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Monday, December 23, 2013

Do You See what I See? Pt 4: Matthew 2.13-23

{Here is the manuscript from the last sermon in the series. The audio file is here. Freely spread around as you see fit. Mike}
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Do You See what I See? Pt 4: Matthew 2.13-23
Do you ever find it interesting when someone tells a story the things they leave out? Most retellings of the so-called “Christmas Story” include the wise men – even though they really don’t arrive for almost 2 years after the birth. But most retellings end there. Yet this episode, which on a rare occasion or two is recited, ought to be included in the story. It’s the darker side – just like at communion, when Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, etc.” (1 Corinthians 11.23). We don’t like rehearsing the darker, drearier side because it brings us down. But as Christians we, of all people, ought to be more daring, real, and courageous than our neighbors. Bringing out the dark side can be a blessing to people – mothers who have lost children and find Christmas a grief; those deeply stricken and saddened at having to face this season without their lifelong friend and spouse; broke and broken; people left all alone. The darker side shows that God is no romantic; but also the dark side makes the light in the story more brilliant.

This episode has three sections, each ending with a prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures.

1. Exile: 2.13-15.
This prophecy is not snatched up thoughtlessly from Hosea 11.1 as a proof-text, but comes to us with loads of deep, Biblical thoughtfulness: “‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son’” (Exodus 4.22-23). “With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn” (Jeremiah 31.9). First, notice that Matthew is quietly publicizing that Jesus is identified with his outcast people. In fact, he now has become the singular embodiment of the humiliated, disgraced, disenfranchised, and displaced Israel in himself. This promised child, born in a stable in Bethlehem and chased off into Egypt is now Israel, outside of the Promised Land, off in the far country.

Next, Matthew is fuelling anticipation here: if Jesus is personified Israel in Egypt, then the exile is about to fully end (the point of the prophecy!); the new exodus out of Egypt is dawning on the horizon, and we are about to be led into the promised land of God’s fellowship, and friendship. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1.9).

And if this is the case (Jesus-as-Israel), then also the promise to Abraham is coming to a climax and rests on the shoulders of Jesus-as-Israel. “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12.3). The very point made by Paul: “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring…referring to one,…who is Christ” (Galatians 3.16).

1. The only way to be blessed by God and thus at peace; to come in out of the cold rain, and bitter darkness, is to come to Jesus and come in through Jesus the Door of Life – “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10.9, 10b). To be without Jesus, detached from Jesus, is to be still outside of the Garden of God’s love and fellowship, still off in exile, banishment, out in the far country, in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Yet, to come to Jesus, is to see him taking the flaming sword that once blocked the way, into his own heart for you, and so to see him then bring you to God – “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3.18a).

“Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, ris’n with healing in his wings, Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth” (Trinity Hymnal 203)

2. But allow me to warn you. This episode also alerts us that to come to Jesus is not automatically, necessarily, or essentially the easy, plush life. You may have to follow him outside the boundaries of your comforts and ease; you may have to trail along with him outside of the applause, outside the standing ovations, and outside of the social ooos and ahhs. “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Hebrews 13.12-14).

Nails, spear, shall pierce him through; the cross be borne for me, for you; hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary (Trinity Hymnal 213).

2. Execution: 2.16-18.
Another reference from Hebrew Scripture guides us here. Rachel was pictured in Jeremiah as weeping for her exiled, disgraced people – so she is now pictured mourning over the slaughter of the innocent children. But the words recited in Matthew 2.18 come from the context of Hope (See Jeremiah 31.15-17, which slowly boils until the pressure erupts in 31.31-34). Yes, Matthew is saying, “Lament, weep and mourn – BUT the exile is now ending – for he – the Son – has arrived; the promised Day has come; the New Covenant has begun; forgiveness is being won!” If you are weighed down, beat down, broken down; if you are grieving and weeping, do not despair. On the one hand, your tears are being taken note of; your broken heart is being witnessed by heaven. On the other hand, the hour has begun, your salvation is nearer than when you first believed, “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2.8c); beauty is being given for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit. Take heart and lift up your teary face – hope is dawning!

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found (Trinity Hymnal 195)!

Yet, there is something else tucked away in here. Herod knows he is attempting to stamp out God’s Messiah, and thus the hope of Israel. (2.5-6!). As St. John Chrysostom said in a sermon 1600 years ago: “For when a soul is insensible and incurable, it yields to none of the medicines given by God.” And that was where Herod was; Incurable by his own devices. Always the seed of the serpent is trying to stamp out the seed of the woman (Genesis 3.15). And though the nations rage against God and His anointed One – though they stew in their own juices, simmering in their hate for God – yet he laughs in the heavens over their folly (Psalm 2). And where does the cowardly sword of injustice, tyranny and wickedness regularly fall? On babies and toddlers! Thus it has always been, in war, economic catastrophes, encroaching secularism – and in abortion. But God knows what happens in the backwater towns of Judea, and in the abortion clinic on 6112 N.W. 63rd St. in War Acres. And Dr. N. Patel will meet his maker, as did Herod – and it will not be pretty. Pray for him, pray for his soul and pray for his salvation.

In the words that ought to be sung at this time just as much as any carol:
“O wherefore do the nations rage, and kings and rulers strive in vain, against the Lord of earth and heav’n to overthrow Messiah’s reign. / By God’s decree his Son receives the nations for his heritage; the conqu’ring Christ supreme shall reign as king of kings from age to age. / Delay not, lest his anger rise, and ye should perish in your way; lo, all that put their trust in him are blest indeed, and blest always” (Trinity Hymnal 314).

3. Unpretentious: 2.19-23.
See the humility of God (especially here in verses 19-23, but also 5-6) – he enters his own world through the servant’s entrance, by way of the backdoor (Backwater Bethlehem, and now Nowhere Nazareth). But you also see the unpretentiousness of God, because the Father doesn’t save His own Son from distresses, alarming circumstances and the “death-at-any-moment” condition! – Instead he saves him through them!  This is the humility of God for us and for our salvation (The Nicene Creed). “We must always bear in mind the purpose of God, in training his Son, from the commencement, under the discipline of the cross, because this was the way in which he was to redeem his Church. He bore our infirmities, and was exposed to dangers and to fears, that he might deliver his Church from them by his divine power, and might bestow upon it everlasting peace. His danger was our safety: his fear was our confidence. Not that he ever in his life felt alarm; but as he was surrounded, on every hand, by the fear of Joseph and Mary, he may be justly said to have taken upon him our fears, that he might procure for us assured confidence” (Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, 104). In other words, the whole of Jesus’ life was part and parcel of his vicarious atonement for his people! Therefore, you can take heart, for Jesus said, and sealed this in his own blood: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid…in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 14.27; 16.33).


“All this for us thy love hath done; by this to thee our love is won; for this we tune our cheerful lays, and shout our thanks in ceaseless praise” (Trinity Hymnal 219).

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