Youth Online Bible Study week 3

Read Matthew 2 (the whole chapter, but it’s just 23 verses long). You probably recognize this from accounts of the birth of Jesus, but I want to challenge you on how you read it from now on.

First of all, make a note of all of the major players in this narrative. Jesus, obviously. The wise men or Magi, depending on your translation, King Herod, all of the chief priests and scribes, Mary, Joseph. Who don’t you see? For one, there aren’t any shepherds or visible angels (see Luke 2:20 for the shepherds and Luke 2:15 for the angels). But make no mistake – the wise men didn’t show up the night Jesus was born. We don’t know where they came from, but the fact that they are described as being “from the east” implies that they had to travel quite a long distance after seeing the star, which did not rise until Jesus was born. Another clue as to the time frame comes later in the chapter, in verse 16. Herod bases his slaughter of baby boys on the time frame in which the wise men saw the star, so it is possible that it rose 2 years before their arrival.

Sorry for all of you who enjoy your Christmas nativity scenes, but there also aren’t any camels in this narrative. We’ve added them through the years for the visual that it gives, but we don’t know if there are camels or not. Finally: how many wise men were there? Look closely at the text and try to find a number. Give up? The answer is, we don’t know. We know there was more than one, but we have no idea how many. Tradition has assigned the number 3 because there were three gifts given to Jesus.

Now that I’ve ruined your nativity sets forever, I want to fill out some of the beauty here. Last week in our study of Matthew 1:18-25, Joseph is comforted by an angel in a dream and finds reassurance. In this passage, angelic dreams bring warnings – first to the wise men (verse 12), who avoid Herod on their way home. By this point they know that Herod’s ask was not sincere but murderous. The second dream is a warning for Joseph (verse 13), who takes his family to Egypt to escape the coming danger. This echoes a long-ago relocation to Egypt from Genesis 46:1-4 and 47:1-6.

Finally, a third dream comes (verses 19-20) after the death of King Herod, prompting their return to the land of Israel, specifically traveling to Nazareth. We know from Luke’s account of the Christmas story that this was Joseph’s hometown. It is likely that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus stayed put in Bethlehem for a while, up to two years after He was born. Why do you think they would have stayed rather than returning to their hometown sooner?

Maybe you’ve lived in the same house your whole life. Maybe you’ve moved around a lot, living in various places so often that you aren’t even sure what the concept of a hometown is. Either way, your home is always with God. Jesus came to dwell with us so that our place could be with Him forever.

For more:

  1. Verse 18 quotes from the prophet Jeremiah, specifically Jeremiah 31:15. Who is the Rachel mentioned in the verse? See Genesis 35:16-20. Why is Bethlehem tied to Rachel?
  2. How far is Bethlehem from Egypt? Do some looking online. Remember, the donkey we envision in our nativity narratives isn’t mentioned in Scripture. How hard would it have been to walk the distance on foot, with a newborn? Do the same with the route from Egypt back to Nazareth. For this trip, Jesus would have been a bit older, so would that make it easier or harder to manage the journey?
  3. Read Exodus 12:29-42. Joseph and Mary would have known this account well. How do you think this shared history between Israel and Egypt would have affected their time living in Egypt?