Sermon preached on Matthew 2:13-15 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/25/2011 in Novato, CA.
“Out of Egypt”
The party and celebration must have seemed to be over. After baby Jesus was born, it was a big party, so to speak. Shepherds came to Mary and Joseph telling of herald angels singing. The magi from the east had come bearing presents. After a long hard trip to Bethlehem with a pregnant wife that was going into labor, it was probably a blessed relief to have a chance to celebrate Jesus’ birth in such a wonderful way. These were exciting times! And yet when you get to this part of the story, it must have seemed to Joseph and Mary that the party was over. Now, there was the threat of death. Simeon at the temple had predicted to Mary that a sword would pierce her soul, concerning the child. Was that already beginning to happen? And so the mood certainly changed. Instead of celebration, Joseph takes baby Jesus and Mary on the run. They escape away under the cover of darkness. If you were them, think of the emotions that might be flooding inside you at that very moment.
And so King Herod wanted Jesus dead. That’s what the angel tells Joseph in the dream in verse 13. In the previous passage, it shows how Herod had already tried to set that up. He had asked the Magi to tell him where Jesus was after they find him. Then in the next passage we see Herod exercising his fury when he realizes the Magi hadn’t come back to tell him – he kills all the baby boys of Bethlehem at that time, two years old, and younger. History records that this King Herod was a wicked, murderous, man. That’s what he’s doing in this chapter, and that’s what he wanted to do with Jesus. Herod felt threatened by this baby who had been born King of the Jews. And so there was a real threat on Jesus’ life by Herod.
A Reformed pastor and professor, Rev. Daniel Doriani, connects this event with Revelation chapter 12. That’s the vision John saw of a woman giving birth to a son, a son who would rule the nations with an iron scepter. In the vision, right before the son is born, there is a powerful dragon seen in the sky, just waiting for the woman to give birth, so he could devour the child the moment he was born. And yet the vision shows that the son was saved from the dragon, snatched up safely to heaven. Now much could be said of this vision of Revelation 12. There’s a wide scope of how all we could understand this vision. I wouldn’t say that Revelation 12 is only depicting this event with Herod and Jesus. And yet certainly we could see this event with Herod and Jesus reflected in that vision. Clearly in the vision, Jesus is the child born to the woman. And the vision tells us that the dragon is none other than that age-old serpent, the devil, Satan himself. I don’t want to get sidetracked with this vision in Revelation 12, but I mention it for one particular reason. I want us all to see that Revelation 12 helps us to understand what’s going on behind the scenes with Herod and Jesus. Ultimately, there’s this age old battle going on. There’s the battle of good and evil, involving God, and Satan, and mankind. But it also involves the Messiah. He’s actually the star of the show. He’s who we are here celebrating today on Christmas Day. And yet right at his birth, there is a real threat to his survival and mission. Satan would have his destruction, and he’ll use Herod to that end if he can.
And yet the battle belongs to the Lord. He who is with us is greater than he who is in the world. God had a plan for his Christ. It did not involve his death at this time. And so God institutes a divine rescue plan in order to keep the greater divine rescue plan from failing. Already, God had worked to slow down Herod. He had already had the Magi warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Now here in verse 13 he sends a warning to Joseph. He has an angel appear to him in a dream. Escape with the child and his mother. Flee to Egypt! Joseph complies with the typical pattern of what you see in the Bible when God gives a command. The command is given, and with the exact words the person is reported as following the command. Here he’s told to arise and take the child and mother to Egypt. And so he arose and took the child and mother to Egypt.
From a practical consideration, Egypt would have been a much safer place, given the circumstances. The word for “departed” in verse 14 has the sense of taking refuge. That’s what they would be doing there. They’d be withdrawing to take refuge from the threat of the enemy. Practically speaking, it made sense. It was about 75 miles to the border of Egypt, relatively convenient. King Herod did not have jurisdiction there. And there was quite a large Jewish population already living in Egypt at the time. The Old Testament records Jews having fled there, for example, during the time that the Babylonians were threatening Jerusalem. The ancient Jewish author Philo reported that there were about a million Jews living in Egypt at the time. And so, from a practical consideration, this would seem an adequate place of refuge for Jesus and his family.
And yet if you are familiar with the biblical history, it should seem a bit surprising at first to see that God has them flee to Egypt. You see, when you read the Old Testament, you find that God’s people on a number of occasions had threats from other nations. Time and again they wanted to somehow either go back to Egypt or ally with Egypt to find help. Time and again, God forbade that. He didn’t want his people to return to Egypt. Remember, that is where he took his people from. The Egyptian Exodus was the defining moment for God’s people in the Old Testament. It defined the very relationship God had with Israel. The Ten Commandments, for example, start off that way. Exodus 20:1, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” So many passages in the Old Testament are about how Israel should not return there. And yet now in the midst of this threat of death, God sends Jesus and family to Egypt!
Well, I think this should strike you as something out of the ordinary. It should strike you as something exceptional. It should make you ask, “Why?” Why would God have Jesus and family flee to some place that he was so adamant in the past that his people not flee there? Well, the answer is given to us in verse 15. So that after Jesus was able to return, that Scripture could be fulfilled – “Out of Egypt, I called my son.” Matthew reports this was all part of God’s plan. That past Scripture put this need upon Jesus. That Jesus, the Son of God, be called by God out of Egypt.
Matthew makes this Scriptural case from the Old Testament book of Hosea. That prophetic book is a wonderful story of God’s grace and mercy. It’s about God using the life of Hosea to act out a message of grace. God has Hosea marry the prostitute Gomer, who as could be expected commits adultery against him. God then has Hosea go and lovingly receive back Gomer. The point is clear. Hosea’s life becomes a picture of God’s love and grace toward the spiritually adulterous Israelites. As God had Hosea take back Gomer and restore her, God would ultimately take back Israel and show her manifold grace and love.
And so Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 here in verse 15. We read this earlier in the service. And yet what’s interesting is that Hosea 11:1 in its most immediate context is not about the Messiah but about the Israelites. When God in Hosea 11:1 says that out of Egypt he called his son, the most immediate context refers back to the Egyptian Exodus. That God had in the past, brought the nation of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. And so the words, “Out of Egypt I have called my son,” most immediately referred to the original exodus. Just as God had said, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
There’s been a lot of discussion as to in what way the Hosea passage finds its fulfillment in Jesus’ trip to Egypt and back. And yet the solution is really not that mysterious. Let me offer a couple preliminary thoughts to help us understand what Matthew is getting at. First, let me state that by Matthew quoting Hosea 11:1, he likely is using this to not only refer to that verse, but to the whole chapter 11 in Hosea. When you look at Hosea chapter 11, it clearly stands in Hosea as its own unit as a passage. By Hosea quoting then the first line of that chapter, it’s likely his way to refer to the whole chapter, and the whole of its teaching. Kind of like how we might reference a psalm or hymn by its first line, or like how Mary’s song in Luke 1 is known as the Magnificant, because that’s the first word in Latin in that song.
A second preliminary thought on understand Matthew’s quote of Hosea is this. Understand that the New Testament shows us different ways in which an Old Testament passage can find fulfillment. One way is by simple direct correspondence. A passage in the Old Testament is directly referring to the Messiah, or some event, and that prophecy gets directly fulfilled in the New Testament. Plenty of examples of that. And yet another category of fulfilled Scripture is that which falls under the category of typology. That there was something in the Old Testament passage in which a person, institution, or concept looks forward in some analogous way to a greater realization in Christ and/or the new covenant. These typologies are not some just loose analogies, but are intimately and organically connected and springing forth from the Old Testament into the New. The New Testament shows that these typologies are not something we just read into the Old Testament text in retrospect. No, rather they are something pregnant in the Old Testament text that is demanding a greater fulfillment. The book of Hebrews, for example, shows many cases of this typology, especially with regard to the priesthood – the insufficiency of the levitical priesthood and the direct promise of a greater priesthood shows we understand the levitcal priesthood typologically – finding its fulfillment with Christ’s greater priesthood. And so it’s this concept of typological fulfillment that is essentially going on here. Matthew reflects back on Hosea 11 and sees within that chapter some typological correspondence that pointed forward to Jesus; that was intimately connected with Jesus. This is not to say that Hosea himself would have understood this with the clarity Matthew shows. Nor is this to say that Hosea would have had no idea about this either. Rather, Hosea would have had some sense of all of this, but Matthew and us, now can see more clearly how it’s all come together.
You see, when you look at Hosea chapter 11, Hosea doesn’t just make some random reference to the exodus and then move on. You might want to flip back to Hosea 11 and follow along with me here. You see, Hosea is developing an idea. Israel was once under slavery and bondage in Egypt. Hosea shows that Israel would once again find itself under such slavery – this is seen in verses 5 and 11 of Hosea 11. They’d find themselves again in Egypt and now also in Assyria. Back in Hosea 9:3 that is explicitly said there too – that the people would end up enslaved in Egypt again and now also in Assyria. It was the Assyrians who destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and deported many Israelites back to Assyria. Hosea 11 is very clear why this happened. Because of the people’s sin. Their sinfulness would result in God bringing this covenant curse upon them – that they’d be destroyed as a nation and brought again into slavery and exile. And yet Hosea 11 doesn’t end there. It predicts that God would show compassion upon them. Hosea 11:11 then says that this compassion would result in the people being brought back from Egypt and Assyria. Well, how would that happen? Hosea doesn’t explicitly mention the Messiah here, but in the vein of the many prophecies of restoration after captivity, we know that the prophets saw this as the function of the Messiah. In other words, Hosea 11 is another one of those Old Testament prophecies about how God’s people would be restored from slavery and captivity. Something the Messiah would bring about. Hosea 11 is about sin, slavery, and salvation. It’s pregnant in terms of looking for a fulfillment. When and how would God’s people be brought out of Egypt and Assyria and slavery? Well, Matthew announces its fulfillment here in Matthew 2:15. Matthew sees Jesus’ flight in and out of Egypt and realizes that the future days envisioned by Hosea 11 were at hand.
So realize the manifold connection we see with Jesus and this passage from Hosea. We’ve said already how he is bringing the restoration predicted there in Hosea 11. But more can be said. For Jesus to have to flee for his life to Egypt and be forced to stay there for a time – it identifies with Israel’s history and plight. He, as one of Israel, has personally gone through it all himself. He’s experienced the refuge of Egypt. He’s experienced one wanting to destroy him – i.e. Herod, just like how Pharaoh had tried to destroy the Israelites by killing all the baby boys – don’t miss that’s what Herod turns to do himself. And then Jesus experienced an exodus from Egypt, being allowed to return back to the Promised Land. Even if he hadn’t personally gone through all this, it would have still been his heritage, having experienced it still in the loins of his forefather’s from days gone by. And yet God chose to have Jesus personally experience it. To personally be one who experienced this exile, and slavery, and exodus. In this, Jesus rightly identifies with Israel. There was a necessity for this.
In a similar sense, then Jesus shows himself as the True Israel. He is the True Israel that has come out of the exodus and done what Israel should have done. You see, this is part of the necessity of Jesus. He not only identifies with the plight of his people, he lives in the way they should have, but did not. We like to point out how he kept all the law perfectly. His righteousness is the grounds for us to be deemed righteous. Yet God determined that part of that righteousness must experience afresh the sort of experiences God’s people had experienced, but had failed. So, Jesus lives out a sort of New Exodus, and he lives it out perfectly, righteously. Many books in the New Testament have this theme of a New Exodus, but especially Matthew’s gospel.
You see, this is the way biblical typologies work. Something in the Old Testament that has some amazing significance, but in some pregnant way looks to something greater. Jesus as the True Israel is connected in the most intimate way with the exodus experience and heritage. But Israel failed to live out that heritage properly themselves. At the end of the day, their sin left them back in the same state. Don’t forget what was mentioned before – there were lots of Jews living in Egypt at that time. That was a reminder that Hosea’s passage still looked for fulfillment. Jesus, then did what Israel had not done: living as the righteous people of God after experiencing the exodus from Egypt. So, Matthew rightly recognizes the fulfillment going on here. God could have saved Jesus from Herod’s threat in countless ways. God could have just struck Herod dead if he wanted. But the fact that God gives the unexpected command to flee to Egypt, brings Matthew and us to see this as fulfillment of Hosea 11 and so much other Old Testament typology. God saw this flight as something necessary, and it brings us to realize how God is bringing Jesus into a connection with Israel’s history, and the whole idea of freedom from slavery and exile. That all God’s people would taste of this wonderful freedom.
Of course it’s in the New Testament that we see that the real freedom we need is freedom from the slavery of sin. It was sin that sent Israel back into physical exile and slavery. And it’s sin that spiritually enslaves all mankind whether they have other freedoms in this world or not. Christ came ultimately to bring freedom from the slavery of sin and death. And that’s why Herod couldn’t be allowed to kill the Christ child. Of course, we know Christ would bring this freedom from sin by his death. And yet it was not the right time yet, nor would it have been the right way. Christ had much to do first in his earthly ministry. He had a teaching ministry of course. He had to live out all righteousness as we have already discussed. He had to call disciples, and issue the call for repentance. And finally his death would have a wider scope of conspiracy. Jews and Gentiles together working together to bring his death. One of his own closest friends betraying him to his death. And yet in all of this, Jesus was in control. He allowed it all to happen. Man was not ultimately in control of the timing of his death. Satan himself could not control it. All of it was under God’s perfect plan and timing. Jesus himself freely and willingly submit himself to this perfect plan. And so Jesus did not die as a helpless, unaware, child. Nor did he ultimately go to the cross in a forced slavery. Ultimately, he went in freedom to give up his life for us. Of course all of this reminds us that Christmas is just the start of his mission. That Christmas must later give way to Good Friday and Easter.
Friends, Jesus knows our slavery. True, he does not know the slavery of personal sin. But, he does know the weight of the temptations of sin, having been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. And he does know the slavery that comes from the curse of sin. For he was born into this sin cursed world. He knows the weight of troubles we can go through in this life. His exile in Egypt was just the beginning of a life where he experienced these troubles. And the climax of his experience of this curse is at the cross where he bore God’s wrath in our place. Jesus knows our slavery and our troubles. But he knew all of this, so he could offer you freedom from it. For those here today who have not know this freedom, come to Jesus today. Turn from a life apart from God. Turn and trust your life to Christ. Confess your sins. Acknowledge you need him as your Lord and Savior. Ask him to forgive you and come into your heart this day. The Bible says that if the Son has set you free, that you are free indeed. Christ knows your slavery, but he also knows freedom. Know this freedom today but trusting your life to Christ in faith.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus also knows our battles. He knows that Satan is out to get us. That Satan prowls around like a roaring lion and like a crouching dragon just waiting to strike at our faith. The story of Revelation 12 continues on right now. We are a church which Satan wants to afflict. And yet we know how the story ends. That serpent has already been struck at the cross. Already he’s the strong man bound in such a way that the gospel is going forth to the ends of the earth. Even though he’s allowed to carry on his activities for a little while longer, we know his doom is sure. He will be cast into the eternal slavery of the lake of fire. He and all who belong to him. But we do not belong to him. We are children of the light. The light that has come into this world, even as that little child was born over 2000 years ago on that first Christmas. Christ will carry us through these battles with the enemy. God was able to save the Christ child from the dragon way back then, through this flight to Egypt. God knows how to save us from him as well, even if it involves a time of trial and sojourn here on this earth. A time away from our true home – that New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.
And so for Mary and Joseph, the party wasn’t really over when they had to flee to Egypt. In fact the party was just getting started. And the celebration continues today. And it will continue into eternity. For we will be praising God and the Christ forever. We’ll be saying, now has come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ! We will be singing, worthy is the lamb who takes away the sin of the world! We’ll ever be praising God and singing joy to the world! Even now, though the battle with the enemy rages on, we still celebrate Christmas, and Easter, and all that freedom we have found in the Messiah. Praise be to God, who only does wondrous things! Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.