My current sermon series on Matthew concentrates on identifying themes and structures. A verse-by-verse study of the book would just take too long. So I need to point out that the magi’s search for a newborn king supports all the kingly concepts captured in 1:1.
Despite Jesus kingship, an appropriate word to summarise this chapter is “turmoil”. Look how the events described impact people’s lives:
- Joseph: His betrothed is suddenly pregnant! (1:18-21) I imagine this was pretty traumatic for Mary also!!
- Jerusalem’s Religious Establishment: What would happen to them if the Messiah arrived?
- Herod: Suddenly, his crown is threatened by an apparent challenger.
- Bethlehem: When a king faces turmoil, so do his subjects. The murder of all boys under the age of 2 surely brought unimaginable terror to the town.
- Jesus’ family: Forced to live as refugees in Egypt for about 4 years.
While the Gospel of Luke presents the birth of Christ as the traditional Christmas message of peace and hope, Matthew conveys a different message. Matthew presents the dramatic inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven that challenges the existing order and establishment.
Matthew’s dramatic narrative is not designed to inspire revolution. Instead, he tells a story of reassurance. In the midst of turmoil God is still in control. Herod sought to use the magi to destroy the Messiah, but God protected him. Chapter 2 concludes with Herod dying, and Jesus’ family settling peacefully in Nazareth. After his tumultuous entry into the world, Jesus experienced 25-30 years of peaceful anonymity. As frenetic as the magi’s visit may have seemed, God was able to bring Jesus and his family safely through the storm.
I wish I had better answers as to why all those children had to die in Bethlehem just to protect Jesus. Was God in control in their lives too? My best rationalisation is that it serves as a reminder of the severity of the spiritual battle taking place around Jesus. It demonstrates the evil and suffering that Jesus came to forgive, and to remove.
This is a well-known story, please share your reflections with us.
- Is there a particular aspect of this story that captivates you?
- Do you agree that “turmoil” is an appropriate descriptive word for this chapter?
- How do you process and explain the deaths of those Bethlehem babies?