Who in our world would you think would be one of the last ones to ever believe in Jesus Christ? Out of the people that you know, who would you think would be one of the last ones to believe in Jesus?
Matthew 9:9-13 tells us a story about one of these types of people. In Jesus’ day the tax collectors were seen as the worst of sinners. They were Jews who were gathering taxes for the Romans, from the Jews, and had the power to charge more than required to make themselves rich. They were seen as thieves and traitors.
Matthew, the author of the book of Matthew, was originally a tax collector. Matthew 9:9-13 tells us of his conversion with these words.
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew was one of those people you would consider beyond the reach of God. In this story Jesus had called Matthew to follow Him and Matthew had left everything to follow Jesus. It is amazing that God would use such a man to eventually write part of the Bible.
Matthew brought together the testimony of his transformed life, his life experience with Jesus, and his knowledge of the Old Testament to present Jesus Christ to the Jews of his day.
Have you ever met a person who had a hard time believing the Christmas story? Maybe it was the virgin birth that caused the problem for them. Or maybe they just could not believe that there is a God, and that He took on the form of a baby to save the world. Or maybe they struggle with the star, and the angels singing to the shepherds. Matthew, a disciple of Jesus, faced a similar problem.
Matthew was Jewish. He was a follower of Jesus. Matthew knew that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but most of the Jews would not believe. So, what did he do? He wrote the gospel of Matthew. The book of Matthew was written so that Jews would believe.
If you had been Matthew, what do you think you would have included in your book to convince others that Jesus was the Messiah? Maybe you would tell of Jesus´ miracles or maybe His teachings. Maybe we would include how He treated people, His help to the helpless or His love for the unlovable. There was much that one could write about, but to guide the Jews towards faith, Matthew chose to appeal to the truth that the Jews already believed.
The Jews believed in the Old Testament, the Torah, the prophets, the commandments, the history and the wisdom literature. Within the pages of the Old Testament are found dozens of centuries-old prophecies, about the promised Messiah. The Jews firmly believed in the Old Testament and longed for the day when these prophecies would be fulfilled. With this in mind Matthew told the stories of Jesus. In these stories the Jews found themselves face-to-face with the prophecies fulfilled in Jesus´ life.
There are many Old Testament passages whose prophecies came true in the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth. In the book of Matthew, Matthew begins to layout the proofs of Jesus being the Messiah, using the Old Testament scriptures.
It was clear that the book of Matthew was written with Jews in mind. Matthew used Jewish terminology often. He gave very little explanation for the Jewish customs that he referred to because his audience was Jewish and was already familiar with them. He also gave much attention to connecting the details of Jesus’ life to Old Testament Messianic Prophecies in which the Jews already believed.
Matthew 1 starts out with a long list of Jesus’ lineage. It describes Jesus’ family tree all the way back to Abraham. Many who read this passage ask the question, “Why is this even included in the Bible?” Genealogy was the ancient way of communicating the importance of group identity. This included your family, clan, and tribe. This is something those of us from the West have a hard time understanding because our culture has become so individualistic. The Jews set the greatest possible importance on lineage and belonging to something bigger than themselves.
As a Jew read the first 14 verses of Matthew 1, he would likely have been disillusioned with Matthew’s beginning verses of Jesus´ genealogy. Genealogies were supposed to be lists of men, but Matthew included four women who were part of Jesus´ lineage. If that was not surprising enough, one of the women was involved in sexual immorality and deception. A second was a Gentile prostitute. A third was Ruth, a Moabitess. The fourth was Bathsheba, the woman who became pregnant when committing adultery with King David.
How could this lineage result in the birth of the promised Messiah? Some Jews who heard this must have been tempted to discard Matthew’s writings immediately, but two things would have held their attention and demanded that they read further. Jesus was a direct descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah. He was also a direct descendant of King David. Jesus had royal blood.
The royal line always came through the father, but Joseph was not really Jesus’ father. We know that Joseph was not Jesus biological father. Joseph was a descendant of King David but how could Jesus claim the name of Son of David? In Luke 3 we see the answer to this question. In Luke 3 we find the genealogy of Jesus through the family lineage of Mary. We see that she too was a descendant of King David. She was traced back to David’s son Nathan. Joseph could trace his family back to King David’s son, Solomon. So, through Joseph Jesus could legally claim to be a “Son of David in the royal line” and through Mary He could claim to be a “Son of David” by blood relations.
This was just the beginning of Matthew’s case to his fellow Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah. It was an unexpected beginning that presented a Messiah who had not just come for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. He came not just for the “good” people but also for the godless who were willing to repent and believe. God, in his grace saw fit to have the genealogy written by an ex-tax collector, mentioning four questionable women, and born to a woman appearing to have gotten pregnant out of wedlock. This Messiah did not shy away from the sinful and those of ill repute. He had come to seek and to save the lost and bring the prodigals back home. He came for the sick not the well.
After the listing of Jesus’ genealogy, we find these words in Matthew 1:18-25,
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
To some it must have appeared that Jesus was an illegitimate son. A son born in sin. Many probably had questions about Jesus’ background but Matthew laid out a clear case that sought to clear up any confusion and provided clear reasons that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah.
In the first two chapters of Matthew, we see his perspective of Christ’s birth and all of the “markers” that helped show the Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the promised messiah. Following are a list of scriptures that Matthew used to show Jesus´ birth as fulfilment of the messianic prophecies.
In Matthew 1, Jesus is shown to be the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah. (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 17:19; Numbers 24:7; Genesis 49:10)
In Matthew 1:21-23, an angel from God came to Joseph and told of how Mary, would give birth, even as a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, 700 BC). This confirmed the Old Testament prophecies and helped explain the likely preconceived ideas about Jesus’ illegitimate birth.
In Matthew 1:23, it tells how the Messiah would be called Immanuel, God with us. (Isaiah 7:14)
In Matthew 2:3-6, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, just like the prophet said (Micah 5:2, 700 BC).
In Matthew 2:13-15, an angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph and warned him to flee to Egypt with his family for their safety, just as the prophet had said (Hosea 11:1, 750 BC).
In Matthew 2:19-23, Matthew tells of how Jesus’ family finally returned to Nazareth as the prophets had spoken.
In Matthew 3, Matthew describes John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus, one like Elijah, who pointed to Jesus as the Messiah and baptized Him. (Malachi 4:5-6)
Throughout his book, Matthew would continue to mention these “markers,” that gave proof that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Matthew contains more than 60 Old Testament quotes seeking to prove to the Jews that Jesus was truly the Christ and Promised Messiah.
Some may seek to explain it all away by calling the similarities between the prophecies and Jesus´ life mere coincidence, but a “statistical analysis by mathematician Peter W. Stoner estimated that the probability of fulfilling forty-eight prophecies was one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion! Another way to think about is flipping a trillion, trillion, trillion. . . quarters at the same time. What are the odds that they all would come up heads at the same time? The likelihood is so minimal that it would be classified as an impossibility. The prophecies fulfilled in the life of Jesus are unexplainable any other way, except that God was fulfilling the prophecies in Jesus’ life to point towards Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Others may ask how do we know that Matthew´s writings are trustworthy? Our confidence is found in the early church. In our Bible we now hold the texts that they accepted. They had been alive when these events had occurred. Many of them had met Jesus or heard Him teach in person. The writings that were not true were cast aside by the early church, but texts like Matthew and the other New Testament books were held as the true and beneficial Word of God.
Others struggle with the miraculous parts of the Christmas story. The main question one must ask is, “Does the God of the Bible really exist?” As one answers “yes” to that question, all the other doubts begin to fall into place. A God who can bring creation into being can surely create the Y Chromosome that was necessary for the virgin birth. The God who hung 100 billion galaxies in place can surely orchestrate the Christmas star. A sovereign God who rules over the heavens and the earth can surely send the angels to sing to the shepherds. For the non-believer all will sound far-fetched, but for those who have come to faith in God through Jesus Christ, the fulfilled prophecies are once again tangible proof that God is in control.
Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah, the Son of God.
From these verses in Matthew we are presented with several ideas that are worth more consideration.
- No sin is beyond the reach of God’s grace. God, in his grace saw fit to have the genealogy written by an ex-tax collector, mentioning four questionable women, and born to a woman appearing to be an illegitimate son. This Messiah did not shy away from the sinful and those of ill repute. He had come to seek and to save the lost and bring the prodigals home. May we be encouraged that even with our imperfections God desires to save and use us to further His kingdom in this world.
- The Gospel does not change, but our presentation of it does. Matthew had a love for Christ and a heart for the Jews. Because of this he wrote strategically protecting the purity of the gospel while at the same time presenting it in a way that it would be clear for the Jews. This alone is not enough. Only the Spirit of God reveals truth, convicts of sin, and grants faith, but we are called to share the truths of the gospel in a way that the non-believer can understand the facts of the gospel.
- We are to use our unique gifts for God’s purposes. We do not read much about Matthew preaching to large crowds or doing mighty miracles. Instead, he used his writing abilities to make his greatest contribution to the kingdom of God. This in turn has been used to bring countless people to faith in Jesus Christ. What gifts and abilities do you have that can be used for God’s purposes?
- As we experience the Gospel we will be compelled to share it with others. Matthew had been changed by the Gospel. This can also be said about many of us. First of all, we have been forgiven and made new through the good news of Jesus Christ. This is both a starting point of our spiritual life and also the daily renewal. We all must remind ourselves daily of our past that humbles our hearts and the righteousness of Christ that has made us new. As we live out of the gospel day by day, we will experience the grace of God and be drawn to share this blessing with others.
- Nothing is impossible for God. (Luke 1:37) God made possible the virgin birth and the fulfillment of numerous Old Testament prophecies. In these verses we find evidence of a sovereign God who is over all things. This sovereign God was sufficient for preparing the way for the coming of Christ and is also big enough to carry us through the difficult times that we face in our lives today.
God has a plan. He is orderly and is moving our world to its intended end. We don’t have to fight for control because He is in control. Even in the midst of the chaos in our world today we can have confidence that our God is in control and is inviting us to be a part of his plan as we move towards Christ’s return.
Regardless of our past, God is a God of new beginnings and second chances. God is ready and willing to draw us into his family if we will turn from our sin and believe in Jesus Christ.
As we look to the babe in the manger may we see the sovereignty of God and the everlasting love that is offered through this child who would one day give His life that we would be saved.