Protected and Preserved
We are in the fourth week of a series on the beginning of Jesus, and we have simply been going through the first few chapters of the book of Matthew. Today we are in a passage that may not be our traditional Christmas text. When I planned the series I realized we would be in this passage and a part of me thought it might be better to pick a different text. But if there is anything unique a Bridgeway it is that we are going to let Scripture stand for itself.
I think we have a lot of sentiments on what Christmas should be like and most those sentiments are not based on God’s word. So this may not be a traditional text but we need to let Scripture dictate our traditions. And I hope that as we look at an unfamiliar passage on the birth of Christ that it helps us connect the true Christmas story to our daily lives.
We saw last week Jesus was born magi came following his star and when they found him they offered him gifts and worshiped him. They were also confronted by King Herod and enticed by him to tell him where the child was. We pick up this week with the magi departing from the scene, Herod taking new steps to destroy the child, and God protecting and providing.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son." 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more." 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:13-23 ESV)
What stands out to you in this passage is the fury and evil of herod, but what also stands out is God protecting and preserving the child in the midst of persecution. I want to look at three things in it.
- Toxic Culture.
Oxford dictionary made the word “toxic” its word of the year. It had a significant increase in being looked up this year and most think it because of the political climate that we have been in recently. Harsh and derogatory tweets and personalities create a toxic culture. Toxic would be an understatement for the reign of king Herod. We saw last week that Herod was only concerned with his own glory and rule and he would do anything to achieve it.
The child concerned Herod and he decided to ensure no promised king would threaten his rule. Herod heard the words of the prophet Michah, and he so believed them that he made the barbaric decision to have all the children in Bethlehem who were under the age of two killed. He was furious because the magi deceived him. Herod is not one to be out done. Can you imagine this brutality?!
What may be even more surprising is that Herod also had a son under the age of two and had him slain. This account is preserved by a writer named Macrobius who also added what some said of Herod, “I would rather have been Herod’s hog than his son.” This was not the only one of his sons that he would have killed. He had several other sons killed at different point in his life.
Herod had an incredibly brutal reign. It was not uncommon for rulers of this period to be ruthless.
It is also said that on the day when Herod died he knew his death would cause “wild rejoicings.” So just before he died he gave order to execute a third of his lawful sons and all the soldiers who were guarding him. He said he could “be mourned on account of others.”
This beast of a man is after Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. How would you feel on those long cold nights knowing he is after you? You don’t even have the protection of being inside. They were in a barn. How vulnerable!
I have four kids. At the birth of each we were excited and tired confused. I couldnt imagine adding to that a brutal king who is out to kill our child.
We all have fears, concerns, adversity that threatens us. Often we only want to talk about the encouraging parts of Christmas, or life or even our faith, and that faith can seem detached from our lives.
The history of God’s people is one of blood and tears, the eruption of evil, and even raging madness of people. The Son of God is persecuted in his birth. You may feel the injustices of life and be paralyzed by it, question how can this be, life has not gone the way you had hoped. Sure it’s not as bad as what Herod did, so you should be happy right. You feel the toxicity of life, of others, of hardship and it is coloring all you do. Well look at the next two points.
The theme of this passage and chapter is that God is able to preserve, protect, and provide for his child. He can do the same with you. You have survived all your hardships. Despite the rage of a madman and a cruel world God keeps his Son. The most powerful dictator is no match for the king of kings. Look at what God does and uses to preserve and protect:
Angels and dreams (v13, 19). God is doing something great. He is revealing what he is doing through angels and dreams . He also provides and protects his people. I think God can still speak to us in similar ways. It’s not the ordinary way. He has given us his word that we might be equipped for every good work, but we should be open to his leading.
Tricks of wise men (16, 22). The wise men refuse to help Herod. They tricked him or deceived him, outwitted. This brutal ruthless man who could have them killed, and they do not give into his intimidation. They do not tell him where the child is, and they return home another way. Clear defiance.
Faithfulness. Joseph is faithful to do what he needs to do. Notice v13 that the angel says to rise, take the child and flee to Egypt and remain. Joseph does those exact things in v14. Joseph does exactly what he is told. V20 he is told to rise take the child and mother and go to Israel, and he does it. Every time he precisely obeys God’s word.
A lot of people will say things like if an angel appears to me then I will do it. I don’t believe that. There is no guarantee. Times in the bible angels or voice of God appear and people don’t recognize it or follow it. People get in predicaments and want to know how to get out. I show them what God’s word says, they read it, they ask what I think and I tell them and they still go do whatever they want. Common issues are who are you dating. Finances. Marriage. Obedience to God’s word can spare you a lot of pain and hardship. God leads us through that. Follow his word and guidance. If you are struggling in life, one of first places to turn is to the word of God, see what he says to you.
God is protecting and watching after his child. It is through the miraculous and ordinary. It is through divine interruption and human responsibility. God intervenes in a number of ways.
The Savior endures hardships just as all his people do and have, and he also experiences God’s deliverance. There are two quotes of the OT here.
Hos 11:1 “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Actual reference is “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hos 11:1 ESV). God loves his son, he loves his people. He does not exempt them from hardship but calls them through it. The Israelites went down into Egypt and were oppressed for 400 years. But God in his timing called them out, provided for them every step of the way, and called them to reciprocate his love, which they never did. God’s Son now goes into Egypt, he identifies with God’s people, with their pain, and experience God’s protection and deliverance. Lays the groundwork for a new exodus that he will call his people to. God’s love is seen in bring his sons out of trouble and oppression. Don’t think God is not able to deliver you. He can. It may take you being obedient to his word and doing hard things.
He also quotes Jeremiah 31:15 which talks of Rachel weeping for her children. It is a reference to sadness in Jeremiah’s day of God’s people experiencing judgment of exile. Some think Rachel was buried near Bethlehem and that may be why they reference her. It is sadness that they are no more.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, (Jer 31:31 ESV) But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31:33 ESV)
Jesus is an exile, he is a refugee. I don’t know if there was a legal process they went through or if they slipped through another way. But his parents had to flee for their life. And when he comes back he is raised in Nazareth and is known as a Nazarene. Nazarene comes from the word which means “holy and devoted to God.” That is what Jesus would do, it may be these trials helped set him apart as holy. Hardship often forces us to trust in God in unique ways. But Nazareth also was not the up and coming city. When Nathaniel heard he was from Nazareth he questions, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
Even in the dark situation of death and persecution God has a plan. It will not be thwarted. This child is the one who the promises of God culminate, and God’s work in him is going to be similar to how he has worked all the other times of history. His people will live through hardship and experience his complete deliverance in the end. Divorce, lost jobs, people who have passed. These hurt and leave us vulnerable. Just like Joseph and Mary. Rest secure in the arms of God. Rest secure in his protection and provision. A child unable to protect itself, and we grow up and are not all that different. We are dependent on our heavenly Father. Follow him and nothing else matters. Let nothing intimidate you.
The word of the year for Merriam Webster was “justice”. How do you find justice in an age of injustice. An age of oppressors, an age of death, an age of hurt, an age of evil. What is your hope? Sometimes our struggles in life are not just that something bad or not great happened to us, but that others who are doing so much worse than us get away with it. Herod is so evil and yet he sits on a throne. Justice is elusive, but not for God. Justice ultimately is in the hands of God.
Herod doesn’t get the child. God provides justice.
Additionally, the family’s stay in Egypt probably was not long. Herod died shortly after the birth of Jesus. Immediately after the execution of infants, Herod became sick. The sickness follow the execution of infants that even his diviners said he was experiencing judgment for his continual wickenness.
Excerpt from historian Eusebius (d339 ad) on the horrific death of Herod, that seems to provide some justice,
“From then on the sickness spread through his entire body, accompanied by a variety of painful symptoms. He had a mild fever, an unbearable itching all over his body, constant pains in the lower bowel, swelling on the feet as in dropsy, inflammation of the abdomen, and mortification of the genitals, producing worms; as well as difficulty in breathing, especially when lying down, and spasms in all his limbs. The diviners said that his diseases were a punishment. But though he was wrestling with so many disorders he hung on to life, hoped for recovery, and planned his own treatment….”
Later… tormented by lack of food and racking cough that his sufferings mastered him and he made an appointment to anticipate his appointed end. He took an apple and asked for a knife, it being his habit to cut up apples when he ate them; then looking round to make sure there was no one to stop him he raised his hand to stab himself. (Eusebius, History of the Church, p25).
Justice comes. It always does. God promises us a reckoning. The terrible death of Herod was only just a shadow of the torment that awaited him in eternity. Many record Herods evils. No one has any mention of repentance with Herod.
Judgement is the fate of every sin. We need a deliverer who will rescue us. Matt 1:21 “She will bear a son and you will name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
People often use the presence of evil as a knock against belief in God. If God is good and loving and all powerful then how can there be evil. That is a big question that I m not going to give a full answer to here, but this does help us with it. In the Christian faith God is good and all powerful. Evil works his purposes. His glory will be displayed in triumph over evil. And so you may say why would God subject his people to this? One thing to see here is that God is not immune to sufferings. He sends his Son into the world. His Son identifies with his people. He endures their sufferings. He endures evil. He knows its pain and hurt. God knows what it’s like to confront the evil in the world. He felt it too.
Some of the most difficult times in my life, when I would be tempted to say, “God how can you do this? Why would you allow me to go through this?” Why such injustice?? I would stop and think of the suffering of Christ, and that is when the question becomes “God why would you subject yourself to this?” Why take it on. If I were in your position I would not leave a throne of glory to be chased by a mad man. Why?
This suffering is a prelude to his greater suffering on the cross. Jesus suffers the greatest injustice when he is betrayed by friends, and subjected to the cries of an angry mob yelling crucify him. The crucifixion is the greatest injustice ever. An innocent man dies. An innocent man takes the punishment of God. and he does this so that guilty sinners like me and you can be set free from the punishment of sin. We are saved from our sin. Punishment is paid. Guilt is taken away. Jesus triumphs over sin, is raise from the dead, and this child grows up to be the one who removes all evil from the world. He conquers. Evil will be no more. There will be no more mourning or crying or pain.
We also have to account for our own sin. Jesus didnt just die for the herods. We all do thinks to create toxic culture. That is why marriages fail, why relationships break, why kids and parents don’t get along, why there are fights, and quarrels and hurts. Sin separates and ruins, and I’m sure this time of year as families gather we feel the effects of sin. But the Savior gathers. The Savior heals. The Savior unites. We need to center our lives on him. We need to center our families and our hopes on him. Power of repentance. True repentance is a changed life.
In Jesus God is going to quiet the raging of oppressors. Christmas is about the birth of that hope.
Christmas is about a child in a manger who will be the Savior of the world. Everyday we feel the effects of sin. Others feel the effects of our sin. We feel evils in the world and they turn our lives into chaos, anxiety, fear. But the hope this child brings changes it all. The hope of deliverance from our own sin, from evil in the world should encourage us.
Everyone in here has a struggles with life in a fallen world. You may hurt and ache this Christmas. You may hurt and ache every day. But know that God is able to protect and provide for you. And he has already done that in sending his Son into the world. Jesus overcomes evil and he makes a way for you to do the same, but you have to trust in him, you have to follow him, you have to give all your allegiance to him.
This news should give you peace. It should quiete your nights like a blanket of snow comes down and quiets everything.