Matthew 2

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These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, teaching points, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Matthew 2 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Teaching Points

Matthew 2 Outline

I.The magi visit Jesus (1-12)
II.Jesus’ family flees to Egypt to escape Herod (13-23)

I. The magi visit Jesus (1-12)

Discussion Questions

What other famous people in the Bible are from Bethlehem?
Why did Joseph and Mary go there (see Luke account)?
What are magi?
What does it mean that they saw “His star?”
Does this star and their behavior show us that astrology is true? Why or why not?
Why was Herod troubled (verse 3)? Why do you think he wanted to know where the Messiah would be born? Why did he want to know when the star appeared (verse 7)? What lessons can we learn from this about wolves in sheep’s clothing?
Why would they come to worship a king?
What does their search for Jesus teach us? What principles can we learn from them?
How can a star stand over a place such as a house like we see in verse 9? If a normal star cannot do this, what can?
How did they feel when their journey was completed? Why were they so happy?
Are you willing to embark on a long, difficult journey to follow Jesus?
What are you willing to give up?
What reward will you receive after achieving what God has set in front of you? How will you feel?

Cross-references

Micah 5:2 – The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
1 Samuel 20:6 – David was from Bethlehem.
Luke 9:34 – Whoever loses his life for me will save it.
Romans 15:13 – May the God of all hope fill you with all joy.
1 Peter 1:8 – Though you do not see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible joy.
Isaiah 55:12 – You shall go out with joy and be let forth in peace.

Teaching Points

1. Background.

The magi here are very mysterious. We really don’t know a lot about them. We don’t know for sure where they came from, except that they were somewhere from the East. We don’t know for sure how many there were. Many speculate three because there were three gifts. This is possible, but not definite for sure as it is quite easy for a group to give a gift together. We don’t know how long their journey took, although it is quite likely that it took a long time. We don’t know for sure how they knew about the coming of the Messiah or how they knew this specific star was a signal of his birth. We can speculate that they were likely part of the Persian Kingdom and knew about the Jewish religion through the influence of Daniel, who lived 550 years before Jesus’ birth. This would certainly be a testament to Daniel’s influence. Regardless of whether it was a result of Daniel’s influence or not, this shows us that there was knowledge of the God of the Jews and the coming Messiah at different parts around the world. These men are often referred to as wise men, magicians, astrologers. From the world’s perspective they were full of knowledge. They knew the sciences, religions, and history, and literature. This group was probably who was called upon by Nebuchadnezzar and other kings as counselors when there was a difficult problem/enigma to solve. In the world’s eyes, they were the smartest and the wisest. But these wise men, were wise for another reason. They were spiritually wise because they sought the truth and sought to know about the one true God. Although their background was very mysterious, we can learn much about them through their journey and in turn learn some principles we can follow about our own spiritual journeys.

2. Their journey.

A. Their journey was a journey of Faith.

Traveling at that time was far different than it is today. They couldn’t just jump into a car or hop on a plane and set out and arrive later that day. Traveling was a lengthy, wearying, and dangerous activity. It was lengthy because the mode of transportation was probably camels, not the fastest way to get around. They would need to often stop and resupply. It was also uncomfortable. Sometimes when I travel on a plane to the States I kind of complain because the seats are a bit too close together and there is not enough room for my legs. Yet there is air conditioning, padded seats, reclining seats, attendants to bring water and food and adjustable lights. I have only ridden a camel once, but I can imagine it is not very comfortable, hard seat with no padding, bumpy. The weather would at times have been very hot and at times quite cold (desert weather varies greatly). There would be storms. There wouldn’t be attendants to bring food and water when they needed it. Towns would be few and far between. It would also be dangerous. Maps were incomplete. Roads were not well developed. And there were a lot of thieves and bandits around. It was also a journey of unknowns.

Imagine a friend asking them before departure. Where are you going? We don’t know. How far is it? Not sure about that either. How long will you be gone? Emm. That is yet to be determined. “Wow, for wise men you guys don’t know very much do you?”

The wise men didn’t have a lot of facts in front of them. They didn’t have a lot of proof. But they believed. They saw the star and they knew it was a sign from God announcing the birth of Christ. They knew the Scriptures. They knew what the prophets had said about him. And they believed. They knew He was born. They knew He existed. They were willing to sacrifice comfort and seeming security to see and worship him. They were willing to face the ridicule of their friends. Why? Because of faith.

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

This fits the magi’s actions very well. They hadn’t seen Jesus. He was far away in an unknown place. All they had were some promises and a star. But they believed. And so they set off.

Scripture is filled with men and women who acted in faith even in the face of opposition. People probably told Abraham his journey to the promised land was foolish. People mocked Noah for building the boat. But they had faith; their faith was confirmed and rewarded. Same thing with the magi.

“People of faith have been willing to respond to the challenges of the unknown over and over again down through history.

William Cary was a shoemaker when one day he heard of the millions of people in India who had not heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. He believed the great commission to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” He believed that that verse was speaking directly to him. So he volunteered to go to India but was told “Young man, sit down. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help.” Cary went anyway – supporting himself. For seven years he worked without seeing a single convert – but by the end of his life he saw hundreds of churches and thousands of converts. Today he is known as the “Father of Modern Missions.” He was a man of faith.”

Are you willing to place your faith in God like the magi? Are you willing to sacrifice the comfort around you to follow God? Are you willing to face dangers to follow God? Are you willing to set off with an unknown end/destination to serve God? Are you willing to trust in God’s promises without proof?

B. Their journey was a journey of Worship.

Matthew 2:11 says, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

After a long journey (they probably arrived when Jesus was about 2 years old), they finally arrived. Their action was very simple. They fell to the ground and worshiped. These great men who were full of wisdom and knowledge of every kind prostrated themselves on the ground before a young child. Their actions showed humility and great faith. Very few people understood what this boy was, and what He would do, but it seems like at least in part the magi understood. Their faith led them on a long journey and once they arrived all they could do was bow in worship. What a great response! Jesus, the God-Man deserved their worship. He deserves ours. They also gave him gifts symbolic of their worship for him.

“When the wise men came on their journey it was for the purpose of worship. They brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts have a lot of symbolism associated with them. Gold represents wealth. It is a gift fit for a king. (Jesus was the King of Kings) Frankincense is the sap of a tree that was dried and hardened and used as incense to worship God. Thus we see a gift for his deity. (Jesus was the Son of God) Myrrh is a fragrant perfume that was used to anoint the dead – to embalm and preserve them. (Jesus was The Sacrificial Lamb)”

In 2 Samuel 24:24 David says he wouldn’t offer sacrifices to God that cost him nothing. We can see that the gifts the magi offered were treasures, fit for a king. They weren’t stingy. They didn’t send servants to give them either. They went themselves on the long, dangerous journey. Their worship cost them a large amount of time and expense.

For us we need to learn that worship requires sacrifice, both to our time and expense. In Romans 12:1 we learn that we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. That means that everything we have and even our very being must be devoted to God. We need to have the same humble attitude the magi displayed when they bowed before the boy and indeed the same humble attitude of Christ who lowered Himself to become a human baby. During this season and all around the year let us bow our hearts in worship to God every day.

C. Their journey was a journey of Obedience.

Matthew 2:12 says, “And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.”

This is the first direct command we see they received from the Lord. They could have made lots of excuses for disobeying. Surely the way they came was the most convenient and the quickest way so they could have decided not to waste the time of taking a detour. Also, Herod seemed genuine and nice, surely it wouldn’t be dangerous to tell him about the boy on the way out. It was just a dream. But they didn’t second guess what they knew God had commanded them. They followed a simple command with simple obedience. It doesn’t seem like a difficult thing to do, and it wasn’t. But a lot of times people disobey simple commands from God. They didn’t. Their obedience gave Joseph and his family time to escape before Herod murdered all the babies in that town. Disobedience could have been disastrous.

Faith in God leads to obedience. Isaiah saw a vision of God’s throne room and responded by answering God’s call for Him to be His spokesman with obedience. Abraham had faith in God’s provision and obeyed God when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac.

If we trust in God, have a humble attitude to worship Him, our lives will also be characterized by obedience. So what is God asking you to do this Christmas? Is there some area of your life that is going on in disobedience to what you know God wants you to do? Are you really putting Him in first place? Are you willing to obey in the simple everyday things as well as the life-changing decisions? If each of us think about our own lives, I am pretty sure we can come up with some areas where we need to obey Him better. Give God a gift for Christmas. Give God your whole life as a living sacrifice.

3. Herod – We know quite a bit out Herod from other historical sources. Those sources agree with what we read here in Matthew. They portray Herod as a paranoid, power-hunger, cruel, tyrant. He was born around 73 BC. Which means he would have been almost 70 years old here and near the end of his life. He was granted the title “King of Judea” by Rome and was therefore a vassal under the Roman Empire. He had a 2000 soldier personal body guard and also employed secret police to keep an eye on the populace. He had his wife and two of his own sons killed.

In this passage Herod is depicted as being “troubled” when he heard the news from the magi. It should be a surprise to us. Herod was paranoid and power hungry. Therefore he likely viewed this future king as a rival who should be destroyed before he usurped the throne. But although Herod was brutal and violent, he appears to be very cunning here. He doesn’t threaten the magi or torture them for more information. Instead he feigns genuine interest in order to make himself appear as their friend so that he can learn as much from them as he can.

We can understand Herod’s motives for wanting to find Jesus. But from a deeper perspective, it is also true that Herod was one more manifestation of Satan’s opposition to the Lord. We can view the Old Testament as a record of Satan’s attempts to mislead God’s chosen people and even extinguish the line of Jesus’ ancestors so that He could never be born. Genesis 6 is one of the first attacks along these lines as the “sons of god” went in to the daughters of men. This could have been an attempt by Satan to pollute the line of Adam. Throughout the Old Testament many attempts were made against the Israelites (such as the Egyptian Pharaoh ordering the murder of every Hebrew male baby, the Babylonian exile, Athiliah’s almost successful attempt to wipe out the entire line of kings, and Haman’s attempt to kill all Jews.) The attempt by Herod to kill all the male babies in Bethlehem is one more prong of this attack. However, all of them failed because God protected His children.

3. The Star – What was this star? Many people have tried to answer this question and many explanations have been offered. From the text we can see that they followed the star and that it stood over the place where Jesus was. It is impossible for people to find such a specific and localized place from a star so far away. It must have been in the atmosphere close enough to the earth that people could look up at it and know whether they were directly below it or not. In that case, it was a supernatural phenomenon. It was a manifestation of God’s power. In this case it could not have been an actual star (ie: like the sun). But it appeared like a star. It looked like a star. We also use the word star to describe small objects that have a similar appearance to a star.

The main point here though is that God was leading the magi to Himself. He will use whatever way is necessary to lead those people He has chosen to Himself. He does not want us to be blind and aimless, lost and purposeless. He provided the pillar of cloud for the Israelites to lead them. He provided the star to lead the magi. He will also lead us and direct us. He is the good shepherd. He will not leas us astray.

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II. Jesus’ family flees to Egypt to escape Herod (13-23)

Discussion Questions

What does verse thirteen teach us about God?
How does the fact of God’s sovereignty and care for His children relate to our lives today?
How did Joseph respond to God’s command? What do you think many people will do? What might be the dangers of delay? What can we learn from Joseph? How should we obey God?
Does verse sixteen tell us the age of Jesus at this time in the story? Why or why not?
How long did Joseph and his family stay in Egypt? What spurred their return?
Since God is powerful and could supernaturally protect Jesus and His family, why did they even need to leave for Egypt? What does this teach us about the methods God uses to bring about his plans in our lives?
How many times did Joseph have a dream with a spiritual meaning in these two chapters (4)?
What did he do each time?

Cross-references

Hebrews 1:1-2 – God works in different ways in different times.
Hosea 11:1 – Matthew takes his quote “Out of Egypt I called My Son” from here.
Jeremiah 31:15 – The quote on Rachel weeping for her children is taken from here.
Isaiah 53:3, Psalms 22:6 – These verses mention that the Messiah will be not esteemed and “contemptible,” which is how people viewed others from Nazarene.

Teaching Points

1. Joseph obeyed without delay – We see this in verse 13. An angel of the Lord passes on a message to Joseph. The message is fairly simple. Joseph is to get up and go to Egypt. But there were great challenges to obeying this. Jesus was a baby or a toddler. The trip to Egypt was well over 100 miles. And they likely had to make the walk on foot and with a young child. For those of you who travel in Guangzhou (therefore generally not by car) with little children know it is difficult. Normally a family wouldn’t even consider making a trip like that. If they did, they would probably want adequate time to prepare. They would want to say “goodbye” to their friends and family and pack up for the road. But notice that Joseph left in the middle of the night. He did not roll over in bed and decide to get just a couple of more hours of sleep. Instead he got his family together and probably threw some stuff in a bag and then started walking while it was still dark (and with no flashlight.) Can you think of anyone in the Bible who was given a similar command? How did they respond? Discuss the story of Lot and his families disobedience and his own slow obedience. Joseph is a great example to us. He was given a command by the Lord. And he obeyed immediately without delay. Application: We too are given many commands by the Lord. What commands have we been given? We are commanded to seek first His kingdom. We are commanded to build up treasure in heaven. We are commanded to use the gifts He has given us for building up the church and glorifying Him. We are commanded to make disciples. We are commanded to sow the seed of the Word. Sometimes these things may not seem as urgent as the command to Joseph, but they are urgent and they are also very important. If Joseph disobeyed, then Jesus could have been killed. If Jesus was killed as a baby there would be no salvation. If Joseph disobeyed, then the billions of people who have lived since his time would all die completely without hope. Of course God is also sovereign so this did not happen. At the same time, when we sow the seed of the Word it gives people and opportunity to hear and believe the good news when otherwise they may not have that opportunity.

2. Mary and Jesus had to obey too – Joseph wasn’t the only one who had to obey. Mary and Jesus did too. Jesus was a baby or a toddler at the time so he didn’t have much choice. But some 2 year olds would surely throw a fit at being woken up in the middle of the night and starting on a journey. Mary too had to obey. She did not have the same dream Joseph had. She hadn’t been given the command directly from the Lord. Her husband woke her up in the middle of the night and said, “We need to go to Egypt. I had a dream.” A lot of wives would not believe that. A lot of wives would argue. A lot of wives would want more time. They would need time to prepare. They would want to say “goodbye” to friends. They would want to leave at a reasonable time of day. But Mary is a great example of godly submission. Submission doesn’t require complete understanding or agreement. Instead true submission is following the husband’s lead (as God’s designated leader of the family) even without complete understanding. Application: Wives should learn from this passage the importance of submitting without complete understanding or complete information. Husbands should see from this passage what it means to be a leader. Most of the time husbands should consult their wives and discuss and make decisions together. But there may be a time when immediate action is required. There may be a time when the husband needs to make decisive action. Husbands should be ready to take that decisive action to follow the Lord’s leading and also be ready to take responsibility for that choice.

3. God did not miraculously deliver them from difficulties – Joseph and Mary faced a lot of difficulties on their path even as they sought to obey God. Their baby was born in a stable. They were forced to flee their home in the middle of the night because the king wanted their child dead. After that they would then have to take a long and dangerous journey to a foreign country and live for years in a culture they were not familiar with. And yet some people teach that if you obey God your life will be smooth and easy. They teach that God will make His follower’s life prosperous. They teach that if you believe something enough then God will give it to you. Those who teach such things ignore the very clear teaching in the Bible that even those who faithfully obey Him face trials/difficulties/persecutions. God never promises to give an easy life to His followers. In fact, He promises just the opposite. Mary and Joseph were the mother and adopted father of God’s own son. If God had ever desired to protect any family from facing any difficulties, one would think that He would want His own son’s family to have an easy life. But He didn’t choose an easy life for Jesus. So what does this mean for us?

Application: Some people will lose faith when they face trials. These people may think that the trials are evidence that God is not with them or does not care about them. But God cared about Mary and Joseph and Jesus. And they still faced trials. Do not get discouraged when you face trials. Do not lose faith. Do not think that life is unfair. And do not compare yourself to others who may face fewer trials than you. Instead let the life of Jesus strengthen your faith. Remember that even though Jesus and His family faced trials, God protected them in the midst of those trials. And God will also preserve His plans for you and your future even in the midst of the trials you face.

4. On Herod – The story of Herod is sad. He had every opportunity to turn to the Lord. He had every opportunity to humble himself. He had the position to make a big difference for God’s people. He could have used his position to be a herald that the Messiah had arrived. We know that kings had a huge sway over their people. If Herod (and his sons) accepted Jesus, then maybe the whole nation would have as well. But Herod was prideful. He refused to see the signs. Now he has been dead for over 2000 years. And what legacy has he left behind? He did oversee the building of some amazing buildings, but those are mostly destroyed and whatever is left will be destroyed. His legacy is that of an evil tyrant, a hater of light, a tool of Satan. His death was very painful. And now his punishment is far worse than that.
Note that many non-Christian historians deny that this massacre of innocents ever takes place. They deny it because it is not recorded in secular history books. But this is not a good reason to deny it takes place and instead confirms that many approach the Bible with a prejudice to disbelieve anything in it that they can. This massacre fits everything we know about Herod’s character. He had many people murdered. On one occasion he had 300 prominent leaders murdered. On another occasion he had his brother-in-law murdered during a game of polo. He had his most beloved wife (out of 10) murdered. He had three of his sons murdered. As his death approached he ordered that many prominent Jews be taken into an arena in Jericho. He ordered that they be killed as soon as he died. The purpose was so that the nation would go into mourning. Even if the mourning wasn’t for him, apparently it comforted him to know someone would be mourning. His life shows increasing paranoid and violent behavior the closer he got to this own death. It entirely fits his character to believe he had these babies murdered. And if the population of Bethlehem was about 300 people at that time (like some historians suggest), the number of male babies under 2 could have been very small, six or seven or even less (accounting for some natural variance in a sample size so small.) Would other historians have surely written about the king having killed several children in a rural and insignificant town? Of course not. And even if it was written about, it is reasonable to conclude that those records have been lost in the 2000 years since then.

What lessons do we learn from his life?

God does not stop all evil. But even though evil happens all around, God does sovereignly intervene to preserve His plans for His people. Also, He will punish those who do these evils. History tells us that Herod died an extremely painful death and his body itself was infested by worms. He had gangrene in his sensitive parts and had an unbearable desire to scratch. Herod is one of the cases where God judges people in part during their life on earth, although the more severe judgment is after. See Matthew 18:6 for the consequences of a person who mistreats children.

Herod was sinful. His tyrannical murder of the baby boys in Bethlehem remind us of just why Jesus had to come to the world. The world had rebelled against the Lord and become completely corrupted.

5. On dreams – Note that Joseph experienced four special times when he had a dream/vision from the Lord. It seems like a lot. But these two passages take place over several years in time. How many total dreams from the Lord do you think are mentioned in the entire Bible? The answer is twenty-one. The Bible takes place over a period of four thousand years. So in four thousand years even at a time when God did work through dreams and visions, there were only twenty-one recorded dreams. Joseph had more of them than anyone else in the Bible. He had four. The point is that most dreams are just that, dreams. Could God send you a dream today? It’s not impossible. Hebrews 1:1 indicates that God uses different ways to communicate with His people at different times in history. Before the Scripture was complete it is normal that God would send more direct revelation to His possible. Nonetheless, it is not impossible that God could send people dreams today. There is a book called “Dreams and Visions,” which discusses the fact that many people in closed regions of the world in Muslim countries are experiencing some dreams. These dreams generally lead them to people who introduce them to Jesus. But even in these cases, most of these people do not often have such spiritual dreams. They are a very rare occurrence even in times or places where they do occur. Most dreams are just dreams. Most dreams come from your own subconscious self. Therefore you should not focus on them or give them any special focus or attention. Neither should you spend time trying to dig in to the deeper meaning of your dreams. IF God should send you a special dream for a specific reason, then you will know it when you have it. We should instead focus on studying the Word and prayer, spiritual disciplines that we can do anytime and anywhere.

Application: God will lead His people. He does not leave us lost and blind and directionless. At the right time and in the right way He will show us the way we are to go if we humbly look for it.

6. He shall be called a Nazarene – There is no Old Testament prophecy that directly makes this claim. So what did Matthew mean? One possibility is that he was alluding to an oral prophecy that was not written down in the Old Testament. He does say this was to fulfill what was “spoken” through the prophets. This would be similar to Paul’s statement in Acts 20:35 that Jesus said “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” This statement of Jesus is not recorded in the gospels, but was instead probably a well-known statement that was passed around orally. Another possibility is written about at https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/573-was-matthew-mistaken-in-the-nazarene-prophecy “The most likely explanation for this puzzling passage is to be found in the term “prophets.”The plural form would appear to suggest that no single Old Testament reference is in view, but rather the point being made rests upon a general “theme” reflected in numerous prophecies of Hebrew literature. Let us develop this thought somewhat.

First, it is readily acknowledged that the term “Nazareth” was used in a derogatory sense in the first century. When Nathanael heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, he asked: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46).

Some have suggested that the question hints that the town had a bad reputation, while others contend that Nathanael probably viewed the community merely as insignificant.The city is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, the Talmud, nor by Josephus. One scholar notes that the geographical location of the city, overlooking the plain of Esdraelon, generated a certain disposition of “aloofness” which invited the scorn of the neighboring communities (J.W. Charley, Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Places, John Bimson, Ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995, p. 224).

Too, Nazareth was the community which housed the Roman garrison for the northern regions of Galilee, and that circumstance may have “tainted” the city (Louis Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary — New Testament, Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983, p. 23).In the book of Acts, “Nazarenes” is used as a slur-expression for Christians (Acts 24:5).

Second, there were a number of Old Testament prophecies that foretold that the Messiah would be a despised person, rejected by many of his contemporaries (see: Psa. 22:6-8,13; 69:8,20-21; Isa. 11:1; 49:7; 53:2-3,8; Dan. 9:26).It thus well may be the case that the epithet “Nazarene,” in addition to suggesting the place where Jesus grew up, takes on a pejorative, figurative sense (a specific term being used for the general theme), i.e., a person disdained by his peers.This sense would be entirely consistent with the Old Testament prophecies cited above.

As an interesting footnote, the Lord himself, in his conversation with Saul on the road to Damascus, identified himself as “Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 22:8).

In view of these various possibilities, it is not a reflection of scholastic integrity to dogmatically charge Matthew with a mistake in his statement of 2:23.”

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