The Gospel of Matthew – The New Exodus
(Matthew 2:13–23 ESV) “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.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 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.”
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. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“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.”
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 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.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 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. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.”
Our passage draws an immediate connection to the previous verse reminding us that the magi are there. They came to worship the king of the Jews, the Messiah. God put the sign in the sky for them and gave them directions through his word, and finally in a vision told them to leave in another way to avoid Herod. Now it’s a little later in the evening, and in a dream, Jospeh gets another visit from the angel of the Lord. I’m starting to think that as a new Dad Joseph has more than a few reasons for not getting enough sleep. Joseph get the instructions, “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.” Joseph doesn’t waste any time trying to decide if this is from he Lord or not. He’s learned. When the Lord speaks, you act. So what does he do, but gets up in the night, packs up the Baby and his mother, probably grabs the gold, frankincense, and myrrh and a few other travel sundries and hits the road. Why? Answer: For Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him. I love little words in the Bible. They say so much. For instance: “about to”. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary weren’t in jeopardy yet, but they were about to be. God interrupted again, this time to move them all out of harms way. Joseph again living out an example of faithfulness to God, hears and obeys. He gets up in the night and they head out. And they head to Egypt and stayed there until after Herod had died. Now the first question I have when coming across this is why Egypt? Why go back there? That’s where everything went wrong. Jacob took his family to Egypt during a famine and they were relieved of their suffering there, but they also became slaves there, put to hard labor. God helps us understand himself more by showing than telling. He’s painting a picture for us and for the first century Jews here. Like I’ve said before, if you are reading the Bible and stumble on a question, and you want to find the answer, keep reading. Why Egypt? Verse 15. “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”” Matthew wants us to see what God was up to. Now when we talk about the Bible and Egypt we think of Moses. Moses was a Hebrew leader that God used to lead his people out of Egypt to the Promised land through the wilderness. But he was a baby first, like Jesus was. Pharaoh was a corrupt ruler like Herod. Pharaoh was dealing with an over population problem and decided the best solution for his issue of Hebrews outnumbering the Egyptians was to start murdering Hebrews. He ordered all the male babies in Exodus 1 to be thrown in the Nile river. Moses was one of these babies, but instead of being murdered, his family hid him in a basket and set him out on the water. Moses was saved from the death order of pharaoh by Pharaoh’s own daughter. Moses grew up to be the one who would eventually lead the Hebrew children, the Jews, out of Egypt. Joseph taking his family to Egypt is designed to make us think of the Moses story. God sent Moses to deliver his people from out of the oppression and slavery to Pharaoh. God sent Jesus to deliver his people from out of the oppression and slavery to sin.
This is our first point. Jesus is inaugurating the new Exodus where we see God does perfectly what people failed to do. God is painting the picture of Jesus as the deliverer. Remember what the Angel said the first time to Joseph: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew is showing us in another way how Jesus is the hope that he world has been waiting for. Hosea’s prophesy not only tells of how God brought Israel out of Egypt, but also later in the same passage how the fact that even though he rescued them they drifted away, turned from following him, and served false gods. This eventually resulted in their own exile. Hosea says later in that same passage (Hosea 11:5 ESV) “They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.”
Jesus returns to Egypt to do rightly what the people failed to do when they left the first time. Being God in flesh, God with us, Immanuel, Jesus is able to leave Egypt and enter the promised land. When due to sin a generation of people had to die in the wilderness, Jesus comes and he’s bringing his parents back with him. Both generations making it back safely. This is a foretaste to what we are going to be seeing throughout this study. Jesus comes as man and fulfills what man failed to do. But look at the way he does it, with grace and not condemnation. He doesn’t look around at us and say, “you idiots, why can’t you seen to even do the simplest thing properly.” He is gracious with us. This application is for me. It’s so easy for me to nit pick , especially with those who are closest to me. I can look at them with eyes that are not gracious way too easily. I know what they are capable of, and so my expectations are for them to do the highest. God is so incredibly gracious to us. He doesn’t condemn us for not accomplishing what was beyond our ability to do, he enters into our world and helps us along in every situation. He doesn’t deride us for not being able to do it on our own. (Psalm 103:13–14 ESV) “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” He helps us along. He fulfills in us what we are unable to fulfill ourselves. He inaugurates the new Exodus and paves the way for our escape of sin. Hosea, in this same chapter that Matthew cites, talks about a future visit of the Lord to his people. This is that visit, not in anger or wrath, but to save.
(Matthew 2:16–18 ESV) “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. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “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.””
Just like Pharaoh had all the baby boys killed in a culling of the Hebrew people, Herod follows suit. Herod’s motives are even similar. Herod is afraid of losing his seat of power to a usurper king. Herod seems like one of those kindergarten kids that missed the day when everyone else was taught how to share nicely. Herod doesn’t want to lose power and so he’s dealing with the threat accordingly. Pharaoh felt like their people were going to be overrun by the very prolific Hebrew people. In both cases they felt threatened and dealt with it through murder. Any male child 2 and under, Herod ordered to be killed. Now sometimes we take that to mean that thousands of children were murdered, and it would make sense that we might think that, however with a closer more detailed look, we can see that in reality, the order for death of the male children two years old and under was specifically for Bethlehem and the surrounding region. Now, as we know from Luke chapter 2, the reason that Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem in the first place was that there was a census taking place. The Romans did an amazing job of record keeping. Someday, if the Lord gives me a ministry assistant, that person will be great at details, they are going to be able to help me with recording records and details the way that the Romans did. This kind of record keeping is what historians are able to use to determine that the population of Bethlehem and the region at this time was not great. In fact it was small. I do not say this to minimize the pain in any way whatsoever, but rather to have a grasp of what actually happened in history. Historians think that is was probably less than 20 baby boys that were murdered in this heinous act by Herod. God is using even this horrendous act to remind us again of the murders that Pharaoh did in Egypt to the Israelite children.
Matthew then says that this act was a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophesy, so let’s look into that for a moment. (Jeremiah 31:15 ESV) “Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.””
This verse is written originally to the exiles of Israel. When Israel turned away from he Lord, he gave them into the hands of their neighbors and enemies. They were carried off to Assyria and Babylonia. Jeremiah was writing to them, and this chapter is all about how there is hope coming. That they will turn to their hearts back to God and find joy in their God, that they will return to the promised land from the hands of their enemies, and be God’s people. Right in the middle of all of that though, is this sad verse. A sad remembrance that though the end of the exile is coming, and that is praise worthy, there is pain and sorrow now. Death has taken place. Loss has happened. That hurts. Sometimes that hurts a lot. When we are in the midst of suffering, we look outside and the whole world seems at times to be in pieces because of the pain that we are experiencing.
Pain hurts. I know it seems like I’m stating the obvious, but I want to make sure that this reality is crystal clear. Some of us have experienced deep pain, like exile, like death, like severe sense of loss that comes from an abortion or a divorce. Some of us haven’t experienced heavy things like that yet. I want to make sure to mention that pain hurts because sometimes in the church we get our minds in an oversimplified rut that says if I really had faith then I wouldn’t be in pain like this. If I really believed in Jesus then the sorrow I’m feeling would go away, and in the midst of our pain, we get lost in guilt as well which can push our hearts deeper into depression. The gospel doesn’t say that if you come to Christ, all your pain goes away, but it does say that if you come to Christ, you will find joy that never fades away. This chapter of Jeremiah looks at the good that is coming yet for Israel, but pauses right into middle to remember the pain. The pain of the loss of children, whether from miscarriage or abortion. Whether abandonment or a custody hearing. They all hurt. That pain is real. This is our second point. Hope in exile, hope in pain. The point I want to make here is that God used Jeremiah to remind Israel, and to remind us, even though there is pain, we have joy to look forward to. We press on through the pain, because there is joy to be had in Christ. In the midst of a culture of death when people like Pharaoh and Herod are killing babies, where abortion on demand for any reason or no reason at all claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of children every year, in the midst of this kind of pain, there is hope. Hope because even though death and loss and sorrow are all around, a new king has been born. A messiah who has come to make all things new, to create new life in the dead places of our hearts. The wounds of death and sorrow are real, but there is healing in Christ. Jesus came to seek and save those of us who are lost in our pain and sorrow. Hope lives in christ, who conquered sin and death and who is coming again in the clouds. He is going to make all the sad things untrue because he is God and the author of life, and our greatest joy. Joy is coming and has come in the person of Jesus Christ.
One more comment to those who experience pain and sorrow of losses like this. You are loved. You are loved by God and this body of believers. No matter if you had a child that you lost because of miscarriage, or abortion, or Child Protective Services. Or some other family member or loved one through death or abandonment. No matter the source of your pain and sorrow, there is love and care for you here. You won’t find condemnation or downcast eyes. We love you. We want to walk through the valleys together as a body, and climb the mountains together as a body. We together are the bride of Christ and our greatest joy is coming soon, and is already here.
Now for our last section.
(Matthew 2:19–23 ESV) “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 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.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 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. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.”
The escape to Egypt saves Jesus from the grips of Herod, and Herod dies. Joseph gets life interrupted again is informed by the angel of the Lord yet again, this time telling him it’s safe to return home. I love this example of faithfulness of Joseph again. Look at our passage in verse 19. The angel says rise take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel in verse 19, then in verse 20, Joseph rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. Joseph is shows as a submissive obedient and righteous child of God yet again.
Joseph starts heading back, probably right away again. Then he hears that Herod Archelaus is running Judea in his father’s place and he’s afraid. Apparently the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and Archelaus is a pretty evil dude like his father. In fact, history tells us that that is exactly the case, that Archelaus was the worst of his brothers that became his father’s successors. Yet again, Joseph has a dream where he is given instruction, this time we don’t hear it is rom the Angel of the Lord but we of course have no reason not to believe that’s where the warning came from, but the restful of this is the Joseph then took his family and settled in Galilee, specifically, the city of Nazareth.
Then we have this curious last verse, (Matthew 2:23 ESV) “And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.” This seems to follow the standard ‘this was to fulfill’ pattern we’ve seen a few times now but there are some marked differences. First, this is the only time that this formula his used with prophet used in the plural form. That’s unique, and it might lead us to think that maybe it was like Jeremiah AND Isaiah, or maybe Micah and Ezekiel. But as we dig a little further, we realize that no where in the Old Testament prophets, or anywhere else, is the prophesy that the Messiah would be ‘called a Nazarene’ found.
This became a point of confusion for some later when Jesus is active in his ministry. Everyone knew he was from Galilee, like being from Galilee was a stench you just couldn’t shake off of you. But how can the Messiah come from Galilee? (John 7:41–42 ESV) “Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”” The didn’t realize that Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem and then moved to Galilee after a sojourn in Egypt.
Nazareth isn’t an ancient city the way Bethlehem and Jerusalem were. Archeologists believe the city in Jesus’s time had a population of less than 500. It was relatively insignificant, even backwater. In fact it was not just considered backwater but in some ways backwards.
Even his disciples Philip and Nathanael discussed this. (John 1:45–46 ESV) “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.””
Come and see what can come from Nazareth. This nowhere place. So that all makes sense on its own, but it further comes together when we consider some other aspects of prophesy.
For instance, (Zechariah 9:9 ESV) “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” What kind of king comes humble and on a young donkey? How obscure that is. Then (Isaiah 53:2 ESV) “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Grew up like a young plant out of dry ground, unexpected. Un-esteemed, no beauty, no draw to the person of Jesus the Messiah. The Gospel of John gives us another peek into this view, (John 1:10–11 ESV) “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
Nazareth was not a place anyone would look for anything. It would be like saying Janesville is the next technological silicon valley of the US. No one would expect this. That’s not what Janesville is about. The prophets prophesied that the Messiah would come from obscurity, and Nazareth is synonymous with obscure.
This is our third point, God brings peace in unexpected ways and unexpected places. Over and over again in scripture we see God using the most unexpected people and situations to show his glory. God brought the country o Israel out into the wilderness where there is no food or water to nourish his people. Water shot out form a rock in the desert, enough water to provide for the million people who were in the wilderness heading to the promised land. God provided manna and quail where there is no food to provide for his people. He passed over the firstborn children like Esau to use the weaker less prominent people like Jacob and David. David wasn’t even presented with his brothers because he was considered so obscure compared to them.
Over and over again in scripture we see this pattern, the weak are used instead of the strong. The foolish is used instead fo the wise. Paul puts it this way: (1 Corinthians 1:27 ESV) “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Why? Answer:(1 Corinthians 1:29 ESV) “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
Whether in the wilderness with Israel, in the Old Testament lineages, in the New Testament churches, or in our own lives, there is a reason God is doing all these things. To show himself glorious above all things.
This is one thing that I am incredibly thankful for. Because if Jesus didn’t seek out the foolish things in life, he never would have sought me out. It is in the midst of our weaknesses and failings that God steps in and shows himself most glorious. When we have finally reached the end of ourselves, come to the realization that we have no hope on our own, that he steps in to show his perfect sufficiency.
Only his sufficiency could provide a path of escape, of exodus for our sin problem. That’s what he did at the cross.