Matthew 1-2: The Birth of Christ

Discussion of the lineage and birth of Christ as well as the star signifying His birth and the gifts given to Him.

Lineage

Matthew starts off with the lineage and birth of Christ. Lineage was a major deal to the Israelites, in fact, in most societies bloodlines are very important. Several verses in the Bible articulate that the life of a person is in their blood. Our blood defines us—no, I'm not referring to blue blood or other worldly definitions. I'm referring to the very cells within our blood. The DNA contained in these cells is like a computer program that controls how we interact with the world around us. I don't want to get sidetracked, so if you want to know more about the life in the blood, check out my podcast episode on the topic.[8] The main point I'm making here is bloodlines are more than just wealth and worldly power passed down generation to generation, it's also Godly covenants passed from seed to seed. Because of this, the Jews meticulously kept up with bloodlines, searching for the promised seed (Genesis 3:15) that would defeat Satan.

The lineage presented in Matthew traces back to Abraham, and identifies Christ as a legitimate descendant of David with rights to the throne of Israel. That would be the end of the story, except Luke gives a very different lineage. There are many theories about why this is, which I've already covered in my post Harmonizing the Gospels: the Lineage of Christ. I don't want to be redundant, so I'm not going to go into detail about the lineage. I will say that there are multiple theories discussed in the post, and I fall in the camp of those who believe one lineage is that of Joseph (a legal justification for Christ's lineage) and one is that of Mary (a true bloodline lineage). Nonetheless, the early Church did not contest the written accounts, nor cry foul about such a glaring mistake; therefore regardless of why they are different, I am confident that the disciples and early church understood both of these lineages to be correct and valid.

Christ is Born

Matthew doesn't go into as much detail about the birth of Christ as Luke, but he does give us a few details to think about.

Mary & Joseph

When I look at the scenario of Mary and Joseph, I can't help but imagine this in today's crazy society. Can you imagine preparing for a wedding and finding out your fiancee is pregnant and you've never slept with her? While, I suspect how people external to the situation saw it would vary in our time (considering that premarital sex has been normalized, most would just assume it was Joseph's baby), the internal struggle each person experienced would have been very similar in today's time.

Today, Mary probably wouldn't worry about "slut shaming" or being condemned for having sex outside of marriage (depending on what circle she traveled in), but she would still be faced with the impossible task of convincing Joseph she hadn't been unfaithful. How crazy does it sound to say "I promise I'm a virgin...An angel told me I was carrying the Son of God, that's why I'm pregnant"? That probably sounded crazy then too. The only reason Joseph believed her is because the angel visited Joseph as well. Had Joseph not been visited by the angel, he would have left her. Sticking with the culture of Mary's time, her parents would have been furious if she'd gone to them; an illegitimate pregnancy would eliminate most decent prospects in marriage. Mary had to step out on faith that God would work things out. We aren't told how many people knew this information or how deep into the pregnancy she was when she got married, so we don't know how people around her reacted (if they reacted at all) but when she accepted what the angel told her, she had to accept the possibility that she would never be accepted into society again.

From the text, we know that Joseph was definitely not convinced by whatever Mary said (and who could blame him!?). It took an angel confirming that matter (as it should) for him to settle in to his role, but what is interesting is how Joseph intended to handle it. He could have been bitter and nasty about it; he could have made a spectacle of her. However, Joseph had resolved to handle the issue discreetly. This is a clear depiction of the man God chose to raise His son.

Both Mary and Joseph's reactions to the situation are indicative of why God chose them in the first place. Aside from being descendants of David to fulfill the prophecy, both bore the fruit of the Holy Spirit. God was entrusting this couple with His only son; He had to know they would make good parents.

The Wise Men & The Star

One of the most popular aspects of the birth of Christ is that of the star. One thing I could never understand as a child was why only the magi saw the star. Herod seems utterly baffled at its appearance and can't determine how old the child is based on the information. If the star was abnormally bright, wouldn't Herod have seen it and remembered? The cartoon-ish way Christians portray this element as a large gleaming star hanging above the manger is ridiculous and clearly false. A more likely scenario is that a sign played out in the heavens (see Genesis 1:14 for the purpose of the stars to be signs).

In some translations, the men who come to see Christ are the "magi" in others they are called "wise men." The original Greek is μαγοζ, which was a term applied to "the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augurs, soothsayers, sorcerers, etc." in that culture. We can already see why some translators favored the term wise men, a term that could encompass many of the other terms. A compelling theory I've run across leans toward them being "astrologers."

I use the term astrologers loosely because there's context that needs to be applied here. In Matthew's day, anyone who studied the stars in any form or capacity was an "astrologer." Today, we have to terms for people concerned with the stars: astronomer or astrologer. Astronomers study the movement, behavior, life/death and inner workings of stars, while astrologers seek to connect those things to how events play out on earth. If you grew up in church you were probably taught that astrology is bad. I want to challenge that notion a bit wit this Bible verse:
14Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and they shall serve as signs and for seasons, and for days and years; 15and they shall serve as lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. Genesis 1:14-19 NASB
In Genesis 1:14 we are told that God created lights in the sky not just for seasons and tracking time, but also for signs. So there is some relevance to "reading the stars." The thing to keep in mind is that it is not the stars making things happen. The stars are merely testifying to what God has already spoken (Psalm 19). Keep that in mind as you read what I'm about to type.

There is a theory that the star referenced in Matthew 1 is actually the behavior of a star over time (there are also theories about conjunctions of planets forming a really bright star, but that goes back to my question of why no one else seemed to notice). Many cultures have a zodiac and while they may ascribe slightly different names, the constellations are fairly consistent. One of the signs in the zodiac is Leo, the Lion. The lion was connected with the tribe of Judah and is connected to the Messiah (Who is the Lion and the Lamb). The brightest star (well, star system, but it appears as a single star to the naked eye) in Leo is called Regulus which comes from the Latin rex and means "little king."[1] Also in the sky is the planet Jupiter, which isn't a star but does appear as a light in the sky. Jupiter is named after the Roman god who was "king of the gods;" it was regarded as the king planet. Some who've studied the stars have identified interesting interplay with these three signs in the sky around the time of Christ's birth. This behavior is as follows: Jupiter (the king planet) passes through the lion near Regulus (the king star), goes in to retrograde (which mean it appears to go backwards, passing Regulus in the opposite direction), then crosses Regulus again. This pattern would have taken quite some time to complete, but the wise men would have seen the king planet "crown" the king star in the lion. It's not hard to see how that would be interpreted as the Messiah (the lion of Judah) being born (little king); especially if you were familiar with prophecy and understood the 70 weeks of Daniel. If you dig into it, though, there's even more with Virgo (the Virgin), Venus (the mother star), Mercury (the child star), and prophecy given in Revelation by John... If you're interested in this theory, I found a great video on YouTube that goes in to more detail (he goes into a lot of other things too; I encourage listening to the whole series, but I am linking the part specific to the star at the nativity). This theory explains why no one else noticed the star.

Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents

When the wise men get to Jerusalem they tell Herod why they're in town, and Herod is not happy to hear that the true King of Jerusalem has been born. Here I want to insert some context that will be reoccurring theme in the gospels: the Jews thought the Messiah was going to restore Israel to the splendor of Solomon. Essentially, they expected something much closer to what we expect for the second coming. In Herod's mind, this child would grow up and overthrow both him and the Roman government that gave him authority. This is why from birth, Christ was seen as a threat to power.

Herod, being led by Satan, does the same thing Pharaoh did while Israel was awaiting a Savior in Egypt (Exodus 1): he kills all the children. This fulfills a prophecy given by Jeremiah 31:15. During this atrocity, Mary, Joseph, and their newborn baby hide in Egypt, which also fulfills a prophecy (Hosea 11:1). Please note that the family hiding in Egypt follows the pattern started with Abraham of hiding in Egypt when there is trouble in Israel.

Nazarene

Before we end the chapter, we are told that Joseph and his family settle in Nazareth to fulfill a prophecy that the Messiah would be a Nazarene. There are two major things to point out about this revelation.

First, the reference to this prophecy appears to be lost. Many theories have been ascribed to what is being referenced here. Some believe there was a book that has not been added into our canon. Others believe it is a reference to Him being despised (Isaiah 53), because in John 1:46 we learn that the residents of Nazareth are not held in high esteem.[3][4]

Second, Nazarene is not the same as Nazarite. I've heard many people confuse this. Christ was a Nazarene because He was raised in Nazareth (similar to how I would be considered a Carolinian because I was raised in the Carolinas). Christ did not take a Nazarite vow, as evidenced by His consumption of wine (Numbers 6; Luke 7:34-35).

Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh

The 3 gifts given to Christ are very fitting. Each represents a part of the Messiah's purpose. Frankincense was associated with the priests (Leviticus 2). Gold was associated with kings (). Myrrh was associated with death (Mark 15:23).[5][6][7]

Also, a common misconception is that there were 3 wise men; this assumption comes from the fact that they gave 3 gifts. It could just as easily been ten wise men or two wise men—the Bible does not specify that each man gave one gift, only that there was more than one man and 3 gifts given.

References

  1. Larry Sessions. "Meet Regulus, The Lion’s Heart". Earth Sky. May 1, 2020
  2. "Solar System Exploration: Jupiter". NASA; visited July 2021
  3. "The Messiah would be called a Nazarene". Jews for Jesus; visited July 2021
  4. "What prophecy is Matthew 2:23 referring to regarding Jesus being a Nazarene?". GotQuestions.org; visited July 2021
  5. Eric Zielinski. "Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh – The Truth About Their Significance". Natural Living Family. June 23, 2020
  6. Clint Pumphrey . "What Are Frankincense and Myrrh?". How Stuff Works. October 16, 2018
  7. "Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?". Biblical Archaeology Society. June 15, 2021
  8. Ree Hughes. "The Life is in the Blood". PSALMS to God. June 23, 2021

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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