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.

Savior or Prom Date: A [Hopefully] Calm Postlude

Savior or Prom Date2

In order to make sense of what I’m about to say, you’ll want to read my first article here.

I don’t want to come off as some kind of theological Superman. I don’t want to sound like I’m telling you that if you just listen to me then everything about worship in your church will be better and all your worship woes will be solved and your worship wars will be over.

However, I would like to say that maybe I was too angry in response. Maybe my tone wasn’t that great. I’m not going to apologize for what I said because I feel like this issue is something that needs to be addressed, but maybe I could’ve used more tact.

Now that the apology is out of the way, let me say that I’m not sure what needs to be done, but I know that as long as the Christian music industry is just trying to turn a profit instead of trying to make sure that they are devoted to theological clarity in song then we’ll see our mainstream churches turn to such music.

Ultimately, this is an issue of the heart. Worship leaders are often drawn to songs and gimmicks that have about as high a view of God as they do. As long as we have people in positions of leadership who will not place a priority on teaching the whole council of God through the medium to which they are called (in this case, music), then you’ll always see anemic Christians trying to feed other anemic Christians. This is why I believe that we should use the same qualifications that we would use to seek out a pastor (Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 2) and use those to seek out worship leaders.

Pastors who are passionate about the Gospel and passionate about feeding the flock of God will not allow their congregation to settle for anything less than music that teaches us about God, about His Word, and about His Church.

Ultimately, if we want to measure the worship in our church against the worship of the New Testament, then we just to read the Scriptures and be honest. Does our worship look anything like how the early church would worship if they any of them were still on earth today?

John’s Love Letters, Part 3: Fellowship

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. -1 John 1:6-10 ESV

At first glance, it seems that there is almost a contradiction. John is telling us that we shouldn’t walk in the darkness and say that we are in the light because if we do, we make ourselves liars and the truth is not in us. However, if we say we’ve not sinned, we make God a liar and His Word isn’t in us. Most of our modern interpretations of this passage imply that when we ‘walk in the light’ we never sin, but for those of us that are realistic, we know sometimes we slip and fall.

Walking in the light is our sanctification. It is a continual process of repentance and growing in love and grace as the Holy Spirit empowers are lives for service in the Lord’s work.

This is why John tells us that He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. Jesus knows that imperfect human beings are incapable of being perfect. William Barclay offers some insight into what John means here.

“John is laying down the blunt truth that the man who says one thing with his lips and another thing with his life is a liar. He is not thinking of the man who tries his hardest and yet often fails. “A man,” said H. G. Wells, “may be a very bad musician, and may yet be passionately in love with music”; and a man may be very conscious of his failures and yet be passionately in love with Christ and the way of Christ. John is thinking of the man who makes the highest possible claims to knowledge, to intellectual eminence and to spirituality, and who yet allows himself things which he well knows are forbidden. The man who professes to love Christ and deliberately disobeys him, is guilty of a lie.” – William Barclay

As we have fellowship with Him, it strengthens and empowers our fellowship with others. Sin is antisocial. It separates us from God and as a result, separates us from others. Let’s walk in repentance and fellowship and be ever fighting in the war against sin in our lives.

The High Priest of Hebrews

“But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” – [Hebrews 9:11-12 KJV]

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” – [Hebrews 9:11-12 ESV]

“But.” this three letter word can the tone of any sentence and, if used correctly, can bring good news out of bad news. The ox ford says that this three letter word is used to introduce a phrase or clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned. In this passage of Scripture, found in the letter to the Hebrews, the writer starts describing the setup of the temple and in verse 11 he gives us the reason that we don’t have live under works and the law any more. He begins teaching us about the hope of eternal redemption through Christ’s blood. The Old Covenant system wasn’t personal enough. The Old Covenant system never dealt with the issue of your sin it only rolled it back. It didn’t have the power to give you victory over sin and relieve your conscious.

“By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.”- [Hebrews 9:8-10 ESV]
“They related mainly to outward and ceremonial rites, and even when offerings were made for sin the conscience was not relieved. They could not expiate guilt; they could not make the soul pure; they could not of themselves impart peace to the soul by reconciling it to God. They could not fully accomplish what the conscience needed to have done in order to give it peace. Nothing will do this but the blood of the Redeemer…The idea here is, that those ordinances were only temporary in their nature, and were designed to endure until a more perfect system should be introduced. They were of value “to introduce” that better system; they were not adapted to purify the conscience and remove the stains of guilt from the soul.” – Albert Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament

When Christ came He made a way for us to personally go before the throne of grace and ask of Him exactly what we need. What a thought! We, a people that deserve death and Hell, have the privilege of coming before our Heavenly Father and asking for anything that we might need.

“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” – [Hebrews 4:14-16 KJV]

Out of this passage of Scripture I noticed three ‘T’ words that stood out to me:

1.) Touched

2.) Tempted

3.) Throne

I’ll probably post more about this later but the thought occurred to me: Jesus, our High Priest, was TEMPTED so He could be TOUCHED at the THRONE of grace.

Thank you so much for reading this. I hope you were encouraged or blessed in some way. Remember that you are loved today by the King of Kings!