The advent of Jesus into the world changed everything. The first prophecy in the Bible points to God bringing forth a child to crush the head of humanity’s enemy (Gen. 3:15). The prophets had spoken of the Messiah coming from a virgin to save his people from their sins (Isa. 7:14). The Jews were expecting a deliverer to arise from among their ranks and rescue them from national oppression. While heaven was clear concerning the role of the Christ, the world misunderstood his purpose.Today, the babe that was in the manger more than two thousand years ago still stirs controversy. Some deny the historicity of Jesus and others would regulate our acknowledging of his birth to once a year. Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem to his earthly parents Mary and Joseph (Mt. 1:16). The birth of Jesus meant a lot to those living in the first century and its meaning is important today as well.
A Savior for his people
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, begins with the genealogy of Jesus. Included in the family lineage of Jesus are notable Old Testament characters: Abraham, Isaac, Solomon, and David (Mt. 1:2, 6). While these men are known for doing great things, they also made mistakes that stain their record in scripture for all-time. Abraham and Isaac both lied about their wives in foreign lands. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and conspired to have her husband Uriah murdered. Solomon was the wisest king in Israel’s history, but not wise enough to stay away from gentile woman who would lead him away from Jehovah into idolatry. Not only is the family record of Jesus filled with flawed Bible heroes, but it also includes six women. Generally, women are not included in the genealogies of the Old Testament, but in Jesus’ genealogy there is mention of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary (Mt. 1:3, 5-6, 16). Interestingly, the one thing all these women have in common is suspicion surrounding their sexual activity and childrearing (Bloomberg 56). Lastly, in the genealogy of the savior there are wicked kings mentioned that helped lead Israel into captivity: men like Rehoboam, Manasseh, and Jeconiah (Mt. 1:7, 10-11). This family tree is flooded with failure, scandal, and disappointment. Matthew lists these fallen people and then says that Jesus will save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21).
What does it mean that Jesus will save his people from their sins? The Jews read this and might have thought it dealt specifically with them, but a closer look reveals much more. Jesus would save those who are holy and righteous, but sometimes fall into temptation and sin like the faithful Bible characters mentioned in the genealogy (cf. 1 Jn. 1:7-10). Jesus would save those looked down upon by society, similar the women mentioned among Jesus’ family. Today, there are still people treated unfairly due to ethnicity, educational level, or gender; and Jesus is their savior (Mt. 9:10-13). Jesus would be the savior of the gentiles also, as the mention of Ruth and Rahab in the genealogy points to. Gentiles who submit to the gospel today are in the family of Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28). Jesus is the savior of fallen political leaders and those who fail to be all that they should be in positions of leadership. He is the true King. Who are his people? The people of Jesus are sinners that have made a mess of their lives and stand in need of a Messiah, regardless of their background.
The troubling king
While some were excited about Jesus’ entrance into the world, others were not. King Herod is described as “troubled” when he is brought news from the wise men that a king of the Jews was to be born (Mt. 2:3-4). To describe Herod as troubled or disturbed is too weak a translation for his reaction which was more accurately “in turmoil” or “terrified” (Bloomberg 63). Herod was so intimidated by the idea of a rival king that when the wise men fail to return with the location of baby Jesus, he had all male children ages two and under murdered (Mt. 2:16). The blood thirsty nature of Herod is well documented in history. He killed his favorite wife and two of his own children who he felt were threats to his kingship (Henry 1616). The religious rulers in Jerusalem were troubled as well. All who held sway over the Jews religiously were about to be dethroned by Jesus.
However, Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom (Jn. 18:36-37). Jesus’ advent had nothing to do with men’s earthly thrones. Herod had nothing to fear concerning his earthly throne, however he would have to decide about who would reign in his heart. Everyone who is troubled at the news of King Jesus is troubled because they cannot accept the fact that he is the King. If Jesus is truly king, we are not. Those who do not want to surrender the throne of their heart will always suffer anxiety when news of Jesus as king is announced. The Jews were so set on ruling their own hearts that they shouted the only king they had was Caesar, and cried for Jesus to be crucified (Jn. 19:15). Only one person can rule on the throne of our hearts at a time. Jesus demands full custody of our entire being, and as subjects in his kingdom we should readily submit (Lk. 9:23). The birth of Jesus meant salvation for some and anxiety for others.
Jesus does not decide who he will save based on outward circumstances. The family tree of Jesus is filled with people who could not save themselves. Everybody who will have salvation will be saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
The promise of Jesus to save carries no promise to save those who refuse to become his people. He is to be the savior of his obedient, penitent, believing people (Boles 27). Jesus came into the world with angels singing at his birth, “joy to the world” (Lk. 2:13-14). Jesus brought joy to the lives of many, and all who submit to him can truly rejoice. Christians are thankful Jesus did not remain a baby, but grew and sacrificed himself for the sins of the world. Yet, we must remember that there is no sacrificed savior without the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger.
Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.
Boles, Leo, H. A Commentary on The Gospel According to Matthew. Gospel Advocate Company, 1952.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Hendrickson, 1994.