Monday, August 24, 2009

Travelling through Matthew 2

I think it was J.I Packer who counselled Christians in their Bible reading not to spend too long a time away from the gospels, because it is there we see Jesus clearest. So I thought it was time to find my way back there. But which one? I've grown quite familiar with Mark, having studied or taught it for the last few years. And I know bits of John quite well, which is not the same as understanding it! So I thought I'll have a crack at one of the other two, and settled on Matthew, which is surprisingly unfamiliar territory. I know this is the gospel where we get the Sermon on the Mount. And the Great Commission. And of course 9:37-8, one reason why I currently do what I do! But that's about it.

I once wrote a long reflection on Matthew 1:1-25, still one of my favourite pieces. So I might as well pick up where I left off. Not strictly reflections, but some observations on Matthew 2.

One of the big things to come through in Matthew 1 is how the story of Jesus has its roots in the story of Israel. So we get this recounting of Jesus' family tree which takes him right back to David and Abraham. In case we don't get it, 1:20 reminds us again when the angel addresses Joseph, Jesus' earthly dad, as a "son of David". There's a short but stark reminder in the genealogy of the situation of God's people, deported to Babylon because of their sin. But now, in Jesus, salvation has come, the salvation which the prophets promised beforehand.

So, the shift in chapter 2 is actually very striking. We don't go the synagogues, to the leaders of the Jewish community, but to the palace of a pagan king and some strange, foreign men who mysteriously appear from the East. Imagine watching a Malaysian film with a local setting, local characters, and an emphasis on our own history: Hang Tuah, May 13, etc. And with liberal sprinklings of Manglish, an insider language. Then, all of a sudden there's a 2-minute scene set in America with some Mat Salleh* actors, whom you dimly recognise as minor characters on some D-list TV show from ages ago, making a cameo appearance. And then disappear before you know it. Eh?

The analogy is not perfect, but it's a bit like that here. Non-Jews take prominence. No Jewish people in sight really. Herod does gather them (2:3), but it's only the Magi who actually make the journey to see Jesus. And making some great one-liners at Herod's expense: "Hey, King Herod man, where's the king?" I haven't had a chance to look at it in the NIV, but I'm reading it in the ESV and we get a lot about kingship. Jesus born in the days of Herod the king (v.1). Magi asking where's the king? (v.2). The current king troubled - "Yo Magi, can't you see I'm the king?" (v.3) and asking about the chosen king (v.4). A prophecy about a king (v.5-6). The summons of a king (v.7). An expressed but insincere desire to worship the king (v.8) And on and on it goes, until v.12, where the king's command (Herod) is subverted by the warning of the King (God).

One of the things that struck me here was of course, Egypt. Again, now that we've been reminded of Israel's history in chapter 1, any mention of Egypt is sure to recall the Exodus, God delivering his people. The allusion seems to imply that God is doing his work of rescue again, but on a deeper level: rescue from sin. I had a quick look at a commentary to try to chase the Egypt reference a little more. This is a helpful summary: "In Egypt, then, God now kept His Son safe, as he had preserved Israel long ago and out of Egypt he would soon call him to his work of redemption as he had liberated Israel from Egypt to fulfill their role as his people." (emphasis in original) The tragedy of the slaughter of the babies and the citation of Jeremiah makes a similar point. In Jeremiah, the verses cited in Matthew are actually followed by signs of hope. The point: in Jesus, God is about to do something big.

And I guess that's the point of chapter 2. Pay attention to this baby. He's the One, the world-changer you're looking for.

*Caucasian males

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Anonymous Hedonese said...

My teacher Peter Rowan now director at OMF UK pointed out that the issue of gentile/jew featured prominently in Matthew... its right there in the genealogy (those women names who also happen to be Moabitess, Canaanite etc), the Magis who saw the baby king in contrast of Herod, people coming from afar off to the banquet, etc... since i luv more 'theological' writings, John must be my fav... Matt comes in second...

11:08 am  
Blogger BK said...

Thanks Dave! I've reflected more on the women in the genealogy when I wrote on Matthew 1 quite some time ago now in the link provided in this post. I'm also intrigued that Matthew ends with Matthew 28 with the gospel to go out to all nations, so the Jew/Gentile thingy, already hinted at throughout the OT and at the beginning of Matthew, reaches its full(er) flower, to put it one way.

Didn't realise Peter Rowan was now OMF UK director! Is he not teaching at MBS any more?

9:54 pm  

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