Updated: Dec 26, 2022
A GENESIS STORY (pt. 2)
From the first chapters of Matthew's gospel, we are considering the birth of Jesus and the story of Jesus. Matthew begins by giving Jesus' genealogy or genesis story. In doing so, he is placing Jesus at the center of Israel's story and the story of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).
In this mini-series, we are focusing on two names given to Jesus in (Matt. 1). Matthew records, "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21 NIV). In our last lesson, we noticed the name Jesus means Yahweh. Matthew reveals Jesus as Yahweh-Saves. Continuing, we will see the second name Matthew records, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). (Matt. 1:23 NIV). God with us is a powerful statement. However, often we may feel as if God has abandoned us. Through Matthew, what can we learn about Immanuel-God with us?
In Matthew 2, we are given the birth narrative of Jesus. Stories we have often read or heard and have become quite familiar to most of us. During the time of King Herod, Magi from the east saw a star. Curious, they follow the star to Jerusalem and ask, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?" (Matt. 2:2 NIV). Herod wants to know about this new King himself and sends the Magi to Bethlehem in search of the young child. The Magi come to Jesus to worship him, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. However, they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The child is in danger. Herod seeks the life of this newly-born King, and Joseph is told to take the child and his mother to Egypt. Herod, being outwitted, orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem under two years of age. Mary and Joseph escape to Egypt, and after Herod's death, they travel from Egypt back to Israel. However, on their Journey back, they learn Herod's son is now king. Again, Joseph, being warned in a dream, goes to Mary's hometown, Nazareth. Why is Matthew focusing on these events and this story? How is this "God with us"?
We need to reimagine the familiar story Matthew is sharing with us. The story Matthew is sharing has three acts or movements. These acts are not actions but acts, as in a play.
Act I - Magi Worship the Messiah
An unwed and very pregnant teenager travels 90 miles to Bethlehem. She travels away from the speculation, gossip, and stares with Joseph, the man she is engaged to. Arriving in Bethlehem without proper accommodations, she gives birth to her Son. Shortly after His birth, a caravan of people come to visit and worship her newborn Child. They present costly gifts to a new mother and her Child.
As they leave, Joseph and Mary receive a warning, Herod is searching for your baby to take His life (ref. Matt. 2:13). Mary and Joseph pack what little they have and set out from Bethlehem on their journey to Egypt.
"And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." (Matt. 2:15 NIV).
From the announcement of His birth, the journey to Bethlehem, to now fleeing in fear for her new Son's life, where is God? We often believe that when we commit our lives to the Lord, He will fulfill all our desires and dreams. Yet, in Matthews's gospel from the birth announcement until now, things have gone downhill fast. I don't know that Mary could have imagined new life starting like this. Where is God with us? Egypt is far from the city of David, where we would imagine God's Messiah to be.
"...Out of Egypt I called my son." (Matt. 2:15b NIV). Matthew begins to reveal God with us as we connect and overlay the story. Oppressed, fearful, and enslaved, Israel was under a powerful Pharaoh who sought to subvert the plan of God's redemption. However, God was with His people as He took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. God is with us when we are in the wilderness of doubt, confusion, and helplessness.
Act II - The Cries of Bethlehem
However, the flight to Egypt is not over, and Herod seeks the life of Mary's newborn Son. Imagine her prayers as she looks back over her shoulder. Fear and isolation had to grip her mind traveling to Egypt as she sought to shield her Son from the mighty and powerful. The fear is magnified when the news arrives.
Matthew 2:16–18 (NIV)
"When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
The cries are from Bethlehem as innocent lives are taken. Mary knows it is the small child in her arms whose life Herod seeks. Where is God with us? Matthew quotes from the prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 31:15–17 (NIV)
"This is what the Lord says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” This is what the Lord says: "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded," declares the Lord. "They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your descendants," declares the Lord. "Your children will return to their own land."
Jeremiah lived about 600 years before Jesus and witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Babylon's mighty and powerful empire surrounded and besieged Jerusalem, destroying the temple. Innocent lives were lost as destruction overcame Jerusalem. Those who survived were gathered in Ramah and taken off to captivity. Nevertheless, Jeremiah declares the word of the Lord. You will return from the land of your enemy. "Your children will return to their own land." God has not left us. There is hope because God is with us. In the pain of loss and suffering, God is with us.
Act III - Return to Nazareth
Mary, Joseph, and their Son are in Egypt when they receive word that Herod has died. So it's time to return home to their land, the land of Israel. However, as they travel back, they hear the news Archelaus is reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod (ref. Matt. 2:22). Again, being warned in a dream, Joseph takes his family to Mary's hometown of Nazareth. But, again, plans are diverted as the young family returns to the home of speculation, gossip, and stares. Disappointment and doubt would have certainly filled their minds. After all, can any good come from Nazareth (ref. Jn. 1:46)?
Bridging the Context
Isaiah 53:2–5 (NIV)
"He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed."
From the origin story, Matthew shows us, God with us. He is in the person of Jesus. Matthew places Jesus in the story of Israel to reassure us God is with us. He has not abandoned us. When it looks as if God’s plans are subverted or powerful influences seek to destroy, God’s plans are not forfited. He is with us.
All of the questions and untied ends of the Hebrew Scriptures find their answers and fulfillment in Jesus—God with us. Matthew places God with us, Jesus, in the center of the story. He does so that we may know Immanuel has come to be with His people.
Unless otherwise noted; Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Additional Resources & Downloads:
Tim Mackie: God With Us (video lesson)
Article & Handout (PDF)