It’s easy to start to believe that Jesus is insignificant. Maybe some of our friends think he’s not worth much bother. Maybe it’s the media. But it’s easy to start to get worried. Perhaps he is nothing special. Perhaps he is just a figure from 2000 years ago, who had a few good ideas, and lived well, but doesn’t have much to offer for today. It’s easy for that to start to niggle you.
Matthew knows that pressure. The early Christians were surrounded by people who could point to Jesus’ eccentricity and make him seem small. Who could point to his obscurity and make him feel little. So Matthew sets out in chapter 2 of his gospel to show us how significant Jesus is in God’s master plan. He wants to bolster our confidence in him; to help us to trust him; to give us some certainty.
That’s why he keeps quoting the Old Testament. Matthew wants to show us how Jesus didn’t just turn up on the scene with some grand ideas. However far back you look, he’s right at the heart of God’s grand plan for this world.
Let me show us the 3 things that Matthew says about Jesus.
Jesus came to save God’s people from their sins
First, Jesus came to save God’s people from their sins. Jesus came to save God’s people from their sins.
The wise men leave, and an angel appears to Joseph in a dream to warn him that Herod is not going to leave them alone just because the wise men didn’t tip him off. Herod wants the child killed. Indeed, things are so urgent that they must go at once. They flee by night, which was a very dangerous time to travel, so you can see how short they were on time.
And so they go to Egypt. There are all kinds of reasons why that was a good place to go. There was a massive community of Jews there. It had the safety of the Roman Empire, but it was outside of Herod’s jurisdiction. But Matthew says it was rather handy that they went there for another reason.
Egypt has a rich symbolism in the Bible as a whole. You may remember that in the 15th Century before Christ, the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, and God used Moses to bring them out. It was then that he kind of adopted them as his special people.
Now it’s Jesus’ turn. He goes down to Egypt, and then comes back. Jesus is reliving the story of Old Testament Israel.
But Jesus is actually doing far more than that. More than just reliving the story of Israel, he’s quite specifically reliving the story of Moses. Herod here reminds us of Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. Remember Pharaoh, killing all the new-born baby boys, and God miraculously intervened to make sure Moses was kept safe, and he did it again to make sure Jesus was kept safe. Jesus, like Moses before him, had to flee in and out of Egypt because they were wanted. Moses was able to return when those who sought his life were dead, and the angel says exactly the same thing of Jesus in verse 20.
Jesus isn’t just reliving Israel’s story. He’s reliving the story of Moses. Matthew’s painting Jesus here as a second Moses.
Which is why Matthew quotes the prophet Hosea in verse 15. Out of Egypt I called my son. Hosea was looking back on God bringing his people out of Egypt. This, he says, was the highlight of God’s love for them. But then as the centuries went by, God’s people let him down. And Hosea says that God won’t let their failure to love him be the end of the story. God will love them again.
And Matthew is saying that God has done that. Jesus is God loving his people all over again. God sent Jesus to relive Israel’s story, and to relive Moses’ story. And just as God called his people out of Egypt through Moses, so that they could be his beloved son, so God has sent another Moses to deliver his people all over again.
Although this time, it’s not Pharaoh he saves them from. God didn’t send Jesus to rescue us from having to build the pyramids. Look up to chapter 1 verse 21. The angel says to Joseph that Mary will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
So ask the question: Is Jesus worth trusting? Yes he is. Because when God wants to turn humanity’s fortunes around, he does it first for Jesus, and then he uses Jesus to do it for anyone who trusts him.
The US is entering the race for presidential elections. It always seems to go on forever. Vast sums of money spent promoting the candidates to the public. And then when they are elected, a huge wave of euphoria spreads the nation. Think back to when Obama was sworn in. Here is someone who will solve their biggest problems.
Well if that kind of excitement can follow an election to the White House, what is there was someone who really could solve our biggest problems. What if someone could be found who could save us from our sins, and from all the problems we experience because of them? Problems in relationships, in our work, with our health. What if a real deliverer could be found? That’d be worth celebrating wouldn’t it? And Jesus is exactly that.
Jesus came to save God’s people from their sins.
Jesus came to end the tragic exile
Second, Matthew tells us that Jesus came to end the tragic exile. Jesus came to end the tragic exile.
The story goes on. They’re safely in Egypt. But then Matthew pans the camera back to Bethlehem, and we see the horror they narrowly escaped. Tragedy strikes. Every boy under 2 is killed.
Now, we might picture thousands of children being killed here. In fact, Bethlehem was not a big place, and there were probably no more than 20. But one is too many, isn’t it? Herod was doing so many bad things, that this would never have even made the back pages of the newspaper. But if you were a mother in Bethlehem, and it was your toddler, the numbers don’t matter. It was awful.
And Matthew adds the comment that the tears that were shed that day were a little like the tears that Rachel wept.
We need a bit of background here. The Jewish people lived in the land of Israel until they were so unfaithful to God that he was left with no option. God sent foreign armies sweeping through, to carry the people far away to another land. It was a desperately sad time, and Jeremiah 31 pictures Rachel turning in her grave. What happened would have made her weep, says Jeremiah.
You see Rachel was buried somewhere near Bethlehem, and somewhere near where all the exiles were mustered before they were marched off to Babylon. They probably filed past her tomb. It evokes images of Jews in Poland in the 1940s, being rounded up in huge groups to be marched off to the concentration camps. To watch that happening must have been unimaginably sad.
The thing is: Matthew’s readers would have known Jeremiah 31 better than we do. They would have known that this is the only sad verse in the chapter. It’s a chapter full of hope. The verse Matthew quotes is the prophet Jeremiah telling Rachel not to cry. They’ll be back. God’s purposes aren’t over. He’ll love them again. Those kinds of tears will end.
Matthew is saying that the tears that were shed in Bethlehem were understandable. Very much so. But out of place. They didn’t belong. In Matthew’s day, just as in Jeremiah’s day, foreign powers were inflicting untold suffering on the people. But the words of Jeremiah are being fulfilled. Jesus has come, and that means the answer to these tears has come. Matthew’s already made clear in chapter 1: Jesus came to end the tragic exile.
So is Jesus worth trusting? Yes he is. Because life is frequently tragic. And Jesus is the one who had mad the sad times in life the times that don’t really belong. They shouldn’t be here. And one day, when he returns, they won’t be here. They won’t belong. They’ll be gone. There’s still much sadness. But it stands out as a relic of a bygone age.
Jesus came to end the tragic exile.
Jesus was from the middle of nowhere.
The third thing Matthew tells us about Jesus is that Jesus was from the middle of nowhere. Jesus was from the middle of nowhere.
After Herod dies, Joseph can bring his family back home, but they don’t settle in Judea. They move North, to Galilee, to the tiny village of Nazareth. And that gives Matthew the chance to quote from the Old Testament a third time: He shall be called a Nazarene.
Now this one will really puzzle you, because you won’t find that verse anywhere in the Old Testament. It isn’t there. It couldn’t be there, because Nazareth wasn’t built when it was written!
But we do know what Nazareth stood for in Matthew’s day. It was a renowned backwater. It stood for the back and beyond. When the early Christians were called Nazarenes, it was meant as an insult. When Nathaniel is introduced to Jesus, he nearly doesn’t go to meet him, because he knows nothing good could come out of Nazareth!
And there may not be any Old Testament passages that mention Nazareth by name, but there are lots that say the Messiah will come from obscurity, that he will be nothing special, that he’ll be a bit of a nobody.
The world is full of people who were born in some slightly surprising places. There’s not time to run this as a quiz, but did you know that Nicole Kidman was born in Hawaii, Prince Philip on the island of Corfu, Natalie Portman in Jerusalem, Sir Cliff Richard in India, Emma Watson in Paris, and Keanu Reeves and Dom Joly were both born in Beirut. My favourite is the former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss, who was born in Johannesburg!
Mostly, they keep it quiet. Well Jesus grew up in Galilee, in a northern backwater. If you told most of his school friends that he was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, that his dad is directly descended from David, and that so far every Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah has fitted him perfectly, they’ve been bowled over. But it’s true.
So is Jesus worth trusting? Yes. In spite of the fact that Jesus was a nobody. In spite of the fact that, even today, at the human level there may seem to be nothing special about him. Matthew is showing us that there are reasons for that, and it doesn’t undo all of the other marvellous things we’ve been told. Not one bit.
So perhaps Jesus seems small to people we know. Perhaps following him feels eccentric. Perhaps we sometimes wonder why we do it.
But listen to Matthew. Jesus came to save God’s people from their sins. He’s at the heart of God’s plan, and can meet our biggest needs. Jesus came to end the tragic exile. Yes, some tragic things still happen to make us weep, but Jesus has made those a relic of the past; they don’t really belong, and one day they won’t. Jesus was from the middle of nowhere, but even that was exactly the way God said it would be.
Jesus is worth trusting, isn’t he?