Matthew is the first book in the New Testament and the first of four books (gospels) that tell us about Jesus’ life on earth. It is written by Matthew who was one of Jesus’ disciples (also known as Levi). He was originally a tax collector, which in Bible times, generally meant he would have been dishonest and greedy … that was until he met Jesus who transformed him by calling him to follow (Matthew 9:9-13). This guy left everything and hung around Jesus for the next three years, witnessing and taking part in stuff that Jesus did. Matthew shares his account of what he saw and learnt in his book.
The gospels are so full of astounding stories and teachings that I am glad that there are four of them and that I don’t have to worry about trying to cram everything onto each page. There is freedom to explore the text and listen to what GOD wants to say.
The long list of Jesus’ genealogy is followed by the account of Joseph thinking that he should divorce or break off the engagement to Mary as she was already pregnant, they weren’t married and he wasn’t the father. GOD intervenes in a dream and lets Joseph know that it is still good to marry Mary despite the circumstances and the gossip and hardship they would suffer because of it. What a comfort to know that Jesus knows what it is like to not have life easy. He can relate to us in all our difficulties and struggles. Joseph adopts this child as his own and becomes a father so that the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 could be fulfilled. Immanuel was born, GOD with us was bought into a family on earth.
Immanuel or Emmanuel – we’ve probably heard the word and even sung it … but what does it really mean? ‘GOD with us‘. The creator of everything was encased in human form – at this point I remember the line in the Disney film that the genie gives, ‘Phenomenal cosmic power … in an itty bitty living space!’ I try to imagine this massive GOD squeezing into the tiny human body and have to give up because it doesn’t seem possible … but GOD is GOD and He can do all things whether my brain can work it out or not. For Jesus it wasn’t like the genie squished tightly and bound to the lamp. He laid aside his glory as it is written in Phillippians 2:6-8 (this is from the amplified version)
6 who, although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as One with Him, possessing the fullness of all the divine attributes—the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; 7 but emptied Himself [without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of divine equality and His rightful dignity] by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [He became completely human but was without sin, being fully God and fully man]. 8 After He was found in [terms of His] outward appearance as a man [for a divinely-appointed time], He humbled Himself [still further] by becoming obedient [to the Father] to the point of death, even death on a cross.
GOD with us, Jesus, chose to not only appear to be human but to take on all the limitations and embodiment of being human, he chose to grow and need another to nurture him, he chose to have human parents who would mess up, he chose to have human friends who would let him down, he chose this life so that he could be the perfect one to put an end to the curse of death on human life. Immanuel didn’t opt for a distant relationship but instead an intimate and personal one. To be really with us.
Here on this very first page of the New Testament I am reminded of the very first page of Genesis. Let there be light! The announcement of Immanuel is made with a star. GOD starts Jesus’ journey into the world with a declaration; a star; a light in the heavens. Was this light created in that very moment at the beginning of time? GOD decided to create even though He knew what would happen in that garden in Genesis. Was He thinking of what He would do to save His people before time even began? What an incredible GOD! To know that Jesus, GOD himself, would need to die in our place before a moment even began, yet He still said, “Let there be light …”
But here we see that He was never a despairing or powerless GOD. He did not think of what would happen and then fail to act but GOD delayed before He offered a different light. His light was an everlasting one! Immanuel, GOD with us – back in Bible times for His chosen people being occupied by the oppressive Roman empire, and GOD with us now because (spoiler alert) Jesus rose from the dead defeating the last enemy.
GOD sets this star in motion and announces to the Magi and to everyone on Earth, “Let there be light” … on Earth, in the Earth, with people and for the people.
Have you ever thought why GOD would announce with a star? This page has had me thinking about it. Stars only appear when it is night – but they are always there. Stars shine brightest when there is darkness, when day has passed and night comes. But the darkness doesn’t hide them, it reveals them. Even in the darkest places on the planet the stars give light and direction. I have heard many stories about people discovering GOD at the darkest point in their life. It is far beyond a comfort to me, to know that GOD will always be present even if the darkness surrounds me.
Psalm 23:4 (ESV)
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
Shadows are only made because there is a presence of light. Immanuel, GOD with us, creates light in the dark places. There is nowhere where He hasn’t been and can’t find you. He will not forsake you … He is with you.
P.S. If you fancy a little fiction read at this point, please check out one of my Remnant short stories involving this star … A Remnant Story – A Home for a King