THE LIFE OF CHRIST
Our lesson today on the life of Christ begins in Matthew 2 in which we will learn more about the events that happened shortly after the birth of Jesus.
Matthew 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."
Matthew tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, which was 6 miles south of Jerusalem. The reason he is so specific is because there is another Bethlehem located northwest of Jerusalem about 55 miles. I also think it is neat that Bethlehem means, “house of bread” since Jesus is the “bread of life.”
The days of Herod refer to his reign as king, which was 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. He had a great relationship with the Romans because he was able to keep the Jews under control and he was loyal to the Roman emperor. The territories under his reign thrived, and he is also known for the many structures that he had built including having the temple rebuilt, which ended up not being completed all the way until A.D. 64.
Herod had a lot of trouble within his family, and he was ruthless man. He murdered his wife and had two of his sons put to death and many others. There was saying about Herod, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than to be his son” (huios). The events that happened as described by Matthew happened between 6 and 4 B.C.
We learn that wise men came from the East to Jerusalem by following a star so they could worship the King of the Jews. We do not know a lot about these particular wise men and what specific place they came from other than them being from the East. Notice how BDAG defines wise men:
wise man and priest, who was expert in astrology, interpretation of dreams and various other occult arts
According to Nelson’s Bible dictionary:
The Greek Historian Herodotus, writing in the fifth century B.C., identified the Magi as a caste of Medes who had a priestly function in the Persian Empire. In the Book of Daniel the “astrologers” (magoi) are grouped with the magicians, sorcerers, and Chaldeans as advisers to the court of Babylon with responsibility for interpreting dreams.
These men would use their wisdom about the stars, science and superstition to give advice to kings. So, they were not kings themselves as some speculate. We can know that these men were Gentiles because they did not say they were looking for their King, but the King of the Jews. Why did they travel so long to see the King of the Jews? It was to worship Him.
There have been many speculations about this star they followed. Some look back at what planets or stars may have been in place for them to follow, but the fact is, we are not told those details, but whatever this star was, God was in control of it because it did things that no other star has ever done. It moved in a way to guide them and then it stopped and stood over where Jesus was at.
We are not told why God chose to guide these Gentile wise men to Jesus, but perhaps it shows God’s interest in Gentiles especially since they would be included in the new covenant that Jesus would bring forth. While predicting things using the stars and other methods were forbidden under the Old Testament and were considered pointless (Jer. 10), God uses a star to lead these wise men to Jesus. Why did God use a star? Perhaps to show these wise men that God is in control and has the answers instead of the typical signs they looked for that occur naturally in the heavens. This would be similar to how God used the 10 plagues against the Egyptians to show that He was in control and that their supposed gods had no power. Instead, they should have looked to the only true God of heaven.
Matthew 2:3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.' "
Jesus was born a King, but Herod was appointed as king by the Roman government. Herod was not even in the lineage of David. So, when Herod hears about anyone who might threaten his reign as king, he would do whatever it took to protect his position. He gathered the Jewish leaders to find out what they knew about the birthplace where Christ would be born, which shows the lack of knowledge Herod had about Scripture. The Jewish leaders quote Micah 5:2 and tell him that the Christ is to be born in Bethlehem. What amazes me is that Herod would actually try to kill the baby that was born according to prophecy putting himself against God. This shows just how prideful this man was.
Matthew 2:7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also." 9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
Herod secretly calls the wise men and finds out when the star appeared to them. We will talk more about this as we get further into our chapter. Herod had no intentions of going to worship this newborn King. He wanted to know where He was so he could kill Him. So far, these wise men had only made it to Jerusalem, but now they know the King they are looking for is in Bethlehem, so they start 5 to 6 mile journey south. On the way, they see the star that had brought them to Jerusalem at it showed them exactly where Jesus was in that city.
Matthew 2:10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
After traveling such a long way from the East, they knew that had reached their destination, and they were filled with joy. We can all relate to this because we have all taken a long road trip to go see some place on a vacation. When we can see the place as we are pulling up, we are so happy that the long drive is over and we can finally see what came to see. This would be even more so for these men because they were going to see the King of the Jews.
Many times when plays are done about the birth of Christ, they usually have the shepherds come and see Jesus while He is in the manager, which is correct. However, they also have these wise men come and see Jesus in the manager as well, which is incorrect because verse 11 tells us that Mary and Jesus are in a house because Jesus is now 6 months old or older as I will discuss in more detail in just a few minutes. Many times, these plays use three wise men because there are three gifts given. However, we do not know how many wise men there were, but we know there had to be at least two.
These wise men fall down and worship Jesus. Some see the three gifts they gave as being symbolic. The gold is a gift for a king. The frankincense is a gift for a priest. The Myrrh is a gift for a Savior. While these gifts certainly fit the status of Jesus, they were probably given because they were valuable, easy to transport, and gifts worthy of a King. Just as a side note, if these wise men had come at the birth of Jesus with these expensive gifts, Joseph and Mary would not have used two pigeons as their sacrifices when they went to the temple 40 days later, which offers more proof that we wise men came to them sometime after that sacrifice.
These wise men were warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod because God knew exactly what Herod was up to. This teaches us that while we can fool others with our lies, we cannot fool God. So, these wise men leave another way and go back to their country in the East. Since God communicated with them this way, it is certainly possible that God communicated with them in the same way earlier telling them to follow that star to go see the newborn King.
From the verses we have looked at so far, we can see three different attitudes that people had toward Jesus that people have today.
First, you have the wise men who diligently sought Jesus so they could worship Him. This represents the people who love God and seek Him out, find Him, a live their lives for Him.
Second, you have the Jews who knew what the Scriptures said about Jesus, but they made no effort to seek Him out though He was only 5 to 6 miles away. This represents people who believe in God and His Word, but they do not seek Him out though He is near, and they do not obey what His Word says.
Third, you have Herod who wanted to kill Jesus. This represents those who try to destroy Christianity either by persecution or doing what they can to discredit God’s Word.
Matthew 2:13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son."
Once again, Joseph receives a message from this angel in a dream. He does not hesitate to take heed to this message as he takes his family by night and goes to Egypt. We are not told what part of Egypt they went to, but it was a long journey as it was 100 miles to the border of Egypt. They would stay there until the death of Herod. The prophecy this would fulfill is a quote from Hosea 11:1. We already know that Mary and Joseph were poor and it would have been much more difficult for them to flee to Egypt and to have what they need to sustain them if they had not received those expensive gifts from the wise men. Perhaps this was one of the reasons God sent these wise men to them.
Matthew 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more."
When the wise men did not return to Herod, he figured out that they must have deceived him, which made him mad because he was counting on them to tell him where Jesus was. So, Herod thought he would be able to take care of matters by sending men to Bethlehem to kill all the male babies that were two years old and under. He was able to determine what age of babies to kill based on what the wise men told him about when the star appeared in the East, which represented when Jesus was born.
There are differing ideas on what is meant by those two years old and under. While it does not change the events that happened, I would like to point a few of these out. When we think of 2 years old and under, we think of a child that could be anywhere in his second year of life. Until the child turns 3, we continue to call him a two year old.
Another possibility I found in a couple of commentaries is that Jews look at things a bit different. They consider a newborn child as being in its first year. When that child turn 12 months old, it is in its second year. So, it is possible that the babies that Herod was having killed could have been anywhere from 23 months and under. For whatever reason, the two commentaries that taught this seemed to think that it would have been those 13 to 14 months old and younger. If all of this is true, then that means that Jesus was 6 months old to 13 months old when the wise men saw Him.
While trying to find out the specifics of this is interesting, the important part is that it happened and it shows how God was in control of protecting His Son, and it shows how wicked Herod was as killed these young babies (an estimated 12-50 boys) all to protect His throne. Herod’s outrageous act fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15. As we saw in our study of Isaiah some prophecies have a double fulfillment. Jeremiah’s prophecy first pointed to the Babylonian captivity, but it also pointed to what Herod did. There would be great weeping by the mothers of these murdered sons.
Matthew 2:19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child's life are dead." 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
We do not know exactly how much time has passed, but some estimate about a year. Joseph finds out that Herod is dead and is told to go to the land of Israel. He was not told which part. However, it appears that he was thinking of going back to Bethlehem, but he finds out who has taken Herod’s place, so he did not want to be anywhere near this man because he was just as cruel as his father. God also warned him not to go that way. Instead, they went to the region of Galilee to the city of Nazareth. This is where Jesus would spend the majority of His childhood. Just as He born into poverty, He would continue be raised in the most humble way because Nazareth was not an important city to Israel and it had a bad reputation amoung the Jews because the whole region of Galilee was filled with a mixture of Jews and Gentiles.
The prophecy about Jesus being called and Nazarene cannot be explicitly found in the Old Testament. However, I like what Boles says about this prophecy:
Notice that the plural is used here of “the prophets”; no particular prophet had spoken of Jesus dwelling in Nazareth. It is thought that Matthew quotes the general sentiment of the prophets, that he is giving the equivalent sentiment of the prophets, that he is giving the equivalent of their language and not the exact language. Many of these prophets had predicted the humble life of Jesus; this is expressed in the proverbial statement that he should be called a Nazarene.” “A Nazarene” is a term of contempt. (John 1:46; 7:52) The very name Nazareth suggested insignificance; in the Hebrew it meant to sprout or shoot. This name is prophetically given to the Messiah. (Isa. 11:1)
The figure of the tree is continued by Isaiah and is applied to the Jewish state. As David sprang from the humble family of Jesse, so the Messiah, the second David, shall arise out of great humiliation. The fact that Jesus grew up at Nazareth was sufficient reason for his being despised; he was not a lofty branch on the summit of a stately tree; not a recognized and honored son of the royal house of David, now fallen, but an insignificant “sprout” from the roots Jesse; a Nazarene, of an insignificant village (Gospel Advocate .P. 63).
Now let’s turn our attention back to Luke 2 because it gives us the rest of the information about Jesus’s childhood, which isn't much.
Luke 2:41 His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.
Jesus’s parents were faithful to God, and they faithfully attended the Feast of the Passover. The Law of Moses required all men above the age of 12 to attend three annual feasts. It was not uncommon for the whole family to attend these feasts. The parents could use these feasts to teach their children what they were for and teach them about God. The parents set the example of what their children are supposed to do. This was true back then, and it is true today.
If both parents faithful attend all the services and Bible classes that are available to them, their children will see by example how important it is for Christians to faithfully attend all services. However, if your children see you missing services over frivolous things like a TV. show or because you feel a little bit tired, they will grow up thinking that any excuse will do when it comes to missing church services. Let’s make sure that we are good examples in this area, just as Jesus’ parents were being good examples to Him. As:
Deuteronomy 6:6 And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 "You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Luke 2:42 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. 43 When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; 44 but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
When Jesus turned 12, He was considered a son of the law and was obligated to keep the Law of Moses. The first day of the feast was the Passover. The Passover was celebrated in remembrance of how God allowed their firstborn to be passed over instead of being put to death like the Egyptians’ firstborn. The feast of unleavened bread followed for seven days (Lev. 23:4-8), which represented how quickly the Jews left Egypt after the death of those firstborn Egyptians.
Before some of you mothers say that you would have never left Jesus behind if He was your child, you need to understand that they would travel in a caravan, so they did not always have their children in their sight like we do today. They were some 20 – 30 miles out before they realized Jesus was not there, so like any concerned parent, they went back to the city to see if they could find Jesus.
One lesson that is often gleaned from this event is that it shows how easy it is to keep traveling down a road of sin without realizing you have left Jesus behind. Like Jesus’ parents, once you realize that Jesus is not with you because of the sin in your life, it is time to make a u turn and go back and find Him. He is not the one that is lost, you are.
Luke 2:46 Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. 48 So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously." 49 And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.
This three days probably included the day it took them to get back to the city. You could imagine how frantic they were. They finally found Him in the temple listening to the teachers of the law and answering their questions. His understanding at the age of 12 was so good that it impressed them.
One thing we must never underestimate is the ability of the very young to learn the Word of God. Even those that are a few years old can learn a lot in Bible class when given the chance. If fact, teaching the young about God is a great place to begin to encourage them to get to know as much as they can about God.
When Jesus’ parents found Him, they were amazed. Mary began to question Jesus why He had done this to them. We have Jesus’ first recorded words, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" I do not think He was being disrespectful, but was simply saying, where else would I be, but my Father’s house. This is also the first time we see recorded of Jesus calling God His Father. Notice, He “must” be about His Father’s business. Even at a young age, Jesus was doing everything in His power to do the will of His Father. Jesus’ parents did not understand what He meant by this.
Luke 2:51 Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Jesus and His parents take the three day journey back home to Nazareth, and Jesus continued to be subject to His parents as every child should be. Mary never ceased thinking about everything that happened involving Jesus. Verse 52 summarizes the next 18 years of Jesus’ life. He increased in wisdom, He grew up and became physically stronger, He had favor with God because He was righteous, and He found favor with His fellow man.
We have learned what we can about Jesus’ early life because the Scriptures only tell us so much. Had the Bible been written by mere men, do you really think that man would leave out great stories about Jesus’ youth and about how He grew into adulthood? No, they would not. There could be many great tales told about such a man like Jesus. Since God is the author, He inspired men to record what we needed to know in order to understand who Jesus was, where He came from, and what His purpose was. The bulk of the gospel accounts focus on what Jesus did in the last three and half years of His life, which brought about our salvation. This is just another proof that the N.T. was not written by mere men, but was inspired by God.