Matthew 2 – Just what the Prophet Said

Read Matthew 2

As I wrote about in the Introduction to Matthew, one of Matthew’s main purposes is to show the Jewish people that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  This can be seen already in the first chapters of his Gospel writing.  The Magi, in their seeking of “King of the Jews” (a reference to the sign that would be posted on Jesus’ cross), the chief priests reference Micah 5:2.  The flight to Egypt fulfills Hosea’s words in Hosea 11:1 and sadly, the killing of so many children in Bethlehem and its surrounding area fulfills the words of the prophet Jeremiah 31:15.

There are other overtones that are present in these Scripture passages as well, ones that may not resonate with us directly, but that would have been at least familiar to the Jewish people of that time.  The action of going from the land of Canaan, what is now called Israel, to Egypt to escape danger is one that has happened several times in the Old Testament.  Abraham found himself in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) as did Jacob.  Remember the story of Joseph, how the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and eventually escaped by the hand of God.

It is an interesting twist now that the Son of God must escape Israel, through the warning of God, and run to Egypt.  At the same time, many of Jesus’ movements mirror those of Israel which is not necessarily a “fulfillment” of Scripture, however, there are some interesting echoes and parallels there.

Jesus is considered the “true Israel.”  References to “God’s servant” made in the Old Testament draw on Israel’s purpose as God’s people which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  While this fulfillment comes in the form of perfect obedience to God, many of the parallels we see draw the Old Testament forward to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.



Day 305: Luke 21-22; Scripture Must Be Fulfilled

One of the beauties of the three Synoptic Gospels is that you read a lot of the same material over and over again, each time from a bit of a different perspective.  As we have mentioned before, the Gospel of Luke is much more like a movie documentary that is concerned with getting all the facts and details in the right order.  Unlike Matthew, who is writing to a Jewish audience, showing them all the different ways that Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, Luke doesn’t spend a great deal of time linking Jesus’ actions to scripture.  So, when I was reading through today’s reading I was surprised to find, nestled in between a couple of sections, a small part about how Jesus was to fulfill Scripture in His death.  In fact, all of Jesus life death and resurrection were a direct fulfillment of Scripture.  There were over 350 distinct prophecies that had to do with the Messiah and Jesus fulfilled every one of them!

It is important that we remember this.  Today we begin going through the narrative of the death of Jesus for the third time in less than a month.  While these scenes are often taken as horrific and sad, they are also part of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is important that, while we are and should be very familiar with them, we don’t box them into their own little category.  We need to hear this narrative, and all of Jesus life while keeping in mind the greater context of Scripture.  It helps  us to better know who Jesus is, why He came, and what exactly His death accomplishes for us!

As Christians, it is important for us to be familiar with these Scriptures.  It is also important for us to be familiar with the Scriptures that Jesus fulfills.  These prophecies and narratives, as well as the many things written about them in the New Testament are at the very core of what we believe as followers of Jesus Christ.  It is also important for us to know what they mean for us.  If someone asks you, “what does Jesus’ death on the cross mean?”  We need to be able to answer them effectively.  Interestingly enough, my typical answer for this would have been somewhat vague and perhaps very simply put, because I hadn’t thought about it much.  This semester though, I’ve had the opportunity to take a class on the creeds and confessions of the Church, of which we looked primarily at the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.  These are great tools for Christians (and non-Christians) to look at as the stand as a witness and summary of what the Church believes supported fully by Scripture.  Not only are they good summary statements of our beliefs, they are also great teaching (and learning) tools for us as we grow deeper in our faith.

While I would never elevate these documents above or even to the same level as Scripture, they are definitely important and good as seek to continue to grow in our faith!  I would encourage you to take a look at them.  Belgic Confession Article 21 is a great place to start when talking about atonement through Jesus Christ.  The Heidelberg Catechism has a great deal to say about Jesus Christ as well, starting at Question & Answer 29 and continuing all the way through 52.  May they be a guide and a companion for you today and tomorrow as we once again encounter the narrative of Christ’s death and Resurrection.



Day 213: Isaiah 51-53; The Suffering Servant

There is not much that I feel I can add to the Scripture reading for today.  Most of it covers in a very specific way, the “servant of God” that is to be sent that has been spoken about at different times since chapter 40.  Some people think that there are several plausible explanations for who or what this “servant” represents, all but one of which I feel is dismissed in this well-known passage that we attribute as a prophecy of Jesus‘ suffering and death.  Let’s read it again, and then we’ll briefly talk through the possible explanations for who/what this “suffering servant” is.

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Some have said that this “servant of God” is actually representative as a “personified Israel.”  While this may sound a bit odd, there are many times in the Bible where Israel is identified as a person and as the servant of God.  Indeed God’s choosing of the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations is part of their work as God’s people.  It is plausible for them to be considered God’s servant.  Yet it doesn’t fit all the way.  Israel was not pierced for the transgressions of the whole world, nor did it go quietly to the slaughter.  Through them we have not found redemption in its fullest sense nor did the nation bear our iniquities.  These things lead me to believe that the “servant of God” is not Israel in a personified sense.

Others have claimed that the “servant of God” is not actually the whole nation of Israel, but the remnant of the nation that will return from captivity to rebuild the nation.  These are the people that have gone through the fire and have been refined for the work of God.  I can understand this argument a bit better than the whole of the nation of Israel.  A lot of work has been done on this small group of people that come back from exile.  As we talked about yesterday, they suffered greatly and went through a lot but came out on the other side a better people, refined by God for His work in the world.  Yet this process did not lead directly to the salvation of the whole world.  In fact the people of Israel still turn away from God even after their exile and return.  They need to be reminded again.  Even in their refined state they cannot and did not bear the sins of the world on their shoulders, nor did bring us salvation.  They certainly were oppressed and afflicted, but still they do not fit the bill for all that is said about this “suffering servant.”

The only other explanation then, and the only one that I think makes sense and actually fulfills all that is said about this servant of God is that it is referring to one man, namely Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Son of God.  It is only in His life, death, and resurrection that we find all of the sayings about the “servant of God,” both here and elsewhere in the Bible, completely fulfilled.  Jesus is the second Adam, the true Israel.  He lives the life that we could not and bore the death that we deserve.  Jesus is the fulfillment of all Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, and clearly takes on all of what is said here in Isaiah as well.  No one else fits the bill and no one else ever will.