by Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons
Matthew now recounts the flight of Joseph and his family into Egypt, the massacre of the innocents, and the return of the family to Nazareth some time later. In Egypt the holy family are able to take refuge from the murderous plans of Herod.
v13-14. In typical Old Testament style, a messenger ("angel") from the Lord sets out to guide Jesus (the remnant people of Israel, the new Moses..... the messiah) to safety. Egypt is the obvious choice, for it has already served as a place of refuge for the people of Israel.
v15. Out of Egypt will come Israel's redemption, just as in the days of the Exodus under Moses. The nation of Israel had its origin in Egypt and was galvanized by the events of the Exodus. By quoting Hosea 11:1, Matthew affirms Jesus as the true remnant of Israel, a remnant whose redemption is close at hand. The point Matthew is making is that the messianic age begins when Israel comes out of Egypt (Note the similar Exodus symbolism in 4:1-11).
v16. The second point of the narrative illustrates Herod's response to the deception of the Magi (the wise men). He orders the execution of all boys under two years old in Bethlehem. Given a population of 1,000, this would amount to about 20 children. Herod's extermination of opponents is well documented, although this particular incident is not. Given that he even executed members of his own family, what's a few children here or there?
v17-18. Matthew now quotes Jeremiah 31:15 to demonstrate the fulfillment of prophecy in Herod's evil act - fulfillment in a generalized sense. Jeremiah speaks of Israel overwhelmed by a foreign power, devastated and about to be taken into exile. The destruction of the children in Bethlehem images this situation, but similarly it images the return from exile. Grief is but a moment before joy; Rachel's weeping will be short-lived. Bethlehem's grief will break into joy when her salvation is realized in Christ.
v19-21. Matthew goes on to make his third point. Herod died in 4BC, which means that Jesus was probably born around 6BC. (Our dating system is faulty due to a mistake made in the middle ages.) Again, a word from the Lord comes to Joseph; he is to return to Israel. Matthew keeps up the Moses typology by paralleling the language of the angel with Exodus 4:19. Like Moses, Jesus is to return to save his people.
v22. Archelaus ruled the Judean section of his father's kingdom and was no better than his father. Herod Antipas ruled the Galilean section, and was a little less violent.
v23. The family return to their home town, Nazareth, and so Matthew draws out the significance of Jesus' geographical origin. It was expected that the Messiah would come out of the Davidic town of Bethlehem, but Jesus grew up in Nazareth and so was called a "Nazarene". Matthew doesn't actually quote any particular prophet, but rather gives the general prophetic picture of a rejected and humiliated messiah. "Can anything good come from Nazareth", Jn.1:46. The town was partly Gentile, and of little value to "righteous" Jews.
The day dawns
In the coming of Jesus the messiah there dawns the new age of the kingdom. Not only is Jesus the fulfillment of all the prophetic hopes of Israel in that he is the coming prophet, priest and king, he is also, himself, the faithful remnant of Israel. When we associate with Jesus we link ourselves with the faithful remnant of God. Of this remnant people in Jesus, we may say three things:
1. In Jesus we are a redeemed people - "out of Egypt". The fates may conspire, darkness overwhelm, but God will save his people against all odds.
2. In Jesus we are a persecuted people - "Rachel weeping for her children." Jesus promised trouble for those who follow him, yet trouble leads to glory.
3. In Jesus we are no people - "Nazarenes". Jesus' lowly origin defines the church as "no people". We can claim no standing before the world, other than our standing before God. cf. Ps.22, Is.53. With such standing, who needs the acclimation of the world?
1. What does the word "redeem" mean? How has Jesus achieved our redemption? What is so significant about Egypt?
2. If suffering is the mark of the true church, how has your church suffered? What is the end of suffering?
3. How does a desire for the standing of our church in the wider community run counter to the image of the true Israel?
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the 1st Sunday after Christmas
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