For the first time in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is called God’s Son. He does so in the quotation from the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” The Greek version of the Old Testament quotation says, “Out of Egypt I called Israel’s children.” But Matthew gave a Greek translation of the Hebrew to make it clear that Jesus is God’s Son.
Now, Hosea was not making a predictive prophecy in the strict sense. He might have said, “One day a Child will be born who will go down to Egypt and come up again, because out of Egypt God will call His Son,” or something like that. Instead, Hosea, talking about the nation of Israel, briefly mentioned God calling His Son. Matthew saw it and, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declared that this passage is fulfilled in the life of Christ. Of course, Matthew and the Holy Spirit are correct.
The truth being expressed is more complex than a simple prediction. God is comparing Israel’s history with the life of Christ to teach a greater reality. As Israel went down to Egypt and came back up again, so Christ does. Israel had to go to Egypt to be saved from a famine as Christ had to go down to be saved from Herod. The act of bringing Israel up out of slavery created a new people that God adopted as His children. But much more than just an adopted child, Christ is THE Son of God, begotten from eternity, yet declared so in His earthly life as He comes up from Egypt. He was also declared God’s Son as He was Baptized in the Jordan. God similarly confirmed that Israel was His son when they entered the land He had promised by crossing the Jordan River.
Christ, however, is a far better Son than Israel was. Where Israel fell to temptation in the wilderness, Christ withstands satan’s attacks. Where Israel eventually turned to idols and faithlessly abandoned their Lord, Christ can never be unfaithful.
Christ is the true Israel, the true Son. He is reliving history in His own person and fulfilling everything perfectly. The nation of Israel was a poor copy, a pale shadow of what Christ would be. Christ would be perfect in every way.
Therefore whoever is in Christ is the true Israel, whether you are born with Jewish heritage or not. Contrariwise, if you are found without faith in Christ, then you are not part of the true Israel, whatever your genetics may be.
When you watch Christ go down to Egypt and back again, you are seeing your history. When you see Him standing in the waters of the Jordan being Baptized, that is your history. When you see Him overcoming His enemies in battle by dying and rising, you are seeing your history.
But in the midst of our joy that Christ has come, tragedy strikes in our text. Herod happens. It is perhaps not so enormous as we imagine. Estimates put the number of babies killed by Herod at about twenty or so. Still, that is horribly awful. No slaughter of innocent human life is good.
God says, “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet,” etc. Usually, when a prophesy is fulfilled, Matthew says, “This took place in order that it might be fulfilled,” or similar words. The difference is that usually there are words in the text indicating purpose. Ordinarily, the events fulfilled God’s predetermined plan. But God did not want innocent babies to die. That was Herod’s purpose, not God’s. Although the Lord through Jeremiah predicted that these things would take place, they were not what God desired.
Yet God also works good things in spite of the hatred of the nations. Herod cannot stop the Christ Child. Herod will not have the last Word. Instead, the hope and peace promised in the Babe of Bethlehem will find their fulfillment. He cannot fail to reach the goal of His journey.
And there is some consolation in knowing that the innocent little children that fell to Herod’s wrath were circumcised into the Covenant. Their souls were safe, and we will even meet them one day. Always God keeps His holy innocent ones safe, even through the dark path of death.
Finally, we see the fulfillment of what is almost certainly not a direct quotation of Scripture. Matthew says that Christ came and lived in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets that He shall be called a Nazarene. This is a most unusual way to introduce an Old Testament quote. A specific prophet is not named. Instead it says, “the prophets”, plural. Also, we know of no quotation that says, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
So what is this? Some solutions have been suggested. The best solution is that the word “Nazarene” indicates the lowliness of the Messiah.
To be a person from Nazareth was not a badge of honor in the time of Christ. In general, the whole region of Galilee was seen to be second-class: less educated, less spiritual, less sophisticated. We can see this kind of attitude in Nathaniel when he reacted to the possibility that the Messiah was from Nazareth. Nathaniel said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Living in Nazareth seems like a bad strategic move for the Messiah. If He wants to be taken seriously, He should come from a place that demands respect. Why grow up there and be known as one of those backwater lowlifes? He could at least hide that information from the public or disown Nazareth.
But no, Christ embraces His hometown. It stands for something. The Messiah comes in a humble way, lowly, as a servant. He knows that He will be despised by men.
Strangely, that is the plan. Although an exact quote saying “He will be a Nazarene,” does not appear in Scripture, there are places where God shows the humility of His Messiah. “He is despised and rejected by men. … He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” “I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people.” etc.
The Lord sends His Anointed One in ways that people do not expect. He is not what they thought He would be. Many do not receive Him for that reason. Many misunderstand His purpose in coming. Many try to use Him to prop up their own self-righteous wisdom.
But He will not be used for the purposes of others. He has His own purpose, and it involves humiliation and servitude. The great King comes, but He looks like no king. The manger proclaims this. The hurried flight by night to Egypt proclaims this. His purpose makes Him embrace the name, “Nazarene”.
So His purpose is already driving Him as a little Child. Even though He seems to do nothing, only passively carried about from one place to another, yet this is His plan, His purpose, His destiny.
The ultimate shame is still to come. In the vast plan of mankind’s redemption, He must pass through the darkest place on the darkest day. He will be treated as a worm, and that is the very reason He came.
For you, He does all this. For you, He did not stop until it was done. So now you are in Him, and He in you, the true Israel by faith in God’s Son.
All glory be to Him. Amen.
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