13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 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 in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
It feels a little strange to write this as it’s still September, but I love the entire build-up to Christmas Day. Right after Thanksgiving, a change happens; a transformation takes place in people’s attitudes and literally in our communities. Lights and decorations go up inside and outside people’s homes and apartments. Color is everywhere, Christmas tunes fill the air, families gather, and celebrations are held. This usually happens about a month prior to Christmas Day, except in my house, where we begin that transformation much sooner. It’s amazing to see the transformation that takes place.
That’s something Matthew wants us to understand as we read this passage. The birth of Jesus is bringing about an incredible change and transformation.
Jesus was born into a world that had always been the same; a world full of pain, violence, disease, corruption, injustice, and death. A world without hope. A world where the vast majority felt powerless, lost, broken, and simply struggled to survive under the rule of corrupt kings and occupying forces.
Herod the “Great” was a vicious and brutal ruler of the Jewish people. Joseph had to be warned in a dream to escape to Egypt as Herod had the children of an entire village slaughtered to protect his own power and position because he felt threatened by the birth of Jesus. Slaughter was always Herod’s way of protecting his position; he killed his own children and wife when he felt they were scheming against him. When he was dying, he gave orders to have leading citizens of Jericho killed just so that people would cry at his own funeral.
And don’t forget the shadow of Rome over the people. Rome was the hated occupier, and I’m quite sure that if the Roman emperor suspected a king was born, one who would be king over the whole world, Rome have responded in a similar fashion to Herod; we know the persecution and slaughter Rome inflicted on Jesus’ followers in the years after Jesus resurrection.
But Jesus was born into this mess, our mess, and Matthew wants us to know that things are changing.
In truth, things are not just changing, they are being fulfilled. God’s promises are coming to fulfillment in Jesus, and Matthew wants us to be aware of that by noting the prophecies in the passage.
In verse 15, the prophecy is from Hosea and is about Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Israel was supposed to be a light to the world and proclaim God’s love and grace, but they fell incredibly short of their calling (Hosea 4.1-11). Jesus is going to succeed where Israel failed.
The prophecy from Jeremiah is all about rescue at a time of weeping and mourning. Matthew is pointing to Jesus bringing hope in the darkness of the world (Jeremiah 31.5).
The prophecy from Isaiah 11.1 is interesting. The word for branch is nazir (the name of the city of Nazareth). In the passage from Isaiah, a branch is a new beginning coming from the royal house of David; Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of that new beginning.
Matthew is determined for us to see how God is working and moving, providing salvation and rescue not just for the people of God but for all of us as well.
The Lord keeps His promises, and He is keeping them today in the mud and mess of my life and yours. He is Immanuel, He is present with you. Rest in that continually unfolding promise today.
God bless you, and know that you are constantly in my prayers.