19 April, 2024

Lesson for Dec. 20, 2020: Fulfilled through Promise (Matthew 2:1-15)

by | 14 December, 2020 | 1 comment

Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in the December 2020 issue of Christian Standard + The Lookout. (Subscribe to our print edition.)



“The Day I Visited a King’s Palace” by David Faust (Lesson Application)

Discovery Questions for Dec. 20, 2020


Lesson Aim: Let the fulfilled promise of Jesus’ birth lead you to worship.


By Mark Scott

The Old Testament repeatedly says, “Someone is coming.” The end of the Bible says, “Someone is coming again.” And in between the beginning and end, the Bible says, “Someone came.” At its most basic level, Christmas is evidence God keeps his word. The Bible is a theology of promise. Even foreign dignitaries, indifferent religious leaders, and wicked kings learned that.

Promised Star
Matthew 2:1-2

After Matthew traced Jesus’ human roots (1:1-17) and divine roots (1:18-25), he told the story of the visit of the Magi, King Herod’s reaction to their visit, and the Holy Family’s trip to Egypt (2:1-15). This text is steeped in Matthew’s typological use of three Old Testament texts and a storyline that retraces Israel’s early history. (In fact, the visiting Magi retraced Abraham’s journey from Ur through Haran to the land of promise; cf. Genesis 12:1-20.) Even in his earliest earthly days, Jesus showed himself to be the new and true Israel of God.

Our text is a Christmas text, but it is probably two years removed from Jesus’ actual birth. By the time the Magi arrived in Bethlehem, Jesus was not an infant. Jesus was called child—not infant—six times in this passage. At this point, Mary and Joseph had moved into a house. And Jesus being a toddler gave credence to Herod’s effort to kill the babies “two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16).

There are many theories about the identity of the Magi. Were they astronomers? Astrologers? Sorcerers? (The same word is used of Simon in Acts 8:9.) Priests? Kings? (Tertullian thought so.) All we know for sure about them is what Matthew told us—i.e., they came from the east, sought to find Jesus, were tipped off by Herod and religious leaders that they should go to Bethlehem, worshiped Jesus through the giving of their gifts, and left to go back home and by-passed Jerusalem in the process.

The Old Testament does not say much about the star. But the strange narrative about Balak and Balaam included this prediction: “A star will come out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). Since the Magi might have been exposed to the Hebrew Bible as a result of the Jews living in captivity in Babylon, the Magi may well have connected the dots between this astrological phenomena and the birth of a messiah. They at least knew that their posture should be one of worship.

Promised Ruler
Matthew 2:3-12

Herod the Great was an outstanding builder and a horrible person. He was emotionally undone by any threat to his throne. He was disturbed (torn to pieces) when he learned of the Magi’s search. He quickly assembled the religious leaders and inquired about the birthplace of this supposed Messiah. The chief priests and teachers of the law (Sadducees and Pharisees that composed the Sanhedrin) based their response to Herod on Micah 5:2. This Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (King David’s town just six miles to the south), he would be a ruler (leader) from the tribe of Judah, and his rule would be exercised through shepherding people—in contrast to Herod’s style of leadership.

In feigned loyalty, Herod called the Magi secretly (the same word used for what Joseph contemplated in Matthew 1:19) and sent them to Bethlehem to find this child king with the notion that he too would worship Jesus. But the Magi could smell a rat. They probably saw past his pathetic and duplicitous request. The angel later confirmed their feelings by sending them home by another route. In the meantime, the Magi reengaged with the star, which led them south to Bethlehem. They found the Holy Family and worshiped (the third time this word appeared in our text) through the giving of gifts. (The gold, frankincense, and myrrh served as emblems of Jesus’ identity and mission, and they may have helped finance the family’s upcoming trip to Egypt.)

Promised Son
Matthew 2:13-15

While the Magi returned home, and while Herod organized his butchers to head to Bethlehem, Joseph, in obedience to the angel’s instructions, took Mary and toddler Jesus to Egypt. God’s people had grown numerous during their centuries living in Egypt (Genesis 46–Exodus 3). As the Magi retraced Abraham’s journey, so now Jesus and his family retraced Moses’ journey.

In time, Herod died (Matthew 2:19). Joseph, after another angelic encounter, took his family back to the Promised Land. Matthew connected the dots between Hosea 11:1 (a clear collective reference to Israel as God’s Son) and Jesus leaving Egypt. Because Jesus truly was the promised Son, the Magi responded appropriately—they worshiped him.

Mark Scott

Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. He also serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin.

1 Comment

  1. Larry E Whittington

    The historical record surrounding the birth of Jesus is enough for readers to believe in his coming but these written facts, I don’t think, should set a baby/child as an object of worship. When Jesus’ last words were spoken – “Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing”. and “It is finished” brought him glory and our Heavenly Father glory – He then deserved all of our worship.

    This title (Lesson Aim: Let the fulfilled promise of Jesus’ birth lead you to worship) – I don’t think should cause the worship of Jesus as a baby/child. When he proved himself sinless through his life and death and became both LORD and Christ – He is to be worshipped.

    I feel and believe that both Easter celebrations and Christmas celebrations draw many hearts away from a life-long – even year long – and even day long life of worshipping Jesus our LORD and Christ. His birth can be believed and his death, burial and resurrections can be believed but his position as both LORD and Christ is what our mind and heart must concentrate on as we worship him.
    The celebration of both Easter and Christmas has always been troublesome to me. Sorry.

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