What is Your Excuse for Unbelief?

Today, we will finish our current study of the second chapter in Matthew’s Gospel and we will conclude the geographical prophecies presented by Matthew. So far, we have read about two explicit geographical prophecies being fulfilled. The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and would be called out of Egypt. Before we read the Scriptures, I want to remind us of the context that we covered in the introduction to this Gospel account. Matthew was writing to his fellow Jews in order to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jews naturally questioned Jesus’ claim because He was from Nazareth in Galilee, which was on the other side of Samaria from Judea. They knew the prophecies, that the Messiah would be born in Judea, in Bethlehem. They questioned because Jesus was a Nazarene. So, Matthew takes up the task of proving Jesus to his fellow Jews.

Matthew 2:19-23

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.”

So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Jesus the Nazarene

Matthew makes this quotation. It is a quotation that cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament, the Old Testament Apocrypha, or even the Pseudepigrapha. So, we have to wonder what Matthew was doing when he wrote that the prophets were fulfilled in Jesus being called a Nazarene. This is something that the First Century Jews would have understood and something that Matthew understood as being present in the Prophets even though we don’t find the exact quotation anywhere.

What Matthew is doing in this text is not difficult for us to understand if we recognize what is happening. On Monday evenings at our local church, we have men’s Bible study. We are studying systematic theology. What we do in systematic theology is discover what all of Scripture has to say about a certain topic. Then, when we summarize any biblical doctrine into one or two statements, we recall what the whole of Scripture claims on that topic. Currently, we are considering the inspiration of Scripture. We summarize the Bible’s position by professing that Scripture is inspired by God in a verbal and plenary way. We would say that the Bible claims verbal plenary inspiration. This is not a quotation found explicitly in the Scriptures. It is a summing up of the many claims that the Bible does make concerning its own inspiration. We do the same thing when we talk about the Trinity and when we refer to our own total depravity. Those things are biblical doctrines even though we don’t find them explicitly quoted in the Bible.  It is systematic theology that is done by faithfully exegeting the whole of Scripture. This is precisely what Matthew has done. Matthew has provided some explicit prophecies. Now, he is presenting a systematic look at Christ’s identity from the Old Testament text.

If you don’t believe me, look at Matthew’s language (the English does the same thing that the Greek does). In chapter 2 and verse 5, Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah. He writes, “This has been written by the prophet.” Prophet there is singular. Matthew is quoting a particular passage and a particular prophecy. In verse 17, Matthew does the same thing by writing, “What had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet…” Again, Matthew is quoting a particular passage in the Old Testament. Verse 23, here, is different. Matthew wrote, “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets…” Matthew was summarizing systematically a doctrine that comes out of the group of writings referred to by the Jewish people as the Prophets (נביאים). The Prophets included the books of Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Matthew, here, was referring to the collection as a whole, not any particular passage. He was doing systematic theology.

There are two passages in the Prophets that we could look to in order to see Matthew’s point. The first is Isaiah 11:1 as Isaiah describes the coming of the Messiah:

“Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.”

A shoot was not very strong and was the smallest, most insignificant part of the tree.

The second is Isaiah 53:2-3 as the same prophet describes the demeanor of the coming Messiah:

“For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”

The Messiah would be this tender shoot, despised and rejected by people. He would not be esteemed. Throughout the Prophets, God was choosing and using the least of all people, those who were not highly esteemed, to accomplish His own redemptive work, and we saw some of that in the Genealogy. Meekness is the identity of the Messiah. Looking at the Prophets systematically, we would notice that Messiah, just like the prophets themselves, would not be esteemed culturally.

Then, we read in the New Testament that the lowliest of the lowly came from Nazareth (John 1:46). To be called Nazarene was an insult meant for the lowliest and least esteemed of all people. This is the very reason that the Jews were rejecting Jesus. They were the one through whom the identity of the Messiah was confirmed.

Matthew is a genius. He takes the very complaint that the Jews have against Jesus and uses that complaint to prove Jesus as the Messiah. He will be called a hillbilly. He will be called the lowliest of the low. He will be called Nazarene. That is what ‘Nazarene’ meant.

Application

The very justification the Jews used to defend their unbelief was actually proof that they needed to believe in Jesus particularly. I wonder how often we come up with excuses regarding things of faith and those excuses actually reveal our need for the very faith that Christ gives by grace. So we say,

    • “I’m not good enough.” This is the whole reason Jesus came. He takes our inadequacies upon Himself and clothes us in His righteousness alone.
    • “I’m not very religious.” All human religion and works fall short of God’s glory. So, Jesus became obedient on our behalf. Salvation is by grace through faith, not by religion.
    • “There are too many hypocrites in the church.” This is just another example of why we need faith that is given by Christ alone.
    • “I’m too busy and have too many responsibilities.” This is one reason we need faith that is by grace and not by works. Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light.

So I ask, what is your excuse? What justification are you trying to use so that you feel better about not following Jesus Christ? Chances are, that excuse is the very reason you need Him desperately.

Questions:

  • Why is systematic theology important?
  • How does this apply if we are teaching anything topically?
  • How does this apply when we think about the doctrinal statements of the church?

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