Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, January 6, Chapter 1
There is no need to bog down on the genealogical list, but do note that he has three groups of fourteen names. The number 7 is the number of perfection, representing God. Fourteen is double perfect. This tells us a couple of things about Matthew. He is a bit OCD, wanting everything lined up neatly. He also uses symbols in his writing.
Further, the list is technically incomplete, telling us that Matthew is not planning to write a slice of history. He will place events in the order that best fits his overall goal, that is, to prove to Jewish readers that Jesus is the promised Messiah. In that, he followed the writing style of the day. Matthew wrote a First Century description of the Messiah, not a Twenty-first Century biography of a man named Yeshua bar Yosef.
The four women listed in the genealogy (before Mary) are of particular interest. Look them up sometime.
Critics of Christianity attack the virgin birth like the Marines attacking a Pacific island. Joseph himself had a tough time with it. Women do not become pregnant spontaneously, nor did Mary. God made it possible. That, however, was the easy part for God. The hard part was getting the Son of God to fit in that human body.
Tuesday, January 7, Chapter 2
The Magi probably visited close to a year after the birth. The Magi were astrologers from what is now Iran or even India. It was at the least a six month camel journey. Also note that Jesus is called a child, not a baby, and that they are in a house. The words give us valuable details.
Herod was still alive at the time. We know he died in 4 bc. We believe Jesus was born in 5 or 6 bc. If the Magi arrived in 5 bc and if Herod ordered all boys two and under to be murdered, that would fit the time frame neatly. There are other possibilities about the timing. As a historian, I like to play with the possibilities.
The visit to Egypt was no accident. God wanted Jesus to come out of Egypt just as Moses did. Moses was an early Messiah type, and the Exodus was The Great Event in Jewish History. Jesus copied many aspects of that experience.
Verses 22-23 tell us that Mary and Joseph did not live in Nazareth before leaving Egypt.
Wednesday, January 8, Chapter 3
John seems to have been a Nazirite, someone dedicated to God. We can only imagine that from his dress and diet. A Nazirite would not cut his hair either, like Samson.
Not only does he preach repentance, he openly attacks the religious and Temple leadership, something Jesus did more judiciously.
At Jesus baptism, take note of the word righteousness, a key word in his ministry. If it was crucial for Jesus, it should be for us as well.
Thursday, January 9, Chapter 4
The temptations came when Jesus was extremely weak. He was a human. The cells in his body were screaming for sucrose, without it he would die. He did not have magical powers. That is a common misunderstanding. Sure, he walked on water and raised the dead; or did he? No. He walked on water because God supported him. God raised the dead. Jesus never took credit for what we call miracles, it was God coupled with Jesus’ faith in God.
Because that faith was so strong in the man, he was able to resist three common temptations that beat the rest of us all too often. Only when the devil finished did the angels of God come to revive Jesus and prepare him for his ministry.
Repent. Jesus preached the same message John preached. He started calling disciples and healing the sick, both signs that he is the Messiah.
Friday, January 10. Chapter 5
This is the beginning of the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount. I consider Chapter 5 one of the most powerful of the New Testament. It is packed with messages that need years of study. Do not neglect returning to these chapters again and again. Use a study Bible and commentaries. Ask questions.
Verse 3 as an example: we, as Americans, strive for strength, but the poor are blessed by God. Why? A blessing can only be given, never earned. Those who are beaten down in this life, who suffer emotionally, who find life almost unbearable will be blessed by God. Those who think they have earned the blessing will receive a shock.
Salt has two duties, to purify and to add zest. And that is our job as Christians.
The rest of the chapter sets Jesus’ teaching apart from the Pharisees. For them, it was all right to hate someone as long as he did not actually attack him. Jesus comes along and says that our thoughts are just as destructive. I have committed murder and all the other sins of the bible. I cannot avoid going to Hell. Nothing I do can change that.
That is why God blesses the poor in spirit.
Be righteous and do good.