Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No Small Stir

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? 
For we have seen His star in the East 
and have come to worship Him.” 
(Matthew 2:2)

As we saw yesterday, Matthew is on a mission to portray Jesus as the King. We saw the evident and the subtleness of Matthew’s genealogy showing forth the royal lineage and its implications. From the very beginning, he wants us to see Jesus as more than a servant, more than a man, he wants us to see Jesus as the King.

In the very birth announcement we are told, “All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (1:22-23). Not, God sending another prophet to talk to us and declare to us His way, no, this time God Himself shall come and be with you. The King shall come down and dwell with you. He shall be called Immanuel. A name, the witness of the covenant with the kingdom, and also with the His elect people, testifying that He who had redeemed would not forsake His people.

Without understanding the context of the day when this pronouncement was made, we cannot fully understand what Matthew is saying. For Israel, it was a time when the kingdom seemed in danger. They were being pressed in and oppressed from every side by the Roman Empire. For centuries the people of Israel had been raped of everything dear to them. And at the time of Jesus, though things weren’t as hostile as in times past, the memories were strong, and the soldiers could still be seen at every corner, and the Emperor’s, not to mention Herod’s tax collectors were always present to plunder what their greed desired. For Israel, hope had been deferred, many had lost hope, but God always preserves a remnant relentless and steadfast in faith. Mary was a part of such remnant. She was more than a little peasant girl, much more. Don’t be mistaken, she was a peasant girl, but inside of her were the songs of a princess, full of fire, with lyrics ready to shake the present kingdom with all its pompous pseudo kings like Herod the Great. “Immanuel will one day come,” the prophets still echoed in the city streets. “No!” Matthew shouts, “Immanuel is here!”

Thus, Matthew moves immediately to the effects of the birth of this royal child. Herod the Great was the most powerful, richest and ruthless king Israel had ever known. He squashed any and everybody who got in his way, hinted at posing a threat, or merely indicated they’d like to. He was a psychotic madman, and that’s an understatement. Matthew paints a picture that would stir fire in the heart of every Jew in Jerusalem. Herod, the one no one can stop or stand a chance to overturn, crawls into a corner and begins to suck his thumb in fear and panic at word of this baby Jesus. For, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (2:3). Meanwhile, men of rank and honor from distant lands come to “worship” the newborn king with gifts and praise.

This whole scene, though on the one hand a very real and actual account, on the other hand was a picture of the mystery of the kingdom which was even now at hand. Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel is seen as the Heir; and so of Bethlehem it is said here, and in no other Gospel, “Out of you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah…shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel” (2:6).

Portraits of Jesus        

Imagine what it must have been like for those living in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth – the oppression, the exploitation, the marginalization. With a sense of the potential temptation towards becoming hopeless, read Matthew chapters one and two. How many references can you find that serve as undertones to the kingdom of God breaking into their circumstances?

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