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Flight, Murder, and Return From Egypt

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jan 26, 1997

Matthew 2:13-23

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Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 2. As we have opened this glorious gospel in the last few weeks, we have seen Matthew in the genealogy tell us of the origins of our Savior and the recounting of the story of His virgin birth. He has witnessed to the divinity of our Savior and His almighty and all sufficient saving power. And in the first part of this passage itself, we have seen much in terms of spiritual truth. We saw in the coming of the Gentiles those Magi who came to worship Christ. The testimony that God must reveal Himself if we are to embrace Him. Who would have thought that the Jews would have not known, that the Christ, the Messiah had come, that they would have been indifferent and hostile to it and that Gentiles, Magi, wisemen from Babylon, from Chaldea, from Persia would be the first to come to worship the newborn king. And so we move to Matthew chapter 2, beginning in verse 13. Let us hear the word of the Lord.

"Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON." Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi. Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, "A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE." But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Arise and take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead." And he arose and took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 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 by God in a dream, he departed for the regions of Galilee, and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired Word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him again in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, we desire the eyes of the spirit that we might behold wonderful things from your word. Enlighten us, illumine our minds with saving truth as we consider Your word. But more than that, cause our hearts to be bowed before that truth. Teach us by that truth. Instruct us, correct us by that truth. Encourage and equip us for all works of righteousness. But more than this O Lord, give us a greater love for Christ who saved us. And we will give You all the praise and all the glory. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is yet another glorious passage packed with Gospel truth and we must isolate two or three themes on which to concentrate this morning and so I would like to highlight, to emphasize, for you three aspects of this passage. And the first one is this:

I. Christ’s person, life, and circumstances were foretold in Scripture.
   
We learn in this passage that Christ’s person and life and circumstances were foretold in Scripture. This passage teaches us that the person of Christ, who He is, His nature, what He is like, His life, the activities, the events the circumstances of His life, those things are foretold in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. We learn in this passage that Old Testament prophecy bears witness to the life of Christ, and we learn it not once, or twice, but three times. Matthew has a theme which flows throughout his Gospel, that the life, and times, and death, and resurrection of Christ were all a fulfillment of Scripture. And so he has a pattern in which he says, this happened in order to fulfill that which was said by the prophets. Twice already in our study of Matthew, we have seen that form used. This happened in order to fulfill prophecy. We have seen it with regard to Isaiah 7 and the virgin birth. We have seen it now in this passage three more times. We have a third, a fourth, and a fifth time in this passage where Matthew quotes the Old Testament. He says this event in Jesus’ life happened to fulfill that prophecy in the Old Testament.

Let me direct your attention to verses 15, 17, and 23. First verse 15, where Matthew says this was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophets. In that passage, it is the fact that Jesus will come out of Egypt, spoken by the prophet Hosea, lo, those many hundred years before, that Matthew says, that is fulfilled in the life of Jesus as he goes down into Egypt to escape Herod and His family brings him out. It has been fulfilled in His life.

And then in verse 17, he says again, what had been spoken through Jeremiah, the prophet, was fulfilled. In that circumstance, Herod had slain the sons under the age of two in Bethlehem and its immediate environment, a horrible deed, a vile deed, a cowardly deed, for which he deserves not only ever-lasting torment, but vilification in this world. And yet this deed was prophesied through the prophet Jeremiah. There would be a day when Rachel would weep in Ramah for her children, for she would not be able to gather them back to her lap. They would be gone, taken by a wicked monarch serving his own ends. This, Matthew says was prophesied in the Old Testament.

And then in verse 23, the truth that the prophet taught, that the Messiah, when He came would be despised by His own people, is encapsulated in the phrase, "He shall be called a Nazarene." One from Galilee, not from Judah, one from unclean bloodlines. Surely not one to admire or to emulate, or to follow, or to obey, and certainly not to worship. Over and over Matthew tells you in this passage, Jesus in His person, in His life, and in His circumstances fulfills Scriptures. Matthew is very interested that you understand that everything in the life of Christ is set forth, bounded by the Scriptures as His life unfolds, is the unfolding of what God has revealed to the prophets. Christ in His life, and in His will, and in His mission, is holy submissive to the Scriptures.

Now He is wholly submissive in two ways. First of all, the actual events of Christ are set forth in Scripture. And as they unfold, they unfold what has already been told ahead of time in the Scripture. But secondly, Matthew has this theme as well, that Christ bends His will to the will of His father as it is revealed in Scripture. And in His will, and in His mission, He does what the father has revealed in the Word of God.

Now this is so important my friends, that we understand that Jesus literally lived by the Book. His life was set forth in the Book. The circumstances of His life were set forth in the Book and they came to pass by the Book. His death was predicted in the Book. And it came to pass by the Book. His resurrection was predicted in the Book and it came to pass by the Book. The whole of His life came to pass in accordance with precisely the things that God had set down in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. He lived by the Book, but He also lived by the Book in the sense that He bent His will to the will of God revealed in Scripture. Think of Matthew’s quote of the Lord Jesus Christ when He said, Christ said to His disciples, It is My meat to do the will of the one who sent Me." In other words, it is like food to Me to do the will of the heavenly Father. He is saying, I will live by the Book. It brings me the deepest joy of heart. It glorifies by Father. It is my very meat to the do the Word of God as it is revealed in the Book. Jesus lived and died by the Book.

Now there is a great application in that for us my friends. For though the Bible does not specify and predict the circumstances and events of our lives, and so in that way, we are unlike Christ, yet, we too, are to live by the Book. And our Lord Jesus Christ is surely our greatest example in that area as in all others.

We in this evangelical community are concerned about those who call into question the authority of Scripture, and say that it is not the inerrant inspired Word of God and belittle its authority and speak of all the myths that it teaches. And yet, we ourselves struggle with that authority in our own experience. There are times when the book says one thing, and our hearts want to do other. When that happens, do we live by the Book? Have we learned the secret of coming to the Book and knowing what is our will, and learning what is God’s will and bending our wills to God’s, willingly? Do we know what it is when someone comes to us and says, "O, but brother, O but sister, you have spoken in an evil way towards your sister. You have ruined the reputation of that one. You have hurt the reputation of that brother or sister in Christ." Do we know that immediate defensiveness that wants to acknowledge that we have not lived in accord with the Book? And do we wrestle that defensiveness to the ground and submit our hearts to the Book, so that what we speak is honoring the brothers and sisters? Do we know what it is to be put by God into difficult circumstances? Circumstances where it is hard to obey the Book, and is our temptation to take the easy way? Perhaps we have been put in a circumstance where God requires a long obedience in the same direction and our hearts fail us. We begin to say, "Surely He would not ask me to do this. Yes, it is clear in the Book that surely He wouldn’t ask me to undergo this thing." Do we know what it means to live by the Book in those circumstances? There is not a one of us in this room, which does not face that struggle daily. Will we live by the Book, or will we live by our wills? Jesus lived by the Book. We too, must live by the book. And that leads us to our second point.

II. Christ’s trials were part of God’s plan and under His sovereignty.    
    Christ, and listen to this closely, I want to be as controversial as possible, Christ’s trials were part of God’s plan. Christ’s trials were part of God’s plans. They were under His sovereignty. Let me say that in even more bold language. God ordained the trials in the life of Joseph and Mary and His Son, our Lord Jesus. The things that happened, the things that Matthew records in this passage, were not accidents. And they were not even just tragedies, though that they were. They were what God had ordained for His Son.

You say to me, how in the world do you get that from these ten verses? We are told by Matthew in this passage that these things were foretold by the prophet.

Now let me just pose you a question. How do these prophets know this? How did the prophets know that the Lord Jesus Christ would go to live, in His infancy, in Egypt? How did the prophets know that this wicked King Herod would slaughter these children? How did these prophets know that the Lord Jesus Christ would come back and would not be able to move into the land of His father, Joseph, into the land of Judea, but would have to live in Galilee of the Gentiles. How did they know this? Did they have crystal balls? Well, if you have read the Old Testament, you know the Lord’s opinions of crystal balls. He did not ask His prophets to seek out divers means, crystal balls, and other sorts of stratagems to find the future. You may ask, "Well, perhaps these were great prognosticators. They could figure out the percentages and see what was going to happen in the future." This is not the way the prophets of the Lord worked. Perhaps they were futurists and they could see the trends of the ages and predict them in advance. No. They were not futurists either. You know how the prophets of the Old Testament found out? What does the Old Testament say uniformly? The Lord revealed His will, His plan. to His servants, the prophets. In other words, God showed His prophets what His plan was and then told them to tell Israel.

Now, before the prophets of Israel could tell Israel the plan, what had to exist? The plan. The plan had to exist. God had to have ordained in the counsels of His own will, from the very depths of eternity, the plan and then He revealed that plan to His prophets, which the prophets thankfully preach in accordance with the Word of the Lord. And so these events that are recorded by Matthew are not merely prophesied, they are not merely predicted by the Lord’s prophets, they are part of the Lord’s plan for His Son. And we need to look at them closely my friends, because there is a treasure trove of truth for living found in these plans.

III. Christ’s trials were part of God’s plan and under His sovereignty.
   
Notice in verses 14 and 15, that we are told that Joseph got up and took the child and His mother, while it was still night and he left for Egypt. We are being told there that it was God’s plan for His own dear Son to be displaced from the land of His birth, to go into the land of Egypt, a strange land and dwell, in His infancy, away from His relatives, away from His familiar environment.

How can I convey the horror of this to Jacksonians. I don’t know. But let me give you stab. Can you imagine being a fine genteel Virginia woman, with a fine genteel Virginia husband, in 1862, and you are told by the Lord to pack up and head to New York. The Lord Jesus is told to leave His family, leave the land that He loves, the land that His fathers have died for for hundreds of years, and go to the land of His sworn enemies.

Now I want to break down that illustration at that point. Go to the land of Your enemies and dwell there in Your youth, away from Your grandparents, away from Your cousins, away from the support system that would have nurtured and helped Your family in the days of Your youth. Then we are told in verses 16 and 17, that as the Lord went, that Herod slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinities. Part of the plan of God. Inexplicable. Inexplicable. We have no words for the horror of this. But it would be within the counsels of God for this wicked king to do His bidding. But it was all part of the Lord’s will.

And then in verses 22 and 23, as the Lord Jesus comes back from Egypt with His parents and starts coming back to His homeland, He is warned by God not to settle there, because Arceleus, the son of Herod is there and surely he will track down the child and kill Him. And so He must go and live in Galilee, where His family is not from. A place that is despised by the good and religious and orthodox Jews of the day, because the people who live in Galilee are the people who did not go into the exile and they did not keep their bloodline pure, and therefore they have mixed with the pagan nations who had come into Samaria after them and they were looked down upon by everyone who was of upstanding Jewish lineage.

You see what we are being told here. The father willed these difficulties to come into the life of His precious Son. And I cannot even imagine the cost that the Father bore in this. The Father had to look down and see His Son displaced from the land of His youth. He had not given Him a noble birth, but at least He had put Him in a land of belief, and where must He send His infancy? In a place of unbelief, in polytheism. And then when the time finally comes for Him to come back to His land and back to people, can He live with His relatives? No. He must live among the outcasts and because He lives there, He knows His Son will be looked down on for the rest of the days of His life. And yet the Father wills it.

Now we have to stop and we have to ask, why in the world would the Father do this? And there are two answers given to us in the Scripture. The first answer is this. That the Father willed this for you. For your sake, for your sake, the Father willed this for the Son. This is why He had the Son do this. But more about that in just a moment.

I want to concentrate on the second reason for just a second. The second reason that the Father willed these difficulties is told to us in the book of Hebrews. The Father willed these difficulties on His Son for His good, for His growth, for His conformity. For His growth in righteousness as a good Father, He disciplined His Son. You know the words of Hebrews 4, " He learned obedience through that which He suffered." It was the Father’s will to craft His Son in His human nature, into the divine suffering-self-denying-servant, by bringing into His experience these trials and these sufferings. He made His Son, the self denying Savior He was, through these trials.

And we in our own trials must keep in view Christ’s trials. I know this day that there are people here who have endured trials that I cannot understand. I cannot comprehend them. I do not know your pain. I have not experienced it. I can try to sympathize, but I cannot empathize with what you have been through. But I can tell you this, Christian, every trial, every heartbreak, every grief, everything that you think will push you over the edge of what you are able to bear in your experience, whether it be loneliness, whether it be isolation, or whether the Lord has put you into a marital estate that you do not think you can bear one more day. If He has called you to endure the loss of a husband or wife, or parents, or daughters or sons, or whatever else He has called you to. If you are His, His discipline is not meant to harm you. It is not an expression of His meanness. It is an expression of His love and when you experience that discipline, you are experiencing the discipline that He gave to His own Son. And if our Master experienced that discipline, who are we to expect to be exempt from it? In fact, to exempt from that discipline would mean that we were not sons and daughters of God at all. So when you are down in those trials, my friends, and when you do not think you can bear it one more second, I want you to remember this: It was the Father’s will to send His Son the way of the valley because He loved Him and because He wanted Him to be exactly what He had been ordained to be from the foundation of the world and that is precisely what God is doing.

And if you don’t know Christ this day, I want to say this to you. Those sufferings that you endure, are meaningless. Only in Christ are the trials of our lives redeemed and given meaning. Other than that, they are wasted. There is nothing worse in the world than a meaningless devastation. Come to Christ and find meaning even in your trials.

IV. Christ’s vicarious sufferings began in His earliest days.
   
One last thing I would point to you this day. This passage teaches us that Christ’s vicarious sufferings began from His earliest days. Now let me just stop and say something. Vicarious, for some of the young people here who do not have the slightest idea what that word means, means something on behalf of someone else. Maybe for the little boys in here, you’ll understand this. Sometimes in baseball you get a hit and your team really needs a hit because it needs a run, but either you are not the fastest boy left on the bench, or maybe you hurt your ankle and the coach said, son you did a wonderful job. You got to first base, but we have got to get home. I am going to send in a pinch runner for you. And that pinch runner we hope is not only going to be able to steal second, or maybe get there on a bunt, but he is going to be able to make it to third and maybe eventually home and score a home that will win the game for us. In other words, that runner is running on your behalf. He is a vicarious runner. He is running in your place. You couldn’t run it, or perhaps it wasn’t best for you to run it, so that runner comes in to run in your place. Christ’s sufferings are like that. They are on our behalf. They are vicarious. In other words, He suffers in our place.

And that is a great truth of Christianity. We all reflect upon the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered on the cross, but this passage reminds us that His sufferings began long before the cross. From His earliest days He began to suffer on our behalf. We see the Lord Jesus Christ, in verses 13-15, an infant refugee, and an infant fugitive. Why was He driven from His home, His friends, His cousins, on our behalf? Why were the small children slaughtered by a wicked king? In verses 19-23, we see Christ a displaced child, a marginalized prophet, a despised servant, because the Lord Jesus Christ, by being placed in Galilee, and growing up there, is having something happen to Him that will change the rest of His life.

And it is so important for you to realize, my friends, that the Lord Jesus Christ chose each of these things. There was a day in the counsels of eternity when the Father said, My Son, when I Y into the world for their sake; I want to bring You into the world into a poor family. Will You do that for them? And the Son said, O yes, My Father I will. He said, Son, in Your infancy, I want You to spend those years away Y people, away from Your family, away from Your roots, in the land of Your people’s historic enemies. Will You do that for them? And the Son, said, O Father, I will. And then He said, Son, I want You to grow up in Galilee and by growing up in Galilee, You will be looked down upon for the rest of Your life. Men will mock You. They will call into question, Your character. They will call into question Your religion and Your devotion to God, Your devotion to the law. They will despise You, and even though You are the Messiah that I am sending to them, they will call You a Nazarene, someone who is unworthy of serving a significant role in Your people’s place in history. Will You do that for them? Oh yes, Father.

My friends, you cannot understand the love of Christ, what He is willing to bear for you. And He bore it for you because of your sins. Oh, my friends, what a Savior we have. A Savior whose days were set forth in the book, and He lived by the Book. A Savior whose life was ordained by God, for your sakes, and for His good. And a Savior who willingly bore the reproach for you. Have you embraced Him? Do you want to face the Father one day and say, I did not need that glorious Man. Or do you want to face the Father and say, Your Son embraced me by grace and I come to you as your son, your daughter because of Him. Hallelujah. What a Savior. Let us pray.

Oh God, we want Him. We want Him in all His glory. And we want Him to be ours. And we want to be like Him. And we ask it in His name. Amen.

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