“I’ve finally worked out why Christmas is so popular,” announced the sceptic to the preacher, at the end of a carol service.
“It’s because Christmas is all about a baby. And a baby threatens no one.”
Try telling that to King Herod!
A man wracked with insecurity. On hearing from the Magi that a new king had been born, he made up his mind to eliminate the threat.
Joseph, however, was warned by an angel. So, that same night, he woke up his wife and young son, and they hurried off to the safety of Egypt.
Back in Bethlehem, Herod hatched his evil plot. Every little boy two years and under was killed.
Finally, Joseph heard of Herod’s death. ‘It’s time to go home’, said the angel. But Bethlehem still wasn’t a safe place to be. So they made their way up to Nazareth in Galilee.
And so the King is kept safe.
Matthew is not just a historian, giving us information about what happened, and when, and where. He is also an evangelist, proclaiming good news.
He does this by linking each of these three places – Egypt, Bethlehem, and Nazareth – with prophecies drawn from the Old Testament.
1. Egypt – a place of rescue
‘And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”’ (Matthew 2:15/Hosea 11:1)
This is not a prediction, but a glance back to the Exodus.
‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called, the more they went away from me.’ (v1)
‘It was I who taught them to walk…I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.’ (v3f)
‘How can I give you up? All my compassion is aroused.’ (v8)
‘Jesus’ = ‘God rescues’
But do you think you need to be rescued?
One way of estimating the scale of a rescue is to consider how lost, how trapped, how helpless, you feel yourself to be. But another is to consider the lengths to which someone will go to rescue you.
Consider the lengths to which God in his love went to rescue you.
‘Is it a small thing in your eyes to be loved by God- to be the child, the spouse, the delight of the King of glory? Christian, believe this, and think about it: you will be eternally embraced in the arms of the love which was from everlasting, and will be to everlasting- of the love which brought the Son of God from heaven to earth, from earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to glory– that love which was weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, spat upon, crucified, pierced- which fasted, prayed, taught, healed, wept, bled, died. That love will eternally embrace you.’ (Baxter)
Jesus was well satisfied with his side of the bargain. Are you, with yours?
2. Bethlehem – a place of hope
V16 – Herod – ‘A pitiless monster’ (Josephus). Constantly suspecting treachery, he killed his brother-in-law, three sons, and various officials. In a fit of jealous rage he had his favorite wife strangled; she turned out to be innocent of the crime of which he had accused her.
V17f ‘Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”’
Jer 31:15 – Rachel ‘weeping in her grave’ because of the loss of all her ‘children’: all ten of the northern tribes (Judah) had already been taken off into exile and the two southern tribes (Israel) were about to suffer the same fate. For Matthew, she personifies the mothers who weep over this new calamity that has come upon Israel’s children.
But Jer 31:15 is set in a context of hope.
‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears…there is hope.’ (Jer 31:16f)
Who, or what, is the object of our hope?
A friend, who has know more difficulty than most in the recent past difficult year said to me recently: “This has been a good year.” How could that be?
‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.’ (Rom 15:13)
3. Nazareth – a place of lowliness
V23 – ‘So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”’
Where’s that in the OT? Not the word, but a theme: the Messiah as contemptible, lowly.
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)
“A troublemaker…a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5)
‘Scorned by everyone, despised by the people,’ (Psalm 22:6)
‘Despised, and held in low esteem,’ (Isaiah 53:3)
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Yes, Jesus is a threat. He is a threat to your pride.
But “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” (Jim Elliot)
Let’s step into 2021 experiencing Christ’s rescue, living in Christ’s hope, sharing in Christ’s lowliness.
[Credit: the opening illustration comes from Tom Wright, in his commentary on this passage.]