God’s Activity in the History of Salvation
Matthew 2:13-23 (NIV)
13 When they (the Magi) had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”a16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” b 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” 21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
The Holiday season will soon be over. Many travellers, family members who were in town to visit over the holidays are preparing to leave in order to get on with their lives. The sweet childhood memories of special Christmasses past will soon fade into the background as the routine of our day-to-day lives shakes us back into reality. Just one more long weekend and then its back to the old grind. The glitter of the season will soon be forgotten as deadlines, projects and termpapers push us forward in the never ending human rat race.
And so, we come before God today looking for guidance from the Child of Bethlehem – our salvation. We seek a beacon of lite that will guide us into the new year. As I read the text out of Matthew in preparation for this message it was as if the writer was retelling the History of Salvation (Heilsgeschichte) of God’s people. This story shows God’s work and activity in the Salvation of his people.
As a general theme in Matthew, life after Christmas is not all that sweet. Following the birth of Jesus there is anger and murder, weeping and wailing, moving and resettling. After our wonderful Christmas celebrations we are again confronted with the fact that the kingdom has not fully arrived. The "peace on earth" sung by the angels (in Luke) at Jesus' birth, is followed by death and destruction, suffering and evil.
The story in chapter 2 is unique to Matthew. Salvation for Joseph and his family meant hearing and believing the word from God and then doing it.
There is a great sense of irony that strikes us in this section. Chapter 1 proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God - Emmanuel - God with us; but now we see "God with us" fleeing for his life. We see the "savior" needing to be saved from Herod's anger. This "reversal" is an indication of the "emptying" of Jesus who comes as a suffering servant, rather than a powerful God. For Matthew, Jesus "needed" to do these things to fulfill OT prophecies. Jesus comes "to fulfill all righteousness" (3:15). He comes to do what God requires of him and not to fulfill his own desires or the desires of the people.
This theme of obedience and trust in God continues throughout our passage as we that God is present with his people when they are in their home country or in Exile.
Verses 13-15 and 19-23 have many parallel reminders of God’s work in saving His people. First of all, we see that the words: "Behold an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph" are exactly the same when God instructed him to flee from his home town (v.13) and also when he was in exile in Egypt (v.19). The words from the angel: "Get up, take the child and his mother" are also exactly the same in both places (v. 13 and v. 20). And, Joseph's actions: "Getting up he took the child and his mother" are exactly the same in both places (v.14 and v. 21). Matthew shows us that the God who came to Joseph in Bethlehem does exactly the same in Egypt! "God-is-with-us" when in Bethlehem and when in Egypt. God is also with you and me whether we are in the safety of our familiar surroundings, or whether we are experiencing an exile from our health, relationships, our loved ones, and even when we feel distant from God.
Matthew brings in many OT images through the story and through the quotes in this passage. The flight to Egypt and the name "Joseph" recalls how "Joseph," son of Jacob/Israel, was sold by his brothers and taken to Egypt (Gen 37:12-36) -- to provide a place of refuge for his family later during the famine in Canaan (Gen 46-47).
Egypt has traditionally been a place of refuge for those fleeing tyranny in Palestine. When King Solomon tries to kill Jeroboam, he flees to Egypt (1K 11:40). When King Jehoiakim wants to kill Uriah the prophet, he flees to Egypt (Jer 26:21-23).
Hosea 11:1 says “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.” Matthew uses this quote to connect Jesus with Moses and the Exodus and to repeat that Jesus is the son of God. The Moses connection continues in vv. 16-18. When Jesus is saved from Herod's anger and the killing of the infants we are drawn back to Moses who was saved from Pharoah's anger and the killing of male infants (Ex 2:1-10).
It is estimated that Bethlehem was a town of about 1000 people at the time of Jesus’ birth and, at the most, there were about 20 male infants. Later legends have greatly expanded the number of infants killed to 14,000 (Byzantine liturgy); and even 64,000 (Syrian tradition).
No other writings in the NT or historical records mention this massacre of male babies. Josephus, the great Jewish Historian of that time, tells us that Herod ordered the execution of three of his sons; and at his burial one member of every family was to be slain so that the nation might really mourn (Ant. XVII. 181). Ancient writings however, do indicate that Herod was the type of person who could have ordered such a slaughter and the small number of children might have gone unrecorded in secular history books.
Matthew's quote of Jeremiah 31:15-17a: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” Rachel, is weeping for "her children" who have been taken into exile. But, then God himself comforts her saying, “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” “They will return from the land of the enemy. 17 So there is hope for your future,”
The salvation delivered by God in the Exodus out of Egypt and the Exile from Babylonian captivity will pale in comparison to the salvation that Jesus will bring.
In words nearly identical to Exodus 4:19, Joseph is told that "those seeking the life of the child have died" -another connection with Moses. Like the Exodus, Joseph is led by God through dreams.
Although Matthew was not the first gospel written, it is the first book in the NT. The reason for that may well be because Matthew builds a bridge between the old salvation stories and prophecies and the new salvation event in Jesus. I think that is the central message that he is trying share.
God's initiative in the conception and birth of Jesus (1:18-25) is met by two responses: resistance, violence, and rejection from the elite of political and religious power in Jerusalem on the one hand, and worship, trust, and obedience from those who are at the margins where God's purpose of salvation is being accomplished. The danger and evil of the empire constantly threatens and opposes God’s purpose. But, the empire does not have the final word. God's purpose in the History of Salvation does.
God is at work in the History of the salvation of His people. He leads his people to his intended purposes. As God has led in the time of the Old Testament and the time of Jesus’ birth, so God wants to lead us to salvation. In this great drama of Salvation we all must confront our personal “Herods” – that is, the Evil that persecutes us and wants to kill our faith.
Let us take the attitude of Joseph, Moses and the prophets of old. Let us tune in to the voice of God when he invites us to trust Him. Let us follow His leading – that we may be saved. Then we too will return from the land of the enemy and we will find hope in our future.
Sunday, Dec. 30, 2001, 10:30 a.m. *
Choirs -- Who is so great a God as our God
Aufruf zur Andacht - Levi Unrau
Gemeindelieder - Another year is dawning MH 510
O Gott du Hilf von Alters her GB 29
Begruessung & Bekanntmachungen -
Choirs - Wer unter dem Schirm des Hoechsten sitzet (29)
Kollekte & Lied - Great is Thy Faithfulness MH 534
Schriftwort - aus Heb.2: 10-18
Botschaft - Krippe, Kreuz, Krone - Frank Isaac
Choirs - Wir folgen Jesu nach (53)
Scripture - Matth. 2: 13-23
Message - God's Work in Salvation History - Ferdinand Funk
Soloists & Choirs - Lead me, Guide me
Closing Hymn - Jesus still lead on MH 319
· update on Baby Joshua: he is doing great - Praise God! If he continues to improve at this rate he could come home in the next few weeks. Thanks for prayers - continue to pray.
· Others waiting for medical treatment early in the new year.