Jesus Christ’s roots: Matthew 1-4

Head of Christ, by Rembrandt

Today’s reading: Matthew 1-4. 

If there was any doubt that Jesus is rooted in the Old Testament, the first four chapters of Matthew remove any question. Just look at some of the references Matthew makes:

  • Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth and the child’s presence proclaiming that God is with us.
  • Micah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
  • Hosea’s prophecy that the Messiah would come out of Egypt, where Joseph had taken him for protection.
  • Jeremiah’s prediction that the children around Bethlehem would be killed, as Herod did in order to try to eliminate the Messiah.
  • Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be like a branch or twig coming out of the stump of Jesse, a thing of little or no account, which Matthew compares to the current opinion about Nazareth where Jesus grew up. Perhaps a play on the word for branch being the root of the word, Nazareth.
  • Isaiah’s prediction that one would come before the Messiah, working in the unpopulated areas to prepare the way for his coming.
  • Satan’s misuse of the OT, and Jesus’ proper use of it to defeat Satan’s temptations.
  • Isaiah’s prophecy that Galilee would be the site of the Messiah’s ministry.

John the Baptist’s description of Jesus’ ministry is telling. He recognizes the radical nature of Jesus’ work as opposed to a teaching ministry upon which so many people focus.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12

The image of Jesus threshing as he separates the wheat from the chaff is very much an Old Testament picture of judgment. He comes to separate people into two distinct groups. Those who accept him from those who don’t. Those who follow him as disciples from those who won’t. Those who find righteousness through his sacrificial death from those who don’t believe in the saving work of his death on the cross.

It’s remarkable that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. He faces the temptation up front in order to disarm it, while we are admonished to avoid temptation. He faces the temptation after a period of fasting, not as a cause of the temptation but in order to defeat it. His victory over temptation is based on three things:

  1. The word of God. This sustained and empowered him (see also John 4).
  2. The work of God. He always did it God’s way, as hard as that was at times. He didn’t opt for cheap tricks.
  3. The worship of God. He let no other person or thing master him.

Jewish Matthew paints a very Jewish picture of Jesus, rising up on the wings of the Old Testament promises, coming as the dividing line between the righteous and unrighteous, and defeating evil by the power of God’s Old Testament words.

9 thoughts on “Jesus Christ’s roots: Matthew 1-4

  1. Someone has estimated that Jesus fulfilled 353 Old Testament prophecies, and many of them fixed in time (some within 6 months?). I find that rather compelling.

    And the end of all those begats, something amazing happens: 15And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; 16And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

    At the end, where the most important begat of all time should occur, there is no begat. Rather, there is a divine elipse, an intervention. A cosmic severing of the blood line that means everything to Israel. What do we find instead? Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Of all the women in all the universe throughout all of time, this is the one chosen to bear the Messiah. No one can chose their parents, except God, and this is who He chose.

    And as we approach the season of Advent, a reflection on the dual meaning it carries for the Church:

    Advent: the liturgical season of approximately four weeks before Christmas during which the themes of joyful expectation and devout conversion combine to prepare the faithful for the remembrance of the Lord’s first coming in His Incarnation and for His glorious coming at the end of time.

    It is both the incarnation and the second coming contemplated together.

    • Great point about celebrating Jesus’ return in the Advent. Though I didn’t go into it here, Matthew’s geneology of Joseph is distinct from Luke’s geneology which may be the geneology of Joseph’s adoptive father, that is, Mary’s geneology. See my earlier post:

  2. “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:23

    So which OT prophet or prophets is recording giving this prophecy? None. Does that mean none did? Of course not. What it means is that oral tradition is, and has always been, an important vehicle for transporting God’s message. Not everything of importance was always written down, which is why Sola Scriptural, or scripture alone, is unnecessarily limiting. Paul of course supports oral tradition when he says, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15

    And John chimes in that the written word cannot encompass the depth of our God: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25

    Why would we even expect that something as boundless and infinite as our Lord could be contained in a single book?

    • This calls for great discernment, doesn’t it? Whether it’s a Christian devotional or commentary, or a sermon from a pastor, or a statement from a church leader, who or what will be the final arbiter of truth, since all these can and do make errors?

  3. It does indeed. But Jesus did not leave us without help. And scripture tells us where to find the guide. We have both a counselor in the Holy Spirit (John 16:7) and a direct appeal to the truth through the teaching arm of the Church (1 Tim 3:15).

  4. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – Jesus Christ’s roots: Matthew 1-4 | ChristianBlessings

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