The Story of Jesus coming to earth as a baby are delivered to us by primarily two of the gospel writers – Matthew and Luke. They give the details. They highlight the fulfilled prophecy. They place the event in world and Jewish history. But the other two Gospels tell us a lot more His arrival and purpose than we might otherwise pick up on in either of the main historical accounts.
The beauty of historical accounts show us the authors main focus and main purpose and taking a few posts to look at how each Gospel writer handles the coming of Jesus as a baby reveals their message to their first readers and to us today.
Let’s take a look at how Jesus’ birth is handled in each gospel. It’s an interesting study.
Christmas According to Matthew
The Gospel of Matthew was written to Jewish believers. His genealogy places Jesus in Jewish history. He continually points out how Jesus fulfills the prophecy for the Messiah – including, but not limited to the fact that the Messiah:
- Would be a descendant of Shem named Abraham ( Genesis 22:18; 12; 17; 22). Fulfilled: See Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1.
- Would be a descendant of Abraham’s son, Isaac, not Ishmael (Gen. 17; 21). Fulfilled: See Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1.
- Would be a descendant of Isaac’s son, Jacob, not Esau (Gen. 28; 35:10-12; Num. 24:17). Fulfilled: See Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1.
- Would be a descendant of Judah, not of the other eleven brothers of Jacob. Fulfilled: See Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1.
- Would be a descendant of the family of Jesse in the tribe of Benjamin (Isaiah 11:1-5). Fulfilled: See Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1 and Luke 3:23-38.
- Would be of the house of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Jeremiah 23:5; Psalm 89:3-4). Fulfilled: See Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1; Luke 1:27, 32, 69. Note: Since the the Jewish genealogical records were destroyed in 70 A.D., along with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, it would not be possible for a Messiah impostor who was born later to prove his lineage back to David and thus fulfill this prophecy.
- Would be born in a small city called Bethlehem, specifically the one formerly known as Ephratah (Micah 5:2). Fulfilled: Matthew 2:4-6
- Would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Fulfilled: Matthew 1; Luke 1.
- Would come while the Temple of Jerusalem is standing ( Malachi 3:1; Psalm 118:26; Daniel 9:26; Zechariah 11:13; Haggai 2:7-9). Fulfilled: Matthew 21:12, etc.
- Will perform many miracles (Isaiah 35:5-6). Fulfillment: See the Gospels
- Will open the eyes of the blind (Isa. 29:18). Fulfillment: Matt 9:27-31; 12:22; 20:29;
- Will speak in parables (Psalm 78:2). Fulfillment: Matthew 13:34, etc.
- Will have his way prepared by a messenger (a man of the wilderness) (Isa. 40:3; Malachi 3:1). See John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-3; 11:10; John 1:23; Luke 1:17).
- Will be betrayed (Psalm 41:9). Fulfillment: Matt. 27:3-10.
- Will be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9). Fulfillment: Matt. 27:3-10; 26:47-48.
- Will be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12). Fulfillment: Matt. 27:3-10.
- The betrayal money will be cast onto the floor (Zech. 11:13). Fulfillment: Matt. 27:5.
- The betrayal money will be cast onto the floor of the Temple (Zech. 11:13). Fulfillment: Matt. 27:3-10.
- The betrayal money will be used to buy a potter’s field (Zech. 11:13). Fulfillment: Matt. 27:6-10.
- Will not open his mouth to defend himself (Isaiah 53:7). Fulfillment: Matthew 27:12.
- Will be beaten and spit upon (Isaiah 50:6). Fulfillment: Matthew 26:67; 27:26-30.
- Will be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Fulfillment: Jesus was crucified as a criminal in between two thieves (Mat 27:38).
- Will be given vinegar and gall to drink (Psalm 69:21). Fulfillment: Matthew 27:34, 48.
- Will be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9). Fulfillment: Matthew 27.
- Will be the Son of God (Psa. 2:7). Fulfilled: Matthew 3:17, etc.
Jewish people around the time of Jesus were looking for a Messiah who would be King. Their recent history proved that a dedicated resistance – with the help of God – could overthrow a world power and set up an earthly Kingdom. This is exactly what happened during the inter-testmental period when Judas Maccabeus revolted against the Seleucid Empire. The Greeks had forbidden the practicing Jewish religion since 175 BC. Maccabeus was ultimately victorious, saw the miracle that is remembered in Hanukkah and forged an alliance with the emerging state of Rome to keep the theocracy free.
It happened once – not that long ago in the memory of an ancient people – and Lord willing it could happen again.
Matthew’s genealogy ends with Joseph. He wrote about Joseph and the dreams God gave him. The father’s role of the Messiah was important to the early Jewish believers.
Matthew mentions the weeping in Ramah over the deaths of the children under two by Herod. He talks about Herod, the king in Jerusalem. He includes the Magi coming to find the King and the gifts they brought to the house. There is no mention of the shepherds, no hint of the birth in the manger. Matthew was writing to Jewish Christians to tell them their King had come.
Christmas according to Matthew is the birth of our King.
I love the story in Matthew. It tells me God is in control. Prophecy foretold years in advance is shown as fulfilled. Dreams direct Joseph telling him what to do, when to go and when to come. God is involved in the major life decisions of this family with a young king to care for… and He’s willing to give me similar directions.
Jesus is King. He is sovereign. But He’s not uninvolved with the affairs of man. Christmas according to Matthew proves this once again to me.
Christmas According to Mark
I wonder how many people came to this section with no idea that Mark says nothing about Christmas. I’m sure I snagged a few theologians who think I’m either unschooled or a heretic and are reading to find which it is.
Why would Mark – that in many ways is so close to its synoptic brothers (Matthew and Luke) – leave out any mention of the coming of Jesus as a baby?
Mark starts with a quick mention of John the Baptist and then right into Jesus’ baptism and ministry. He doesn’t seem to care about the prophecies Jesus fulfilled like Matthew. He certainly doesn’t care to put Jesus into Jewish or World history. Some describe Mark a a passion with a longer introduction. Before I explain that, let’s take a look at a few things about the book of Mark.
Since the earliest times it’s been held that Mark, while a witness to the events of Jesus’ life, was the scribe for Peter. Remember Peter was the one to jump onto the waves. He was the one to run into the tomb when John stopped at the entrance. He was the one to speak up when the rest of the disciples were quite. He was the impetuous one.
42 times in 16 chapter (and these are just the ones that make it into English) the word “immediately” is used in the book of Mark. Everything in Mark is focussed on the one event. Everything in Mark rushes towards the reason Jesus came. Mark is so focussed on the passion of Christ – His death on the cross – that he doesn’t have time to waste on Jesus‘ birth.
And that’s something we can never forget in the Christmas season. Yes, Jesus came as a baby and we celebrate his birthday on the only day early Christians could celebrate together as slave and free – the pagan holiday of Saturnalius – but we should never forget Jesus came to this world to die. His death paid the price for our sins. It satisfied the requirements for justice. It made us friends again with the Father. And by His stripes we were healed.
Christmas without the cross is no better than a pagan holiday.
Christmas according to Mark is Jesus came to die.
Christmas According to Luke
Matthew placed Jesus in Jewish history. Luke places Jesus in world history. He puts it in time – Caesar Augusts taxes the world during the time Quirinuis was governor of Syria . His genealogy ends with Adam.
Luke has carefully researched the events around Christ’s birth – and he starts with the events around Jesus’ cousin’s birth – the miraculous birth of John.
Luke gives fuller accounts of angels – Matthew talks about angels appearing in dreams (more acceptable to a first century Jewish audience) while Luke is writing to Theopilus -either a Greek patron or a group of Greek believers that were known as “God Lovers”. The Greeks were more accustomed to stories of the gods interacting with humans and so would be interested in angelic encounters. He writes about the angel coming to Zachariah who didn’t believe He could become a father and so had his mouth shut until the prophecy was fulfilled. Luke talks about everything Mary hid in her heart about Gabriel’s visit. He reveals the story of the shepherd in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night and lo, the angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified… sorry got lost in a Sunday School production… oh it’s too good, let’s keep going… and the angel said to them – “Fear Not, for behold I bring you news of great joy that shall be for all people, for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you ‘you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts singing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to all men on whom his favor rests”…
Wow, that takes me back… don’t you love Christmas pageants when you can’t hear the kids and don’t care if their lines get mixed up? I don’t care for the professional pageants – but hey if you like them, don’t let me stop you. I know the work that goes into them needs to be appreciated… where was I? OH yah, Luke…
Luke mentions the accounts of women – Mary, Elizabeth, Anna. He’s the one to talk about the sheep herders in the field. He’s the one who makes sure we know they laid the child in a manger because there was no room in the inn. He makes sure to let you know the Angels said this is “great joy for all people”.
Luke was writing to Greek speaking believers who needed to know the Jewish Messiah was for them. You don’t have to be born into the right family. You don’t need to be the top of society. You don’t need to be a man to be loved by God.
It’s a message we need to get out to people every day. Why do non-Christians describe Christians as “Judgmental”? Because too often we are. As long as we have it right, it doesn’t matter who’s going to hell. That’s not the message of Luke.
Christmas according to Luke is Jesus came for all.
Christmas According to John
Can you guess what my favorite Christmas account is?
Is it Matthew that tells us Jesus came as our King? I love Matthew’s interest in how prophecy is fulfilled – I don’t understand it all, but I enjoy seeing how he saw prophecy fulfilled. But it’s not my favorite narrative.
Is it the lack of a story in Mark? When I was a kid, Dad started a tradition of reading a Christmas narrative before we opened our presents. When we read from Luke it seemed like forever. Matthew was quicker, but lacked the angels in the field. I never could get Dad to read the Mark account, even though I’d ask him for it every year… I mean really, those gifts just don’t open themselves. I love remembering Jesus came with a purpose – He came to die, but the lack of an account in Mark is not my favorite account. Besides now I take some pleasure in making my kids wait to open their presents.
Is it the detail of Luke I love? Luke is the classic account. It has so much detail and is so well written, it rolls of the tongue. I so appreciate knowing Jesus came for all, but it’s not my favorite account of the nativity.
So you guessed it. Christmas According to John is my favorite account. It puts the awe of the advent into me every year. I love reading it, reciting it, meditating on it. It’s powerful.
Where is it you ask? Well, here it is. I’m doing this from memory – I can’t remember how far it goes, but it starts with John 1:1:
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God – He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made, without him nothing has been made. In him was life and his life is the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood it. There was one sent from God his name was John, he came a witness to the light to testify so that all men might believe. He himself was not the light, he came as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came into his own and his own did not receive him. Yet to all who receive him, to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God. Children not born of natural descent or human wisdom or a husband’s will… but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling with us…
There it is: “The Word became flesh and (literally) camped out for a while.” Remember I said Matthew puts the birth of Jesus in Jewish history and Luke puts the birth of Jesus in World history? John puts the birth of Jesus in Cosmic history.
The One who spoke and the 400 million stars of this galaxy were formed and 400 million galaxies of this Universe came into being – the one who sustains the spin of an electron around a proton and makes the dark matter we’re only speculating about keep the universe together… took on flesh and camped out for a while.
Yes, Jesus came as our King. He came to die in our place. He came for all. But the thing that continually puts me in awe of Christmas is HE CAME. Immanual – “God With Us” stripped himself of his omnipresence and omniscience and came as a helpless baby in a manger.
I don’t understand. I can only see the edges of this picture. But I appreciate it and I’m in awe of it.
Christmas According to John is GOD came.
And shouldn’t we always have that sense of awe when we consider the greatness and love of our great and loving God?
My prayer for you this Christmas is that you’ll find a reverential awe that you’ll experience throughout the year. Take the time to explore more of God today.