Teaching Matthew: The Birth of Jesus


Note: This blog is the fifth in a series of posts on teaching the Gospel of Matthew. You can find the first blog on teaching Matthew HERE.

With this post we dive into the text of Matthew in earnest. Below is a rough sketch of the handout I gave my class when we reached this point. With all my handouts, I try to give a brief explanation of the section and then pose some questions for us to talk through as we read Matthew together. Note: some of the language below is adapted from the study notes on Matthew that I wrote for the Worldview Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 2018).

The Genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17):

The genealogy of Jesus is not intended to be an exhaustive family tree. The lists of names are divided up into three sets of 14 generations. A number of Old Testament kings are intentionally omitted, apparently to keep the list of names to 14 each. Matthew’s three sets of names highlight the three major turning points in the history of God’s people: the anointing of King David (Mt 1:6), the fall of Israel into captivity (Mt 1:11), and the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Mt 1:16). Though scholars disagree as to why Matthew chose the number fourteen for the length of each set, the story that he tells is clear. David was God’s anointed king, but God’s people still fell into sin and captivity. Thus, God sent David’s greatest Son into the world, Jesus the Messiah, to once and for all rescue his people from their sins.

1. Are there any unusual or unexpected names listed in Jesus’ family tree? Why do you think they are there?

2. What are the parallels between David’s anointing as king of Israel and Jesus coming as the Messiah (the “anointed one”)?

3. What parallel is Matthew trying to draw between the sin and captivity of Israel and the sin and captivity of his readers (us)?

4. Why do you think Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy (Luke does not!)? What is he trying to say?

The Birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25):

Compared to Luke, the birth narrative in Matthew is quite short. Matthew covers the essentials: the betrothal of Mary and Joseph and Mary’s virginity (v. 18), the supernatural conception and Joseph’s response (vs. 18-19), the message of the angel (v. 20-21), the witness of the Old Testament (vs. 22-23), and Joseph’s obedience (vs. 24-25).

The focus of the narrative appears to be the words of the angel, which are quite brief, especially the angel’s instructions as to the name of the baby: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). The angel instructs Joseph to name their son “Joshua” or “Jesus” (the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua). The name means “the Lord saves.”

1. What do we know about Mary and Joseph and their situation from this text?

2. Why do you think the virginity of Mary and the fact that Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus are so important to Matthew?

3. Why did God want his Son named after the Old Testament character Joshua? What does that name indicate?

4. It appears that this is what Matthew considers essential to know about the birth of Jesus. What does that tell us about Matthew’s message?

The Magi, Herod, and Egypt (Matthew 2:1-23):

Chapter 2 gives us the rest of Matthew’s discussion of Jesus’ childhood. Some time has passed between Matthew 1 and Matthew 2, but probably not more than a year or two. When we move on to Chapter 3, however, 25-30 years have passed. The story here is familiar: the wise men (vs. 1-12), the escape to Egypt (vs. 13-15), the genocide of Herod (vs. 16-18), and the summary conclusion (vs. 19-23).

Note: the wise men from the east were most likely magi, pagan astrologers from Persia or Babylon (scholars are all over the place on this), who had some exposure to Judaism and were following up on Old Testament prophecies (e.g. Nm 24:17). Somehow the magi respond to their astronomical observations (“We saw his star in the east.”) and travel to Jerusalem looking for the king of the Jews. When they find Jesus, they offer him kingly gifts and worship him. Though the theology of the pagan magi is unclear, Matthew is clear that God can use even pagan astrologers to put his Son on display for the whole world, a reminder that the revelation of Jesus to the gentiles is a constant theme throughout the Gospel of Matthew.

1. What Old Testament texts are quoted here? Why? What does this tell us about Matthew’s purpose?

2. What do you think Matthew’s readers thought when they read that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled to Egypt? What is the Old Testament story of Egypt? What is Matthew up to here (Note: Luke doesn’t tell about the escape to Egypt at all)?

3. How does Matthew conclude this chapter (vs. 19-23)? What is his summary of these events?

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