The Christmas Story According to Matthew: 2.19-23

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead” (quote of Exodus 4.19; thus continuing the new Moses motif).  21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story has had an apologetic bent.  He has explained how Jesus is the Son of David, the rightful and true King.  He has told how the Gentile nations have come to worship the Messiah and how he was born in Bethlehem according to Scripture.  Now he explains how a baby born in Bethlehem ends up in Nazareth.  First, it wasn’t safe due to the political circumstances—Archelaus was just as dangerous as Herod.  Second, Joseph was warned in a dream; thus, we again find that the family’s move is the result of God’s guidance and preservation of his son.

However no Old Testament passage speaks of a Messiah that would “be called a Nazarene.”  There are several different explanations for Matthew’s inclusion of this “promise,” but only one seems convincing to me.  Being called a Nazarene was not a favorable expression; after all, Nazareth was a small hick-town (see John 1.46).  And this is the reason that Matthew includes it here, because according to Scripture the Messiah was to come out of obscurity only to be exalted by God (France, Matthew, 94-95).  Old Testament texts repeatedly speak of a Messiah that would go unrecognized, un-respected, and ultimately rejected by his people, most notably Isaiah 53 (please read).

This is our God.

Merry Christmas.

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5 Responses to The Christmas Story According to Matthew: 2.19-23

  1. Mark says:

    It is amazing how Isaiah describes the life of and sacrifice of Jesus. Interesting is also that he mentions that it is through accepting Jesus and not ‘works’ that we will be saved – something that was not in total keeping with the practices of the day. How long before Jesus birth was Isaiah written?

    • Nic says:

      Yes, it is amazing–”he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
      the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
      and by his wounds we are healed.”

      I’ll have to look up the date of Isaiah.

      Curious where you find Isaiah saying that “it is through accepting Jesus and not ‘works’ that we will be saved”..? And be careful–it’s probably an unfair, or at least over-simplistic, critique of Judaism to say they believed that they were saved by works.

  2. Mark says:

    I guess I can easily over simplify things. But Isaiah 53:5 and 53:11-12 it is implied (to myself) especially in verse 11 that says, “my righteous sevant will justify many, and he will bear their inequities…and made the intercession for the transgressors.” All this means that believers will become righteous by the Messiah’s work on the cross. They are righteous because the have clamed Christ as Savior and Lord. In verse 5,which you quoted, it ends with “and by his wounds we are healed.” Since the early Jewish people used animals for sacrifice (thus their works – [along with other rituals that had to be performed]) the Messiah will become the sacrificial lamb and it is therefore through declaration of faith in the Messiah that we will be saved. I guess it could be confusing about the types of works but is there a difference between doing a sacrifice and helping someone out if the purpose is to gain favor with God instead of doing something from the heart? Do these verses not directly relate to Romans 10:9? In 2 Corinthians 5:21 God, through Jesus on the cross has offered to trade our sins, which are worthless, for righteougness which is invaluable. Thus the passage of Isaiah speaks directly to this also.

    • Nic says:

      Well you nailed it on the head in that Jesus is the sacrificial lamb and that it is by his wounds we are healed/saved. And yes, he came as a suffering servant, to give his life as a ransom for many, and therefore died a substitutionary and atoning death for our sins (Mk 10.45; Mt 20.28; so 2 Cor 5.21). And ultimately you are correct that it is by faith or trusting in the person and work of Jesus that we are justified (so Rom 10.9-16).

      Just be careful not to read too much into the Isaiah passage in regards to works vs. faith and in equating the old sacrificial system with works (“Jewish people used animals for sacrifice (thus their works – [along with other rituals that had to be performed]. . . .)” Isaiah speaks of God’s agent, the Messiah as the one who is able to justify and take on the sins of the world—a worthy sacrifice. But we shouldn’t read into this a critique of the old sacrificial system. In fact, I’d say that there’s a lot more continuity than discontinuity between the old sacrificial system and Jesus’ sacrifice. The old points forward to Jesus, who ultimately supersedes and fulfills the old. The difference is that his sacrifice is perfect and eternally efficacious (once and for all) in contrast to the old (See Hebrews 9-10.18). But note that faith is actually the common thread that connects the two—faith was the characteristic of the true people of God throughout the Old Testament as well (see Hebrews 11).

      Somewhat related, you also said, “… isn’t there a difference between doing a sacrifice and helping someone out if the purpose is to gain favor with God instead of doing something from the heart?” While probably not your intent, this could be construed as saying that everything that the Jewish people did was done in order to gain favor with God as opposed to a response out of gratitude or from the heart, which of course wouldn’t be fair. Read Psalm 119 in its entirety and ask whether the writer’s hope and trust was in his own works or God’s promises. He delighted in the law because it showed him how to live, not because it was his way to salvation.

      I think Luther’s (appropriate) response to abuses in the Roman Catholic Church led to a skewed view of Judaism—after all, we’re saved by grace not works, right!? But his reaction swung the pendulum a bit too far. Sure some Jews in the first century put too much stake in their Jewish identity, and the religious leaders were guilty of being too legalistic and ethnocentric, but sometimes we put all of this baggage onto Judaism as a whole.

      Many Jews understand God’s covenant and faithfulness to it as an expression of his grace, and viewed Torah or law keeping as an appropriate response to this grace.

      I guess I just want to make sure that we’re working from a proper understanding of Judaism from which Christianity was borne out of… I know that’s probably a lot more than you were bargaining for but that’s how I work.

  3. MAS says:

    I was thinking moslty of those first century Jewish leaders and I think you read me correctly. Will read the Psalm.

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