THE ministry of messiah (3)
In our last study we considered the historical background of the life of Christ and some of the titles which were given to the Lord Jesus Christ in the word of God.
We shall now commence in the record by Matthew and strive to consider the life of our Master in order. Frequently we consider the lives of some of the faithful men and women of the Bible, but they all pale before the one who we are to consider, the only begotten Son of God who was one of a thousand, the altogether lovely one, who was able to sympathize with the feeling of our infirmities but who was “holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners” and therefore was given:
“the name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every name should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
Matthew begins with the genealogy of Christ. The very first verse is significant:
“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”
It emphasizes the importance of the Davidic and Abrahamic promises. Here we are seeing their fulfillment in the birth of the promised seed. The genealogy is divided into three equal generations of 14 each, giving a total of 42. All these numbers are multiples of 7:
Moreover 14 signifies the Passover lamb and in these verses we are reading of the birth of the Passover lamb.
We need to note in verse 8 that 4 generations are missing between Joram and Ozias, namely; Ahaziah, Athaliah, Joash and Amaziah. This is because they were of the wicked house of Ahab and not of the house of David through the marriage of Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram to Ahab’s daughter Athaliah (2 Chron. 18:1). But Yahweh pronounced judgment on this wicked house (1 Kings 21:21-22, 2 Kings 10:10-17) and the line was restored by Ozias or Uzziah. Thus the words of Deuteronomy 5:9 were fulfilled. It should also be noted that only 13 generations are in the last list including Christ. The margin of verse 11 inserts Jakim or Jehoiakim between Josias and Jechonias and if we add Jechonias to the last list, it brings it up to 14 (See “Guide Book to the Gospels” by Bro. H P Mansfield).
We understand that v.1-11 is full of multiples of 7. In this section are 49 vocabulary words (7×7), 28 words begin with a vowel (7×4), 21 begin with a consonant (7×3), 7 end with a vowel, 42 end with a consonant. Furthermore the very construction of the words and letters in these verses reveal multiples of 7. These things reveal the wonder of the Word of God, but also reveal that in these words we are reading of the beginning of the completion of the Word of God (remembering that 7 means complete), in the birth of his beloved Son.
Another significant feature of the chapter is that there are 5 women mentioned in the line of Christ, namely, Thamar, Rahab, Bathsheba and Mary. These women were great women of faith yet each had a slur to their name. Thamar played the harlot, Rahab was a harlot, Ruth was a Moabitess, Bathsheba was one with whom David committed adultery, and Mary was regarded by the enemies of Christ as unchaste. 5 means grace and truly we see in these women Yahweh’s graciousness, revealing also that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness and that truly Christ came in the flesh.
Let us now turn to Luke ch.1:26-27:
“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from god unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin who was espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary”.
Six months after Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth had conceived, the angel Gabriel came to Mary. It is fitting that it should be Gabriel, the one who had given to Daniel the prophecy of 70 weeks or 490 years which pin-pointed the time that Messiah should be born (Dan. 9. 21-22). Gabriel came to Nazareth in Galilee. Galilee means a circle and Nazareth a branch. So here we are reading of the Father’s eternal purpose through Christ the Branch.
Mary was already espoused to Joseph who we note was of the house of David. The angel addresses Mary in verse 28:
“And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women”
using similar words to those used of Jael in Ju.5:24. In these words Jesus was named before he was born (v.31), a fulfillment of Isa. 49:1:
“Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; Yahweh hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name”.
It was revealed that he was to be the Son of God, a fulfillment of 1 Chronicles 17:13. In Mary’s response in v.38 she reveals herself as the handmaid, i.e. slave or servant of Yahweh, a fulfillment of Ps. 116:16:
“I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid”.
Mary then goes to the hill country of Juda to the house of Zacharias, where she salutes her cousin Elisabeth, who responds:
“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord” (v.42-45).
Mary’s response reveals the quality of her character and her belief in the promises of Abraham:
“My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. H hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent away empty. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever”.
These words are very similar to the song of Hannah. Let us turn to this: 1 Sam.2. Hannah’s words are more than a rejoicing over her adversary Peninnah. It was through her son, Samuel that David was to be anointed King through whom Israel’s enemies, in particular Goliath were to be conquered. V. 10 therefore points forward to David and above all to Christ “his anointed”. Mary now was to be the instrument of the fulfillment of these words as expressed in her song. These words also reveal her understanding of the truth. Her ancestors, Thamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba also had such an understanding. Mary as the handmaid of Yahweh must have prepared herself by quietly studying the word of God during her early years. The promises to Abraham were very important to her and she looked in faith to their fulfillment. Perhaps there is a lesson here for our sisters, particular our young sisters. How important it is in our early years to prepare our hearts and minds with the word of God to fit us out for life and if we marry to prepare ourselves for marriage and bringing up children.
Following upon Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, God now appears to Joseph in a dream which we read of in Mat.1:18:
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit”.
Joseph was already espoused to Mary but found that she was with child. His immediate reaction was to put her away or divorce her, but being a just man, to do so privately. But whilst he thought on these things the angel of the Lord, possibly Gabriel. appeared to him in a dream as we read in v.20-23:
“But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us”.
Joseph was reminded of the importance of the virgin birth for the Messiah, a fulfillment of Isa.7:14. As we know Jesus is Yahshua which means Yahweh is salvation for He who will be salvation. Hence the words “he shall save his people from their sins”. So we read in v.25:
“And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS”.
These words take us to Christ’s circumcision for he was not named until 8 days after his birth when he was circumcised.
These words then take us to Luke ch. 2, where we read of Christ’s birth. We understand that there is at least a 5 year error in the dating of the birth of Christ and it is thought that he was born in BC 6. We also understand that the taxing or census was dated at BC 8. Mary must have realized that the Messiah must be born at Bethlehem. Clearly the taxing was the hand of God causing them to go to the place of their birth. But it was no easy matter for Mary to travel at this time, a journey of about 70 miles for she was great with child. There must have been some reason why they could not leave earlier. Perhaps the taxing was in rota or it may have been to do with Joseph’s work. How apparently paradoxical that the most significant birth since creation should be fraught with difficulties. What a contrast with us. Our children are born surrounded with comforts. Christ had to be carried in his mother’s womb on that uncomfortable journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. When they arrived, there was no room for them in the inn. One would have thought that the Son of God should have been born in palatial circumstances. But this is not God’s way. Christ was born in the humblest of circumstances in a stable, with the manger as his cot. Truly God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. As Christ looked back on the circumstances of his birth they must have had a profound and humbling effect on the formation of his character in his earlier years. Let us remember this when we go through difficulties. We have to know the fellowship of his sufferings for it is through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom. There is a possible link with this stable in Jer.41:17:
“And they departed, and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, which is by Bethlehem, to go to enter into Egypt”.
Chimham was Barzillai’s servant and this habitation or Inn had been given to him by David. This may well have been the inn in which Christ was born.
We read of the shepherds in Lke.2v.8-16:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, to see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger”.
We understand that flocks are usually put out to grass between March and November; the shepherds are with the flocks during the lambing season in the spring (March and April). Bethlehem is in the grip of frost during December and January. This rules out December 25th being the date of Christ’s birth. One authority points out that Dec. 25th occurs during the pagan feast of “the birthday of the unconquered Sun” during the feast of Saturnalia in which houses were decorated with laurels and evergreens, gifts were exchanged and parties and possessions were held. The writer comments: “As many early Christians would not give up this pagan holiday the western church decided to transform the pagan ceremony into a Christian festival by having Christmas day on December 25th. We should have nothing to do with this so-called Christian festival. We do not know when Christ was born and have not been commanded to celebrate his birth. We are fairly certain that the birth of the Son of God would not have taken place at a pagan festival.
As many of the people who saw Christ at this time were faithful men and women, we would conclude that these shepherds would have been faithful men looking for the birth of Messiah. As angels appeared in the past to faithful men and women, so an angel appears to these men as they were watching over their flocks at night, and they are told of the birth of the Messiah (v.9-20). As the sons of God shouted for joy at the creation in the beginning (Job. 38:7), so now the angels shouted for joy at the beginning of the spiritual creation in the birth of the Son of God. Nowadays the words of the angels are applied to having a feeling of good will at Christmas time after which people revert to their selfish ways, but this is not what is meant by these words. God’s good will toward men concerns his work of salvation through Christ as we see from Eph. 1-9 and Phil. 2:11-13 (See also Isa. 6-7). The shepherds then having seen this glorious vision and having been told by the angels where they should find the babe, then made their way to the stable in Bethlehem, after which they made known abroad what the angels had told them concerning the child. But we read of Mary in v. 19:
“But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart”.
Clearly these things must have made a profound effect upon her and they must have made a profound effect upon Christ when she told him of them as he grew up. David was a shepherd and was taken from the sheepfolds to rule over or rather shepherd his people Israel. Now at the birth of his greater Son, shepherds came to witness the birth of the one who was to be the great Shepherd of the sheep.
“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21).