Matthew is quite unlike Luke in his presentation of the birth account of Jesus. In Matthew Jesus’ birth is shrouded in mystery! In his first chapter he presents Jesus ancestry in a manner that both offends the reader and compels him to decide one way or another about Jesus. He is the King in a manger—God become man—the response to the curse of God or he is none of these. Chapter one brings us to Jesus’ birth, and chapter two begins with: “Now when Jesus was born…”, leaving this silent night in which the birth had taken place without a word of explanation. Luke fills in the gap, but Matthew leaves the reader at the gap which turns out to be a kind of gate through which only the believer may pass through.
Luke speaks of peace from God to mankind, but Matthew seems to bring a sword. Herod wishes to kill the child and in the process goes on a murdering spree that include about a dozen or so young babes under the age of two in the area surrounding Bethlehem. Which is true—does Jesus bring peace or a sword, or is it both? Some will pause at this gateway and ask if there is nothing more to Christianity than a tall story of a miraculous birth, which somehow is supposed to be the answer to all God has promised mankind, and in doing so, will reject Jesus and Christianity. These, represented in the account by Herod, cannot and will not be admitted through Matthew’s gate. Others will find encouragement in Matthew’s account agreeing that the miracles, the angelic visitations etc., though not literally true, present a fascinating way to present the fulfillment of God’s promise. These represented in the chief priests and scribes find partial admission through Matthew’s gate. Their hearts are admitted into the precincts of the Gospel, but they find their intellects are excluded.
So, Matthew’s silent night is really a portal or gate before which all must stop and consider before one is able to enter into and benefit from the Gospel message. While Luke emphasizes how the Christ child drew others to him—the shepherds, Simeon and Anna—in God-glorifying adoration, Matthew’s point of view emphasizes those who recognized the testimony of the heavens and were keenly aware of the signs of the times, something Jesus later bemoaned the Jews as a whole failed to do (Matthew 16:3). These, represented in the magi, gain full entrance into the Kingdom of God. As Jesus later pointed out in Matthew 11:12, everyone who pauses at the gate suffers violence. That is, our expectations are often violated. What we desire for ourselves must often be surrendered, but Herod was unwilling. What we believe or had been taught must often be reconsidered, but the chief priests and the scribes stumbled. But if we are willing to suffer violence to our hearts and intellect and determinedly walk through the gate, we will find that our hearts find greater depth, and our intellects finds greater truths, and the violence suffered was, in reality, merely the birth pains of a greater reality than we had ever anticipated.
Luke announces and illuminates the birth of Jesus, but Matthew, if we are willing, brings us through the birthing process itself! Reading Luke, we find ourselves being drawn to the Christ-child, but Matthew destroys our desires and expectations and what we thought we knew, but offers us something far greater, if we only zealously pursue that which has gripped our hearts and minds (cp. Philippians 3:10-14) to discover where the Spirit will lead us.