The flight from Egypt (Mtt. 2:13-15)

[Sermon audio found here.]

We all love a good story, don’t we?  Stories capture our imagination and draw us into their world.  Often we identify very closely with the characters, places and events that we find in them.  Not only do we digest the facts about the story, but we also feel and experience the tension, the angst and the excitement as we turn the pages.  Yet, often our favourite stories are make-believe.  They have little correspondence to reality.  And even if our best book is based on fact and not on fiction, the story is about things in the past.  Its plotline often never repeats itself in the same way again, let alone gets us involved in its story.

Well, the Bible is the storybook of storybooks.  It is chock-full of the incredible events, people and places that set forth God’s saving acts in history.  The Bible is not make-believe.  It is the record of God’s revelation of salvation to us that has finally come in Jesus Christ.  And God’s Word and Spirit invite you to become part of its story.

What we shall see among other things this morning is that your identity as a sinner as well as your life as a child of God is found in Matthew 2:13-15.  This is because like OT Israel, we too are guilty of rebellion against God.  We too were once enslaved to sin.  But also like Israel, we have been freed from our sins through the blood of Messiah.  For, Jesus is the one greater than Moses who has finally led his people out the Egyptian bondage of sin, death and hell.

Brothers and sisters, children, and friends, what we have in the Word of God – what you are about to hear – is not something that we have to manipulate or reinterpret for our culture in order to make it more relevant to our lives.  No, Scripture makes us relevant to its world by telling us who we really are as sinners and who God has revealed himself to be in his Son.  This is not ultimately a Word about Jesus or God or us.  For all its beauty and wonder, the Bible is not something to be studied at arms length.

Rather, Scripture is about God’s saving action that pulls us into another world, which is Christ’s eternal kingdom.  This Word that is being preached is in fact Christ speaking to you.  Through his Word and Spirit, God is re-casting you out of this world into the world to come, which is the greatest drama ever staged in human history.

God is in control

So far in the Gospel of Matthew we have seen God orchestrating events in such a way that proves or authenticates Jesus as the anointed Messiah of God.  Jesus is the promised redeemer of God’s people because he has fulfilled Scripture in being the royal son of David and because he is the child born in the city of DavidDespite the human obstacles of Jesus not being the biological son of Joseph and Joseph and Mary being from the lowly town of Nazareth, God has nevertheless turned events in such a way that his eternal Son fulfills OT prophecy to a “T.”  The correspondence between the events of the OT and the events that are unfolding in the life of Jesus so far in Matthew is no mere coincidence.

By Matt. 2:12, the narrative of the life of Jesus has taken another turn that seems ominous from a human perspective.  If you remember, Matthew tells us that that three wise men or magi have come seeking out Messiah from the East.  They genuinely want to worship and pay homage to Jesus.  In contrast, there is the church of Jesus’ day, represented by Herod, the scribes and the high priests.  They have been indifferent to the coming of Messiah.  But when Herod gets news of the birth of Jesus, he is too wants to find Jesus: but not to worship him, but to kill him.

So, the magi are told in a dream not to return to Herod.  And then in verse 13, an “angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream” and tells him to take Mary and Jesus and “flee” to Egypt until further notice.  Why?  Because “Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him,” Matthew writes.

In obedience, Joseph departs with Mary and Jesus for Egypt.  Matthew tells us that they left for Egypt by night, which tells us that the situation was urgent.  Traveling at night was exceptional and potentially more dangerous. The journey from Bethlehem to Egypt was about 150 miles and would have taken over a week.  Once there, they were to stay put until Herod’s death. In verse 15, Matthew writes: “This was to fulfill what the prophet had spoken, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Out of Egypt God called Israel

With these words, we have the third of five fulfillment formulas (or OT quotations) that Matthew sets forth in the first two chapters of his gospel, which are to prove that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah of God.

This time Matthew picks up the prophetic words of Hosea, found in Hosea 11:1But here again, like his earlier quotation from the prophet Micah, Matthew does not work only with the originally intended meaning of Hosea’s words.  Rather, he re-interprets the prophet’s words in light of the striking correspondence between God’s saving acts in the OT and his final saving act in Jesus in the NT.  In this instance, it is the parallel between the Exodus of God’s people from Egypt under the leadership of Moses and now the final deliverance of the church through Jesus Christ.

In the original OT context, when Hosea wrote the words concerning God’s love for Israel: “When Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son,” he probably did not have Messiah in mindWhy?  Because, for one, Hosea is speaking of past events.  Also, God’s “son” here is a reference to the biological offspring of Abraham, which is not an individual, but rather Israel as a nation.  What is more, later Hosea likens Israel to an unwise and immature child.

This is all in keeping with the storyline of the book of Hosea, which is about Israel’s rebellion and idolatry.  But more importantly it is also about the promised triumph of God’s grace over Israel’s sin, as well as ours.

In Hosea 11:1, Hosea makes explicit reference to Israel’s Exodus or mass departure from Egypt under the leadership of Moses.  Once upon a time, God’s people were in bondage and exile in Egypt under the treacherous rule of Pharaoh.  There seemed no possible way out.  And yet God miraculously intervened:  When it looked like Pharaoh would murder Moses as a baby, God rescued him by the hand of one of Pharaoh’s daughters, of all people. Later, God spared his people from the plagues he hailed down upon Egypt as well as well as the death sentence for every firstborn child. And finally, God parted the Red Sea and delivered his people into the wilderness – a journey that would eventually lead them through the desert into the Promised Land of Canaan.

But Israel was like a wayward child.  She quickly forgot God’s goodness and his promises, and his law, and went after foreign gods.  The great Exodus and the obligations of the Sinai Covenant soon became a distant memory, and were replaced with the sinful ingratitude of Baal worship, temple prostitutes and debauchery.

So God rejected Israel and sent her back into exile in Assyria and Babylon for her wickedness…

Friends, this is not an impressive story about some people long ago that we can allow to fade from our memory when we close the book.  No, this is our story too.  How?  You and I share in the same sinful nature that God’s OT people did.  We too are by nature idolaters.  Our default is also to live for the lusts and evil desires of our hearts, which draw us away from God.  We take God’s promises for granted and we are unthankful for his goodness toward us.  Like Israel we all deserve eternal judgment of separation from God, which Israel’s exile was an earthly foretaste.

But exile was not the end of the story for Israel and condemnation is not the end of the story for us either.  This is the point of the book of Hosea, and in fact the whole of the OT for that matter.  Judgment for sin will be overcome once and for all through the second and final Exodus that will be accomplished by Messiah.

This is what Matthew brings out so marvelously for us in our passage this morning.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with the benefit of having already seen the life of Jesus unfold, Matthew picks up on the striking correspondence or parallel between Israel’s Exodus under the Moses and the deliverance that Jesus will accomplish for God’s people.  In other words, Matthew reinterprets Hosea in light of the fuller revelation that has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Out of Egypt God has called his Son

Over a thousand years prior to Christ’s birth, God’s people were making bricks under a tyrant called Pharaoh.  Now, Jesus, a true son of Abraham, of David and of Israel, finds himself hiding in Egypt from another diabolical king called Herod.

What we have in Matt. 2:13-15 is Jesus beginning to re-live, as it were, Israel’s experience under the law.  Here, Jesus has stepped into the shoes of Israel and will walk in their footsteps.  Like Israel, Jesus must endure the wilderness of temptations.  Like Israel, Jesus must submit to and fulfill the Old Covenant law.  Like Moses, Jesus must lead.  Like David, Jesus must rule.

But there is a difference between Jesus and Israel; Jesus and Moses; Jesus and David – isn’t there?  The difference is that Jesus can walk and he can run in ways that Israel never could – because Jesus is the Christ, the sinless God-man.  For he never gave into temptation.  He kept and fulfilled every last jot and tittle of the moral, ceremonial and judicial laws unto perfection!  He never faltered as he led the way for God’s people.  And he ruled and continues to rule everyone and everything according to his impeccable wisdom and eternal power.

In the end, Jesus proved to be faithful where Israel proved faithless.

Brothers and sisters, and children, the child that God called out of Egypt during the time of Herod is God’s beloved and faithful Son, in whom he is well pleased.  He is the true Israel of God.  And whoever believes in Jesus becomes part of the true people of God.

Out of Egypt God has called us

Beloved, think about it, Jesus is the reason why our identity is no longer defined by sin and the evil age in which we live.  By faith in Jesus Christ, God has written us into his story of salvation that stretches all the way back to the Ancient Near Eastern city of Egypt.  God has called you and I out of the Egypt of sin, death and hell that once kept us under its power.

But this is not the end of the story is it?  Life goes on in this world.  We are saved and united to Christ by faith, and yet we still wait for heaven.  This is why the Apostle Peter calls us strangers and exiles here on earth.  This is not ultimately our home.

Therefore, until we get to heaven, God’s Word assures us that he will make good on his promises no matter how things turn out in this life.  Our assurance is that Jesus has gone before us.  He has won the victory and he has earned eternal life for us.

And this gospel Word in our hearing will shortly be confirmed to us in sight, taste and touch through the Lord’s Supper.  In the OT, God confirmed his covenant promises to his people in the Passover Meal.  Now, God confirms those same promises to us that have been fulfilled in Jesus, through our participation in the Lord’s Supper.  Let us receive this Word and partake of the body and blood of Christ.  Let us hear God’s Word and believe; taste and eat, and see that the Lord is good.

For just like Israel of old and Jesus in the fullness of time, God is orchestrating your life – against all odds – so that you might repent and believe, and follow in Christ’s footsteps all the way to heaven.  Amen.

Simon Jooste, RCSS morning service, 26 May 2013

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