The narratives of the gospels really present a different type of reading for us, don’t they? Matthew’s gospel, in particular, is very unique in the way he represents Jesus to us. Today we are going to look carefully and read deeply to see how Matthew ties Jesus to the Old Testament story of Israel, bridging the gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
If you haven’t been able to keep up with our Year of the Bible reading, now is a great time to join in again! Our reading plan comes from ReadScripture.org, and is available as a free app for your mobile device. Just download it, and set the “start date” To January 1, 2017. That way, you can easily keep right up with where we are.
What is your favorite story about Jesus that you have read so far?
Sure, most of us are more familiar with the New Testament than the Old Testament. But, aren’t you glad we took the time to read through the Old Testament? If you were paying attention, you probably noticed a lot of familiarity that you didn’t even realize. Someone said to me recently, “I am surprised how much I have seen Jesus through the Old Testament!”
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Today, we will look at two passages near the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel that tie Jesus to Israel’s story. More than any other New Testament writer, Matthew presents Jesus as the embodiment of Israel’s story. For Matthew, Jesus is the climax of the whole thing. He also ties Jesus to Abraham, King David, and the exile, as Jesus’ bloodline is traced through Israel’s history.
Of course, Israel repeatedly failed in keeping their covenant relationship with God, but by contrast, Jesus is shown to be the perfectly faithful son who obeys God and fulfills Israel’s intended destiny.
Matthew 2:13-18 NLT
After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”
Did you know that out of all of the Gospel writers, Matthew is the only one who includes this story of Jesus’ childhood escape to Egypt? Why do you think Matthew included it?
Matthew was very steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures, and clearly wanted to show that deep connection of Jesus to Israel. As you read the following passages, try to recall the point of each of them (you read them all earlier this year) and think about the significance that they carry.
Exodus 4:22-23 NLT
Then you will tell him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son. I commanded you, “Let my son go, so he can worship me.” But since you have refused, I will now kill your firstborn son!’ ”
Hosea 11:1-11 NLT
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt.
But the more I called to him, the farther he moved from me,
offering sacrifices to the images of Baal and burning incense to idols.
I myself taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand.
But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him.
I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love.
I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him.
“But since my people refuse to return to me, they will return to Egypt and will be forced to serve Assyria.
War will swirl through their cities; their enemies will crash through their gates.
They will destroy them, trapping them in their own evil plans.
For my people are determined to desert me.
They call me the Most High, but they don’t truly honor me.
“Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go?
How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim?
My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows.
No, I will not unleash my fierce anger.
I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal.
I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy.
For someday the people will follow me.
I, the LORD, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar, my people will return trembling from the west.
Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt.
Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria.
And I will bring them home again,” says the LORD
Jeremiah 31:15-17 NLT
This is what the LORD says:
“A cry is heard in Ramah— deep anguish and bitter weeping.
Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted— for her children are gone.”
But now this is what the LORD says:
“Do not weep any longer, for I will reward you,” says the LORD.
“Your children will come back to you from the distant land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future,” says the LORD.
“Your children will come again to their own land.
Now, go back up and read Matthew 2:13-18 once more, then answer the following questions.
How does reading the corresponding Old Testament texts above change your understanding of Matthew’s passage?
By including these Old Testament allusions, what point is Matthew making about Jesus?
Though the passages explicitly quoted above don’t sound that hopeful, both Jeremiah 31 and Hosea 11 are hopeful encouragements to Israel that God will one day deliver them from Exile. Considering this, how do Matthew’s references hint at the mission of Jesus?
Okay… Let’s do one more.
Matthew 4:1-11 NLT
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.
During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say,
‘People do not live by bread alone,but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, 6 and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,
‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ ”
Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the LORD your God.’”
Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”
“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say,
‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’”
Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.
What stands out to you about this part of the story?
Now, read the following background passages and listen for how Matthew’s story of Jesus connects to them.
Deuteronomy 9:25-26 NLT
“That is why I threw myself down before the LORD for forty days and nights—for the LORD said he would destroy you. I prayed to the LORD and said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, do not destroy them. They are your own people. They are your special possession, whom you redeemed from Egypt by your mighty power and your strong hand.
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 NLT
Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
Deuteronomy 6:16-18 NLT
You must not test the LORD your God as you did when you complained at Massah. You must diligently obey the commands of the LORD your God—all the laws and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so all will go well with you. Then you will enter and occupy the good land that the LORD swore to give your ancestors.
Deuteronomy 6:13 NLT
You must fear the LORD your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.
Now, go back up and reread Matthew 4:1-11, then answer the following questions.
How does Jesus in this wilderness temptation story embody the covenant faithfulness which Israel was meant to live out?
Matthew represents Jesus as the obedient son which Israel was supposed to be. Why is this significant? Specifically, what did Jesus succeed in doing that Israel failed to do?
In this story, Matthew’s language suggests both that Jesus is embodying Israel (especially Deuteronomy 8:2-3) and Israel’s leader, Moses (Deuteronomy 9:25-26). What does this connection to Moses tell us about Jesus’ authority?
Now that we have made these connections, do you feel that Matthew is changing your perception of Jesus? Can you see a deeper meaning of who he is in Matthew’s eyes?
As we close our discussion, be sure to pray for one another, asking the Holy Spirit to continue to give you joy in reading the stories of Jesus over the next few weeks.