************ Sermon on Matthew 2:13-18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 3, 1999
"Jesus: The Fulfiller of Salvation History"
Who is Jesus? Who is that baby in the manger? Or, as Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say I am?" (Mt 16:15).
Matthew tells us. He is the son of David – the Messiah Who sits at God's right hand (Mt 1:1). He is the son of Abraham – in Whom all peoples on earth are blessed (Mt 1:1). He is Jesus – the Savior from sin (Mt 1:21). He is the eternal Son of God – conceived by the Spirit and born of the virgin Mary (Mt 1:20). He is the "Immanuel" – which means, "God with us" (Mt 1:23). He is the king of the Jews – the one the Wise Men bowed before and worshiped (Mt 2:1-12).
Today we learn another answer. He is the fulfiller of salvation history.
I The Exodus Fulfilled
A Matthew tells us that King Herod met secretly with the Wise Men or Magi and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
(Mt 2:8) "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."We know that Herod's intention was not to worship the Child but to kill Him. That's why Herod wanted to know when the star first appeared. And that's why Herod wanted the Magi to report back to him.
When the Magi found the Christ child they worshiped Him and gave Him gifts. But did they report back to Herod as requested? In His providence God prevented that from happening. Matthew explains:
(Mt 2:12) And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
B Our Scripture reading starts in the same way as the last one ends: with the providential care of God. Matthew tells us that when the Magi had gone an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream:
(Mt 2:13) "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother during the night and left for Egypt.
C The distance from Bethlehem to Egypt is about 200 miles – the same as from Visalia to Los Angeles or San Francisco. But for Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus this was no quick 3-hour car-trip like it is for us. We are not sure how they traveled – whether on foot or by donkey or horse; but the trip probably took them at least 10 days to complete. We don't know if they traveled alone or hitched up with a caravan. However they went they faced the danger of robbers; the heat of the desert day; the cold of the desert night; sand storms; a lack of water; the fear and threat of Herod; and a departure from family, friends, and home.
If the trip was so difficult, why did God command them to go to Egypt?
First of all, Herod's power did not reach to Egypt so the Christ-Child would be safe there.
Second, historically Egypt has been the land of refuge for those fleeing from Palestine for one reason or another. It was in Egypt that Jacob and his family found refuge during the years of famine in Canaan (Gen 42f). When King Solomon sought to put Jeroboam to death, "Jeroboam fled to Egypt" (1 Kings 11:40). When King Jehoiakim sought to kill the prophet Uriah, he fled and escaped to Egypt (Jer 26:21). When the citizens of Judah killed the governor that Nebuchadnezzar had placed over them, they forced the prophet Jeremiah to flee with them to Egypt (Jer 41:17). In light of all this, it was only natural that Egypt was the place that Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus went to for safety.
D Who is Jesus? Our theme today is that Jesus is the fulfiller of salvation history. So as we look at the flight into Egypt we should hear echoes from Israel's past – echoes that would be immediately recognized by Matthew's Jewish audience.
The first echo that we hear in our passage is one that I already mentioned – the story of Jacob, Joseph, and their families in Egypt. Even as Jacob and his family find safety as they go from Canaan to Egypt so Jesus and His family find safety as they go from Canaan to Egypt. In both instances the main human figure in the flight to Egypt is Joseph – Joseph the son of Jacob and Joseph the husband of Mary. Joseph the son of Jacob, if you remember, was sold as a slave into Egypt. Because of his God-given ability to interpret dreams he became the second most powerful man in Egypt. When famine struck Egypt and all of the then known world Joseph was used of the Lord to save his own family. This is the first echo of the past we hear in the flight into Egypt.
It is important that we see Matthew's point of view here. He does not see history as simply being repeated by Christ. Rather, as Matthew himself tells us, he sees history as being fulfilled.
E But there is more. As we look at the flight into Egypt we also need to hear another echo from Israel's past. Here we come to the quote in verse 15:
(Mt 2:15) And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."This is a quote from the prophet Hosea about the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. At that time the children of Israel as a whole were seen as God's son and were called out of Egypt by God.
Matthew sees this prophecy as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It is He, especially, Who is the Son of God called out of Egypt. Jesus, in other words, fulfills in His own life the greatest salvation event of the Old Testament – the Exodus of God's people Israel from Egypt.
Don't forget Matthew's point-of-view here. He does not see history as simply being repeated by Christ. Rather, he sees history as being fulfilled.
II The Exile Fulfilled
A In 40 B.C. the Roman Senate had conferred upon Herod the title, "King of the Jews." So we know King Herod felt personally threatened when the Magi asked,
(Mt 2:2) "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."In fact, King Herod was terribly insecure. In his insecurity Herod killed three sons, two brothers-in-law, a wife, and countless others not related to him. And, in his insecurity King Herod sent his soldiers to Bethlehem
(Mt 2:16) ... and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
There is an old story to the effect that when Herod's soldiers arrived in the vicinity of Bethlehem to kill all the boys two years and under, there weren't any. According to this story God had seen to it that Jesus was the only boy born in Bethlehem during that time.
A lovely story! An attempt to keep the Christmas story nice. But, unfortunately, it has no basis in fact. Herod did send his soldiers to Bethlehem. And they did kill all the boys two years old and under.
The scene in Bethlehem that day must have been heart-rending. Mothers must have clung desperately to their little boys when they heard the soldiers marching down the street going from door-to-door. Fathers must have tried to hide their sons in secret hiding places. But all to no avail. When the soldiers were done with their bloody work wailing mothers were holding their dead babies and powerless fathers sobbed in rage, clenched their fists, and silently vowed to get even. But Jesus, the Savior of Israel, escaped the edge of the sword by the providential care of God.
B Matthew's Jewish audience would immediately recognize a scene from Israel's history in this story: a scene of Israel in Egypt. At that time Satan used another leader – the Pharaoh of Egypt – to shed the blood of Hebrew children. All the boys born to the Hebrew women were to be killed by the midwives. When this scheme failed, Pharaoh commanded that all the baby boys be thrown into the Nile where they would either drown, be eaten by crocodiles, or killed by poisonous water snakes.
We can draw another similarity between the two stories. Matthew tells us about the rescue of the baby Jesus, the Savior, from the designs and plans of a wicked King Herod. Exodus tells us about the rescue of another infant, another savior, the baby Moses, from the designs and plans of the wicked Pharaoh in Egypt. The baby Moses, if you remember, was put into a basket placed among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. Pharaoh's daughter came to the river to bathe, found the basket, adopted the baby Moses as her own child, and – in an ironic twist – paid the mother of Moses to nurse him.
Again, don't forget Matthew's perspective. In Jesus, history was not merely being repeated or relived. Rather, it was being fulfilled.
C In telling us the story of the Bethlehem massacre, Matthew tells us that what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
(Mt 2:18) "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
Bethlehem makes Matthew think of Rachel. Rachel was the wife of Jacob who died near Bethlehem giving birth to a son. With her last breath before she died she named this son "Ben-Oni," which means "son of my trouble" (Gen 35:18).
When we look at the actual prophecy of Jeremiah, we see that Jeremiah thinks of the crying of Rachel at the time of the captivity and deportation of Judah in 590 B.C. You can imagine the scene. Jerusalem has just been conquered. The city has been set on fire. The victorious soldiers loot, rape, and kill. Those not killed – mostly women and children – were taken to Ramah. You can almost hear their cries, their wails, their lamentations – because of husbands and sons killed in battle, because they are being dragged away from home, because of rape and murder.
For Matthew the blood of Bethlehem calls to mind, then, the two greatest crises faced by God's Old Testament people: the blood of the Hebrew children in Egypt, and also the blood of the Exile.
Once again, history is not merely being repeated. Rather, it is being fulfilled in Christ.
III Jesus Fulfills Salvation-History
A Throughout the passage Matthew is intent on telling us that in Jesus Scripture is "fulfilled." Jesus is the fulfillment, not merely the repetition, of salvation-history. The great trials as well as the great deliverances of salvation history are recalled and fulfilled in the story of the baby Jesus and Herod:
-Jacob/Joseph and their family find safety as they go from Canaan to Egypt
-the Exodus of God's people Israel from Egypt
-the blood of Hebrew children in Egypt
-the saving of the baby Moses
-the cries of Rachel
-the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile
Jesus, in His own life, not merely repeats but fulfills all these incidents – and many more – of salvation history.
B What exactly does Matthew mean when he identifies Jesus as the fulfiller of salvation history?
The Greek word that is used focuses on two things: fullness and completeness. In Jesus the Old Testament events reach fullness and completeness. What this means is that the Old Testament events fulfilled by Jesus are not complete in and of themselves – something more needs to follow!
Jesus is the fulfillment of salvation history. This means that in Jesus, God's greatest act of salvation is about to take place. The rescue of the baby Moses and the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is as nothing compared to what will happen at the cross and the grave. Jesus is the fulfillment of salvation history. I think here of the words of the Christmas angel to Joseph:
(Mt 1:21) "... give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."Throughout history other people have had the name "Jesus." And, in the Old Testament period more than one person was given the name "Joshua," the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek name "Jesus." But no matter who they were or what they did, they could not begin to compare to Him Who is the fulfillment of the ages (1 Cor 10:11). For Jesus, above and beyond all others, is the Savior. Jesus, above and beyond all others, lives up to the glory of His name. The Apostle Peter can say,
(Acts 4:12) "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
Jesus is the fulfillment of salvation history. This also means that the horrors of the past – the blood of Hebrew children in Egypt, the cries of Rachel, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile – are as nothing compared to the agony of hell experienced by Jesus. Remember what Matthew records about the events of Good Friday?
(Mt 27:46) About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"What Jesus underwent for our sakes, to save us, is far greater than the greatest crises faced by God's Old Testament people.
Jesus is the fulfillment of salvation history. This means that the salvation and freedom of the past – from Egypt, from Babylon, from Pharaoh – is as nothing compared to the salvation and freedom that is ours in Christ. The results of God's acts in the past are but a "shadow" of the things that await the people of God (Col 2:17; Heb 8:5; 10:1). In Christ "God had planned something better for us" who believe (Heb 11:40).
Who is Jesus? Who is that baby in the manger? Or, as Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say I am?" (Mt 16:15). He is "the fulfillment of the ages," says Paul. And on us, says Paul, "the fulfillment of the ages has come" (1 Cor 10:11).
Therefore, ours is a better Savior, Who endured a worst suffering, and gives us a better salvation.
Now, how do you respond to Him Who is the fulfillment of the ages? Like Herod, and all Jerusalem with him, do you hate Him and fear Him? Or, like the Magi, do you bow down before Him and worship Him?
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