The Incarnation: Gospel, Deception, and Justice

The audio from my first sermon after Christmas.

Manuscript:

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Kinsman. Amen.

Sermon: People of God, this is not a silent night in Bethlehem. The barbaric Herod wants destruction and death; he wants a Christ-less world. He does want a joyful world, but a world of joyful tyranny. Illus. One of the untold stories of WWII occurred in 1943 in German occupied Denmark. The Danish people found out that 7,500 Danish Jews were about to be rounded up and deported to German concentration camps. The Danish citizens spontaneously came up with a plan and quickly rallied round to save their fellow people; and remarkably, almost all of the country’s Jews escaped and found refuge in Sweden from Hitler’s genocidal plans.[1]

We find a similar event in our gospel lesson, except the survival and security of this royal family does not come through ordinary people, rather it comes through the word of an angel in a dream. This narrative in Matthew’s gospel is quite simple to divide, because there are indicators in the passage. There are three sections in these verses. Each section concludes with a prophecy indicating that it has been fulfilled. This is quite significant. Three of the Old Covenant prophecies are fulfilled in verses 13-23. “What we are going to find is that Matthew understands Jesus to be the fulfillment not only of explicit prophecies, but also a fulfillment of Israel’s history. He is another Moses, another David, indeed, another Israel.”[2] The history of God’s people in the Old World foretold of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ because he was the object of that history.

In the first section from verses 13-15, highlight the departure of the holy family. Once again, Joseph serves an important role in redemptive history. The narrative illustrates a parallel between the Joseph of the new world and the Joseph of the old world. You may remember that in Genesis the old Joseph received revelation through dreams, just like the new Joseph (1:20; 2:13, 19, 22).[3] And just like Old Testament Joseph, this Joseph also takes his family to Egypt to find safety (2:13). Joseph is the new Joseph. His faithfulness is stressed again and again for us in Matthew. The angel told him to rise and flee to Egypt until an appointed time. In the very next verse, Joseph acts obediently by rising and taking his family to Egypt by night. Joseph takes action in the danger of the night. He knew the warning and he knew that the angel spoke the wisdom of God.

We should not overlook the fact that Joseph is taking his family to Egypt. This is part of the foolishness of the cross, but it surpasses all the wisdom of the world.[4] Calvin writes: “(that Jesus would flee and be nourished by Egypt, “from which nothing but what was destructive to the Church of God had ever proceeded. Who would not have regarded with amazement such an unexpected work of God?”[5] Another parallel here is that Mary and Joseph are acting just like Moses’ parents who preserved Moses from the murderous king (Exodus 2:1-5). Why are these parallels so abundant in this lesson? Because this is Matthew’s way of saying that Jesus is the greater Moses, and the greater Israel. The greater Israel? Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of a nation? Yes. Listen to Matthew in verse 15: “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Section one ends with a quotation from Hosea 11:1, which says: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Jesus is the Israel of God. Hosea and now Matthew describing this fulfillment want to remind the reader that Jesus is the One who embodies Israel’s history. Jesus is the One that redeems Israel when they are close to destruction. “When Israel comes out of Egypt, they are not perfect and need a savior (they are wayward). Jesus is the One who will save this great nation, and indeed the world. Jesus is the true Israel and because we are in Him, we are the Israel of God.”[6] The purpose of Christ’s coming was to accomplish the victory that Israel failed to accomplish. “The purpose of God’s covenant is to call His son out of Egypt, out of the fall. He comes as the second Adam and true Israel.”[7] And how is Jesus going to be that great Son who comes out of Egypt victorious? He destroys the world’s political structures. He destroys the persecutors of the church. Historically, this occurs in the destruction of the temple in AD 70.  The Psalmist says that Yahweh is the great avenger. Do you think Jesus, God with us, will allow this destruction, obliteration, and devastation of human life to go unaccounted for?  No. He will judge rightly. The murder of the innocent will be avenged by the destruction of the guilty in AD 70. God’s justice is always perfect and his timing is always right.

Section two in verses 16-18 is a description of this murderous tyrant, named Herod. When he realized that the wise men had deceived him, he began the systematic termination of all male children two and under. To give you a little background to the man Herod, this is the same one who killed three of his own sons, including other family members who were suspected conspirators. In fact, “it (is) not at all improbable that he would kill a few babies, in order to eliminate a potential rival.”[8] He was so self-absorbed “that when he was himself near death, he left orders that one member of each family in his kingdom should be executed so that the entire nation would really be in mourning.”[9] Now you see why Joseph took his family to Egypt. Joseph took his family to Egypt to flee from this Satan-like figure. But this all powerful tyrant, for all his deception and trickery he was himself deceived and tricked, as Matthew says in verse 16. I remember many years ago teaching an adult Sunday school series on the Ten Commandments and making the observation that deceiving evil-doers is not always wrong. I observed that the Hebrew mid-wives deceived, that Rahab deceived, and what’s more significant is that the Bible exalts them for deceiving evil ones and advancing the gospel work. Here in our passage, the magi deceived/tricked Herod, so that the life of the Savior would be spared. Now Herod was bent on executing all male children under two, but the deception of the magi gave Jesus and his family sufficient time to flee from Herod and his evil schemes. Deception in no way should characterize the Christian, but this we should know: that there are times, though they are few, when deception is biblically appropriate and not a violation of the ninth commandment. You well remember the story of Corrie ten Boom who deceived the Nazis, in order to preserve the life of the many Jewish refugees hidden in her “secret room.” The magi acted in like fashion to preserve the life of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Section two concludes as section one concludes: with another prophecy, indicating that Jeremiah’s scene is fulfilled in this narrative in Matthew:

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.”

 

Remember that last week I mentioned that when a New Testament writer quotes an Old Testament verse, we need to look at the context of the Old Testament verse to understand its purpose and intention in the New Testament. It is true that as you read Jeremiah 31 there is great calamity, but as we consider the rest of Jeremiah 31 there is also great hope. Jeremiah 31 is speaks of the coming New Covenant. In fact, some of your Bibles may have this heading describing Jeremiah 31: “The LORD will turn Sorrow into Joy.” It is not just the calamity that is fulfilled in Matthew, but also the promise of hope and joy with the coming Messiah. He will turn the sorrow that is filling the land with a joy that will fill the world.

The final section is from verses 19-23. We see right from the beginning the faithfulness of Joseph is persevering and waiting until the messenger came with a different message. He kept his feet firm in the land of Egypt. Joseph, once again, heeded the angelic word, rose and went back to the land of Israel, because Herod had died. Again, the story is a re-telling of the Israel story. Israel went from captivity in Egypt to the land of Promise. When Herod died, his empire was divided into three parts. One part was led by Archelaus. Matthew says that when Joseph “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.” “Archelaus was no better than his father, he was noted for his cruelty in an age of cruel men, but succeeded only to the rule of the southern portion of his father’s kingdom. Galilee was ruled by Archelaus’ half-brother Herod Antipas, a more tolerant man and ruler, and was a safer place for the infant Messiah.”[10] And this is where Joseph takes his family.

Now this is how Jesus’ life begins. It is already from the start a dangerous life. As Pastor Robert Rayburn writes:

“The Gospel does not begin in comfort and ease. It begins in dismay. It begins with an urgent message in the middle of the night to get up and flee for Herod is seeking the life of the infant boy. It begins in fear, disquiet, in uncertainty.”[11]

Is this not a picture of Jesus’ ministry? In Jesus’ ministry he will travel from city to city; fleeing those who would do him harm; he is persecuted by Herod-like men; and when his work is accomplished he is put to death by the oppressive religious mob. The gospel brings comfort, but it is not comfortable. Many times the gospel causes us to flee for fear of persecution, but it also causes us to flee from our sins. Fighting sins has always been the gospel way. This is the Christian life, the life of fleeing all those things that will cause us harm and destruction.

Again, the third section closes with another promise and fulfillment: “And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” Out of all four gospels, Matthew is the one who appeals the most to Old Testament prophecies; in fact, he does so 42 times. Why does he do so? Because “Matthew needed to argue his case for Christ in terms of scriptural authority available and compelling to him, in the Law and the Prophets.”[12] The first century readers would immediately make associations and connections. Thus far, we know that he shall be called Jesus, Immanuel, and now he is also called a Nazarene.  Now in the first century to be a Nazarean was not something to be proud of, since Nazareth was scorned by the Jerusalem elite as an unimportant backwater town.[13] But for the Christians living in the first century, it was very important that he was a Nazarean, because it reflected their own lives. Just as Nazareth was despised and rejected, Christians were despised and rejected. But is there something more? It appears[14] Matthew is making a word play on the word “nazarite.” Some scholars believe that Jesus is being compared here to Samson. “Like Samson, Jesus “was made holy to God from his mother’s womb (Judges 16:17) and was to save Israel from its enemies (Judges 13:5). Like Samson, Jesus is a specially consecrated person who will save his people. Like Samson, Jesus will save his people through his own death”[15]

What does this narrative say to us as a people? First, we should see the sovereign hands of God over all the affairs of men. Only God could bring good out of a horrible situation. This story tells us that evil does not go unpunished. The evil tyrants cannot thwart God’s plans. It may be that God may need to move you around a bit; shake up your economic status or bring about some unexpected calamity. When He does so, do not think for a second that God has forsaken you. He may cause you to be in Egypt for a while, and then he will bring you back home; to the rest He has promised.[16]

Secondly, like the days of weeping in Jeremiah’s day and in the first century, we too weep today with the systematic slaughter of the unborn. Practically for us, this means we can support our baby bottle campaign next month. Let us fill those bottles and support the work of those who are counseling young women to avoid making one of the most disastrous decisions in their lives.

Thirdly, do we have this immediate reaction to God’s revelation as Joseph? Do we respond with urgent obedience? Joseph protected his family by taking them away where the threat was minimized; how are we protecting our own families? What are we doing as men to protect our wives and children? Are we offering them the tools to fight this dark world or are we creating a society of lazy, impolite, non-thinking children? Are we protecting them from the abuses of the modern entertainment industry? What do we allow our little ones to watch? On the other hand, there is also the danger of isolating our children to such a point that they lack the ability to confront the world they live in. By isolating them and shutting their eyes and covering their ears is not the same thing as protecting them, but it is to leave them naked before the world with no intellectual and biblical tools to live Christianly in this culture. One pastor once wrote that the greatest challenge he has had in his 45 year pastoral ministry is to teach Christians to think Christianly. These are two extremes we fall into and we need to avoid both of them.

Finally, that God preserved and delivered Jesus only to give him over to be murdered by men. What kind of God is this? This is the God we serve: the God who killed His only Son, so that you might live. “(God) killed his Son in order to spare us His righteous wrath.”[17] The Christmas story is that the incarnation meant Jesus gave up all his splendor and glory to live among a people who from day one of his life wanted him dead. The incarnation gave us a Christ who lived faithfully, so he might become the perfect sacrifice to take away our sins. This is why Christmas is merry!

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 


[2] Robert Rayburn, sermons on Matthew’s gospel.

[3] Peter Leithart, notes on Matthew’s gospel.

[4] John Calvin, commentary on gospels.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Dennis Tuuri, notes on Matthew’s gospel. I took the liberty to add “the Israel of God” as opposed to simply “Israel.” I did this to keep the biblical language of Paul.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Robert Rayburn, notes on Matthew’s gospel.

[9] [France, 86-87; Josephus, Ant., 17.181]

[10] Robert Rayburn.

[11] Rayburn.

[12] David Garland, Literary and Theological Commentary on Matthew, pg. 28

[13] Ibid.

[14] See Garland, pg. 31.

[15] Ibid. 31.

[16] Hebrews 4.

 

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Audio, Christmas, Matthew. Bookmark the permalink.

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