold is one of the most rare and expensive metals.  It represented the wealth and power of a king.  
  • Frankincense was used in the temple worship of the Lord.  It represents the child’s deity.  He is truly God born in a human body. 
  • Then there is myrrh, a kind of perfume made from the leaves of a rose.  After a person died, myrrh was used to anoint the body and prepare it for burial.  My buddy John in John 19:39 tells us that after Jesus died, His body was wrapped in linen along with 75 pounds of myrrh and other spices.  The gift of myrrh then, pictures His suffering and death.

Gold pointed to his majesty . . . for he is King.

Frankincense pointed to his deity . . . for he is God.

Myrrh pointed to his humanity . . . for he was destined to be our Sacrifice.

Did the Magi understand all this?  No, probably not.  But God arranged it so that their gifts to the King would point us to who Jesus really is and why He came.  There’s more to His story but I’m going to let you read the rest for yourself.  Before I leave you, I’d like to tell you a bit about my story.  If Mark skipped Christmas, I almost missed it.  

My Story

Let me come back to my name for a minute.  The name Levi was honored among the Jews because the Levites were priests.  I was privileged and honored and came from a respected family but I wanted more and frankly I was bored with it all.  I was tired of falling asleep in the synagogue while the preacher droned on (I understand that still happens today).  I was fed up with all the rules and decided that I wanted to make some serious shekels so I decided to work for the Roman government as a tax collector.  

I was chasing the dream of having a lot of money.  I was into commercialism, not Christmas.  From what I hear that sounds a lot like your culture today, where “Happy Holidays” has replaced “Merry Christmas.”  

My tax booth was stationed in Capernaum right near a lucrative trade route and on the road that the fishermen took as they carried their catches to the market.  I stopped everyone and demanded that they pay me a tax.  If I wanted to I could force them to fork it over by calling on the Roman military.  I had a quota that I had to send to Rome but everything above that was all mine.  At first the money was great.  I could buy anything I wanted, and I secretly hoped that I would find the satisfaction I was searching for.

I quickly realized that money and possessions did not bring me happiness.  I had become religiously bankrupt and socially isolated.  Because I worked for the evil Romans my family and religious friends wanted nothing to do with me.  I was considered unclean because of my contact with Gentiles and therefore could not even go to the synagogue.  Some of the Rabbis would even condemn a house if I entered its doorway.  Sometimes children would come up and spit at me, encouraged to do so by their parents.  

And since I was a Jew, I was also despised by the Romans.  No one looked me in the eye anymore and the only thing that kept me company was my cash.  I was the lowest of the low but I was living the high life.  Those in my profession were mentioned in the same sentence as criminals and prostitutes. 

One day, with my ledger book open and my hand out, the noise from the crowds drowned out the despair in my soul.  As I was stacking my shekels suddenly I heard a strong yet appealing voice calling out to me.  I recognized it as belonging to the Rabbi called Jesus because I had heard him speak before and had longingly watched as others ran up to Him.  I was a bit afraid of Him because I knew He could have judged me for the way I was living or that He might even condemn me publicly.  Instead, He locked eyes with me, smiled and said, “Follow me.”  I was on my feet in an instant.  I took a furtive look at my lush lifestyle and left it all to follow Jesus.

  • Jesus could have condemned me but instead he gave me unconditional love.
  • I went from collecting debts to writing about the One who cancels debts.
  • I used to be rejected by the religious and now I had a relationship with the Redeemer.
I knew Jesus could radically redirect my friends’ lives and I wanted them to bow before Him just like the Magi did.

And that’s why I wanted to invite Jesus to meet all my friends who were also considered to be failures.  Because of all that Jesus did in my life, I decided to open my home and invite my neighbors and friends to supper.  I knew Jesus could radically redirect my friends’ lives and I wanted them to bow before Him just like the Magi did.

Let me just say that I wish every Christian in this church would invite Jesus into their social activities.  I hope you’re planning to bring some people with you on Christmas Eve at 4:00 or 6:00 p.m. (I understand that you have invitation cards printed on papyrus in your bulletin).  People are more open than you might think they are, especially at this time of the year…don’t believe the billboards.  Many want to go to a church service but they don’t know where to go.

Its still hard for me to believe that Jesus would not only walk into my house but then actually sit down and have a meal with me and my friends.  Maybe you could do the same?  Simply invite your neighbors in for a meal or for some Christmas cookies.  Don’t forget the last couple lines in my book: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”   That’s the vision of your church as well, right?  Gather, grow, give and GO!

Friend, never think that someone is too messed up for God to save.  Let me quote what Jesus said in verse 13 of chapter 9: “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how you’ve been living.  What matters is whether you will respond to His call and be converted.  I heard Jesus say a lot of things but one phrase stood out to me and I wrote it down several times.  4:17 captures it clearly: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”  To repent means to turn from how you’ve been living.

I used the word “kingdom” some 50 times in my book.  The only way to enter the Kingdom is by accepting the King and bowing before Him in submission.  Jesus is calling you right now.  Are you ready to forfeit the way you’ve been living and leave your old life behind?  It’s time to repent and receive the gift of forgiveness.  

I loved it when Jesus called me “Matthew” because my name means the “Gift of God.”  I like that name because now I recognize that everything I have is a gift.  Will you follow Him?  Until you do, you’ll miss the majesty and message of Christmas.

His call remains the same today as it was the day I heard it so clearly: “Follow Me.”  It’s the call to conversion and commitment, the call to salvation and surrender.  

Unfortunately, some who hear this message will refuse to repent and respond.  How do I know?  Because people in my day, who saw Him with their own eyes and heard Him with their own ears, also refused to receive Him.  Don’t let that be said of you.

So what about you?  If all this is a fairy tale, there’s really nothing to do.  But since it’s fact, Jesus is calling you to put your faith in Him.  It’s time to trust Him.  And when you do, you’ll find His salvation to be sweet and satisfying.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?