…behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
Sometimes in our reading of the Gospels we miss certain patterns that the writers intended for us to notice. One of those patterns in Matthew’s Gospel is the emphasis placed on the identity of Jesus. Think with me of the numerous occasions where this comes into play: For example, when the disciples witnessed Jesus still the wind and waves they asked, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” (Mt. 8:27) Or when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the inhabitants asked, “Who is this?” (Mt. 21:9-10) Even Pilate asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Mt. 26:63; 27:11) It should come as no surprise then that the opening words of Matthew focus on the identity of our Lord.
At the center of the book Jesus asks his disciples that question that draws their attention to his identity, “Who do people say that I am?” and then, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:13-15)
There were those of course who considered Jesus to be a prophet. All his miracles pointed in this direction. Elijah and Elisha performed miracles. Not only that, Jesus’ teaching carried the weight of authority that characterized the prophets of old. Interestingly, Jesus never denied this claim, but he did ask the disciples who they believed him to be.
Peter was quick to confess that he believed Jesus to be the Christ. In Peter’s language, this meant Jesus to be the Messiah. (Christ is the Greek translation for the Aramaic or Hebrew Messiah) For Peter “Messiah” meant that Jesus would be the one promised by Isaiah who would sit on King David’s throne. (Isaiah 9: 6-7) Jesus, of course, affirmed Peter’s response. But we find that Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record that Jesus then began to tell them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, die, and to rise again.
What we see here is that Jesus indicates that he would play the role of priest. In fact, the Gospels show that Jesus would play the roles of prophet, king, and priest all rolled into one. Jesus was a prophet of course; not in the way that the Jews of old perceived him to be nor in the way that Muslims today would claim. He was the prophet that would speak the word of God in the way that no mere man had ever done before or would do again. In fact, every word he ever uttered was in the fullest sense “word of God”.
Jesus is also king too (that is ultimately what Messiah means), but not in the political sense that many had anticipated. Jesus’ response to Pilate was that his kingdom was not of this world. His Kingdom was the “rock” of Daniel 2 that would eventually supplant all human kingdoms with the one righteous kingdom.
But most importantly, Jesus is the priest in that he came to offer the sacrifice for the atonement of sins. Thus, the angel’s command to Joseph, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
It seems to me that as we draw near to the celebration of Christ’s birth we need to be reminded of Jesus’ identity again. After all, isn’t this what Christmas is all about?
Pastor Tom Bridgman