The first of a series on the book of Matthew
By Dr. Mike Spaulding:
I am a Sherlock Holmes fan. In the “Hounds of the Baskerville” movie, Holmes and his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson went on a camping trip.
After a very good evening meal cooked and ate around an open fire the 2 went to sleep in their tent. Some hours later, Sherlock nudged Watson and said “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”
Watson replied, “I see millions and millions of stars.”
So Sherlock asked, “What does that tell you?”
Watson pondered for a moment and then said, “Well, astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see God is omnipotent and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day today. What does it tell you?”
Sherlock paused and then replied, “It tells me someone stole our tent.”
Ok, I made the part up about this scene being in the movie but the point is we often miss the most obvious truths don’t we?
We could say that Matthew will present the obvious truth that Jesus is Savior and Lord to the whole of creation.
Matthew is one of 4 books known as the “gospels.” Gospel means “good news.” The gospels are often referred to as the “biographies of Jesus” because they record the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
While sharing the same subject matter the 4 gospels do differ in their presentation and intended audience.
Matthew presents Jesus as the Promised King and was written for a Jewish audience. Mark presents Jesus as the suffering servant and was written to Gentiles. Luke portrays Jesus as the Son of Man. John declares Jesus to be the Son of God.
Matthew begins with a genealogy because that was important to the Jews and was a means to establish Jesus’ royal heritage as David’s heir to the throne of Israel.
Mark on the other hand does not include a genealogy because a servant isn’t concerned about such matters.
Luke presents Jesus’ humanity and historicity and so traces His ancestry all the way back to Adam, the first man.
Because John was concerned about the divinity of Christ he includes no human genealogy. Instead John declares Jesus to be God and thus eternal.
Some background information is in order as begin our journey through the gospel of Matthew.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Israel had been occupied by the Romans for about 6 decades. The Romans were just the latest in a long line of occupation forces. Before them were the Greeks, the Persians & Medes, and the Babylonians.
A common feature throughout the Roman Empire was their system of taxation. An empire as expansive as the Roman needed to generate a vast amount of revenue.
The Romans utilized 2 basic taxation structures. One was similar to an income tax. The second was like a property tax. Nothing unusual there right?
What made the Roman system inherently evil was it was designed to encourage oppression, extortion, and intimidation.
Roman Senators and other high ranking officials would purchase from the government the rights to collect taxes in a particular country, province, or region, at a particular rate for a particular period of time.
It was perfectly legal in this system to collect amounts above the fixed rates of the purchased contract. The Romans called this profit. We would call it extortion.
There is one other feature about this system of taxation that is important for you to know. These senators and government officials didn’t move to the country or province to collect the taxes under their contract. They “outsourced” this work to local citizens.
In the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time and Matthew’s writing the citizens that worked for Rome in the collection of taxes were called “publicans” or more often just simply “tax-gatherers.”
There are many references in the pages of the NT to these tax-gatherers – none of them good. In fact the Jews lumped together tax-gatherers with sinners, prostitutes, and Gentiles. This was obviously not a positive comparison.
This makes Jesus’ decision to call Matthew whom the Bible tells us was a tax-gatherer, as a disciple, a radical decision in the least.
So, let’s get started – Matthew 1:1
Matthew says this is the book – the “biblos” – of Jesus Christ. This is the record, the account of Jesus Christ.
- Jesus is Greek for Hebrew Jeshua – “Jehovah saves”
- Christ is Greek for Hebrew Mashiah – “anointed one”
So from verse 1 Matthew tells us this is the book that records the life of the Messiah, God’s anointed One who brings salvation – Jesus Christ.
Now before we launch out into the list of names starting in verse 2, I want to make sure we don’t miss that Matthew “cuts to the quick” and lists the biggest names in verse 1 – David and Abraham. Why did he do this? Because these names were synonymous with God’s deliverance of His people through a Great Deliverer, the Messiah of Israel. And you have to admit they are attention getters.
What a testimony to God’s grace. I love the fact that Matthew doesn’t try and hide any skeletons in the closet. This is a colorful list to be sure.
Next, Matthew turns his attention to the events surrounding the birth of Christ.
Ancient customs in the Middle East were and in some cases still are very different than ours today. Marriages were “arranged” often without the consent of the bride and groom.
During this time marriage involved 2 steps.
- The groom or groom’s family bartered over what was called a “mohar” or dowry with the bride’s family. When an agreed upon price was attained the “mohar” was paid immediately. The couple was then officially “betrothed.”
But we should not confuse the betrothal with our modern day engagement. In the Jewish culture of that time the betrothal was viewed as a legally binding action.
That’s why we read later in this account that Joseph’s first reaction was to contemplate divorce. It would take a legal procedure to nullify the betrothal.
- The 2nd step was the actual marriage feast & celebration. But again this could take years to occur since some marriages were arranged when the intended bride and groom were adolescents.
So after the betrothal but before the marriage feast and celebration, Mary comes to Joseph and says “I’m pregnant.”
This is love folks. Joseph did not want to embarrass or disgrace Mary even though he had sufficient reason to believe she had been unfaithful. He wanted to be very discreet so as not to bring criticism or worse upon Mary.
While he is contemplating what actions to take he was visited by a messenger from the Lord – verses 20-21.
I would think this would be enough to guarantee a sleepless night.
This is one of the key phrases in the book of Matthew, occurring 16 times. Why? Because it was written to a Jewish audience and what the prophets had to say was very important.
Joseph heeded the instructions of God’s messenger.
Now let me point something out here folks. Verse 25 clearly implies that Joseph and Mary had normal marital relations after Jesus’ birth. This verse effectively proves false the Roman Catholic dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary, which did not appear earlier than the fifth century after Jesus.
The perpetual virginity of Mary should be placed with all the dogmas of Mary including the Immaculate Conception, assumption into heaven, and present role as a mediator for believers. Each one of these is man’s invention, meant to exalt Mary in an unbiblical manner.
Next time we will examine chapter 2 of Matthew. There we will continue to present evidence that proves Jesus is God’s Savior. But in spite of this people today continue to miss the obvious.
© Copyright by Dr. Mike Spaulding, 2019. All rights reserved.
Email Mike: email@example.com