Continuing the story of Jesus’ birth:
12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. 13 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.”
The wise men give Herod the slip and head back to their country. In the meantime, Joseph is warned by an angel to leave town because Herod has some malicious intentions for Jesus. Without the wise men’s inside information, Herod did not know who the child King was. So he resorted to devastating violence. Herod ordered the killing of every male child under the age of two. Given the population estimates of Bethlehem at the time, that means 10-20 families lost a child that night. Think about how we felt in recent violent acts toward children in our nation. The sorrow, misery, fear, and anger would be no different in Bethlehem.
What’s the point of this flight to Egypt and back? Again, the sovereignty of God is at work. There is a purpose. There is a parallel in the Old Testament that is important to see. In the Old Testament, God delivered His people Israel out of Egypt and established the Mosaic Covenant. In the New Testament, God brings deliverance to all people when the Deliverer was called out from Egypt, establishing the New Covenant. The Old Testament Scriptures quoted here are from Hosea 11:1 and Jeremiah 31:15.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” -Hosea 11:1
“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.’” -Jeremiah 31:15
The latter was written when Babylon was conquering Judah and ripping families apart as they carried people away into exile. Like the night Herod had the baby boys killed, this would have been a time of excruciating heartache and sorrow. But right after that, in verses 16 and 17, God promises that they will not be forgotten.
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.’” -Jeremiah 31:16-17
You see, Jesus provides the new exodus from the slavery of sin and He ends the exile from God that sin causes. There is hope in the midst of hurt and life in the midst of death.
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, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
After Herod dies, the family returns but not to Bethlehem. Things have not settled down entirely because Herod’s son was an apple that had not fallen far from the tree. So they went to Nazareth. And here we see a third prophecy fulfilled in this section. Except that Matthew says the prophets foretold this, yet there is no mention of it in the Old Testament. Christ coming from Nazareth is a picture of what He would endure in His ministry and ultimately His death. Nazareth was not a well-respected town and pretty low on the economic scale of the day. Because of His Nazarene heritage, Jesus would have a hard time being taken seriously by many people. And indeed, this fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 53:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” -Isaiah 53:3
This is actually a fitting end to the story of Jesus’ birth. It’s the final impression for the direction that His life would head. He came to save sinners but would be rejected by them. I think if we are honest with ourselves, many of us will find we actually identify more with Herod than we care to admit. We’re afraid of Jesus invading our kingdoms. We see His commands as buzzkills and keeping us from doing the things we enjoy. We see following Jesus as a too great a cost rather than having infinite worth. We have all the knowledge in the world about who He is but fall short of an obedience of faith that He desires of us. And so we come to the point of decision. Will we respond like the religious leaders and utterly reject Jesus? Jesus condemned these men. You can have all the knowledge of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings, but unless it leads to repentance, it means nothing. The rejection of Jesus results in condemnation and leads to an eternity in hell.
Will we respond like the masses would, who followed Jesus so long as He met their wants? This is consumerism Christianity and is really no Christianity at all. Jesus would go on to say that these people who claim Christ but do not obey are fooling themselves into thinking they are eternally secure (Matthew 7:21-23). I shudder to think what percentage of church-goers, particularly in the Bible Belt, are living under this false assumption. Whether thinking that going to church or Bible study on a weekly basis or even doing missionary work saves, both actions are of man doing something. They don’t save. They are responses to our salvation. If we accept Jesus’ salvation but reject his lordship, that is not an authentic, saving faith.
The third group we see in Matthew are the disciples of Jesus. These are followers who follow Him with an obedience of faith. Worship, praise, suffering, and sacrifice lead their lives. This is salvation. Jesus began His ministry by saying “follow me and I will make you fishers of men” and He ended by saying “go and make disciples of all nations”. Everything in between was preparation for this task. This is a privileged commission for followers of Jesus, who count it a joy to be considered worthy to give their lives for the sake of the gospel. From the prophecies that told of His coming, to God’s sovereign orchestration of His birth, and all the way to the end of the age in Revelation, Jesus came to save us by the grace, and to the glory, of God and the spread of His name to the ends of earth.
Every single person who encountered the baby Jesus could do only one thing: worship. And they left with such joy they had to tell others about Him. Christ had come. He is the salvation to our sin. He brings hope and life where neither exist. Don’t become desensitized to this miracle or let consumerism block you from the joy of this event. This is a Christmas story worth telling all year.