Christmas Pleasure Amidst Worldly Pain


Christmas Pleasure Amidst Worldly Pain


Christmas Pleasure Amidst Worldly Pain

Matthew 2:13-23

Main Idea: Jesus fulfills the Old Testament by inaugurating a new exodus, ending the mournful exile, and loving His fiercest enemies.

Three Reasons for Christmas Rejoicing

  1. Jesus Inaugurates the New Exodus
    1. God saved His people by bringing miraculous deliverance from Egypt.
    2. God saves His people by bringing the Messianic Deliverer from Egypt.
  2. Jesus Ends the Mournful Exile
    1. There is hope in the midst of hurt.
    2. There is life in the midst of death.
  3. Jesus Loves His Fiercest Enemies
    1. In our minds and in our hearts, we have all rejected Him.
    2. By His grace and for His glory, He has redeemed us.

Matthew 2:13-23 reminds us that the Christmas story many of us are so familiar with actually relates to biblical stories that go back hundreds of years prior to Christ's coming. God's work throughout the Old Testament had everything to do with this baby born in Bethlehem, and if we listen closely to what Matthew is telling us, we just might find an altogether fresh perspective on Christmas. There may be more reason to rejoice than we ever knew.

A brief summary of these events may be helpful to set the context. Our passage begins after Jesus was born and after the wise men had visited Him some time later. When the wise men left they were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, so they traveled home a different way (2:12). At the same time, Joseph had a dream in which God told him to take his family to Egypt, because Herod wanted to kill Jesus (v. 13). So in the middle of the night, Joseph took his wife and his Son, and they traveled about 75-100 miles to Egypt (v. 14). And you thought your Christmas travels were rough!43

Meanwhile, when King Herod heard nothing from the wise men, he decided he had only one option for destroying this child born King of the Jews. He had all the male children two years old and younger put to death (v. 16). It is estimated that the population of Bethlehem at that time was less than a thousand people, so there were likely somewhere between ten and twenty families that lost a son that day in a tragedy that surely shook the entire town to the core. Not long after that Herod died, and Joseph had another dream in which God told him to take his family back to the land of Israel (vv. 19-20). But Herod's son Archelaus, another ruthless ruler, was now reigning over Judea, making it unsafe to go back there. So Joseph, warned yet again in a dream, took his family back to the place where he and Mary had once lived in Galilee—to Nazareth (vv. 21-23).

So how do these things relate to Christmas, and what do they have to teach us today?

Three Reasons for Christmas Rejoicing

Matthew 2:13-23

In Matthew 2:13-23 we see three reasons for Christmas rejoicing, and these reasons literally go back three thousand years. Matthew quotes from the Old Testament three different times, and each time he says that the words of the prophets were fulfilled (2:15, 18, 23). Consider the first quotation in Matthew 2:15: "He [Joseph] stayed there until Herod's death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son." Matthew is actually quoting from Hosea 11:1, and in that particular context Hosea is talking about God's deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. This Old Testament context is important for understanding Matthew's point.

In Exodus God used ten miraculous plagues to deliver Israel (Exod 7-10). The first nine plagues—water-to-blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness—all led to the tenth and final plague, what we know as the Passover, when the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt (Exod 12:29). However, for His people, God prescribed a way to escape this plague of death. The Israelites were to put the blood of an unblemished lamb on their doorposts and on their lintels (Exod 12:7), for when the Lord saw this blood He would withhold judgment from that household. The Passover was a picture of God's gracious deliverance. This deliverance then climaxed in44 Exodus 14 when God fully and finally saved His people from the hands of the Egyptians at the Red Sea.

In light of this background, when Jesus and His family flee to Egypt and then later return from Egypt, Matthew helps us see that Jesus inaugurates the new exodus. The flight to Egypt for Jesus and His family was about much more than simply running away from Herod; this was about painting a picture, so don't miss the parallels:

  • The mercy of God in the Old Testament: He saved His people by bringing miraculous deliverance from Egypt. God's people recounted the exodus events every year, telling them over and over to their children. God mercifully delivered His people, and this deliverance became a picture of what was to come in the New Testament.
  • The mercy of God in the New Testament: He saves His people by bringing the Messianic Deliverer from Egypt. Matthew 2:15 speaks of a new deliverance, a new exodus. Recall that Matthew 1:21 says that Jesus will "save His people from their sins." Just as God delivered His people from the Egyptians in the Old Testament, so now He was delivering His people from sin in the New Testament. Just as Israel was God's son, brought out of Egypt (Exod 4:22; Hos 11:1), so now Jesus as God's Son was brought out of Egypt.

Matthew's quotation of Hosea 11:1 in verse 15 sets the stage for the second quote from an Old Testament prophet in verses 17-18: "Then what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be consoled, because they were no more." This quotation occurs right after Herod kills all of the infant boys in Bethlehem, and it's taken from Jeremiah 31:15. The prophet is talking about the time when the people of God were taken into exile. The Babylonians came and attacked Jerusalem, razing people's homes and destroying the entire city, and then they took all the people to Ramah, a place just north of Jerusalem. At Ramah the people were put into caravans and scattered apart from one another. This was a scene of unimaginable anguish.

Consider your reaction if you were taken to a place where you were separated from your family and your friends with the prospect that you might not ever see them again. Imagine the weeping and crying—the45 loud lamentation—that would take place in a scene like that as families were torn apart. This is the kind of scene that Matthew refers to when he describes the weeping and crying over children who had died in Bethlehem. But there's a deeper significance here as well, for the prophet Jeremiah says right after this in verses 16-17,

This is what the Lord says:

Keep your voice from weeping

and your eyes from tears,

for the reward for your work will come—

this is the Lord's declaration—

and your children will return from the enemy's land.

There is hope for your future—

this is the Lord's declaration—

and your children will return to their own territory.

Jeremiah tells the people that God has not forgotten them, and that He will initiate a new relationship, a new covenant with them (31:31-34). God was going to unite His people together around that covenant.

So when Matthew quotes from Jeremiah, it's as if he's saying amidst the bitter tragedy of Bethlehem, "Yes, the pain is real, but there is hope for your future, and that hope is here. Jesus has come!" Jesus ends the mournful exile. Notice the contrast in Matthew 2. On the one hand, there is horrible news—children dying and mothers mourning and weeping. On the other hand, there is hope in the midst of hurt. There is life in the midst of death. And what is that hope? Where is this life? Matthew tells us: A new King is born—a King who will conquer death, a King who will heal our hurts, a new King who will reconcile us to God.

Along with the coming of a new King, a new covenant is beginning. Matthew quotes from Jeremiah 31, the same chapter where we are promised that God will enter into a new covenant with us through Christ, so that all God's people will know and love and worship God. Jesus brings hope in the midst of hurt and life in the midst of death.

After showing us that Jesus inaugurates the new exodus and ends the mournful exile, Matthew now shows us that Jesus loves His fiercest enemies. In verse 23 we read, "Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets, that He will be called a Nazarene." If you have trouble tracking down that Old Testament reference, it's because Matthew is not quoting from any particular prophet. In fact, none of the prophets ever say precisely, "He46 will be called a Nazarene." For that matter, the prophets never even talk about Nazareth as a place at all. So why does Matthew say this?

We learn throughout the rest of Matthew's Gospel and the other Gospels that Nazareth was not a very well-respected place. It was at the bottom of the socio-economic scale, to say the least. Recall from John's Gospel that when Nathanael heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, he responded by saying, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). Nazarenes were scorned, derided, and generally despised. It is this idea of scorn that is all over the prophets, maybe most famously in Isaiah 53, where the prophet says of Jesus, "He was despised and rejected by men... and we didn't value Him" (53:3). This seems to be what Matthew is getting at—the King who has come is going to be rejected by the world. He will be a Nazarene. He will be scorned. But this is actually good news in the end, as we will see.

This final quotation in verse 23 brings chapter 2 to a fitting conclusion. The King of the universe has come to save sinners, and from the start He is defied and derided by the very sinners He came to save. Whether it's Herod, the chief priests, or the scribes, they are all setting themselves up against Jesus as His enemies. The reality is, we do the same thing.

In most of the stories we love, even biblical stories, you have a good guy and a bad guy, and of course, we love to identify ourselves with the good guy. Think about these pairs: Goliath and David, Cain and Abel, Pharaoh and Moses, Delilah and Sampson, Esau and Jacob. Likewise in Matthew 2 we've got good guys and bad guys. The good guys are the wise men, Joseph, and Mary; the bad guys, King Herod and the Jewish religious leaders. Whom do you identify with more? If we're honest, at the core of who we are we probably identify most with King Herod. Instead of bowing in full surrender before the King, we're afraid of how Jesus is going to invade our kingdom, our lives, our plans, and our desires. The reality is that in our minds and in our hearts, we have all rejected Him. This is the core of what it means to be a sinner, and this is precisely whom Jesus came to save.

The story of Matthew 2 and the story of Christmas are not simply about what happened two thousand years ago in the time of the New Testament, or three thousand years ago in the time of the Old Testament. This story is also about you and me. We're all enslaved to sin, in need of an exodus, in need of deliverance. And we are familiar with pain and hurt in this sinful world. We know suffering in our own lives47 and we see suffering all around us, and we long for an end to mourning. Yet, in our sin, we are enemies of the Savior. But He, Jesus, has come to inaugurate a new exodus, to make our deliverance from sin possible. He has come to end our mournful exile, to bring hope in the midst of hurt and life in the midst of death as a new King with a new covenant that unites us to God. And none of this is based on our work for Him, but on His work for us. And He has come to love us in all our sinful rebellion, though in our minds and in our hearts we have all rejected Him. By His grace and for His glory, He has redeemed us.

Christ has come. He has given His life for us, He has shed His blood as a perfect sacrifice, and He has risen from the grave to bring eternal life to all who believe in Him. This is the gospel that brings Christmas pleasure in the midst of worldly pain.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How does Jesus fulfill Hosea 11:1?
  2. How was God's providence evident in Jesus' flight to and return from Egypt?
  3. What are the parallels between the exodus story and salvation in Christ?
  4. What does it mean that Jesus ends the mournful exile?
  5. Can you sometimes identify with any of the reasons King Herod feared and hated Jesus?
  6. How is Matthew 1:23 a fulfillment passage if the Old Testament doesn't mention Nazareth?
  7. How would you respond if someone said that Matthew is simply pulling Old Testament quotations out of context?
  8. How does this passage as a whole make you rethink Jesus' relationship to the Old Testament?
  9. What does the supernatural nature of God's acts of deliverance say about our sin?
  10. How does this passage flesh out Jesus' claim in John 5:39 that (Old Testament) Scripture speaks of Him?