“What happened to the shepherds?” Or so I wondered on my first time reading through the Christmas story in Matthew as a young lad. I knew the nativity story well enough with the angels, shepherds, and Wise Men, but I did not realize as yet that each Gospel writer fills in a different piece of the story from a different perspective. It is not too often that we take the time to think about each writer’s ’take’ on Christmas so this Sunday we begin a series called “The Christmas Story According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” Naturally we will go in order, so Matthew is on the hot seat today.
Biblical scholars point out that Matthew is the most keen of the Gospel writers to speak to a Jewish audience with the same background. So we are not surprised then, that Matthew is the one who takes the most interest in how Jesus fulfils the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. Consider the following list:
- Isaiah 7:14 is quoted in 1:22, recognizing that Jesus is “Immanuel, God with us” and so a fulfillment of prophecy.
- The Wise Men bringing gifts to the king in chapter 2 points to a fulfillment of Isaiah 60:5,6 where nations are said to bring gifts to Israel. This also points to Jesus as representing Israel.
- Micah 5:2 is quoted by the scribes in 2:5 showing that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.
- Hosea 11:1 is found in 2:15, showing Jesus to represent Israel and pointing to a new exodus, an act of deliverance.
- Jeremiah 31:15 gets a mention in 2:15, which is not a specific “prophecy x leads to fulfillment y” kind of thing, but is a reference to indicate that Israel is still in a kind of exile awaiting the New Covenant that is promised in Jeremiah 31.
- Exodus 4:19 shows up in 2:20,21 where the Greek wording in Matthew reflects almost word for word the wording of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament popular at that time. Here again we do not find a specific prophecy, but Jesus being identified with Moses and deliverance.
- In a quirky way Jesus fulfils Old Testament hopes by being a Nazarean. This could be a reference to Jesus being the branch (in Hebrew nzr) as prophesied in Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:1. Here we are meant to think of the entire passages alluded to and all the wonderful prophecies found therein including promise of the new Covenant.
Given all these references to the Old Testament, we can go back to 1:1 and know that there is great significance in how Jesus is introduced: “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1 NIV).
- The genealogies of chapter one ensure that Jesus is from the correct line to be the Messiah.
- It is stated clearly that Jesus is considered to be the Messiah.
- That Jesus is the “son of David” should make us think of the covenant promises to David, especially with regards to the throne.
- That Jesus is “the son of Abraham” should make us think of God’s covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 where the promise is that all nations are to be blessed. It is significant that Matthew’s gospel ends in chapter 28 with Jesus sending the disciples out to reach all nations.
Some biblical scholars see even more allusions to the Old Testament here, but we have seen enough to know that Matthew wants us to see Jesus as fulfilling, not just a few specific prophecies, but the very promises of God to deliver his people and bless the nations.
So why is this important to us today?
First, because it speaks to us about the identity of Jesus. Sceptics will ask why we believe in Jesus and yet will not believe in “other imaginary beings.” Belief in a “Flying Spaghetti Monster” is often referred to as an attempt to show how ridiculous belief in Jesus is. However, the reason we do not believe in “the Flying Spaghetti Monster” and a whole host of other fabled beings boils down to context. The “Flying Spaghetti Monster” and all other supposed beings of his or her ilk have not been promised, prophesied, or prefigured, and certainly not with great consistency over many centuries. The Messiah has. And Jesus is consistent with that.
Furthermore, philosophically speaking, if God exists and God is loving, then we should expect God to reveal Himself and speak to us at some point. The Old Testament including the promises and prophecies is consistent with that expectation, and again Jesus is consistent with the fulfillment. However, He is so in surprising ways, so surprising if fact that no one would have made Him up.
Second, Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament promises and prophecies should make us consider the promises and prophecies of the Bible that are yet to be fulfilled. God is consistent in keeping His promises so we can be watching for the Promise Keeper to keep his promises. Jesus will return so people get ready!