Through the Bible: Matthew 2:19-23 and Luke 2:40

We are going through Tatian’s Diatessaron, a second-century harmony of the Gospels. We are on Section III. Today’s post goes through Matthew 2:19-23 and Luke 2:40. (A harmony of the Gospels means Tatian is going through all four Gospels in attempted chronological order.)

Matthew 2:19-23: The Bible and Christ

When Herod the king died, the messenger of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said to him, “Rise. Take the child and his mother and go into the land of Israel, for the ones who sought the child’s life have died.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother and came to the land of Israel. When he heard that Archelaus had become king over Judea in the place of Herod his father, he was afraid to go there. He saw in a dream that he should go into the land of Galilee and that he should live in a city called Nazareth so that the saying in the prophet might be fulfilled, that he should be called a Nazarene.

I know it is unpleasant for a lot of you to read things like what I am about to write, but we should talk about it here, among believers, not encounter these things unprepared from those who do not want God as a ruler (Luke 19:12-27).

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, which we are reading here, Joseph is sent to Nazareth as though he was new to the city. In Luke’s account, Joseph and Mary were already living in Nazareth when Gabriel came to them (1:26-27). Luke has them leaving Nazareth for a census, then returning. Matthew writes as though they were living in Bethlehem when Gabriel came to them (1:18-2:1).

Matthew was an apostle, writing from memory about a story he heard from the people who lived it, even Mary herself. Luke was an investigator, asking questions of many, trying to determine the original story many decades after it happened (Luke 1:1-4).

The accounts should be added together. Matthew’s history contains much more detail and is more likely to be accurate. Luke covered the birth in Bethlehem probably thinking the family was always from Nazareth because it was well known that Jesus was a Nazarene.

Again, God is not concerned about inspiring exact historical knowledge. The little glitches in unimportant things, like how many stalls of chariots Solomon had (1 Kings 4:26 w/ 2 Chr. 9:25) or whether Jesus was going into or out of Jericho when he encountered Bartimaeus the blind man (Matt. 20:29-30; Mark 10:46: Luke 18:35-36) are ways to tell us not to get obsessed with details. Jesus healed blind men. He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem in fulfillment of a prophecy that revealed him as the Lord from heaven (Mic. 5:2). These are the important things.

The book is not the issue. The Man, the Messiah Jesus, is the issue. The book can tell you how to live. The Man from heaven, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, can give you the Holy Spirit and empower you to live the way the book tells you. As Jesus said himself, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have life, but these are they which testify of me. Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (Jn. 5:39-40).

Do not deify the Bible. It is a testimony about a person. The Bible can make you wise for salvation through Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 3:15), but Jesus can actually save you. Perhaps some of these meaningless little contradictions are an attempt to cure those afflicted with an undue attachment to the sign that points the way rather than the One who is the way (Jn. 14:6).

By the way. No one knows where the prophecy “He will be called a Nazarene” is from. Obviously, Matthew didn’t know either because he attributes it to “the prophet.” The commentaries think the most likely spot is Isaiah 11:1 where the Hebrew word for branch is netzer. It is entirely possible he is referring to prophecy or prophetic book that is no longer known.

Tatian now jumps back to Luke 2:40.

Luke 2:40: Spiritual Growth

The child grew, became strong in spirit, becoming filled with wisdom, and the favor (grace) of God was upon him.

I like translating the Greek word charis as favor rather than grace. I wrote a booklet explaining that preference. For now, if you read a definition of grace in the New Testament, just about every lexicon will give you “unmerited favor,” so there’s no problem with my using “favor” as a clearer word than “grace.”

The fact that Luke is using this sentence as a transition from the birth narrative to the next story puts even more meaning to it. This is Luke’s picture of what growing means. I think he is saying, “We are done with the birth narrative. Let’s move on to the next story I know, which is when Jesus was twelve. I will transition by telling you that he was growing from his birth to age 12.”

If this is what he was saying, then he was also saying that becoming strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and having the favor of God is what growing, in God’s eyes, looks like.

The reason this is important is because it tells us what to focus on for our own growth … and what not to focus on. Gain wisdom. Rest in the favor of God. Build a strong spirit. These things mark growth. Agonizing over your spiritual condition as though you had to find a way to gain God’s favor will not produce growth. You should rise each day like a little child, running to leap into the arms of your heavenly Father because Jesus has opened a way to the Throne of Favor (Heb. 4:16).

Awesome picture, isn’t it?

Luke uses a similar transition in 2:52 to jump from his story of Jesus at age 12 to his introduction to John the Baptist. We will get to that story in the next post, but I just want to add that transition to this one. There Luke writes that Jesus “grew in his stature and wisdom and in favor with God and man.”

Favor produces more favor. If God grants you his favor, then you will be a recipient of his gifts, right? That just follows logically? God’s gifts are spiritual. You will find righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom. 14:17) from the Holy Spirit that he is happy to give you as a loving Father (Luke 11:13).

Let’s live in the favor of God, not agonize over trying to obtain something Jesus already obtained for us (Heb. 4:16). That favor will teach you how to live in this world (Tit. 2:11-14).

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