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2006-01-08_Out of Egypt_Matthew 2.13-23

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Out of Egypt

Matthew 2:13-23   |   Shaun LePage   |   January 8, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   Everything had been beautiful and wonderful: The Magi’s visit in Matthew 2:1-12 must have been so exciting. These strangers believed the same things Joseph and Mary believed about this boy—that He was the king of the Jews.

B.    But things can change in a heartbeat. Peace was replaced by fear. New life was replaced with death. Worship was replaced with scorn.

C.   Matthew—in explaining to the reader who Jesus really is—lists four prophecies in chapter two that were fulfilled in Jesus. In fact, the end of chapter 1 ends with the “Immanuel” prophecy from Isaiah 7:14, so what we have is a list of five prophecies that were “fulfilled” in relation to the infancy of Christ (not to mention the genealogy of chapter 1). You’ll notice that the final three are not pleasant. They involved difficulty, danger, scorn for those involved—even death for some:

1.     Born of a virgin

2.     Born in Bethlehem

3.     Called out of Egypt—The peace in Bethlehem was replaced by danger.

4.     Weeping in Ramah—The new life in Bethlehem was replaced by death.

5.     Called a Nazarene—The worship in Bethlehem was replaced by scorn.

II.   Body—Read Matthew 2:13-23

A.   13-15     Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! 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.” 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

1.     “Dream

a)    This was at least the third time Joseph had received revelation from God in a dream.

b)    Does God still speak to us in our dreams?

(i)   It’s very possible—certainly God can and did use dreams many times in Scripture to communicate to His servants.

(ii)  And if you think about it, dreams are not radically different from other ways the Holy Spirit leads us—feelings, circumstances, counsel of a brother or sister in Christ, a strong conviction in our hearts. These are all subjective—we can’t prove they are from the Holy Spirit.

(iii)    But the real question is, “Is God still speaking?” The answer is, “Absolutely!” He speaks to us primarily through Scripture, but also through creation and through the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds as we seek Him through Scripture and prayer. But he used a donkey to speak to Balaam, surely He can use dreams to speak to us.

(iv)    But, let’s approach this subject with caution. The first caution I want to make is, God’s leading—whether through dreams or feelings or counsel—will never contradict His Word. We need to be sure we understand the clear commands of Scripture, but also the underlying principles of truth contained in God’s Word.

(a)  God “cannot lie” says Titus 1:2, and Peter tells us in chapter one of his first epistle that the Word of God is “imperishable and enduring” which means God will never change His mind. If the message you’re getting contradicts the “imperishable” Word God has spoken, then the message isn’t from Him.

(b) Example: If you have a dream about killing someone, that contradicts God’s Word—don’t act on that dream. If an angel in a dream tells you to divorce your husband, that contradicts God’s Word—don’t act on that dream.

(v) Caution 2: You should be very, very careful that you are walking in the Spirit.

(a)  If you are not in close fellowship with God, you are not going to be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

(b)  What does it mean to “walk in the Spirit”? We’ll go into this in more detail some other time and look at some specific Scripture passages that teach all this, but here’s an overview:

1.     Pray regularly. Starting each day by asking God to fill you with His Spirit; to lead you and guide you.

2.     Read the Bible regularly. Starting each day by asking God to fill you with His wisdom; transforming your mind so that you have the “mind of Christ.”

3.     Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. To grieve the Holy Spirit is to sin; willing disobedience—rebellion against what you know is God’s will for you. All of us sin and if we say we have no sin, we’re lying. But that is different than practicing sin on a regular basis with no intention of submitting to God’s will.

4.     Don’t quench the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit leads us in a very clear, direct way. That may be through a clearly stated command in Scripture or the counsel of a godly person in your life or a strong pull in your conscience that you need to do something specific or all of the above. When we reject that and ignore it and refuse to follow that guidance, we are quenching the Holy Spirit.

5.     All of this is what it means to walk in the Spirit and if that does not describe your life, you should almost certainly not make any significant changes or decisions based on your dreams. The only exception I can think of would be if you were grieving the Spirit with your sin and you had a dream that scared you into getting right with God.

6.     Personal example: Several years ago, I started a youth ministry in Texas. For the first few years, I did everything myself. I had adults wanting to get involved and I let them come and hang out, but for the most part, I did everything myself. One night I had a dream. I was a waiter in a large restaurant and every table in the restaurant was packed. I was running around trying to take care of every table in that restaurant by myself—I was the only waiter. Most of the people in the restaurant were yelling and complaining that I wasn’t taking good care of them, but a few of the people were asking me if they could help. I kept telling them, “No thanks, I can handle it.” But I was not handling it. I was not taking care of the people in that restaurant. I woke up exhausted. At first, I thought, “What a weird dream.” But as I thought about it, I decided it could have been the work of the Holy Spirit telling me what I already knew from the Bible but was not obeying. 1 Peter tells us that every member of a church is a minister and Ephesians 4 tell us the leaders of the church are supposed to equip the members of the body to do the work of the ministry. I thought I was doing a good job in that youth ministry, but really I was failing. I was not equipping anyone to do the ministry and I was not able to meet all the needs myself. Over the next few years, I worked hard at equipping a team of adults who would share that youth ministry with me. While I was trying to do it myself, we never grew. The group was never more than about 15-20 kids. By the time I left, we were regularly seeing over 70 kids and the team God gave me was so well equipped by the time I left there that the ministry has actually grown. Was that restaurant dream from God? I can’t prove it to you, but I believe it was. It gave me a picture of what I was doing wrong and helped me to see my need to do things more in accordance with the Word of God.

(vi)     Does God speak to us in our dreams? Certainly He can. Probably He does. But we must first be very careful to compare any such revelations with the Word of God—just as we should with our feelings and the counsel of someone we respect—and we must make sure we are walking in the Spirit.

2.     “Egypt”. Why did Jesus need to go to Egypt? Couldn’t God have protected Him in Bethlehem? Certainly, but Matthew is telling us that this trip to Egypt “fulfilled” prophecy.

3.     “Fulfill

a)    In Matthew 2:15, we have a quote from Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” But if we look at the context of Hosea 11, that passage doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Messiah or this trip to Egypt. Hosea was speaking of the Exodus—when God brought His “son”—the nation of Israel—out of Egyptian slavery. How can Matthew say that Joseph’s trip to Egypt with the boy Jesus fulfills this?

b)    God was making a point here.

(i)   Could God have protected Jesus in Bethlehem? Absolutely, but He was showing that Israel is a “type” of the Christ. In other words, Matthew does not always use the word “fulfilled” in the sense we might normally think. On at least six occasions, Matthew uses the word to show a connection between the event of which he is speaking and an Old Testament passage. Some scholars call this “heightening” the original meaning of the passage. A more common idea is the idea of “types.” The idea is that a past event or person—though very real—“typifies” or illustrates or pictures the person or work of Christ. The past person or event points to the future person or work of Jesus.

(ii) The idea of “types” has been greatly abused and we must be careful not to find types wherever our imagination leads us. We must be content with only those types identified for us in the New Testament. For example, Melchizedek, Aaron, the Passover, the Tabernacle, the Sabbath and the sin offerings are all examples of types that are clearly defined in the New Testament.

(iii)    The point of Matthew 2:15 is that the Exodus of God’s “son” Israel, from Egyptian slavery, is a type of the trip to and from Egypt made by God’s “Son” Jesus. As we will see as we walk through Matthew, Jesus fulfills Israel’s history and heightens the meaning behind much of Old Testament history.

4.     So, this is the third prophecy in Matthew 1-2 and the peaceful scene at the manger in Bethlehem is replaced with danger as Joseph, Mary and Jesus become fugitives from murderous intentions of Herod.

B.   16-18     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 all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 “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.”

1.     “Very enraged…slew

a)    The ancient historian, Flavius Josephus, described Herod as “a man of great barbarity toward all men equally.” This rage and murder were completely characteristic of “Herod the Great.” Matthew is the only historian who wrote of this particular slaughter, but Herod’s murderous acts were so numerous this one simply didn’t make the headlines.

b)    Perhaps—along with the previous reference to Egypt—we are to make a connection here. Moses was rescued from the hand of a brutal tyrant as a baby as well. Exodus 1-2 tells us of how Pharaoh tried to kill all newborn Jewish males. But Moses—like Jesus—escaped. In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses predicted that God would raise up a “prophet like me” (Moses) and in Acts 7, Stephen declared that that prophecy was about Jesus. So, it is likely that Matthew wants us to make that connection here.

2.     “All the male children…two years old and under

a)    Bethlehem at that time was very small, so the number of slaughtered children could not have been great. Perhaps a dozen or two.

b)    That’s little consolation for the mothers of Bethlehem, however. As Matthew indicates, there was “weeping and great mourning” in Bethlehem that day.

c)    And Matthew links this with another Old Testament passage. Here, the passage “fulfilled” is from the prophet Jeremiah—chapter 31:15.

(i)   Rachel was buried right there in Bethlehem. So, linking her with Bethlehem and this tragedy was a very natural thing to do.

(ii) Rachel—the wife of Jacob (who would later be called Israel)—was considered the mother of the nation since she was the wife of the original Israel. Much in the way we refer to George Washington as the father of our country, Israel was the considered the father of the nation and Rachel was considered the mother. So, when the nation suffered, Rachel was pictured as weeping for her children. That’s exactly how Jeremiah pictured things. In fact, God was speaking through Jeremiah at that time and pictured Rachel as weeping for her children as they suffered greatly in the Exile—when God kicked His people out of the land for their disgusting and wicked idolatry.

(iii)    So, when Matthew quoted Jeremiah, he once again pictures Rachel weeping for her children—this time for the children of Bethlehem—who were brutally stripped from their mothers’ arms and murdered.

d)    So, the fourth “fulfilled” prophecy in the first two chapters of Matthew tells us that the new life in Bethlehem was replaced by death. Soon after one male child was celebrated, all other male children were killed.

C.   19-23     But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into 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. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”[1]

1.     “Archelaus

a)    Archelaus was the son of “Herod the Great” and he got all of his father’s charm. In fact, he was even more wicked than his father. He is best known for a time when he had 3,000 Jews slaughtered in the temple on Passover. Like father, like son.

b)    Archelaus, apparently was not trying to kill Jesus at this time, but he posed a more general threat to anyone Jewish, so God directed Joseph north, to Galilee, which was not under Archelaus’ jurisdiction.

2.     A fifth time, Matthew tells us something was “fulfilled”.

a)    Here, he does not quote a single Old Testament prophet. Instead, he tells us that the “prophets” (plural) predicted that the Messiah would be “called a Nazarene.”

b)    What is he getting at? No Old Testament passage says directly, “The Messiah will be called a Nazarene.” How can Matthew say that this move to Nazareth “fulfilled” what the prophets said.

(i)   John MacArthur explains this well: “Nazareth was about 55 miles north of Jerusalem, in the regions of Galilee, where the Lord had directed Joseph to go. The town was in an elevated basin, about one and a half miles across, and was inhabited largely by people noted for their crude and violent ways. The term Nazarene had long been a term of derision, used to describe any person who was rough and rude. That is why Nathanael, who was from Cana, a few miles to the south, asked Philip, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ (John 1:46)… Jesus’ living in Nazareth not only fulfilled the unnamed prophets’ prediction, but gave Him a name, Jesus the Nazarene, that would be used as a title of reproach, thus fulfilling many other prophecies that depict the Messiah as ‘despised and forsaken of men’ (Isa. 53:3; cf. 49:7; Ps. 22:6-8; 69:20-21). The gospel writers make clear the fact that He was scorned and hated (see Matt. 12:24; 27:21-23, 63; Luke 23:4; John 5:18; 6:66; 9:22, 29).” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 1-7, pgs. 47-8)

c)    ? So, the fifth and final “fulfilled” prophecy in the first two chapters of Matthew tells us that the worship in Bethlehem was replaced by scorn. The child who had been called “King of the Jews” by the Magi would soon be called the “Nazarene” by those who despised and rejected Him.

III. Closing—As I struggled with this passage again this week, two questions came to my mind and I think some of you may have these same questions. So I want to close our time in this passage by asking and answering two questions: Why do the wicked succeed? And why do the innocent suffer? I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t know why God allowed those 12 miners to die last week. I don’t know why He allowed terrorists to hijack planes in 9-11 and kill thousands of people. I don’t know all the reasons why He allows children to get sick and die. But I do think the Bible gives us some answers—not all the answers—but some.

A.   Why do the wicked succeed?

1.     Notice—first of all—that Herod did not succeed in killing this child he perceived as his rival. God protected Joseph, Mary and Jesus. But, Herod was allowed to kill innocent babies with apparently no consequences.

a)    But were there no consequences? No.

(i)   Herod died a horrible death just a couple years later. Josephus fills in what Matthew left out. Listen to what Josephus wrote about Herod’s final days: “Herod’s distemper greatly increased upon him after a severe manner, and this by God’s judgment upon him for his sins: for a fire glowed in him slowly, which did not so much appear to the touch outwardly as it augmented his pains inwardly; (169) for it brought upon him a vehement appetite to eating, which he could not avoid to supply with one sort of food or other. His entrails were also exulcerated, and the chief violence of his pain lay on his colon; an aqueous and transparent liquor also settled itself about his feet, and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly. Nay, farther, his privy member was putrified, and produced worms; and when he sat upright he had a difficulty of breathing, which was very loathsome, on account of the stench of his breath, and the quickness of its returns; he had also convulsions in all parts of his body, which increased his strength to an insufferable degree. (170) It was said by those who pretended to divine, and who were endowed with wisdom to foretell such things, that God inflicted this punishment on the king on account of his great impiety…”[2]

(ii)  It seems clear that Herod suffered—in this life—for his crimes.

(iii)    The Bible tells us that there is a cosmic struggle taking place. I believe we cannot understand this world correctly unless we understand it in light of this spiritual war that is taking place all around us.

(a)  Look at how Christmas is described in the Book of Revelation, chapter 12:3-5: “Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.” That tells me that Satan himself—the dragon—was behind Herod’s attempt to kill the newborn Christ.

(b)  The day will come when wickedness will be ended and Satan and his forces will be bound and cast into the lake of fire, but for now, Peter tells us he is roaming around like a lion ready to devour someone. He is allowed to roam on the earth for now because this somehow fits into God’s purpose and plan for this time of history.

(c)  Do I know all the reasons why? No, I don’t, but this is what the Bible tells us:

1.     God is sovereign. He is in complete control and nothing escapes His notice. Whatever happens, He is aware and allows it.

2.     God brings good from every thing that happens. This does not mean every wicked act and every tragedy is good, it simply means that God will bring a higher good from it.

a.     A young girl dives into a lake and breaks her neck and faces the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Through that tragedy, God gives Joni Erickson Tada to the world. Because of her injuries, the world listens when she speaks about God’s mercy in the midst of our suffering.

b.    A woman whose home was destroyed by hurricane Katrina was interviewed recently on television. She had been caught up in a life of poverty and is now living in another part of the country. Thanks to the kindness of strangers (especially Christians) she has been given a fresh start in life. She told reporters, “I thank God for Katrina. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

3.     Man is given a certain amount of free will and since man is depraved—utterly sinful—the depths of his wickedness can be shocking.

4.     The world has been tainted by sin and Paul tells us the world “groans” waiting for God to make it new again.

5.     Which brings me to my last point: God promises to end evil someday. We don’t know His reasons for every evil we see in the world, but we do know that one of the clearest promises of Scripture is that one day He will end every evil.

2.     Write this under the question, “Why do the wicked succeed?”: They won’t always. Fear the promises of God. The promises of Scripture for the wicked—who oppress the innocent and murder babies are indeed fearful:

(a)  In Isaiah 13:11 God promises, “Thus I will punish the world for its evil And the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.”

(b) In Proverbs 22:8, God promises “Those who plant seeds of injustice will harvest disaster, and their reign of terror will end.”

(c)  And in Revelation 21:8 God promises that “…the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

(d)  The wicked will not always succeed. The promise of God is that they will be held accountable.

B.    Why do the innocent suffer?

1.     This is really the opposite side of the coin and in answering the first question, we’ve pretty much answered this one.

2.     There is significant suffering in this passage: Joseph and Mary—with a very young Jesus—had to make a hard journey to Egypt. Just to get to the border was 75 miles. To get to the nearest place of safety was another 100 miles. This was a difficult journey. Of course, the mothers of Bethlehem suffered heart-breaking grief at the hands of Herod. And Joseph, Mary and Jesus would suffer the scorn of their fellow countrymen simply because of where they lived—Nazareth.

3.     What does this tell us? It’s not always easy to be God’s servants. Joseph and Mary were honored greatly by God by being chosen to take care of the Messiah. But their task was not easy. It was dangerous and painful. Will we choose the honor of God or a safe, easy life?

a)    Sometimes our peace will be replaced by danger.

b)    Sometimes our life will be darkened by death.

c)    Sometimes our worship will be met with scorn.

4.     But notice also that God protected Joseph, Mary and Jesus. Joseph followed God’s instructions exactly and they were kept safe. If we are in God’s will, we too will be safe. We may face danger, grief, scorn—even death. But if God requires that, we can trust that He will strengthen us for it and ultimately bring good from it. Living the life God asks us to live will be worth it in the end.

5.     Write this under the question, “Why do the innocent suffer?”: They won’t always. Trust the promises of God.

a)    Revelation 21:4 tells us God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.

b)    Trusting God when we see death and mourning and crying and pain all around us—or harder yet—when we experience it ourselves means we must do as Paul instructs in Colossians 3—we must “set our hearts and minds on things above.” We must have an eternal perspective—we must develop an eternal perspective—by letting “the word of Christ dwell richly within us”. We must know and remember and memorize and trust God’s promises.


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[1]New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Mt 2:13). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[2]Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1996, c1987). The works of Josephus : Complete and unabridged. Includes index. Peabody: Hendrickson.

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