Matthew is one of the twelve disciples who had one of those dramatic stories of following Jesus. The fact that Jesus called a man like Matthew sent shock waves through the religious community. It also opened the door for others like Matthew to have the opportunity to follow Jesus.
Matthew would have seemed a lost cause to the religious Jews of his time. He was worse than a pagan because he was born a Jew and chose to reject his rich heritage and join the hated Romans by collecting taxes for them, from his own people. The dramatic conversion details are mentioned in three of the gospels and in his own words in Matthew 9:9-13 which highlights the importance of his conversion story. When fisherman left their nets to follow Jesus, they could return to their professions. When Matthew left his tax booth, there was no going back. I wonder who took his open cash box that day. Perhaps it was one of the disillusioned people he invited to his house for dinner to meet Jesus. In one day Matthew made a total transformation back to his Jewish roots, only this time in full truth.
God uses everything in our lives for good. Years later, God anointed Matthew to be one of only two disciples who became authors of a gospel. His rejection of his Jewish roots came full circle in his gospel where he even quotes Hosea 6:6 in his conversion story. His gospel is written to the Jewish reader and so his Advent story—the birth of Jesus—contains highlights that are pertinent to Jewish readers.
Messiah had to be the son of David to be the promised Messiah. Israel was only a religious group and not a country by the time Jesus was born. There was a government appointed King of Israel, but Herod did not have the birthright that Jesus did. Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to Joseph. Matthew is very specific to describe that Joseph was the husband of Mary to whom Jesus was born. Jesus’ biological link to David did not come through Joseph but through Mary (you will see that in Luke’s genealogy). However, we clearly see that Jesus was raised by two direct descendants of King David. This takes away all doubt of Jesus’ eligibility to be the true Messiah, King of the Jews.
Matthew’s gospel details Joseph’s holy character and dedication to the Jewish faith by describing Joseph’s reaction to discovering that his betrothed was pregnant outside of their marriage. Joseph’s reaction was both merciful and holy. He knew he couldn’t marry a woman who had been unfaithful to God’s instructions about sexuality before marriage, but he did not want revenge against her and chose not to expose her publically where she would have been stoned. He took some time to consider the decision, and in a dream the Lord appeared to him and told him that Jesus was His Son and not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. God told Joseph to name the baby, Jesus. The name Jesus means redeemer or salvation. He was given this name because He will save us from our sins. Matthew first links the prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Without Matthew, we may have not made the connection. Matthew describes Joseph’s unwavering obedience to what the Lord told him. He took Mary to his home as his wife that next day, yet did not sleep with her, and when she gave birth it was Joseph who named his step-Son Jesus! This was Jewish tradition. Isn’t it amazing that God made sure all these details were noted for the Jewish readers.
Matthew’s gospel contains one more important fact. Though we know very little about Jesus’ young life, Matthew details some important facts that would particularly interest Jewish readers. He tells about the visitors from the East who came to worship Jesus. This visit may have been unnoticed if it hadn’t been for what happened to the Jewish community around Bethlehem after their visit. These visitors were of course the Magi who were forced to ask for directions from Herod the Great on their way to visit Jesus. Herod’s scholars directed them to Bethlehem, and Matthew quotes their logic by citing Micah 5:2 where it was prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. He explained why the prophecy of Rachel’s weeping from Jeremiah 31:15 because Herod had all babies killed who could have been born in Bethlehem after the Magi did not return to tell him who was the King they sought. Also, Matthew’s gospel details how Hosea 11:1 was fulfilled and why. God told Joseph in another dream to take the baby to Egypt until it was safe. Isaiah 40:3 tells us that Jesus would come from Nazareth, and Matthew describes the reasoning that Mary and Joseph settled there when they returned to Israel.
My favorite verse from Matthew’s advent story is Matthew 2:11: “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”