Since not everyone was with us last Sunday, let me very quickly recap where we’re at… Matthew 1 closes with a broad description of the birth of Jesus. Following a dream whereby an angel of the Lord confirms Mary’s story of the virgin conception to her betrothed husband Joseph, we read in the last two verses of chapter 1, “Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.”
When we transition into Matthew 2:1, reading, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem” we understand that roughly 18 months have transpired, a fact supported by the reality these Wise Men eventually encounter a Child living in a house and not a baby lying in a manger.
Initially clued into the fact “the King of the Jews” had been born by a unique star appearing in the eastern sky, this crew of Wise Men promptly make their way westward across the desert into Judea in search of the Child. To their chagrin, when it all but seemed as though they were finally getting close to their destination, the star mysteriously disappears.
Losing their primary source of navigation, this delegation is forced to make a detour to visit Herod in Jerusalem believing he would be “in the know” regarding the birth of such a King.
And yet, as we noted last Sunday, while Herod was blindsided by the inquiry and clearly alarmed, he turns to the religious leaders to make a determination as to where the Christ was to be born. After consulting with the Prophet Micah, they come back with Bethlehem!
Matthew 2:7-8 details what happens next… “Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared (this will be important later). And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.’”
Following the Wise Men’s encounter with a young Jesus where they not only “fell down and worshipped Him” but “presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” we read in verse 12… Matthew 2:12, “Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they (the Wise Men) departed for their own country another way.”
While it’s likely the Wise Men had no reason to believe Herod was being devious in his request they bring back word to him or that in some way his desire to come and worship as well was disingenuous (to his credit King Herod had gone the extra mile in helping them in their quest), a divine warning delivered through a dream changed their perspective.
Not only do the Wise Men renege on their agreement to send back word of their discovery to Herod, but they decide it was prudent they “depart for their country another way.” Though Herod knew the Child had been born in Bethlehem (which wasn’t a large place), these men figure their approach would at least delay when he caught word of their betrayal.
Matthew 2:13, “Now when the Wise Men had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’”
In all likelihood, the Wise Men filled Joseph in on the fact Herod knew about the Child, was aware He was the “newborn King,” and had it on good authority He was currently living in the town of Bethlehem. In fact, it now made sense why Herod inquired when the star originally appeared. He also had a good idea how old Jesus would have been as well.
I’m sure Joseph was grateful the Wise Men were not going to bring a report back to Herod and thankful their decision to depart another way would buy him a few extra days. And yet, Joseph knew Jesus was in grave danger! As the promised Christ, Joseph knew his stepson was the ultimate threat to Herod’s power and position. He knew it was only a matter of time before Herod realized the Wise Men double-crossed him and came looking.
I imagine the night the Wise Men finally leave Bethlehem Joseph had a really difficult time sleeping. God had chosen his wife Mary to be the mother of the promised Messiah. God had given him the honor of naming the boy Jesus. God had determined, of all men, His Son Jesus (the Savior of the world) would be charged to his care and protection!
As he laid in bed next to his wife Mary with Jesus fast asleep across the room, Joseph wrestled with what to do in light of these recent developments… Did Herod really believe what the Scriptures said of the Christ? When it finally dawns on him the Wise Men were not returning, how would he react? Would he actually send troops to search for the Child?
If he did, would it be best to attempt an escape or figure out some way to hide? As Joseph played out the various scenarios in his mind, he concludes, with what Herod already knew, they couldn’t stay in Bethlehem. And yet, if they ran, where would they go? Where would it be safe? How much time did he really have to make a decision — days, weeks, hours?
I love the fact, as Joseph is wrestling with this major decision on what to do, God once again speaks to him. For now the second time “an angel of the Lord appears” to Joseph “in a dream” in order to specifically address his present concern and current circumstance.
Not only does the angel confirm that Herod would “seek the young Child to destroy Him” validating his pressing fear, but God also gives Joseph a set of very simple instructions on what he needed to do… “Arise (literally wake up from your sleep), take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word.”
Matthew 2:14-15, “When Joseph arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt…” Not only was Joseph obedient, but he didn’t even wait for sunrise. God had spoken. His marching orders had been given. There was an urgency to what needed to happen. Joseph didn’t know how much time they had so he doesn’t dither. He wakes up Mary, explains the situation, they grab what they can carry, and they’re gone.
Matthew then provides some commentary about this story. He says they remained in Egypt… “Until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying (quotes Hosea 11:1), ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’”
Regarding this connection Matthew makes between Jesus and Egypt, if you do some research on your own, you will quickly discover that very little exposition has been written on the topic. That said… At the end of our study, I’m going to make the case this connection was the entire point in Matthew recording these events in the first place!
With Joseph, Mary, and Jesus safely in Egypt… Matthew 2:16-17, “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men (the word deceived is translated in the KJV as “mocked.” Herod felt slighted therefore he), was exceedingly angry (the language presents the idea Herod was boiling over with rage); and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
Then was fulfilled (or finally rendered complete) what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying (quotes Jeremiah 31:15): ‘A voice was heard in Ramah (the town Rachel died on the way to Bethlehem), lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’”
The phrase Matthew uses “then was fulfilled what was spoken” is important because it supports the idea of certain OT prophecies possessing dual fulfillments. When Jeremiah originally wrote of this “voice in Ramah weeping” he was describing a period of mourning associated with the Babylonian siege of Israel. And while that was entirely applicable, Matthew notes the lasting fulfillment of what he wrote occurred in this particular event.
With regard to Herod’s actions, they can only be described as being both evil and Satanic. Since he didn’t know the family name of the Child or the specific location of his home because the Wise Men had skipped out on him, Herod utilizes the information he did possess to formulate a plan to destroy this “newborn King of the Jews.”
Knowing the Child was living in Bethlehem and no more than two years old based upon the information provided by the Wise Men, Herod issues the command for “all the male children” living in “Bethlehem and in all its districts” under the age of two to be slaughtered!
While it’s difficult to say how many children fit these specific parameters given the fact Bethlehem was not a large town, for those mothers who had little men “two years and under” Herod’s actions were devastating! So many of the women Mary knew watched in horror as their sons were executed right in front of their eyes for no apparent reason at all!
Though I’m purely speculating, I believe one of the reasons only Matthew records this event centers on the fact Herod’s actions had likely impacted his own family. Because Bethlehem was largely populated by the priestly class of which Levi was a member, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he possibly lost an older sibling in this massacre.
Before you dismiss this theory out-of-hand, keep in mind Matthew had to of had some kind of firsthand knowledge in order to record this story at all. Matthew knew Herod inquired of the religious leaders where the Christ was to be born. He knew they came back with an answer. He even knew of Herod’s secret meeting with the Wise Men and that he asked when the star originally appeared. Obviously, Matthew had sources close to the story.
Either way, it’s important to point out the Satanic nature behind Herod’s actions. Knowing the significance of the Christ and what it would mean for his fate, this was not the first time Satan attempted the thwart the plans of God in such a way. Whether it be the corruption of the human genome in the days of Noah, the wicked actions of a Persian named Haman, or the vial intents of Antiochus Epiphanes, Satan wanted nothing more than to either snuff out the Messianic bloodline or in the case of Herod the Great — kill Jesus.
Matthew 2:19-23, “Now when Herod was dead (as an a-side Herod the Great died in 4 BC at the age of 69 of what one medical journal described as being “chronic kidney disease complicated by a very uncomfortable case of maggot-infested gangrene of the genitals”), behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.’ Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.
But when Joseph heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. (Seems Joseph was planning to return to Bethlehem.) And being warned by God in a dream (this is the 4th such dream), he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’”
As the Lord originally instructed Joseph, they were to remain in Egypt until Herod the Great was dead and God had given the ok to return. Now that both have occurred, Joseph is obedient, loads up his family, and begins the 80-mile trek home. That said… When Joseph hears that Herod’s son “Archelaus was reigning over Judea” he’s concerned.
Historically, we know that following Herod’s death Rome divided his kingdom into three regions giving them to his three sons. Herod Antipas was given the Galilee. Philip the areas to the north and east of the Jordan. Archelaus was given Judea and therefore Jerusalem.
Not only was Archie cruel in his own right, but he proved to be so inept at governing that the Jews petitioned Rome to intervene. After only 10 years on the throne, in 6 AD, he was stripped of his authority, banished to Vienna, and replaced by a Roman Governor.
Justifiably concerned but unsure where they should go, Joseph receives yet another dream from the Lord. Instead of Judea, God instructed Joseph to “turn aside into the region of Galilee.” In the end, Joseph decides to bring his family back to his hometown of Nazareth.
Once again, Matthew points out the significance of Jesus growing up in Nazareth writing it happened “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” Admittedly, there is a lot of confusion about this reference mainly because there isn’t a specific verse that says the Messiah would come out of the city of Nazareth.
To be fair, I should add many scholars see this as a reference to Isaiah 11:1 when we read, “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” The argument is that the Hebrew word for “Branch” and “Nazarene” is so similar Matthew was employing a wordplay in making this particular connection. Maybe?
What is often overlooked is that Matthew doesn’t reference one prophet but “the prophets.” Look again. He writes, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets.” Some believe Matthew isn’t recording a direct quotation but is instead referencing a predominant theme regarding Messianic expectations. Because the Scriptures present the upbringing of the Christ as being humble and lowly, growing up in Nazareth would fit.
Understand, during the time of Christ, there was a significant cultural divide between the region of Judea and the Galilee. Because Jerusalem was the most prominent city in this part of the world, Judea was the center of power and seat of religion and learning. As such, all the wealth was concentrated in the area with all the prominent families residing there.
With this in mind, the general perspective of the religious and political establishment to their kinsman living in the Galilee was that they were second-class Jews. The elites of that day looked down on the folks in Galilee as being primarily blue-collar, low-educated, largely poor, country hicks. As one Jewish politician in that day (Hillarim Rodham Clintsberg) once said, “Galileans belong in a basket of deplorables.” You see the people who lived in the Galilee were the red-hat-wearing MIGA crowd (Make Israel Great Again).
In fact, confirmed in the New Testament record, Galileans had a back-country ascent that reinforced these prejudices. Additionally, since their Jewish cities were intermingled with Gentile settlements, the ruling class saw this region as being the wild west and semi-pagan.
And if that weren’t enough, of all the cities that made up the area, Nazareth had an even worse reputation! Located miles inland along an important trade route that connected the Sea of Galilee with the Mediterranean, Nazareth was basically a glorified truck stop.
Because the entire town existed to service merchants needing a place to layover, the local economy consisted of little more than a few questionable motels, a Flying J petrol station, a full-service mechanic shop, a Waffle House, liquor store, strip club, and a Piggly Wiggly!
As a result, there should be no surprise that historically Nazarenes were notoriously shady characters! Consider that when hearing Jesus was from Nazareth, in John 1:46, Nathanael questions his brother Philip’s sanity by posing this snarky question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Why did he ask it? Nothing good ever had!
Please understand, when people called him “Jesus of Nazareth” it was not meant to be a compliment. In fact, the connection to Nazareth was an intentional slight. For example, in John 19:19, we read how “Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” To the elites living in Judea, the idea someone who grew up in Nazareth honestly believed they were a king was comical.
In writing his Gospel, Matthew wanted his Jewish audience to know that while Jesus grew up in Nazareth it was on purpose. It was an important part of God’s plan that Jesus not grow up with the silver-spoon of privilege, or live in the lap of luxury, or enjoy the abundance of opportunity. Instead, God wanted His Son to come from humble beginnings, to grow up on the other side of the tracks, to experience life when the deck was stacked against Him.
While the enemies of Christ have always ridiculed Jesus for His connection with Nazareth (we still see this in the Muslim world in their use of the Arabic letter noon to mark the homes of the Nazarenes), the simple and humble upbringing of Jesus has always resonated with the masses and become a point that has endeared Him to His followers for centuries.
In order to unpack the larger theme that weaves its way through this chapter with the time that we have left, let me start with an admission… I struggled with how unnecessary this whole affair seems to be. Sure, I get why Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to flee Bethlehem and live in Egypt “until the death of Herod.” Knowing the Messiah was alive and out there, as long as Herod was breathing air, Jesus would be in danger. Instead, my issue is why did they have to flee when God could have just taken out Herod that very night?
Let’s be real, for about a two-year period Mary and Joseph have gone through the wringer. They’d both been doubted, ridiculed, and likely alienated from their friends and family when Mary turned up pregnant and Joseph, believing her story, married her anyway. There’s a reason they decided to stay in Bethlehem and were reluctant to return to Nazareth.
And if the stigma surrounding Mary’s pregnancy hadn’t been enough, things go from bad to worse when Joseph receives instructions from Rome that he and a very pregnant Mary would have to take the 70-mile journey south in order to be registered according to the census. How terrible that upon their arrival to Bethlehem they aren’t even able to find a room and have to settle for a dirty, unsanitary cave (“stable”) to stay the night.
Obviously, their situation is far from perfect, but they do their best to make the most of a raw deal. They clean up the stable and make up a bed for the night out of the hay and straw. Imagine the moment when Mary turns around to informs Joseph that her water has just broken and she going into labor! Of all the times and places to deliver your first kid!
The whole scene is utter chaos — but, at long last, Jesus is born, they lay Him in a manger, and Mary and Joseph are finally able to ease into a night's sleep. Nope! You see in the dead of night, company unexpectedly drops in! When all they would have wanted was a silent night where all is calm, Mary and Joseph find themselves having to deal with a group of disheveled, unclean, smelly shepherds (land pirates) who’d come to see baby Jesus!
Seriously, you have to give Mary and Joseph a ton of credit. While their lives had been flipped upside down, they’ve navigated each new complication with grace. Even when they’re thrown a curve they haven’t complained or questioned God’s love for them. Yes, they are young and poor, but Joseph has stayed faithful to Mary and they both love Jesus.
Once the crowds finally leave Bethlehem after registering, we can safely say it doesn’t take long for Joseph to find work and secure a house for them to live in. Within a few weeks, life stabilizes. Then as one month passes to the next, things slowly begin to normalize.
Joseph finds a great synagogue with a basketball league to start attending. Mary befriends some of the other young mothers on the block. Playdates with the tots fill the schedule. In so many ways, Mary and Joseph settled into a nice, quiet, normal life in Bethlehem.
Then the day comes… Wise Men show up unannounced and everything changes! Not only do Mary and Joseph find themselves in a situation where they have to uproot their lives and flee Bethlehem under the cover of darkness, but they have to make another long journey even further south to Egypt and completely start over until Herod dies and it’s safe to return! Again, it would have been so much easier if God had just killed Herod!
While I’m sure God used all of these things to reinforce some important truths to Joseph and Mary (they were not alone as God was aware of their every movement, they could always depend on His guidance when they weren’t sure what to do, evil could not detour God’s will), Matthew is clear the reason all of these things were necessary centers on the idea God wanted the Jewish Messiah, His Son, to be “called out of Egypt.”
For just a second I want you to take a step back from what you think you known about this chapter, do your best to move beyond the Christmas connotations, and think about the similarities of the events Matthew records in this chapter and all of the experiences the Hebrew people had related to Egypt — nothing in Scripture is an accident.
First, how did the Jewish people (which at the time was just Jacob and his sons) originally end up living in Egypt? Well, it was through the actions of a dreamer named Joseph! Can we honestly say it’s just a coincidence that God deliberately chose a man named Joseph to be Jesus’ step-father only to then supernaturally guide him using dreams?
How about this… In Genesis, God used this dreamer Joseph to get His people to Egypt in order to preserve their lives from a dangerous famine gripping the land. In similar fashion, in Matthew 2, we have the story of God using another dreamer named Joseph to get His Son to Egypt in order to preserve His life from a dangerous tyrant seeking Him harm.
The similarities don’t end there… In Exodus 1, we’re told that since Pharaoh was feeling threatened by the Jews he ordered the execution of all the Hebrew, male children two years old and younger. Amazingly, the one child that was able to escape the slaughter (Moses) God raised up to be the deliverer of His people.
Fast-forward 2000 years… In Matthew 2, we find another ruler Herod, feeling threatened by the King of the Jews, ordering an identical massacre. And again, the one Child that just so happens to escape the slaughter (Jesus) God raises up to be the deliverer of His people.
Understand, even the name of Christ reinforces this interesting connection… Remember, Jesus’ name in Hebrew was Yeshua or Joshua! Crazy, Joshua just so happened to be the man God would raise up to lead His people into the Promised Land. Coincidence? Ok… one more… Mary’s name in Hebrew was Miriam which just happens to be the same as Moses’ older sister who was recruited by Pharaoh’s daughter to be his primary caretaker!
One of the foundational components to Matthew’s Gospel and why he writes in the first place is the notion that Jesus, as the King of the Jews, came to be the King of all men! Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it’s why his account of Jesus’ life ends with Him giving His followers a Great Commission to take the Gospel into all the nations of the world.
With that in mind, Matthew intentionally records these events in such a way to draw this unmistakable parallel back to Egypt — something that would have been immediately picked up on by his Jewish audience. You see Jesus being “called out of Egypt” intended to harken back to Jewish history so that the people could understand what it was God was doing.
Years earlier, God used Egypt as the incubator by which He took the family of Jacob via the dreams of Joseph and grew them into a Nation. When that process was finally completed God then called the Children of Israel out of Egypt (delivering them using the one child to survive a massacre — Moses) and led them into the Land of Promise under the leadership of Joshua in order to make them His people. Tragically, this is where things run off the rails.
In many ways, what is happening in God calling Jesus “out of Egypt” was a repeating of the original Exodus. And yet, this time instead of calling out a people through which the Christ would be born, God called out His Son through which all people might be born again.
In the first exodus… From Egypt, God called out a people from which was born the Christ. In the second… From Egypt, God called out the Christ from which was born a new people.
Let me close with one final proof this was Matthew’s intention… If Jesus was called out of Egypt and came into the land to initiate this new work, any guess where He’d start? In chapter 3, Jesus will begin His ministry by being baptized in the Jordan River in a place known as Bethabara — the very location Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land!
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