Matthew 2:13-23 // Finding the Light in the Dark Side of Christmas

[This sermon was preached on December 27th, 2020 for the Mars Hill Cumberland Presbyterian Church broadcast on their Facebook page.]

Good morning, we’re going to read from the Gospel of Matthew, and we’re just going to read verses 13-23. We’re going to read the violent scene that takes place at the hands of Herod, and we’re going to see what an awful scene like this means for us today.

When you get to Matthew 2:13-23, go ahead and stand for the reading of God’s Word.

TEXT: Matthew 2:13-23, NKJV

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION:

Almighty and Everlasting God, we have a hard text before us. It looks bleak and we need help seeing the Gospel, the good news, in a text like this. So Father, would you come to us with the power of the Holy Spirit and open our hearts to hear what You have to say to us through this word? Father, send the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts leave the other side of this message looking more and more to you than when it began. We ask these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

INTRODUCTION:

Last week, I gave a brief history lesson over what was going on in Rome at the time of Jesus’ birth which made his arrival at that particular time all the more meaningful. Whenever we read the Scriptures, it’s important for us to consider the cultural and historical landscape of what’s going in the world around the writing of Scripture because Scripture wasn’t written in a vacuum apart from what was going on. Scripture was written by a particular people in a particular place in time and they assumed that their audience would know what was going on at the time because they didn’t expect the world to go on into this many future generations. They thought Jesus would have been back within a generation or two perhaps even in their own lifetimes, and a lot of information can be lost in 2000 years so it’s important for us to consider what was going on in the world that surrounds the writing of Scripture so we can see the full context of what we’re reading when we open the Bible. 

This week we’re going to expound more on what’s going on in the world around the time of Jesus’ birth. So many times we prefer the more serene pictures of the nativity that we see on Christmas cards at Hallmark or Hobby Lobby, but I don’t think we consider the darkness of the circumstances surrounding such a holy event. So, this morning we will consider “Where the Light Shines in the Dark Side of Christmas.”

Romans 15:4 tells us that “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” We apply that principle to stories in the Bible that might be hard to grasp for whatever reason because we’re trusting that by reading those things it will strengthen our hope. 

So, the natural question is: where’s the hope? It seems like evil is running rampant, and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are on the run. The only good thing about it is that at the end, Herod dies, and Joseph and Family seem to have found a place to lay down roots in Nazareth. So, what does it all mean? 

What I want to do this morning is I want us think about this passage under two headings, I want us to think about: The Suffering of the World, and The Savior of the World.

The circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth are interesting to begin with:

  • First, an angel appears to Zechariah and tells him that he and his wife will have a baby, and we know from last week’s Sunday School lesson that his child going to be John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ.
  • Then, an angel appears to Mary to tell her that she will give birth to Jesus.
  • Then, an angel appears to Joseph to confirm that Mary is in fact pregnant with the Son of God.
  • Then, angels appear to shepherds to tell them that a Savior had been born in the City of David. Now, shepherding was a working man’s job. Remember last week we said that it wasn’t exactly considered a noble profession and the testimony of shepherd weren’t even allowed to be heard in court. Shepherds aren’t the kind of people that anyone would expect to see the angels come to. 
  • Then wise men are guided by a star in the East to the place where Jesus was born. 

Then finally, in our passage, an angel appears to Joseph two more times to show him where to go and what to do. 

THE SUFFERING OF THE WORLD

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this good news and celebration, Herod issues an edict that all male children two years old and younger should be put to death. Why? Because he’s insecure.

  • In his mind, he’s the King of the Jews. Afterall, he’s the one who went before the Roman Senate petitioned to have that title. He’s going to kill anyone who threatens his place in society, including children, and not just children, but his own children as well.
  • Herod had three sons, and one of them framed the other two in a conspiracy to have Herod assassinated, and so Herod, feeling threatened, didn’t hesitate to have his own sons put to death. 

This kind of evil that Herod perpetuates isn’t like a tornado or a hurricane that comes through and kills people, and damages property. Natural disasters like that are impersonal, but the death of these children is an active and decisive act of someone who is evil and bent on retaining control and power. 

  • If modern day psychologists were to peer into his mind they would probably deem him a deranged sociopath.

But this is the world that Jesus is born into. 

“Perhaps no event in the gospel more determinatively challenges the sentimental depiction of Christmas than the death of these children. Jesus is born into a world in which children are killed, and continue to be killed, to protect the power of tyrants… 

The Herods of this world begin by hating the child, Jesus, … [they] end up hurting and murdering children. That is… the politics of murder to which the Church is called to be the alternative.” – Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew

So, this is where we begin to learn about Jesus, the savior of the world. 

THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD

Jesus is born into a world of suffering. Jesus is born into a world of pain. Jesus is born into a world where children are murdered and where people are fighting each other for control of a world that they only have a few years to live on. 

And the reason Jesus is born into this world is so the world can be transformed and renewed, and in order for that to happen, Jesus has to be better. 

  • First, Jesus has to be the better Adam. 
  • God’s plan for the world was to create a dwelling place for himself, and He gave Adam a responsibility, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it…” (Gen. 1:28) He also tells him that there’s a tree that he can’t partake of. It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
  • Adam fails in his obedience to God, he partakes of the tree with wife, and they are kicked out of the garden.
  • Jesus has to be the more obedient Adam. He doesn’t disobey God in any way, instead He fulfills the law in every aspect. 
  • Secondly, Jesus has to be the better Moses.
    • Have you noticed that the beginning of Moses’ life, and the beginning of Jesus’ life are very similar? At the beginning of Moses’ life there’s a Pharaoh who feared God’s people. He feared that the Jewish population would get so big that there would be an uprising to Egyptian government, and he would lose his power. So, he sets out to murder their male children, and Moses’ life was spared because Exodus 1 tells us that the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them. (Exodus 1:17)
    • At the beginning of Jesus’ life there’s a king who also fears losing his power, and now he’s hearing about this baby who is supposed to be the king of Jews so he sets out to kill all the male children in his region. Do you see how Moses’ life and Jesus’ life are running parallel?
    • In Exodus 2, Moses kills an Egyptian soldier and takes refuge in Midian because Pharaoh is out to kill him. In Exodus 3, Moses see the burning bush, and God tells him that it’s time to go to Egypt. When we come to Exodus 4, God tells Moses that he can finally go back to Egypt.
      • “Now the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.” – Exodus 4:19, NKJV
      • Does that sound familiar? It’s the almost exact same phrase from our passage in Matthew 2:20 where the angel appears to Joseph and says, “…go to the land of Israel for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Like Moses, his life is being sought after, and like Moses, God makes a way for him to go back to where He is to lead God’s people.
  • According to Matthew 2:15, this all took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”
    • When you’re reading your Bible in the New Testament, and you notice that the text says, “this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” or “as it is written…” go back in your Old Testament and see what’s being said in context. If you do that, I promise the Bible will open up to you.
    • So, when Matthew says that this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, we need to see where it comes from. Most your Bibles have cross references, and if you follow your cross-references it should take you back to Hosea 11.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

2 As they called them, so they went from them; they sacrificed to the Baals, and burned incense to carved images. 3 “I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them.” – Hosea 11:1-4, NKJV

  • What God is describing here, is how he pulled Israel from the dust, and he set them on their own two feet, and then in verse 2 it says they sacrificed to Baals. So, what happened was that God brought them out of Egypt (“out of Egypt I have called my Son”), He establishes them as a nation (“I taught [them] how to walk, taking them by their arms”), and then they turn away from God and turn to idols.
  • Matthew is assuming that when he quotes from the Old Testament we’re going to know what he’s talking about it. So, when he quotes Hosea passage here, he’s communicating to us that the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is a type and shadow of Jesus’ return to Israel from Egypt.

This leads us to our third point about the Savior of the World, he has to be the better Israel. If the world is going to be made right, then Jesus has to lead the charge obediently and faithfully, better than Adam, better than Moses, and more faithfully than Israel. 

  • Going back to the quote from Hosea 11, think about the whole book of Hosea. We have a story where God tells a prophet to go marry a prostitute, and have children with her because this is how God was loving His people.
  • And what happens is that even after being married to a prophet and having children with him, this woman goes back to street corner and returns to prostitution and God tells Hosea to go back and buy her. The cycle continues, and the rest of the book Hosea is God calling out Israel’s idolatry, and promising judgement, but finally the end of the book takes a different turn. The final chapter in Hosea is chapter 14, and it’s there where God calls them to turn back to Him.

“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. 6 His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’ I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; your fruit is found in Me.” 9 Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; The righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” – Hosea 14:5-9, NKJV

That’s how the book ends. 

Everything that Israel went through, all their trials, all their judgements, everything they would face would point forward to a deliverer better than Moses. 

Israel was not true to its identity and was finally cast out of the land. But Hosea saw that God’s anger against His people would not last forever; He would provide a renewed Israel who would serve the Lord faithfully (vv. 2–12; see 2:14–23).

That hope for a new Israel—a true Israel that would embody all that God called Israel to be—persisted all across redemptive history. This hope was finally fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. Matthew tells us that Jesus fulfills Hosea 11 (Matt. 2:13–15). He is the true Israel, the faithful Israel who succeeds where old covenant Israel failed.

Like ancient Israel, He came up out of Egypt, passed through the waters, and was tested in the wilderness. In Matthew 4 and in Luke 4, both of those authors recall Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. He was tempted with the same kinds of things that they were tempted with, and He was tempted with the same kinds of things that we are tempted with, but the difference is that Jesus passed the test where Israel failed. Jesus passed the test in the same areas of our lives where many of us have failed.

  • Because of that, we look to Jesus as the true and better Israel, we look at Jesus as the true and better Adam, we look to see Jesus as the true and better Moses who brings us into the fulfillment of everything that God has promised to us. 

The good news of the gospel is that when we are in Christ we are made members of the new Israel. If we are in Christ, we share in the privileges and relationship He enjoys as God’s true Son… As such, we inherit all of the promises given to old covenant Israel. Those promises of God that Israel would rule over her enemies and enjoy abundant covenant blessings (for example, Isa. 14:1–2)—those promises are for all of God’s people united to Christ by faith alone. In Him we are the true Israel of God, heirs of the destiny promised to God’s old covenant people (Zeph. 3:14–20).

CONCLUSION

The question I want us to ask ourselves this morning is: where are we? 

Are we trying to serve God on our own terms or are we resting in the fact that our lives are hidden in Christ?

This is what Paul has to say about his relationship to Christ, and hopefully we all can say this as well.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, NKJV

Then Paul challenges us even farther in Colossians 3. 

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV

Now, I’ll ask again, are you in Christ? Are you resting in Him, trusting in Him, pursuing Him? Or are you on the outside? Are you wondering why everyone else is so excited, why everyone else takes their faith so seriously, wondering why other people are experiencing a deep joy that goes beyond surface-level happiness? Look to Jesus.

Advice to Christian Couples Considering Marriage

Five categories of advice for Christian couples considering marriage: Talk, Touch, Attitudes and Experiences, Plans and Logistics, Relationship Skills

Dear Christian couple considering marriage,

You’ve been dating for a while now, and you think things are going well. You’re wondering if it’s time to consider taking your relationship to the next step: marriage. You understand that covenanting to someone is a big deal. Maybe you feel stuck because you’re so worried about making a mistake. You wish there was some sort of checklist to guarantee of a happy future together. Some people tell you you’re overthinking, but you long for some sort of rubric by which to analyze your relationship—just to be sure! So what are you to do?

Or…

Maybe you’ve fallen hard and fast for “the person of your dreams”, and you’re ready to sign the marriage contract yesterday! But others in your life are cautioning you that you’re moving too quickly, that compatibility is just as important as chemistry. But sometimes it’s hard to see straight enough to analyze matters of practical concern.

In either case (or if like most people you fall somewhere between!) marriage is a very serious step and there isn’t a checklist that guarantees “success”. However, there are general principles that are helpful to consider on the journey towards making healthy and wise decisions about romantic relationships.

In order to facilitate wise thinking and decision making in this area, I have compiled an extensive but not exhaustive list of points for consideration. My advice falls under five main categories: talk, touch, plans, experiences, and skills. Let’s look at each in turn.

TALK: Things to start talking about before engagement.
– finances: debt, spending habits, financial philosophy
– health: current and past physical and mental health
– if there have been any serious crimes or addictions in the past or present
– children: if you want to have any, birth control beliefs and preferences, child rearing philosophies
– family of origin
– formative experiences both positive and negative
– attachment styles (secure, anxious-avoidant, etc.)
– what you consider deal-breakers in a dating relationship and in a marriage, including your views on divorce
– relationship history
– if either of you have children
– sexual history, philosophy of sexual intimacy in marriage, any history of being abused, attitudes surrounding sexuality in family of origin
– specific fears and hopes
– future plans and goals
– theological beliefs
– political views
– gender roles
– who your friends and community are
– how you deal with stress
– past traumas and their current effects
– hobbies and interests
– pet peeves
– Note: if any of these feel too difficult to discuss on your own, they can be saved for premarital counseling.

I will intersperse helpful charts and lists from relationship experts whose research and advice I value.

TOUCH: As relationships head closer to engagement, it’s a good time to reflect on your current experience with physical affection.
– is your physical relationship growing? It generally should grow as other components of the relationship grow (and always within limits of holiness and preference).
– is physical affection mutual, enjoyable, respectful?
– do you understand and practice consent always with all kinds of touch?
– do you have a pattern of making wise, healthy, and holy choices regarding touch?
– are you able to communicate about physical touch–what you’re comfortable with, your convictions, what you like, what you don’t like?
– My opinion: exercising self-control regarding physical affection while dating can be greatly illustrative of a person’s character and bode well for future marital faithfulness. At the same time, I don’t think physical affection in romantic relationships is just a fun bonus. It’s actually a valuable part of the bonding process (as long as it’s not driving the relationship or veering into sin): it’s part of nurturing the emotional and romantic side of the relationship; it builds trust; it expresses and directs growing attraction; it lays the foundation for good communication about touch in marriage; and it can help provide a calm, joyful, and connected place from which to face the challenges of relationship.

PLANS AND LOGISTICS: The practical stuff!
– if you get married, where will you live?
– will you have one income or two incomes?
– where will you go to church?
– are there plans to move to a different city at some point?
– when do you want to get married?
– how long do you want to be engaged?
– do you want to have children?
– will you use birth control?
– what are your beliefs about gender roles and how will they play out?
– how much time do you want to spend together versus apart when married?
– how will you relate to your families of origin?

ATTITUDES AND EXPERIENCES: Your demeanor towards one another and your experience of being in relationship with one another.
– do you enjoy being together?
– do you laugh together frequently?
– do you find yourself feeling calm and happy after and during your interactions?
– do you feel safe and respected?
– is there mutual effort put into the relationship?
– do you generally feel free and able to express your thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires?
– are there any indicators of narcissism or abuse?
– do you want to spend the rest of your life with the other person?
– do you increasingly find yourself wanting to learn about the other person’s struggles and baggage not so much to analyze whether they would make a good partner but rather to better understand them and how to care for them in their places of weakness and pain?
– are they one of the first people you think to share your joy and pain with?
– can you rely on each other for help, advice, care, and support?
– do you trust each other?
– can you be vulnerable with each other?
– do you enjoy learning things about each other?
– do you get excited about some of the same ideas, hobbies, or causes?
– do you feel connected and understood?
– are you emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically attracted to each other?
– can you sit quietly in the same room together?
– do you still enjoy hobbies and friendships you enjoyed before the relationship? (If so, that’s a good sign.)

Read about signs and types of abuse here.

SKILLS: Relational skills that will help you tackle the known and the unknown.
– communication about thoughts, feelings, relational struggles, wants, plans, dreams, and fears
– fighting fair, conflict resolution, and relational repair
– knowing the components of a good apology and willingness to apologize
– balancing acceptance of what is with seeking growth and change
– identification of and care for your own emotions and needs
– identification of and care for your partner’s emotions and needs
– listening in order to understand and connect
– responding to “bids for connection”
– “speaking” each other’s love languages
– maintaining connection to healthy community as individuals and as a couple

OTHER THOUGHTS:
– I think that premarital counseling can be a beneficial thing for most couples. One of the best premarital counseling programs is called Prepare and Enrich. I would recommend seeing a licensed professional counselor (LPC) who is also a Christian as opposed to a pastor, though it’s beneficial to meet with a pastor once or twice too.
– John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute have some of the best and most thoroughly researched information about healthy relationships available! I highly recommend checking out any of their resources. In particular, read up on what their research shows are the four most common predictors of divorce or what they call “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. If any of those four things are present in a relationship, that’s a red flag.
– My advice can be summarized with the following questions: are you compatible enough, to the best of your knowledge? do you know each other well enough? do you want to commit to one another? do you enjoy each other and connect well? do you have the skills and motivation needed to continue growing as individuals and as a couple both before and after marriage? And do you have a supportive community that will help you along the journey?

If you are like me, it can be easy to get caught up in overanalyzing and perfectionism. Having high standards for our self and others is good, but it’s important to understand that: 1) every person has baggage and every relationship has challenges, and 2) the experience of and sense of connection in a relationship are just as important as a checklist.

If on the other hand you are likely to let your heart lead your head into unwise or unhealthy paths, I implore you both to healthily honor your passion and nurture your prudence. No amount of chemistry can make up for incompatibility or poor character. Take a little time to consider. It’s worth it. You’re worth it!

In closing, I sincerely wish you well! And I hope that some of what I’ve shared is helpful for you as you evaluate your relationship and set intentions for the future. Marriage is such a good gift, and it’s worth the effort to enter it the best way you can—walking in wisdom, not perfectionism.

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.” Proverbs 18:22

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

Blessings,

Hannah 🌸