While I am greatly looking forward to this year’s reading plan, I must say I am a little sad knowing we won’t be in the Old Testament everyday as we were last year. There is a LOT of good stuff in the Old Testament! Thankfully, even our New Testament readings will often take us back to the foundations laid in the Old Testament. My NIV Study Bible notes say that Matthew quotes from various Old Testament authors at least 47 times throughout his book of 28 chapters. He obviously knew his Scriptures well and saw great value in them. Matthew, inspired by God, would use these Old Testament passages wisely to show the connections from the plans God set into motion while working with the patriachs, kings and His chosen people, the Jews in the Old Testament to the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming return of God’s Son the Messiah/Christ/Anointed One/Jesus! It is great fun reading through the Old Testament to find the clues leading to Jesus, and in the New Testament finding the prophecies fulfilled which had been spoken centuries before, pointing all generations and all peoples to this one-of-a-kind king that would show us God’s heart and purpose and plan like it had never been revealed before.
Two weeks ago the children and youth of our church performed a play called “Long Foretold”. It is a Christmas play from the Answers in Genesis organization which included not just the nativity but also many of the prophecies that would begin to see fulfillment with the birth of Jesus. The seed of woman that would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:14-15). All nations shall be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 18:17-18). A child would come (Isaiah 9:6) – born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:13-14). A ruler would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2-5), from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8-10), from the line of David (Isaiah 9:7). Kings from afar will bring gifts and worship (Psalm 72:10-11). Foretold in the Old Testament. Fulfilled in the New Testament. The Scriptures are all about Jesus who is God’s Son and God’s ultimate plan of redemption. God’s Scriptures are perfect in revealing this plan.
But what happens when traditions take over and God’s word is replaced bit by bit with human ideas and misconceptions. Errors occur. Then we get three kings bowing at the manger next to the shepherds. But what does Matthew 2 -the only Biblical account of the magi – say? It does not record how many magi had traveled from the east – only that they brought three gifts. We only know it was more than one but it could have been four, five or a much larger group of magi or wise men, never referred to as kings. We know that these learned men from the East (possibly Persia) saw a new star in the sky and recognized it as a sign that a new king of the Jews was born. They had heard amazing things about this king and wanted to worship and bring gifts and see him for themselves. So they traveled to Jerusalem, straight to the king’s palace, a likely place to find a child king. But King Herod the Great had heard no such news and was in no mood to welcome a child who would take his place. He wants more information so he calls in Jerusalem’s own “wise men” – the chief priests and teachers of the law. They are very familiar with the Scriptures and reveal that the long-awaited Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, a small town near Jerusalem. The magi’s journey continues and now they follow the star directly to the HOUSE and find the CHILD (not the baby in the manger).
While we aren’t told, it is interesting to think about where the wise men from a far away country to the east of Israel would have received this information that a star would signal the birth of a Jewish king that would be like no other. In the play “Long Foretold”, as well as many other sources, a possible link is explored between these wise men from the east and Daniel, the devout Jewish exile who was elevated to the role of lead prefect of the wise men of Babylon (also in the East) about 550 years before the birth of Christ. We know Daniel was faithful in serving and speaking for his God even in a foreign pagan country so it makes sense that he would have passed along Jewish knowledge to the wise men under him. We know Daniel prophesied about the coming Messiah. And we know that SOME information God gave him was to be sealed up and saved for a future time. Perhaps this was information saved for the generation of wise men that would see the star and travel to Jerusalem to welcome the Jewish child king. Perhaps there is yet more information sealed up awaiting the generation of wise men (and women) who will be on earth to welcome the return of this same king with a trumpet blast. Get all of the accurate information you can and act on it! You don’t want to be unprepared when the King comes into town.
Reflection and Discussion Questions -pick and choose
- How many times in Matthew 2 does Matthew quote or refer to what the prophets had said? What do you think he is trying to tell his readers? As we go through the book of Matthew this month take note of all the times he writes about the prophets and the Old Testament. Can you find at least 47?
- Do a little research on King Herod the Great. Who was he? What motivated him? What is he known for? His death is recorded in Matthew 2:19, thus making it safe for Mary, Joseph and Jesus to exit out of Egypt and return to the land of Israel (sound familiar from anything in the Old Testament)? What members of Herod’s family will we see later in Matthew?
- We are not told a lot of information about the magi. But from their actions, what can we learn about them? What characteristics found in the wise men would we be wise for us to work on today?
- Look up or create your own list of Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and New Testament fulfillments of these prophecies. You can even create a matching game for family devotions or your small group. Why is it important to see the Old Testament connection? Are there some prophecies of Jesus not yet fulfilled? How does that make you feel?