Matthew 1 Commentary
Abraham & Jesus | Matthew 1:1-17
Is the genealogy of Jesus filled with righteous or wicked men?That answer to that question, of course, depends on your perspective. Since the genealogy begins with Abraham, are we to think of Abraham as the coward who told Sarah to lie twice? Should we think of him as the coward who in his fear for his life forgot the great promises of God? Or are we to think of Abraham as the great man of faith who passed the ultimate test on Mount Moriah?
And what are we to think of Judah? Do we think of him as the murderous young man who sold Joseph into slavery with his brothers, or as the penitent man who groveled before the powerful Joseph and offered up his life in exchange for his brother Benjamin?
What about David? Do we to consider David’s conspiracy to murder Uriah and commit adultery with his wife Bathsheba to be the true mark of his character, or do we remind ourselves that Scripture calls him a “man after God’s own heart.”
Scripture confronts us with the following questions: How will you look at this line?Will you judge these men by earthly means or by heavenly? Will you look at them through the lens of faith or through the lens of the law?
It is no accident that Matthew’s genealogical line begins with Abraham.Abraham is revered in the Old Testament and we are told over and over again in the New Testament that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
And each of the men in Jesus’ genealogy believed God and put their trust in him. Despite their sins, even great sins, each of them are honored in Christ’s line.
Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises of God made in the Old Testament. He is the anchor and bridge to all the covenants between God and Israel made in ages past. And Jesus is the hope that these men looked to – that though they were spiritually dead on account of their own wickedness under the Law, they were made alive through faith in the unseen Christ whose blood washed their sins away!
The Miracle of Faith | Matthew 1:18
Christians tend to think that the miracle of Jesus’ conception is some kind of theological abstraction.In fact, we tend to do this with all miracles.We make miracles out to be extraordinary events in a supernatural kingdom, and not the ordinary expression of a Supernatural God. So we treat miracles as isolated and interesting expressions of God’s unlimited power, and not as ordinary expression of God.
What happened to Mary in body is what happens to every Christian in soul.Through a miracle, each Christian is implanted with the gift of faith.Each soul is born again is given, not in the womb but in the heart, the imperishable seed of faith.
What’s most extraordinary about the Christian’s miracle is that the gift finds them as ordinary sinners.There was nothing lovely about them before God opened their eyes.There was nothing in them that demanded God take notice of them, nor had they done anything that demanded that God give them saving faith.Like Mary, each is surprised by Christ and by the revelation that Christ has suddenly come upon their undeserving soul.
Joseph’s reaction to the discovery that Mary was with child was not an indignant vengeful response, but was a response that is consistent with the righteousness that comes by faith.This righteousness that comes by faith is described in the Old Testament as being very different from the moralism that the world pushes today:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
andwhat does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and towalk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8
The world rallies around itself. It advocates for justice without mercy and an execution of the law without the possibility of mercy or forgiveness.
So it is not hard to imagine that Joseph, after hearing that Mary was pregnant, would have felt so betrayed that he sought revenge by publicly humiliating Mary without even hearing her explanation. It’s not hard to conceive howJoseph’s anger could have boiled over to such extent that his righteous indignation led him to subject Mary to a public trial by which she was sentenced to be ostracized from the community or maybe even subject to a public beating. Had it not been for Roman law forbidding the execution of adulterers without Roman consent, Mary might have faced far worse punishments under the Mosaic Law. Nevertheless, Joseph could have created a great deal of trouble for Mary and her family.
But this is not how Joseph reacted.Instead, we see that Joseph went out of his way to set aside any offense against him. His intent to quietly divorce Mary and by not making a public spectacle of her said much about his desire to put mercy ahead of justice and to put forgiveness ahead of vengeance.
Ultimately, Joseph was rewarded for his faith. He was shown that a greater work was being done through his faithful wife – far greater than he could have ever imagined because his work would produce the very Lord that he sought and Joseph would become a custodian of the promises of God.
In the face of a public relations nightmare, during an age when one’s personal reputation could mean the difference between life and death, Joseph’s integrity didn’t waiver.Instead of launching a preemptive strike to protect his family’s name (and his own), Joseph sought mercy and sought to protect a young woman for all he knew had betrayed him. In his mercy, Joseph practiced faith. He had every right under the law to show no mercy. He had every earthly right to make Mary and her family suffer. But Joseph sought “to do justice, to love kindness and walk humbly with his God at a time when “righteousness” was characterized by legalism, when “justice” was given through revenge, and when religious hypocrisy and cruelty were taught as desirable things.
He Came to Save His People | Matthew 1:21
There are two very distinct themes to consider in Matthew 1:21 that show how Jesus came to save his people, and both of these are of fundamental importance. First, Joseph is told that Mary will give birth to a son and will name him Jesus. Second, he is told that the son will be named Jesus on account that “he will save his people from their sins.”
The first theme shows us of the path of God. Christ is indeed the only Way to God, the only Truth sent from God and the very Life of God (John 14:6). Jesus is not merely the way to God, he is the means and the end of the journey as well. Jesus is not merely the Truth, he is the beginning and end of all truth. Jesus is not merely the life as we know it on earth, but is the Supreme Life the One who not only has eternal life, but gives it through what he has done for his people.
The second theme that emerges from this passage, talks about Jesus saving his people from their sins. Jesus died to save sinners. Jesus “who knew no sin became sin, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21) removed our sins through his death, so that through him we might have eternal life. On the cross, Jesus took our place at the mouth of hell, so that we might enter the gates of heaven.
But who are these people? The text does not say that Jesus will save the whole world from their sins. It says that he will save “his people” from their sins. So who are his people? Many will say that his people are those who have faith or who have placed their trust in Jesus. They are right, but only insomuch as the Scriptures defines the word faith, and Scripture as it as loosely as our everyday use of the word.
There are many verses in Scripture that are haggled over today. Many of these center on defining what a Christian looks like in the world, and over what they must do while they are here. And I don’t think we can diminish the force of single verse that calls us to the obedience that comes from faith, but I do think that the apostle John encapsulates all the verses about obedience and perseverance very well when he says: “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).Here John is saying to us very plainly: “You want a faith that works?Fine. Live as Jesus lived.Love as Jesus loved. Do the things he did, with the same frame of heart as he did them. Then you claim to be his follower and claim that your faith is genuine.”
Many will look upon that verse and be instantly caught up in moral perfectionism of Jesus. Some might even be tempted to despair in being asked to achieve such perfection. Others will be tempted to bring the high bar that Jesus set down low. But both are wrong in their approaches. It is not by works that we earn God’ favor, but by trusting in Christ that we are conformed to Christ. We believe therefore we obey, we obey therefore we believe all the more and do all the things he did.Faith is always the driving force behind good works. It is always the inertia behind obedience and clinging to Christ. Faith gives us access to his righteousness so that we can be covered with his moral perfection and in that affection we love others out of our love for him which began with his love for us.
In finding faith, we find salvation. And in finding salvation, we become his people.
They Shall Call Him Immanuel | Matthew 1:22-23
Isaiah is the prophet Matthew is referring to in Matthew 1:22. At the time that Matthew wrote his gospel, Isaiah was probably the most respected and most revered prophet of the day. So it is not insignificant that the Gospel authors quoted Isaiah (or rather quoted Jesus quoting Isaiah) so often.
However, it is ironic that Isaiah ministered in an age that was little different than the first century and that he prophesied in an age of intense persecution, gross injustices, idolatry and hypocrisy. Just as in Jesus’ day, those who most stood out for their wickedness were Israel’s kings, noblemen and priests.
But prophesy Isaiah did. His forecasts of the coming doom that would fall upon Israel at the hands of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires were often tempered by prophesies of the great hope that was to follow the punishments to come.And the Great Hope did come, though not as the conquering warrior liberating Israel from her political oppressors,but as a meek and gentle carpenter whose three year ministry ignited an Eternal Kingdom and set in motion the eventual end of the world’s greatest empire in a little less than 300 years time.
Immanuel, “God with us,” did come down from heaven to earth.But make no mistake, “God with us” does not merely mean that God came and walked the earth among men. It also means that God is with us in all we do.It means that God is for us andGod will protect us. It means that God will keep us his and he will fight for us (Isaiah 8:9-10).
Through faith, Jesus is for us.
Isaiah foretold Jesus’ birth more than 700 years before his coming. Like each of the Old Testament saints, he welcomed the great promises from a distance (Hebrews 11:13-16). But faith is not measured in things seen, but in the unseen. This gives us the hope that God will use all our good works done by faith in Jesus Christ, even if we are no longer around to see the fruit of our labors. This is because Immanuel came down to live with us. And living with us he died for us so that we might have eternal life in him.
Hearing & Believing | Matthew 1:24-25
Deep within the New Testament, the fiery James warns us frankly, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). James is talking about hearing and believing.
It is not enough to hear the Word of God. We must do what it asks of us. Many complain that such a warning is tainted with legalism. I suspect most of these complaints arise from unstable hearts that are unwilling to follow Jesus by faith because they still cling to sins that are still precious to them.
There is also a great spiritual danger in holding onto a defeatism that thinks there is no available means for us to keep God’s commands. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Jesus’ sheep are sinners saved by grace on one hand, but they also hear and do what he says on the other.
Because of Jesus’ blood, Christ’s sheep have had their sins washed away. On account of their faith, Jesus’ sheep have access to his perfect righteousness, perfect obedience and perfect redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). Christ’s sheep hear his voice, and in hearing his voice they prove that their heart have ears to hear because they do not merely just listen and agree with him and then go on living as they had before they heard his voice. They hear what he says and then they do what he commands (1 John 2:3-4).
When we sin, we sin because we do not hear God. We do not hear God because we don’t believe his words in our heart and because we love sin more. It’s not because our minds cannot comprehend the words that God uses or that our ears are too deaf to hear the Gospel preached. We do not hear the words preached because we don’t want to hear them. We do not hear God because our hearts cannot understand what he is saying on account of its self-absorption and lusts for other things.
Sin never begins as a mental deficiency, but as a heart deficiency. This heart deficiency is the common pride that rules over it and deludes it into always thinking that it knows a better way than God. Sin is a deadly poison. It lives inside us all and compels our heart to turn against God. It’s venom entices our mind to justify turning away from God and it’s destructive forces convince us that we have done a good thing when we turn from him. The only anecdote to sin’s poison is faith in Jesus, but only a few find this anecdote because only a few ever want it.
Joseph believed in God. The proof of his faith was not because he nodded his head at the angel in agreement, but because he acted upon what he was told. He did not simply believe because he saw an angel. He could have just as easily dismissed the dream as a silly vision or a hallucination later. Joseph heard and believed because his heart was opened by God to hear his words.
Faith overflowed in Joseph’s heart that night the angel visited, and it compelled him to believe this impossible spectacle that told him fantastic and miraculous things. These things he was told ran contrary to every modern thought and theology of his culture. What he heard stood against everything he had been taught throughout his life. They were things that could only be believed by a true faith in God. But believe them he did, and in believing, he acted upon them in humble faith.