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December 24

Thursday, December 24

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Matthew 1:22-23

As we reflect over Matthew 1-2 today, on the day before we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let’s look over these four weeks.

Daniel Doriani helpfully describes for us each of the four parts of these chapters. In the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17 we learned about the identity of Jesus. His résumé, from Abraham to his father Joseph, helps us to see the family line God preserved and maintained that led us to the one and only Son of God, who became a man for us and our salvation.

In Matthew 1:18-25, the birth of Jesus is described from the perspective of Joseph. Through the miraculous agency of the Holy Spirit, God himself was incarnated or made comprehensible with human, bodily form. God became a man to be Immanuel, God with us. God became like us so that we could become like him, a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

Matthew 2:1-12 tells us of the adoration of Jesus. People, foreigners who probably had no previous knowledge of a Messiah, traveled hundreds of miles, following a star. They remembered a prophecy, they saw it displayed in the sky, and they followed the light in hopes of seeing a king. They were completely overjoyed when they arrived, so much so that they fell on their knees and adored Jesus in worship and through gifts.

Finally, we saw in Matthew 2:13-23 the protection of Jesus. God’s plan for a Savior would not be thwarted through the acts of a king who hated God, just as all do who live in darkness. God saved his Son so that his Son could save his people – you and me.

Charles Wesley, the great hymnwriter, wrote words better than I could write to describe this Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. Let me finish with a quote from that hymn:

Love Divine, all love excelling,
Joy of heav’n, to earth come down;
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown…
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;

Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory
Till with Thee we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.

December 23

Wednesday, December 23

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.”

Matthew 2:19-23

This is our final fulfillment passage in Matthew 1-2. We have seen fulfillment in 1:22-23, 2:5-6, 2:15, 2:17-18, and finally here. Those passages were straightforward, but what does Matthew mean here?

Unlike Bethlehem, there is no specific prophecy about Nazareth in the Old Testament. The town of Nazareth is never even named in the Old Testament. Commentators like Douglas Sean O’Donnell see a clue in Isaiah 11:1. There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. Jesse was the father of David, and the shoot from Jesse is David and his lineage that leads to Jesus.
We started with a genealogy in Matthew 1, and Matthew brings us back to the genealogy in chapter 2. The résumé of Jesus is pivotal for Jesus. Matthew is pointing out that everything, including town in which Jesus eventually grew up, highlights the last qualification in Jesus’ birth and infancy. Let me explain.

The answer seems to be in the branch verse in Isaiah 11. The Hebrew word for branch is neser. In English we sometimes add the ending polis to a word to make the name of a city (Minneapolis, Indianapolis). In Hebrew you would add the ending eth. The City of the Branch would then be neser/eth, or Nazareth! Douglas Sean O’Donnell says it beautifully: “So, Matthew is saying that Jesus came from the city of David (Bethlehem) as well as from the people of David (Nazareth). Jesus is ‘the branch.’ Jesus is ‘the Son of David.’ The fact that he grew up in Nazareth as a Nazarene puts an exclamation point on this!”

God led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the census, to Egypt for protection, and to Nazareth to raise the boy Jesus, all part of God’s plan to emphasize Jesus is the son of Abraham, the Son of David, and the Son of God. Rejoice in God’s wonderful plan for you and me!

December 22

Tuesday, December 22

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2:16-18

This event, often called the slaughter of the innocents, is one of the most tragic events of Christmas. This passage highlights that life and death are part of the first Christmas. But just as the exiles returned to the promised land, so Jesus is ending our exile from God to bring us back home to him.

After the Wise Men tricked Herod, Herod was furious. Herod estimated when the star might have first appeared, then added a little time to determine which children to kill. He may have killed twenty to thirty innocent children in this horrible act. Jesus said, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). This is the plan of our enemy, illustrated for us through the anger and hatred of Herod.

But there is hope. “Matthew is saying that with the coming of Jesus, the time of the exile is coming to a close! He hinted at it in the last verse of the genealogy (1:17). Now he alludes to it through the prophets. The tears shed by the mothers in Bethlehem inaugurate the reign of the one who will shed tears of blood for the forgiveness of sin and who will eventually, in the restoration of all things, wipe every tear away (Revelation 21:4)” (Douglas Sean O’Donnell).

Bethlehem and Calvary are intimately connected. They are each a place where tremendous spiritual battles were fought. This illustrates that we need Christmas, as Daniel Doriani writes. Yes, Christmas is a time to celebrate the beautiful birth of the baby Jesus. Don’t forget that.

But we need Christmas. Christmas signals God’s decisive final action to defeat sin in this world and pay the penalty for our sins. Without Christmas there is no Calvary, no substitutionary sacrifice for our sins, no salvation, no hope. Christmas points out the serious nature of sin and the need for a Savior. Thank God for Christmas, we need it!

December 21

Monday, December 21

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Matthew 2:13-15

Matthew 2:13-23 is not a typical passage that we focus on at Christmas. Matthew sees it as very important, though, so he includes it in his telling of the Christmas story. We will consider what God has to teach us as we approach Christmas Day.

As Matthew sets the scene, the Wise Men had just departed to go home another way, because of a warning in a dream. Probably the very next day or night God warned Joseph in a similar way. Joseph and Mary were rightly afraid, and they fled to Egypt during the night to protect the Christ Child.

Sinful Herod was used by our enemy to try to defeat God’s plan by trying to kill Jesus, as we will see even more fully tomorrow as we look at the next few verses. Jesus would eventually grow to adulthood and die for our sins. God would win, not Satan. At this point, though, the baby Jesus needed to grow into a man to live a sinless life before he died a sacrificial death for our sins.

It is significant that the family ran to Egypt, because that illustrates how God foreshadowed the events of Matthew 2 in the Old Testament exodus from Egypt, according to Douglas Sean O’Donnell. Israel itself in the Old Testament was called God’s son. Hosea 11:1, quoted partially above, reads this way: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. God loved his people as a son, and he continues to love us as a son, in and through his one and only Son.

Jesus is the one and only Son who embodies the relationship the Father has with his children. Just as God called Israel his children out of Egypt, so he called his Son out of Egypt in this event. Jesus is the ultimate story of God bringing his people out of captivity into his promised land of a relationship with God and life with him forever. Thank you God for your rescue plan!

December 20

Sunday, December 20

And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Matthew 2:12

Protection. God protected his Son throughout his entire life, until his time was right. We have our first indication of this truth in this verse.

The Wise Men had gone through Jerusalem. They had met Herod and been given direction by him, both on where to go and to return news of the child back to Herod. After their visit, before they left Bethlehem, they slept the night.

It wasn’t a good night’s sleep. After a day of tremendous joy they experienced warning in their hearts. During the night, just as the angel visited Joseph, so he visited the Wise Men in their sleep. He warned them of Herod. Herod didn’t desire to worship the child. They may or may not have known Herod’s plan, but they learned in their dreams that Herod was not to be trusted.

The child was chief in their thoughts as they set out for their journey home by a different route. These Wise Men listened to spiritual direction from God. God had led them to follow the star and right to the child named Jesus. God had not let them down before, and he would not let them down now.

God had planned all this to happen, and nothing thwarts God’s plans. Paul tells us that Jesus came at the right time: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law (Galatians 4:4). Mark says the same about the life of Jesus, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).

Paul, again, makes the same point about Jesus’ death and its purpose: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6–8).

God’s plan of salvation and glory is never thwarted. God always accomplishes exactly what he plans to do. What an encouraging truth!

December 19

Saturday, December 19

And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11

If you read yesterday’s devotional, you will remember that we learned of the unbelieving Wise Men expressing believing trust in Jesus, by faith. J.C. Ryle says it this way, “We read of no greater faith than this in the whole volume of the Bible.” What is normal response to believing trust in Jesus? Worship and giving.

I love how Douglas Sean O’Donnell explains this passage:

“On Tuesday, January 6, twelve days after Christmas, the Western church celebrates Epiphany. The word epiphany comes from a Greek word that means “to manifest” or “to show,” and on this date the church has traditionally commemorated the visit of the magi and the “epiphany.” What epiphany? God’s manifestation to the Gentiles. God showed himself in the person of Christ to the Gentiles. That’s what that holiday is all about… on that day, before you pack away your Nativity set, celebrate by looking closely at this passage again and noticing how the whole scene is filled with scandal. We have a teenage mother, a child conceived out of wedlock, lowly and dirty and usually irreligious shepherds (as well as lowly and dirty and certainly irreligious animals) and then … the magi—a bunch of ‘Star-led Wisards,’ magicians of sorts, Gentile sinners. This scene depicts so perfectly the good news of the gospel of the kingdom. This good news is for all people, even the ‘least likely candidates for God’s love.’”

Those least deserving people – shepherds, Wise Men, and us – we have been given the gift of receiving this good news. We should rejoice as well and worship him. God has saved us eternally, saved us from so much, blessed us with so much grace. Let’s worship Jesus with heart and soul, body and mind.

Let’s also give to him, again and daily, ourselves. Let’s give to him what is valuable to us because we value Jesus more. I don’t know what that is for you, but when we are led to worship and adore Jesus, God leads us to return our worship through giving in joy.

December 18

Friday, December 18

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

Matthew 2:10

In Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote I commend joy… (8:15). If you have ever read Ecclesiastes that might surprise you. I believe from the Bible that joy is known and treasured and valued most by those who have also known and valued pain and sorrow and difficulty. The Preacher, Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, is an excellent example of this truth.

The Wise Men may have been similar people to Solomon. No one knows the life of the Wise Men. They seemed to be people who were waiting, searching, and often disappointed. They were looking for some reason to hope that was beyond themselves. As Pascal would say, they had this God-shaped hole in their hearts that they were trying to fill. Even on their trip they had made it as far as Jerusalem, only to be disappointed again for a time.

Then, as they left Jerusalem, they saw the star again. Their words are very difficult to translate because the English just doesn’t seem to capture their joy, maybe because words themselves cannot describe their joy! They had mega-great joyful joy! Remember who is mega-rejoicing and who is not. Pagan Babylonian astrologers are overjoyed at finding the star again, whereas no one else seems to care.

I cannot help but believe that these non-believers were by faith trusting in God, as the angels said and prophesied to the shepherds. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:11) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11) This was the best news they had ever heard. It was and is for all people. The Wise Men were overjoyed to find Jesus, see him, and believe in Jesus – how about you?

December 17

Thursday, December 17

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him. ”After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.

Matthew 2:7-9

Psalm 2 is a helpful place to start as we look at this passage. Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (Psalm 2:1–3) Why indeed!

From Herod in the first century to leaders in the 21st century, people plot to overthrow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet he is still on his throne. Notice how Herod attempted to get rid of this king.

He first entertained the Wise Men’s questions with the answer he had obtained. Then he brought them in secretly. Why secretly? Herod didn’t want to let on that he was worried or angry. He pretended kindness and even delight at this news. Herod made it seem like he was happy, truly intrigued and excited to hear of this birth.

Herod also didn’t want the people to know. Plots must be kept secret to risk any type of accountability. The smaller the circle of knowledge, the easier it is to keep secret.

Notice what Herod said in verse 8: Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.

Every word but the last two in this sentence was the truth. He wanted them to search diligently, to find the baby, to bring him so that he could come.

Worship was not on Herod’s mind. Worship in the Greek language means to bow the knee or prostrate before someone. Herod would never bow to God or his Son Jesus.

Herod must have been somewhat convincing, because the Wise Men listened to him. God used Herod, even though Herod would never agree to be used by God. We see at the end of the passage that Herod didn’t succeed. God’s plan is not thwarted by deception.

God’s response to Herod, and to all who rage against him, is this: As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill. 7 I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:6–8). Praise the sovereign Lord of all!

December 16

Wednesday, December 16

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Matthew 2:5-6

God had a plan, right down to the place where Jesus would be born.

The Magi, probably coming from Babylon, journeyed to Jerusalem, as the star led them. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they started to ask around – they didn’t know where to go next. They followed the star because of the prophecy in Number 24:17, but they didn’t know the place.

Micah, one of the prophets, prophesied about his birth. Micah wrote of the place where the ruler would be born, more than 700 years before he was born. Bethlehem was a small, unlikely place, but also an important place. Another unlikely ruler had been born in Bethlehem in the past, and that was David.

Micah 5:2 says it this way: But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Micah was merely announcing a plan that had been made in eternity past, proclaimed by Micah and reinforced by Matthew.

Jesus was born here not only to fulfill the prophecy, but also to show that he would be a ruler in the line of David, and not just any ruler, the final and greatest ruler. He would be born in the same city as the great ruler of the past, David.

The intricacy of God’s plan always amazes me! The founding of Bethlehem, the birth of David, the prophecy of Micah, the trip of the Wise Men following the movement of the star, and the knowledge of the religious leaders all were steps laid out by the Ancient of Days to testify to the greatness of Jesus. Praise God for his wonderful plan!

December 15

Tuesday, December 15

And assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Matthew 2:4-6

Yesterday we thought about the response of Herod to the questions of the Wise Men. Today let’s look at the response of the religious leaders.

When the Wise Men came to Herod, Herod had to go ask other people, because he didn’t know “Where is he born king of the Jews?” What king of the Jews? He was supposed to be born near here, I know nothing about that. Herod, not a religious person, was clueless, so he went to ask some religious people for the answer.

Commentator Douglas Sean O’Donnell said that Herod went to find the best Jeopardy contestants to help him out. When they heard the question, they all tried to buzz in at the same time. It was easy – Star prophesies for 100, Alex. They didn’t even have to think to come up with Micah 5:2 (see Matthew 2:6). It was Bethlehem. They all knew the answer.

What did the religious leaders do after that? Apparently nothing. They were totally indifferent. They were not curious. They didn’t ask more questions of Herod or the Wise Men. They didn’t send a representative to Bethlehem to check it out. Nothing.

Maybe your response to King Jesus isn’t hostility, but is it apathy or indifference? You have heard the Christmas story often, possibly since you were little, but it makes no difference in your life, it doesn’t even disrupt your schedule.

Keith Green was a well-known Christian singer when I was in high school, and one of his most powerful and challenging songs is Asleep in the Light. One of the lines to that song says,
The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the church just can’t fight,
‘cause it’s asleep in the light!

Don’t sleep in the light this Christmas. Don’t hide this news under a bushel, let it shine! Fight the apathy and indifference that the religious leaders had two thousand years ago and allow this news to make you different, not indifferent.

December 14

Monday, December 14

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Matthew 2:3-4

Matthew 2:1-12 isn’t about three kings, as we learned yesterday, but about two kings – Herod and Jesus a big king and a little king. Which is which? Think about it.

What brings fear to your heart? Why would news of a baby cause fear in the heart of a king, or in any person?

Herod didn’t become a king because of his heritage or family line. He wasn’t elected king; he was appointed by the Roman leaders to be king or ruler of this area. Herod was self-conscious and paranoid about his position, so much so that he had close relatives put to death. Herod was king, and he was fearful that there were greater kings than him. He was the little king.

Jesus was baby. News of a baby born to be a king wasn’t normal. The Bible told of a king, prophesied in Micah and other places (see verses 5-6). This baby could be a challenge to Herod’s role, privilege and control. Herod was fearful of what might result.

Herod felt fear and hostility to this news, much like what we feel when we lose control of our lives. This is a reasonable response to someone who wants to be King of our lives. “Hostility, however, is quite reasonable, given that we are naturally inclined to oppose God and his ways and his Son, and given the very controversial claims of Christ. If he is King, you and I are not (Douglas Sean O’Donnell).”

You and I are like Herod. At times, maybe frequently, we don’t want Jesus to be King of our lives. I want to run this part of my life, or that area of my life, my own way. Having a King means that I need to submit to his authority and acknowledge his control of my life. Either Jesus is King or I am king, there are no two ways about it.

Herod’s response should challenge us and cause you and I to consider whether we are truly bowing to Jesus consistently, daily, moment by moment. Am I fearful and hostile to God because I want to be in charge? As you prepare for Christmas, think about how you regularly respond to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and whether you are the little king responding to the Lord of all.

December 13

Sunday, December 13

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, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2:1-2

This week we will be reading and thinking about Matthew 2:1-12. As you read those verses each day, meditate on this amazing visit to the child Jesus.

We hear the song “We Three Kings” at Christmastime and often think of three kings visiting the baby in a manger, but that’s not really what happened. First, this entourage was composed of Magi, not kings. Magi, or Wise Men, were people similar to Daniel of the Old Testament. These men studied the stars and interpreted dreams, much like Daniel. Unlike Daniel, they were pagans, not Jews, and may have been looked down upon by Jews because of their association with astrology and magic.

The Wise Men had some knowledge of the prophecy of Balaam: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel… (Numbers 24:17). Even though they didn’t believe in God, the birth of a great king, told in the stars, fascinated and attracted their attention.

The Wise Men followed the star – pagans from another land, probably Babylon. It’s just like God to include the story of people from a far-off nation among the first to visit Jesus. Matthew includes their story to emphasize that the good news of Jesus’ birth is for all people, not just one specific group of people.

The wise men came to worship. That was their stated purpose when they first stopped to ask in Jerusalem about the star and the king. They worshipped someone greater than themselves and gave gifts to this king. Did they understand exactly who Jesus was, either then or later? Probably. But I hope that God led them to Bethlehem to change their lives and save them forever. That’s my hope for you as well, that God will cause you to fall down and worship Jesus this Christmas, again or for the first time.