It is not clear whether Matthew knew Luke’s Gospel or vice versa, though it is generally agreed both Matthew and Luke knew Mark, and both decided to add an account of Jesus birth.
Matthew’s birth account is very Jewish in focus – Joseph, more than Mary is the key parent and he, like the Magi receives dreams which guide his actions.
The ruler who is threatened by Jesus is Herod: Herod is the non-Jewish King, ruthless, rich and successful, surrounded by his court. For Jews he was not a descendant of David, and his family were not the rightful rulers but he was powerful and ruthless.
Matthew tells us that the true Son of David is born, born in Bethlehem, the true city of David, but Matthew tells us more than this because his first verses include a long genealogy linking Jesus not just to David but to Abraham.
This baby who will be called Jesus and Emmanuel, is a true descendant of Abraham and of David.
For Jewish readers – and Matthew is probably written to Christians from a Jewish background – Jesus is presented as the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies and Matthew quotes several times from the OT to enforce this in the first two chapters. [But the first worshippers are foreign!!]
Matthew draws on the birth story of Moses, who needed protection from the wicked Pharaoh. Jesus the baby needs protection from Herod. Ironically Jesus finds safety in Egypt, because the “Pharaoh” is in Jerusalem!
And Matthew presents Jesus like a second Moses. There are five sections of teaching in the gospel, just as there are five books of Moses in the Old Testament (Genesis – Deuteronomy were considered the books of Moses). And the Sermon on the Mount reminds us of Moses bringing the Law from the mountain to the Israelites, and the feeding of the 5000 reminds us of God feeding the Israelites in the wilderness.
And Jesus confronts the religious leaders; In Matthew’s gospel in particular, Jesus is challenging the religious leaders of the day; they have become dead inside, like whitened sepulchres; they are hypocritical and they make things harder for others, without lifting a finger to help.
While Mark was written to a group of Christians living with uncertainties politically, Matthew seems to be written to a group of Christians who are breaking free from, while remaining Jewish. Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law, he is “properly” Jewish, the heir of Abraham and David. He came first to the Jewish people but his message is for all. These new Christians were almost certainly facing antagonism and maybe worse from the wider Jewish community who accused them of heresy and false teaching. Matthew wants to show that Jesus truly is the one promised in the Scriptures, the fulfilment of the Jewish promises, and the one who will open that message to all nations – “Go and make disciples of all nations”
And the charge of hypocrisy, of saying one thing but failing to do it, is also a challenge to the Christians who must be doers of the Word and not hearers only. They must hear, receive and respond as is most obviously seen in the final teaching where the peoples are separated like sheep from goats, according to whether they have responded to human need, because, we discover, Jesus was present in that need.
This is not a new piece of teaching but was already a strand within Judaism, but Matthew makes clear it remains foundational for the new followers of Jesus.
The one who came and brought healing to the blind, or the deaf, strength to the lame so they could live again, calls his followers to show the same love and care.
For us, who are not immediately from a Jewish background, the gospel of Matthew reminds us that our faith is rooted in the Jewish faith, that we follow a Jewish teacher and we are those who are now welcome in the people of God because of the witness of the chosen people and the saving death of Jesus.
Some say Matthew is anti-Semitic and certainly anti-Semites have used the gospel as ammunition, but Matthew is not anti-Semitic, but he speaks against those who reject Jesus, the leadership and the authorities who could not see in Jesus the Messiah they claimed to hope for. This Christmas we must remember that we worship a Saviour born in Bethlehem; the gospel comes from the Jews as it were.