Matthew 1

Matthew 1: How Can I Be Sure?

The Gospel of Matthew is considered the most complete account of Jesus’ teachings and was written to convince the writer’s Jewish audience that Jesus was the Messiah descended from David, a son of Abraham and the One of whom the O.T. prophets wrote. The most significant teaching passages are the Sermon on the Mount (5-7) and the parable sections in Matthew 13.

Matthew wrote to answer the question:  “ How can I be sure?” We will run into this statement of Matthew’s often in our study as he will write:  “All of this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through prophet…” Matthew is showing fulfilled prophecy as one of the proofs as to how one could be sure.

The nation of Israel had not heard from God since Malachi over 400 years ago.  Some knowledge of what was going in Israel at that time is important as we fill in history of what was happening in the world then. For truly – how can one be sure in a world that is constantly changing.

Let’s turn back to Malachi for a moment for it is a bridge from the OT to the NT. Malachi was written around 400 + BC, after Nehemiah had returned to Jerusalem  during his second period as governor. The Jews had been back in Jerusalem over 100 years after their captivity in Babylon.  The second temple, Zerrubbabel’s temple had been rebuilt.

There had been a period of revivals under Nehemiah and Ezra and a return to the Word of God, but now  the people were religiously cold and morally lax.  The first chapter of Malachi reveals the people are discouraged and their faith in God is in danger of collapse. They are hostile toward God and a skeptical people.  It has infected the priesthood. They are offering blind, crippled diseased animals for sacrifice to God. Leftovers!  God said you would not dare offer these to your Governor-but offer them to me. They had turned away from teaching the truth of God’s Word , preserving the knowledge of His Truths  and by their teaching were causing many to stumble.

Their sins as listed in Malachi:  * careless worship  * marrying idol worshippers(unbeleivers) * questioning Jehovah’s justice* robbing God * waiting impatiently.   In spite of this condition which sound like Christianity in America in the 21st century , we find an absolutely wonderful verse here- you would do well to underscore in your  Bible:  **Malachi 3: 7- God speaking- “ Return to me and I will return to you.”** God is always sending His messengers before Him to prepare His way. And  so Malachi leaves us with this promise:  “ See I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day the Lord  comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers..” This would be John the Baptist.

Some historical background as the New Testament begins.  There has been a gap  between Malachi and Matthew of four hundred years. But much had happened in this period.  There would be shifting of world powers – of empires built up and lost.  When the Old Testament ended, Persia was the dominant world power. Persia had defeated the Babylonia Empire established by Nebuchadnezzar. Under King Cyrus and later King Darius they had allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.   However in 333 BC, Alexander the Great united the Greek forces and led to victory over Persia. The new power would exert great influence on the world.

In 332BC., Alexander the Great visited Jerusalem. He was shown the prophecy of Daniel which spoke of him. He was so impressed , he spared Jerusalem.  In 322 BC., Alexander the Great  died. His kingdom was divided among his four chief generals. Judah was actually annexed to Egypt by Ptolemy.  This period of the divided kingdom of Alexander the Great  would last until the Roman Empire took over in 63BC, when Pompey took Jerusalem and a new world order was established- the Roman Empire.  In 40 BC, Herod was appointed to be king of Judea. His family would rule and be known for their ruthlessness and wicked violence for decades and their names appear often in the Gospels.  In 31 BC, Caesar Augustus became the emperor of Rome.

In 4 BC ( it is estimated) Jesus was born in Bethelehm.

Interesting changes took place in the internal life of Judea also. Because of their experiences during this period of time,  the Jewish religious leaders realized during the Babylonian captivity, many had turned to idolatry. So they turned back to the law with a zeal for legal holiness.  The synagogue had come into existence during this time between the Old Testament and the New.  The synagogue became the political, social and religious center of the Jewish people at this time.

There would be two groups of people in leadership within the Jewish religion that had not existed before. They were the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The Pharisees were the dominant party. ( Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee) They defended the Jewish way of life. They were strict legalists who believed in the Old Testament. They were nationalists who wanted to restore the kingdom to the line of David. They were a religious – political party of power and control.

The Sadducees were made up of the wealthy and socially minded who wanted to get rid of tradition. They were liberal in their theology and did not believe in the supernatural, they did not believe in resurrection of the dead.

Does this not remind you of the extremes in our two political parties today?  I would remind you both of these groups were wrong.

Scribes were the group of professional theologians who expounded and interpreted Scripture. They were meticulous record keepers.   They kept genealogical records which served a variety of purposes in the Jewish life.  They would  record which tribe a person belonged to as  your tribe and birth order served as qualifications for inheritance, land, etc.; also political purposes as being in the line of David was a qualification for king; and only those from the tribe of Levi could enter the priesthood.  These records were accessible and kept in the temple, so Matthew had these as his reference to the genealogy of the Lord Jesus.   Unfortunately these records were destroyed with the temple in 70AD.

So we set the stage with a quick overview of what has happened. The Roman Empire would be the government in control during the times recorded in the New Testament. Whereas, the Old Testament covered centuries from creation to the time of Malachi (400 BC). The New Testament is a fast moving 27 books that covers a short period of time in history- less than 100 years.  So let us begin our study of Matthew- written by one the Lord’s disciples, a former tax collector named, Levi.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him, Immanuel ( God with us) .” {Isaiah 7:14}  This prophecy is about to be fulfilled in the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  This actually is not the first prophecy of his birth. The first promise and prophecy took place long before in the Garden of Eden after the fall of man.

When God cursed the serpent, He told him:  “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” ( Genesis 3)   Adam and Eve had just heard the gospel. This prophecy and promise embraced both comings of Christ.  The ‘seed of the woman’ would put a final end to both sin and Satan.

Interesting description of the coming Messiah- ‘ the seed of the woman.’ We usually refer to the seed of the man- but this would not be the case in this Immaculate Conception.

Matthew will pick up the Lord’s genealogy from Abraham through David through Joseph. Paul  lets us know without any doubt who the seed refers to in Galatians 3. “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say – and to his seeds, meaning many people, but ‘ and to your seed, meaning one person, who is Christ.

The first seventeen verses  follow the genealogy of the Lord’s ancestors. Notice how Matthew starts this account:  “ The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, Son of David, the son of Abraham…” ( KJV)  The NIV says the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  The KJV starts the same way Genesis 5 starts when it says : “This is the book of the generations of Adam.”   So inspired by the same Holy Spirit that inspired Moses to write- we see this is an account of the 2nd Adam, the last Adam who is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So the first seventeen verses we read who begat who—or was the father.  Until you come to Joseph, and he is not referred to as begetting Jesus, or as his father, but is referred to correctly as- “the husband of Mary.”  Because we know and believe Joseph was not the father of Jesus.  Interesting to note in these seventeen verses, Matthew notes four unique, Gentile women. They are :  Tamar, who had two illegitimate children by Judah, in Genesis 38. Rahab, the harlot who hid the spies in Joshua 2.  Ruth, the Moabite, whom Boaz married, and last, though not mentioned by name is Bathsheba, who is referred to as the wife of Uriah.

It would not surprise me if the Lamb’s Book of Life, does not start out the same way  stating:  This is book of the generations of Jesus Christ.  I was born the first time in the family of Adam. But in Adam’s book, all died with the exception of Enoch, who we are told walked with God. So death awaits all who are descendants of the first Adam with exception of those who will be raptured. However if you have been born again and your name is written the genealogy of the Lamb’s Book of Life, you will never face the 2nd death referred to in Revelation. Born twice- die once. Born once- die twice.

How did I get into Jesus’s book of generations?  I was born again, the new birth.   Have you been born again, reader?  Have you trusted the Lord as Savior?

Matthew starts out by saying this is genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

What is the significance of this statement?  First of all Matthew is presenting the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, the One who is the King, the One who will establish his kingdom of heaven on earth. This is a fulfillment of the prophecy God made to David. But also, the Lord Jesus is a Son of Abraham. This fulfills the promise and prophecy God made to Abraham- ‘ in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 22) So Matthew writing to a predominantly Jewish audience wants to catch their attention right up front by stating the Lord Jesus’ qualifications.

So we establish the background as we come to verse 18 which records the birth of Jesus Christ in all its mystery. “ This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

The virgin  birth is true and is necessary.  In fact you have only 3 options how to approach this story:  Option 1 is Jesus is the illegitimate son of fornication.  Option 2 is Jesus is the son of Joseph, thus born with a sinful nature, sinful blood.  Option 3- which as Christians we believe is true is Jesus was born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Let’s stop for a minute and consider why this virgin birth is necessary.

The Bible teaches Jesus was conceived  in the womb of virgin Jewish mother, named Mary by a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit, wholly apart from any human father from the line of Adam.  This , as we will see is a necessity for our atonement.

Jesus was born without a sinful nature, for He did not have a human father. Whereas all men from Adam to this day are born with a Adamic sinful nature, and therefore are subject to the curse and eternal death. This man, Jesus was without sin and therefore could not die, until He took the sins of others upon Himself and died their death. This qualifies Him, and Him alone as the One and Only who could be an atonement for our sins:

  • He was without sin.
  • Counted among men
  • He was divine.

This is why we sing:  ‘ Living, He loved me; Dying, He saved me! Buried, He carried my sins far away; Rising He Justified- freely forever! Someday He is coming- Oh glorious day! Justified freely- forever. That is good theology.  I was justified freely- not of works. I was justified by faith and salvation is forever.

God made a way- where there was no way- because nothing is impossible for God. God made Jesus where he could be perfectly human according to the flesh and yet not have the blood of sinful humanity. The problem was solved by the virgin birth. The blood that flows in the unborn child is not derived from the mother, but it is produced within the body of the fetus. God had this in mind all the time when He created man and woman and the manner in which they would reproduce.

When we get saved and born again- we receive not only the Spirit of God within our lives regenerating us- we receive a transfusion that washes our sins which be as scarlet- white as snow. (Interesting it is the white corpuscles that fight infection in our blood system.) “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stain.”

Let’s gather some Scriptures about this all important event:

“ God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to a virgin pledged to man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said: ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord  is with you. Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to name him with the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and his kingdom will never end. How can this be, Mary asked the angel, since I am a virgin? The angel answered, “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High, will overshadow you. So the holy one will be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child I her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. Nothing is impossible with God. I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. May it be to me as you said. Then the angel left her.( Luke 1: 26-38)

What a remarkable encounter with a remarkable young woman.  Notice her first response:  she was greatly troubled and wondered what kind of greeting this was.  She was confused and probably fearful, and we can understand why she would be.  So begins Mary’s story.  I notice her first question is – how can this be, since I am a virgin?  Notice there is not a why is this happening to me- why are you doing this to me.  But – how? How is the question asked by a teachable spirit.

But we are introduced to another important person in the story that runs parallel with the story of the birth of Jesus.  It is another miraculous birth, the birth of John the Baptist. His father is Zechariah, who was a priest and married to Elizabeth, a relative of Mary. Zechariah is startled by an angel of the Lord who appeared to him at the altar of incense to tell Zechariah his prayer has been answered. The prayer, which I imagine Zechariah has not prayed in a while, was that he and Elizabeth would have a son, an heir. (For the story tells us they were both well along in years.) His reaction- was one of unbelief. He asked ‘ how can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years. Gabriel the angel tells Zechariah, “ I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you the good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” ( Luke 1)  What interests me about this story is Zechariah and Elizabeth had evidently prayed to have a son for years. But as the years went by and this did not happened, reason and logic led Zechariah to believe this was not going to happen.  Faith takes over where reason ends. God’s timing is always perfect.

God’s Word always has power. God’s Word is never without performance. Gabriel, one of only two angels, whose name we know ( the other is Michael) stands in the presence of God and sees how His Word goes forth with power and performance.  It must amaze the angels to look at those of us- who profess to believe nothing is impossible with God and yet when we receive a promise- question as Zechariah did- how can I be sure?  “If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you.” ( John 15, Jesus speaking)

”If it were not so- I would have told you.”  Jesus in John 14.

How can I ( you) be sure?  “ It is written: “ I believed, therefore I have spoken. With the same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore have speak, because we know the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence.” ( 2 Cor. 4: 13)

Jesus and thus Mary would carry a stigma throughout his life as to  the circumstances of his birth. He was referred to by those who watched him grow up as :  ‘ isn’t this the carpenter? Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. Aren’t his sisters with us? And they took offense at him? ( Mark 6)   And in John 8,the Jews clearly imply:  ‘ we are not illegitimate children,’ speaking to Jesus.

Jesus endured those insults and innuendos regarding his birth all through his ministry, if not life.

Here is what we believe:

More than 2000 years ago, a baby was born in Bethlehem to a virgin. Because that baby was the sinless Son of God, yet fully human but without sinful blood, his death made a way for us to be reconciled to the Father.

The term- ‘Son of God’ is synonymous with God the Son. The divine sonship of Christ does not just mean he obeys the will of the Father perfectly. It means Jesus is God. Although He is a person, He is fully divine and fully human.

Thus begins the story and we look once again at what are many times familiar stories we have heard since our childhood.

How can we possibly try in live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is; and Who runs it.But my prayer for all of us as begin this study of the life of Jesus – is Paul’s prayer in Ephesians:

“ I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ , the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation  so that you may know Him better!” ( Ephesians 1)
How can I ( we ) be sure?  Faith . “ Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see. “ ( Hebrews 11)

And that is how we can be sure in a world that is constantly changing!

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14