When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “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 he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, 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. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“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.”
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. (New International Version)
Jesus is the New Exodus
Joseph was told to take Jesus to Egypt. He obeyed the Lord and assumed the role of protecting the child Jesus, unlike King Herod’s demented attempt to murder Jesus. Whereas Herod sought only his own personal agenda, Jesus identified with the people of God and sought their best interests.
Just as God brought the Israelites out of Egypt through a great deliverance, so God brought up Jesus, the Great Deliverer, out of Egypt as the unique Son of God. Jesus is God’s divine Son, and so is the rightful Ruler in God’s kingdom.
In Christianity, Jesus is the special God Man who secures salvation for us. God preserved Israel from Pharaoh’s wrath; God protected Jesus from Herod’s wrath.
God’s kindness and loyalty preserves us from the wrath of the devil who seeks to keep as many people as possible in the realm of darkness.
Our hope is in the Lord, specifically, in Jesus who has conquered the devil; and he did it by first establishing a beachhead on this earth through his incarnation as the Son of God.
Just as Hosea’s prophecy was an appeal to turn from other gods to the true and living God of mercy and grace, so Matthew calls us to turn from idolatry, from anything that would displace Jesus as the rightful Ruler of our lives.
Jesus brought us out of exile
King Herod massacred innocent toddlers in order to ensure the destruction of Jesus. Behind his atrocity was the devil himself who knew that Jesus was the coming King who would one day bring salvation, and the satanic agenda was set in place.
However, nothing can thwart the fulfillment of God’s promises – including Satan, whose most powerful weapon, death, has now lost its sting because of Jesus.
Just as the prophet Jeremiah spoke hope to the people that exile will not be forever, so Matthew speaks the fulfillment of that hope. The incarnation is here. Jesus has arrived. Salvation has come in the form of a child. He is the Deliverer, the Savior. Christ brings us from captivity into the promises of God.
Jesus came to save the littlest, the lowly, the least, the lost, the lonely, and the last. God demonstrated the commitment to deliver such persons through a humble existence in a backwater town called Nazareth.
Jesus is the new Moses
Joseph is, again, unexpectedly visited by an angel with instructions concerning Jesus. Herod, after all his sinister shenanigans, finally dies. The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, described Herod’s death:
He had a terrible craving to scratch himself, his bowels were ulcerated, and his privates were full of gangrene and worms. At Jericho he assembled the men of distinction from all parts of the nation and ordered them shut inside the hippodrome. He told his sister, Salome, that as soon as he died, all these men were to be killed, so that there would be grief throughout the country at his death rather than joy. (Paul Maier, Josephus: The Essential Works, 252)
The contrast between King Herod and King Jesus could not be any more pronounced; Jesus said in a clear demonstration of his humility and grace at his death:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24, NIV)
With Herod dead, it was safe to return to Israel. Matthew links Jesus to the exodus and deliverance of the Israelites as the new Moses. Just as Moses was by God to go back to Egypt because all the men who wanted to kill him were dead (Exodus 4:19) so Jesus is also told to return from Egypt because he will save the people from their sins.
Everything in Holy Scripture points to Jesus, in one way or another, on purpose, as the center from which all things hinge and revolve.
At the beginning of this New Year, in the middle of Christmastide, it is good to remember the incarnation of Jesus to help set the tone for the entire year.
Christ came to us so that he might set apart a holy people, dedicated to doing his will, and living according to the ethics of God’s kingdom.
God doesn’t determine who is a good follow through the metrics of perfect attendance to church services, but in how we interact with people while we are there, and how we live our lives when we are outside the four walls of a church building.
God has found us, and the purpose of our existence is to know God and enjoy the Lord forever.
Jesus of Nazareth
Nazareth was an obscure village, not a likely place for a king to settle down and live. Yet, this is in line with what the prophet said would occur:
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:1-2, NIV)
The choice of settling in Nazareth underlines that the gospel is not only for particular people, not just for Jews, the wealthy, or the influential; the gospel is for everyone, especially for the lost, the least, and the lowly.
Describing Christ as “Jesus of Nazareth” means we are expressing an important theological truth that God is with us, that the Lord identifies with us, that the universal Sovereign of all is concerned for the common person, the poor, needy, and powerless among humanity.
The settling in Nazareth also underscores that Jesus is a different kind of king – he rules over God’s kingdom as a servant leader, using his power to dispense grace. Christ shares that power by giving it away, and together with the Father, gives the Holy Spirit.
Unlike earthly political kings who demanded outward allegiance, Jesus gains followers through touching the heart by means of grace and love. Christ doesn’t coerce and cajole but serves others. He is patient, not wanting any to perish but all to come to eternal life.
Jesus is the culmination and climax of history. Hope is not found in electing the right politicians or having the right boss at a workplace; hope is not in attending church services and doing all the acceptable Christian activities.
Rather, hope resides in the child Jesus who was born to die so that we might live. We aren’t saved by the right people in the right positions, or in doing the right things, or having the right ideas – because Jesus is the Savior; he is our hope.
Almighty Lord God, give us true faith, and make that faith grow in us day by day. Also give us hope and love, so that we may serve our neighbors according to your will; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.