Today we will return to the Gospel of Matthew. Everyone is familiar with the birth story found in Matthew. Matthew's account is different than Luke's. I don't care how many times you read the two narratives and how one tries to make excuses, they are different. When we get to Luke's gospel we will learn a lot more about this. Luke tells us things that Matthew does not. Matthew tells us things that Luke does not. Matthew does not mention the birth in a stable, Luke does. Matthew does not tell us why the parents went to Bethlehem, Luke does. Luke does not tell us about the Magi, Matthew does. Luke does not tell us about the slaughter of the innocents, Matthew does. These are all major details of the birth narrative.
I will not go into all the detail that I could go into regarding the trip of the wise men. Clearly, they follow the star that directs them on their journey. They find the baby and worship him, and bring him gifts. Of course, what is the number we usually attach to the wise men? Yes, we have always been told that there were three wise men. Well, sorry, but just like we were not told that Eve ate an apple, or that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, we are not told that there were three wise men. No, we say there were three because we are told 'when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh." (Matthew 2:11b) Three gifts, three gift-bearers...right? Not necessarily. In fact, the magi would have most likely traveled in a caravan. The story details how Gentiles traveled for a distance that could have been over 1500 miles in order to worship the newborn King of the Jews. Of course, this gets Herod's attention.
Herod was a client king of Rome. He was king because Rome allowed him to be. Herod was also a jealous individual. Could it be that his throne was threatened? Well, if so, then the threat must be removed. Matthew gives us one of the most disturbing stories in all the Bible. Joseph is warned to take the new baby and Mary and go to Egypt. The magi did not return home the same way, eluding the King who wanted a report as to the location of this King of the Jews. But...
"Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem...from two years old and under..." (Matthew 2:16)
Herod was going by the timeline given to him by the wise men as to how old this new king might be. If he kills all the boys two and under then he would certainly rid himself of the threat. Ironically, Jesus had no intention of taking over the throne of Herod. This did not have to happen. This is a painful story. A few years ago I was on my way to Louisville to pick up my son who was attending college. I was trying to find a radio station that I could listen to...it's hard to find a radio station any more that plays Andy Williams, Roger Whitaker, etc...but there was a section of Kentucky where I actually could. So, I was tuning the stations. Unfortunately, I could not find the music I wanted to hear. But I discovered that several stations were telling a similar news story. They were telling about the Sandy Hook school shooting. This story still upsets me to this day. My baby boy was in the first grade at that time. In fact, he was in school at that very moment. These children were just like my little boy...an innocent baby. Teachers also lost their lives that day. I understand at least one was shielding the students. There were twenty-six who died in that school. (I won't include the shooter who died) Interestingly, archeologists have discovered that the number of boy children who were massacred by Herod was not a large number. Any guesses at the number they have arrived at....yep, twenty-six. So sad.
"But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt." (Mat. 2:19)
Joseph is told to take the baby and Mary and return to Israel. We are told that the family made their home in Nazareth. Why did Matthew tell us this story? It would seem that this would be such a story that Luke would find it necessary to tell also. But, he didn't. And, again, it was not because of they all gathered around an accident scene and they all saw things differently. To Matthew it is vital to tell this story. Remember, he is writing to a Jewish-Christian community. Think with me for a moment. The trip from Israel to Egypt would echo what? The story of Joseph. The slaughter of the innocents would echo...the story of Moses. The return home would echo the story of the exodus, with the death of Herod sounding so familiar to the death of Pharaoh. Wow! Who is Matthew comparing Jesus to? He is comparing him to Moses. We will discover more about this comparison as we continue. I think you will be amazed at the comparison.
Tomorrow, we will look at the introduction of John the Baptist and look at the birth of Jesus. I hope you can join me. -Pastor Rick