By Joseph Ametepe
It's sad that a lot of people miss Christmas. You see, even though they participate in gift-giving, enjoy the holiday music, and join in the festivities, they miss the real meaning of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Many people missed the First Christmas too. One was Herod. He was a cruel, paranoid man who was appointed to the throne by Rome in return for cheap political favors. So when the Magi stopped in Jerusalem to inquire about the newborn King, Herod was troubled. He was filled with suspicion and fear. Why? Because he would tolerate no real or imagined threat to his throne. This was the same man who had his own two sons killed because he thought they were plotting to overthrow him. Slaying the Babe of Bethlehem would be a small matter by comparison. Herod missed the joy of Christ's coming into the world because he was afraid the Baby would someday take his throne. People today miss Christmas for a similar reason. They refuse His Kingship. Why? Because they do not want to relinquish any authority over their lives. They prefer to rule themselves. ~Adapted from Daily Bread December 21, 1990
Joseph and Mary were among the few people who didn't miss Christmas at the First Christmas - simply because they willingly and wholeheartedly yielded their lives to God to direct them and accomplish His purposes through them. This brings me to the big idea of the message God has given from His Word to deliver to you at this special hour in your life and my life. Please I want you to listen carefully to it not just with your head but more importantly with your heart where the Holy Spirit is ready and resolved to plant the seed of God's rich and refreshing truth in order to change genuine born-again Christians more into the blessed image of Jesus Christ - the Builder and Bridegroom of the Church and to convict unbelievers of their sin of unbelief - compassionately and convincingly leading them to genuine repentance and personal saving faith in Jesus Christ - the Son of God and the Savior of the world. So here is our message in a nutshell! Please I humbly implore you to pay very close attention to it with an open heart and with an open mind willing to receive it and respond to it. God guides and guards His obedient child in order to accomplish His good purpose in his life to the praise of His glory. In other words, God personally leads and protects His surrendered servant in order to fulfill His plan for him.
Folks, friends, faithful followers of Christ among us here today, and fellow believers in the fold and flock, fellowship and family of God, the Bible is going to vividly and visually show us from the lives of Joseph, the Christ-Child and Mary that Almighty God takes full responsibility of guiding and guarding His own - who willingly and wholeheartedly surrender to Him. Joseph, the leader of the family of the Christ-Child, fully and faithfully committed his life to God at the First Christmas and experienced firsthand God's personal leading and preservation in a very turbulent and trying time in Israel. This biblical teaching is clearly and convincingly presented in Matthew 2:19-23. So please if you have your Bibles, turn them to Matthew 2:19-23. Actually, Matthew is the only Gospel writer who recorded the escape of Joseph and his family to Egypt and their return to the land of Israel.
We have before us a passage of Scripture which is only three sentences in the original language. The New American Standard Bible (NASB), the most literal translation of the Bible into our English language also translated it into three sentences. It is a passage which can be accurately described as a passage of faithfulness and fulfillment. First of all, it is a passage of faithfulness because it graphically reveals God's faithfulness in directing the footsteps of Joseph into His path and purpose and delivering him and his family from danger. Oh the faithfulness of Almighty God in guiding and guarding His own! It is freshly and fully set before us in this passage. Second, it is a passage of fulfillment because it gloriously records the fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophets, "and He shall be called a Nazarene." For the fourth time in the first two chapters of Matthew, we see the fulfillment of prophecy. The question is: Do we know the prophets the Bible is speaking about? What specific Old Testament quotation did Matthew have in mind? Well, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, we will answer these questions in the course of our study.
Having just whetted your spiritual appetite, please allow me to give you a brief overview of how the Holy Spirit has prepared me to present His message to you from start to finish. First all, we will examine what the Bible discloses about the passing of Herod in verse 19a. The part of the Christmas story we are looking at today begins on a solemn and sober note. Herod the great had tightly and tenaciously held unto power and ruthlessly ruled over his realm. But he could not hold unto life. What did Herod die of? We will find out soon. Second, we will emphasis the Bible's uplifting teaching focusing on the personal guidance of God in verses 19b-20. Nothing delights the heart of God more than personally guiding, leading and directing the footsteps of His believing child into His path and purpose. The Bible is going to give us a vivid picture of God's personal guidance of Joseph - the appointed head of the household of the Christ-Christ. Third, we will elaborate on the perfect and prompt obedient response of Joseph in verse 21. Joseph's life of obedience always challenges me. His life of obedience was perfect, not partial. It was prompt, not one that was characterized by procrastination. How would you describe your life of obedience? Is it one that brings a big and beaming smile to the face of God? Please ponder that as you listen to this message. Fourth, we will expound on what the Bible reveals to us about the preservation of God in verse 22. Please take careful note of this! God not only guides His obedient child but He also guards him/her. As Joseph fully surrendered and obediently followed the path on which God had directed him, God took full responsibility of protecting him and the Christ-Child and Mary. You see, when Joseph returned to the land of Israel from Egypt, he was reluctant to venture into Judea - where one of Herod's sons, Archelaus ruled. God's preservation of Joseph and his family came in a form of a warning to Joseph. After receiving the warning Joseph took his family to Galilee. Fifth and finally, we will explain the Bible's teaching centering on the fulfillment of the prophecy of God in verse 23. Matthew, the inspired Gospel writer, boldly and blessedly declares that Jesus' residence in Nazareth as prophetically significant. He affirms that what the prophets had spoken is now being fulfilled. Matthew simply and succinctly states the prophecy as: "He shall be called a Nazarene." The question is: Where is that prophecy found in the Old Testament? Which of the prophets spoke this prophecy? Well, with the help of the Spirit of God and the Scriptures, we will answer these questions in the course of our study today.
Having given you a concise overview of our Christmas story, let's now dig deeper into it to discover the rich and relevant spiritual lessons which the Holy Spirit is so eager and enthused to impress upon our hearts in order to do His special and supernatural work of molding and making us more like Jesus Christ - our God, our Gain, our Guardian, our Go-to-Person, our General and our Guide in this present life and in the life to soon to come. We begin, first of all, by examining the Holy Spirit's sober teaching on the:
I. Passing of Herod (v. 19a).
Herod was a great ruler but the Bible uses only four words in the original Greek to describe his passing from this life into the next. It is translated into five words in the NASB. "But when Herod was dead" (Matthew 2:19a, NASB). Literally "But Herod having died." Please notice that verse 19 begins with an important conjunction "but," [Greek: "de"]. The New International Version (NIV) overlooked it. This is very unfortunate. The use of "but" clearly indicates that the direction of the story being told is now about to take a decisive and dramatic turn. In fact, it will take a one hundred and eighty degree turn. You see, after committing heinous and horrific crimes, including the slaughtering of all the innocent male infants in the Bethlehem region (see Matthew 2:16-18), Herod the Great, a masterful and merciless man, a cruel, cunning, and cold-blooded king, whose name "Herod" means"son of a hero," thought His throne was at last secure and that he would have many more years to rule and reign as king over his vast dominion. Oh yes, Herod was indeed king over a vast dominion. But he was not the king of life. Having permitted Herod's brutal and barbaric acts, through which God brought good - fulfilling His sovereign purposes concerning His chosen people Israel and His Christ - the time has now come for Almighty God, the author of life, the giver of life, the Lord of life, and the King of life to require Herod's life from him and for Herod to face His righteous judgment. The Bible makes it very clear that judgment assuredly comes after death. In Hebrews 9:27, we read these dreadful and disturbing words that should cause each one of us to pause and ponder how we are living our lives here on earth: "...it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,..." What an unnerving and unsettling day it was for Herod as he came face to face with the Righteous Judge of the living and the dead!
Please mark this well! "Death can remove the kings of this world like other people. The rulers of millions have no power to hold to life when the hour of their departure has come. The murderer of helpless infants must himself die." -J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, Matthew, p. 11. Those who oppose the works and ways of God will assuredly be judged at His appointed time when their lives are demanded from them. Let this be clear to us! Wicked, evil, ungodly, arrogant rulers like Herod the Great, may look impressively invincible and may be permitted to hurt, harm, harass and hound God's believing people for a long time. But please make no mistake about this! As Mary warned in her hymn of praise, the Magnificat - the proud will be humbled (see Luke 1:52). You see, God always has the last word. If this does not seem to be the case now, it is because the last word has not yet been spoken. So you can rest assured that it will be spoken. The last word was spoken and Herod died. There is an important spiritual lesson here for us. Here it is! True born again believers should not live in fear of those who persecute them. Oh yes, our persecutors may be so strong and so set on destroying us, and we may be feeble and frail, weak and wobbly in faith, but still, we need not be fearful. We should remember that God is in control and that "the triumphing of the wicked is short and the joy of the godless momentary" (Job 20:5).
Bible Commentator J.C. Ryle shares this excellent insight on the mortality of kings.
- "What has become of the Pharaohs, Neros, and Diocletians who at one time fiercely persecuted the people of God? Where is the enmity of Charles IX of France, and bloody Mary of England? They did their utmost to cast the truth down to the ground. But the truth rose again from the earth, and still lives, and they are dead and moldering in the grave. Let not the heart of any believer fail. Death is a mighty leveler and can take any mountain out of the way of Christ's Church. "The Lord lives" forever. His enemies are only human. The truth will always prevail." -J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, Matthew, p. 11.
You see, God is the author of life. Ultimately, He is the One who ends a person's life. He ends it by taking His breath in man. Job 34:14 makes a sobering statement about God being the author of life, who alone has the sovereign right to take away life. "If He should determine to do so, if He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to the dust." Job 12:10 affirms that "in the LORD's hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind." Elihu acknowledges this to be true in his own life. He declares, "the breath of the Almighty gives me life" (Job 33:4, cf. Job 2:21). To the Athenians, Paul confidently declares in the Holy Spirit: "He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).
What did Herod die of? Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, gives a shocking account of Herod's final illness. He died of an incurable disease after a long reign (B.C 37-A.D. 4). Josephus's recounting of the death of Herod states:
- "that he was seized with a disease which burned him inwardly with inexpressible torture, that he was insatiably greedy of meat; had the colic, and gout, and dropsy; such an intolerable stench attended his disease, that none could come near him; and so passionate and impatient was he, that he was a torment to himself, and a terror to all that attended him; his innate cruelty, being thus exasperated, made him more barbarous than ever; having ordered his own son to be put to death, he imprisoned many of the nobility and gentry, and ordered that as soon as he was dead they should be killed; but that execution was prevented" -(Josephus, Antiq. XVII, 168-69[vi. 5]).
Based on Josephus's descriptions, one medical expert has diagnosed Herod's cause of death as chronic kidney disease complicated by Fournier's gangrene - [a horrendous infection of the genitalia that causes severe pain in the genital area (in the penis and scrotum or perineum) and progresses from erythema (redness) to necrosis (death) of tissue.
Please never take for granted the life Almighty God has given you. Express gratitude to Him daily. By the grace of God, every morning, when God gives me life - I kneel by my bed to thank Him for giving me "life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25). Examine your heart to see if you are living your life for your selfish, self-serving, self-centered and sinful purposes or for the supreme and sovereign purposes of God. Your prayer and my prayer should be: "Enable me Lord, to live my life, however long or short, to serve Your purpose in my generation" (see Acts 10:36).
Having examined the passing of Herod in verse 19a, the Bible now brings us to the point of emphasizing the:
II. Personal Guidance of God in verses 19b-20.
God promises to guide His believing children. One of the greatest promises of God's personal guidance of God's believing people is recorded in Isaiah 58:11. "And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones, and you will be like a watered garden, and a spring of water whose waters do not fail." Other promises of God's personal guidance are found in Psalm 25:5; 31:3; 32:8; and Proverbs 3:5-6. Joseph experienced God's personal guidance continually in his life. Before the Christ-Child was born when he found out that Mary was with Child and was planning to put her away secretly, he received God's personal guidance (Matthew 1:18-24). After the Christ-Child was born - when Herod the Great was seeking to destroy Him, Joseph experienced again God's personal guidance in a dream (Matthew 2:13-15). In fact, in this case, God specifically directed Joseph to take the Child and His Mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until He tells him what to do next. Joseph waited patiently and was not disappointed. God kept His word to Joseph. The time has now come for God to guide Joseph again into His path and purpose for his life. I tell you friends and fellow believers, Almighty God is abundantly willing to guide his believing children into His path and purpose for their lives. The question is: Are you positioning yourself to be guided by Him? Are you waiting daily at His feet to direct your steps into His path and purpose for your life?
Would you please notice how God personally guided Joseph into His path, plan, and purpose for his life at the First Christmas. "...behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 'Arise and take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead"" (Matthew 2:19b-20). So far, this is the fourth dream recorded in Matthew 1-2. There will be a fifth dream in Matthew 2:22. The first four dreams are recorded in Matthew 1:20; 2:12, 13, 19. Three of the dreams involve "an angel of the Lord." This fourth dream and the third mention of "an angel of the Lord," continues the divine initiative in guiding and preserving Joseph, the Christ-Child and Mary.
Now would you please notice the dramatic manner in which Joseph receives the personal guidance of God. The Bible says, "behold," [Greek: "idou"]. Sadly, the NIV did not translate it. In Greek grammar, it is called a demonstrative particle. It serves to enliven a narrative by arousing the attention of hearers and readers. But that's not all. It is also used to introduce something new or dramatic or something quite extraordinary, to emphasize the importance of something. Something quite extraordinary and dramatic is now being emphasized. What is that? It's the Almighty God's personal guidance of Joseph, a human being like you and me. The divine person of God willingly directs the steps of a human being into His path and plan and purpose. That's remarkable. Actually, God's personal guidance of Joseph came through a third appearance of an angel of the Lord to him in a dream (Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19). Please understand that the unnamed angel of the Lord did not take it upon himself to appear to Joseph in a dream. Rather, he was specifically and personally directed by Almighty God. The Scriptures speak of angels, that is, the holy angels, doing God's word and obeying His voice (Psalm 103:20-21). Through the unnamed angel of the Lord, God assured Joseph it was safe to return. He can confidently trust in God's preservation of him.
Second, notice that the details of the personal guidance of God are clearly and concisely stated. Acting at the direction of the Lord Almighty, the angel spells out the details of the personal guidance of God in specific and succinct terms. Please listen! God's personal guidance to His believing child is always clear and concise. It is never confusing. It never leads to chaos in the life of the believer. It is always specific and succinct. It is never superfluous. Joseph was to "arise," ["egertheis" - literally "rising"]. It is also translated "get up." Whenever God commands His believing child "to arise," it means get going now. It means start now. It demands immediate response from the believer. God expects "an act now" response when He commands us to "arise." This is exactly what Joseph did. Joseph was specifically ordered to "take the Child and His mother." Notice the Christ-Child is given primacy over His mother again and again in Matthew's account of the Christmas story (Matthew 2:11, 13, 14, 19, 21). In other words, the Child is made prominent again and again. You see, the Christmas story is about the Christ-Child. As such, He is given primacy over Mary. As part of God's personal guidance of Joseph, he was told to "go into the land of Israel." He was to go back home. Home sweet home! The land of Israel! The reference "the land of Israel," occurs only in Matthew 2:20-21. It is used twice in the whole gospel of Matthew. Although the powerful Romans were occupying the land at this time in the history of Israel, yet as far as God is concerned, the land is still the land of Israel. He gave it to them. He permitted the Romans to occupy and rule all over the land. But before God, the lands remains the land of Israel. That's how it remains before God today, despite the occupation of the Palestinians who are seeking to establish statehood in the land of Israel. And in the future, the land of Israel will remain the land of Israel before God. You see, Egypt only served as a place in which to sojourn or take shelter for a while. But it was not a place to stay permanently. Christ was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and therefore to them He must return.
Third, notice the divine reason given for the command to return to the land of Israel. The Bible says, "for those who sought the Child's life are dead."Literally, "for they have died, the ones seeking the life of the Child." This is important. But you ask: why is it important? You see, Herod and his henchmen had sought to take the life of the Christ-Child. But they fell first into the pit they dug for him. One writer suggests that Herod's father, Antipater, who died a few days before him, may have been associated with Herod in the massacre of the innocent male infants in the Bethlehem region. Herod and his father were successful in slaughtering innocent lives. But they would not be successful in taking the life of the Babe of Bethlehem. They themselves fell into the pit they dug for Him. David, the shepherd boy, the sweet psalmist of Israel, the prophet of God, and the King of Israel, vividly captures this biblical truth in Psalm 57:6: "They have prepared a net for my steps: my soul is bowed down; they dug a pit for me; they themselves have fallen into the midst of it. Selah." Believer in Jesus Christ, be encouraged today that when it is not God's time for you to depart from this life, and your enemies dig a pit for you, they will fall into it first. So it was in the case of Herod and his henchman.
Joseph received the personal guidance of God through a supernatural dream. The question then is: Does God guide believers in this way today? He can if He chooses to do so. Personally, I have received His guidance on a few occasions through a supernatural dream. But most often, today, God personally and primarily guides me through His Word, His Spirit's impressions, godly believers and circumstances.
Having emphasized the personal guidance of God in verses 19b-20, the Bible now brings us to the point of elaborating on its teaching centering on the:
III. Perfect and Prompt Obedient Response of Joseph in verse 21.
When God gives us clear instructions and guidance either through His Word or His Spirit's impression or through a supernatural dream, our response shows how much we trust Him. You see, if we truly believe Him and His promise, perfect, precise, prompt and complete obedience will follow. God's victory in any area of struggle is available only to those who act upon His directions. Joseph left a legacy of a life of obedience. As we are about to see for ourselves, his life of obedience was one which can be descried as perfect, not partial; prompt, not one that was characterized by procrastination! It was precise, not pitiable! It was complete, not casual!
Notice what the Bible says of Joseph's impeccable life of obedience. It teaches us an important spiritual principle: God's believing people must follow His directions wherever He leads them. In other words, once God has given us clear directions, our response should be unwavering obedience. "And he arose and took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel" (Matthew 2:21).
Please understand that this was not the first time Joseph demonstrated obedience to God that was perfect, prompt and precise. He did that on two earlier occasions (see Matthew 1:24; 2:14-15). Joseph did everything exactly as he had been commanded to do. He was commanded to "arise." He "arose." He was instructed to "take the Child and His mother." He "took the Child and His mother." He was ordered to "go into the land of Israel." He "came into the land of Israel." With a heart that is fully surrendered to the Lord his God, Joseph did everything He was instructed to do. He left nothing undone. He did not drag his feet. He did not delay in doing what he was commanded to do. He did not dilly-dally. He did not debate or discuss the issue with God for further clarification. Certainly, there would be inconveniences that Joseph could complain about. But he didn't complain. He fully complied with God's orders. Certainly, Joseph's resolve to go where God was leading him was evident to those around him. What about us? Please take careful note of this! Obedience that honors God and opens the door for God's blessing into the life of God's believing child can simply and succinctly be defined as: "Doing exactly as God has commanded me." Please let's all say, "Obedience is doing exactly as God has commanded me." Some of God's prophets who demonstrated this type of obedience in their lives include Moses,Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea (see Exodus 14:26-27 Isaiah 8:1-4; Jeremiah 18:1-4; Ezekiel 9:11; 12:7; 24:18; Hosea 1:1-3). The Lord Jesus Himself is the supreme example of perfect, prompt, precise and complete obedience to God the Father. He would testify of this Himself later in John 14:30-31. Speaking calmly and confidently to His disciples in a time of the greatest crisis in His life in the Upper Room, on the night He was betrayed, our Lord sets Himself forth as the supreme example of perfect and prompt obedience to God the Father. He declares, "I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me, but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father has commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here"(John 14:30-31 - Updated NASB; emphasis mine). When it comes to perfect obedience there is none like the Lord Jesus. His perfect obedience to the Father's leading took Him to the cross, where He suffered and died for our sins. But this kind of obedience was demonstrated by Joseph - whom God used in the early years of Christ, the God-Man. By his obedience Joseph not only demonstrated his trust in the Lord, but also his love for the Lord - a principle the Lord Jesus would later teach His disciple on the night He was betrayed (see John 14:21, 23, 24). What best describes your life obedience? Perfect or partial? Prompt or marked by procrastination? Would your life of obedience bring a broad and beaming smile to God's face? What would people be saying of your life of obedience to God? Would it be something you would be proud to hear or painful to hear?
In their devotional book, "Experiencing God Day by Day," Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby share this challenging and convicting insight on obedience to God:
- "It is never a minor thing to know God's will and not do it. God calls this sin. We can make excuses for our lack of obedience. "I'm just not ready yet" or "I'll do it later!" or "I don't think it will make a difference" or "I can't afford to!" We rationalize, we procrastinate; yet, in God's eyes, rationalization and procrastination are nothing more than disobedience. At times we deceive ourselves into thinking that good intentions equal obedient actions. They do not. A good intention without corresponding activity is disobedience. When we encounter God and He gives us direction, it is not enough to write down the date in our spiritual journal, or even to tell our friends and church of our "decision." God's call is not to "make a decision" but to obey! Deciding to obey is not equal to obeying (Matthew 21:28-31)! Loudly affirming the necessity of obedience is not the same as obeying. God told King Saul to wait until the prophet Samuel arrived. Instead of waiting, Saul took matters into his own hands and offered a sacrifice. Saul discovered, to his deep dismay, that other acts of supposed piety do not take the place of obeying a clear command from God (1 Samuel 15:22). As with Saul, God expects you to obey everything exactly as He tells you. Only obedience satisfies God's desire for obedience."
Having elaborated on the perfect and prompt obedient response of Joseph in verse 21, the Bible now brings us to the point of expounding on its instruction focusing on the:
IV. Preservation of God in verse 22.
You see, as Joseph willingly and wholeheartedly yielded himself in complete obedience to God, God took full responsibility for preserving him and his family from the dangers that were lurking in the land of Israel. This teaches us an important spiritual principle: God not only guides His obedient child, but He also guards him/her. In this story, the preservation of God came in a form of a warning by God in a dream. Would you please notice what the Bible says: "But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he departed for the regions of Galilee" (Matthew 2:22 ). God could have given Joseph this warning while in Egypt, where He first directed him to return to the land of Israel. But He didn't. Why? Please listen carefully now! It's because God reveals His mind to His believing people step by step, to keep us still waiting on Him, and expecting to hear further from Him. How wonderful! What we learn here is that Joseph was reluctant to venture into Judea and settle there. Remember, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which is in Judea. It therefore makes perfect sense for Joseph to go there and make the ancestral city of David their permanent residence as the proper place to rear or bring up the Christ-Child. But the Bible tells us that he was afraid to go there because he heard that Archelaus was reigning there in place of his father Herod. What a succession of enemies there is to fight against Christ and His Church! If one drops dead, another soon appears to keep the old enmity. For this reason Joseph must not take the Christ-Child to Judea.
The question is: Who is Archelaus? His name "Archelaus" means "people's chief." Archelaus is mentioned here only in the Bible. We know that he was one of the surviving sons of Herod the Great. You see, when Herod the Great died, His kingdom was divided among three of his sons - first, Archelaus - the son of Herod's Samaritan wife Malthace. He was given the most important district of his father's realm, that is, Judea, Samaria and Idumea. He got the big price. Second, Herod Antipas was given Galilee and Perea. Herod Antipas was the main Herod in the Gospel accounts. He was the one who had John the Baptist put to death (Matthew 14:1-12) and examined Christ on the eve of the crucifixion (Luke 23:7-12). Third, Herod Philip, (not to be confused with Herodias's first husband, Philip, who was not a king) became tetrarch of Iturea, Tranchonitis and some other territories. It is said that he was the best of Herod the Great's children. The Lord Jesus frequently retired into his territory (see Matthew 14:13; 15:29;16:13), away from the weak but cruel Herod Antipas.
History tells us that Archelaus was a cruel, oppressive and an ineffective ruler. He was as brutal and blood-thirsty as his father Herod the Great. He was a ruthless and repressive, violent and vicious man, who began his reign by slaughtering 3,000 influential people. Joseph, again warned in a dream returned to Nazareth, avoiding any further residence in Judea. You see, God didn't want Joseph's family to go into the region of this evil ruler. Why? God preserves and protects His own. God will not thrust His children into the mouth of danger, except when it is for His own glory and their trial, for precious in the sight of the Lord is the life and death of His saints.
Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, records that because of his disappointment at being made an "ethnarch" - more honorable than" tetrarch," but a position inferior to king, Archelaus treated both Jews and Samaritans cruelly. In A.D. 6, the 9th year of his reign, Augustus Caesar, fearing a revolution from the people deposed and banished him to Vienne in southern France, and his wealth confiscated by Rome. There is an important biblical truth we need to learn afresh in addition to the preservation of God. And that is, God knows the fears in our hearts and in His grace enables us to overcome them. You see, Joseph was afraid to go into a place where a cruel and oppressive ruler held sway. God knew that fear. But He didn't chide Joseph for that. He didn't chew him up for allowing the fear of Archelaus to arise in his heart. Rather, God confirmed the fear in his heart and worked to calm the fear in his heart! How gracious is our God! Whatever fears you have in your heart, be assured that God knows them. Do you have fears in your heart today? What is your fear about? Is it the fear of the future? Is it the fear of failing health? Fear of failure? Fear of rejection by your peers? Fear of being forsaken? Fear of death? Fear of losing a loved one? Fear of financial loss? Fear of life passing you by? Be assured that God knows your fears and He will in His way and time enable you to overcome them even as He did it in the life of Joseph!
Having elaborated on the preservation of God in verse 22, the Bible now brings us to the point of explaining its teaching centering on the fulfillment of the:
V. Prophecy of God in Verse 23.
Matthew, also called Levi, a tax-gatherer turned a gospel writer, now boldly and bravely declares that Jesus' residence in Nazareth as prophetically significant. As such, he confidently affirms in the Holy Spirit that what the prophets had spoken is fulfilled. The Bible says: "and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazarene'" (Matthew 2:23). Nazareth is in Galilee. Please understand that "Galilee," meaning "circle or district" was not under the jurisdiction of Archelaus - the brutal and blood-thirsty son of Herod. It was under the jurisdiction of his brother, Herod Antipas, the main Herod in the gospel accounts. Galilee is north of both Samaria and Judea. The Bible tells us that when Joseph came to Galilee, he dwelt or sojourned in a place for a time, lived, resided, or settled [Greek: katoikeo] in a city called Nazareth. According to Luke, Nazareth was Joseph's former home and that of Mary (Luke 1:26-27; 2:39). It was at Nazareth that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and informed her of the forthcoming birth of Christ the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38). The name "Nazareth" means "watchtower."It was an obscure town 70 miles north of Jerusalem. It was a place of lowly reputation and nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament. Nazareth itself was not only an obscure town but it was also rather small and of no importance. It was situated in the territory belonging to Zebulun. The people of Nazareth had an attitude of independence that many of the Jews despised. Remember the words of Nathaniel: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). That sums up how the people and the place Nazareth were despised. The only good thing Nazareth had going for it was that it was situated near caravan trade routes. As such, the people of Nazareth had constant contact with people from all over the world. So world news reached them quickly. That was the only positive thing the people of Nazareth could boast of before Christ's residence among them. The obscure years of Christ's boyhood were spent in the obscure place of no importance, an insignificant town. But please listen! Although it was an insignificant town before the New Testament era, Nazareth became immortal as the home of the Jesus the Messiah. It was here Jesus was brought up as a boy and spent the greater part of His life (Mark 1:9; Luke 3:23). Apparently Jesus was well received as a young man in Nazareth (Luke 2:4; 4:16). But this changed after He began His ministry. His own townspeople twice rejected Him (Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:28-30).
For the third time in Matthew chapter two, Matthew reminds us that prophecy was being fulfilled (Matthew 2:15, 17, 23). Earlier in chapter 1:22-23, Matthew confidently affirmed that the prophecy of the virgin birth was being fulfilled. The quotation of prophecy being fulfilled in Matthew 2:23 is unique. You see, unlike the three previous quotations (Matthew 1:22-23; 2:15, 17), Matthew uses the plural "prophets" and omits the Greek equivalent of "saying" [Greek: "legontos"]. He replaces it with the conjunction "hoti." Please notice that Matthew mentions none of the prophets by name but confidently says the prophets had foretold that the Messiah would be a "Nazarene" [Greek: "nazoraios"] - not a "Nazirite" (meaning separated, consecrated). A "Nazarene" is an inhabitant or native of Nazareth. The word "Nazarene" is used several times in the New Testament to identify Jesus (Matthew 2:23; Mark 14:67; 16:6; Acts 24:5). When used by His friends the word spoke of favor; when used of by His enemies, it spoke of contempt. When Christians were referred to in Acts 24:5 as "the sect of the Nazarene," the expression was meant to hurt.
Speaking on the obscurity of Nazareth, Bible Commentator J.C. Ryle shares this practical and poignant insight:
- "What a lesson in humility is taught by the place the Son of God lived here on earth. He lived with His mother and Joseph "in a town called Nazareth" (verse 23). Nazareth was a small town in Galilee. It was an obscure place, not mentioned once in the Old Testament. Hebron, Shiloh, Gibeon, Ramah and Bethel were far more important places. But the Lord Jesus passed by them all, and chose Nazareth. This was humility. In Nazareth the Lord Jesus lived thirty years. It was there He grew up from infancy to boyhood, and from childhood to boyhood, and from boyhood to youth, and from youth to manhood. We know little of the manner in which those thirty years were spent. That he was obedient to Mary and Joseph we are expressly told (Luke 2:51). That He worked in the carpenter's shop with Joseph is highly probable. We know that five-sixths of the time that the Savior of the world was on earth was passed among the poor of this world and in complete obscurity. Truly this was humility." - J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p. 11.
Now the crucial question before us is: Where is the prophecy "He shall be called a Nazarene" found in the Old Testament? Which of the prophets spoke this prophecy? First of all, no Old Testament verse directly says, "He shall be called a Nazarene." In other words, the Old Testament does not record the specific statement that the Messiah would be a Nazarene. You will and cannot find any prophecy in the Old Testament which directly and explicitly says that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. You ask: What then shall we make of the statement "and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazarene'?" (v. 23). Please listen! Here is what I believe answers our crucial question. You see, first century Jewish people, to whom Matthew was written, who had tasted their share of scorn and sneer, would have quickly caught Matthew's point. They unmistakably understood that "Nazarene" is used to describe anyone who lived in Nazareth, a town viewed with contempt and scorn, by the rest of the people. In fact, Nathaniel expresses this by the proverbial question: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). That is to say that, Matthew used "Nazarene" as a synonym for someone who is despised and detestable. So please take note of this! Matthew is not saying that a particular Old Testament prophet foretold that the Messiah would live in Nazareth; he is saying that the Old Testament prophets foretold that the Messiah would be despised and treated with contempt. In other words, "although we cannot find any prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene, we can find one that says He would be "despised and rejected by men" (Isaiah 53:3). Another prophecy says that He would be a worm and not a man, scorned and rejected by people (Psalm 22:6). So while the prophet did not use the exact words, this was undeniably the spirit of several prophecies." - William MacDonald, The Believer's Bible Commentary, p. 1208. You see, Matthew simply gives us the substance of several Old Testament passages, not a direct quotation. It is amazing that when the mighty God came to earth, He was given a nickname of reproach and ridicule, scorn and sneer, contempt and commonplace. Jesus Messiah, Matthew is telling us, did not introduce His kingdom with outward show or present Himself with great pomp and pageantry of an earthly king.
So how does this Christmas story apply us today? Please listen carefully! If you are already a genuine born again believer in Jesus Christ, this is how the Holy Spirit wants to apply it you today. In reliance upon the Holy Spirit living in you, first, contemplate your life today and ask yourself: "Am I using my life, a precious gift of God to me, in serving the purpose of God in my generation? Or am I using it to serve my selfish and self-centered purposes? Herod used his life to serve his own selfish and sinful purposes. And without notice, his life was required from him. And what a dreadful day it was for Herod! Though you are a believer, God will assuredly ask you to give an account of your life to Him sooner or later. The question is: Will that day be a day of delight for you or a day of disappointment at how you wasted your life here on earth pursuing your selfish interests and not those of Jesus Christ? Second, count on God to guide you into His path and plan for your life, not only today, but throughout your whole life on earth as a believer in Jesus Christ - wherever you may find yourself. God not only guided Joseph in Israel but also in Egypt. It doesn't matter where you live, you can confidently count on God to direct you into what He wants you to do today, tomorrow, till the end of your time here on earth. Third, commit yourself afresh to following God wherever He leads you. In other words, willingly and wholeheartedly yield yourself to obeying whatever God tells you to do - remembering that obedience that honors God is doing exactly as He has commanded you. Don't just talk the talk but walk the walk. For some of you here that means seeking deliverance from substance abuse such as alcohol and drug addiction. For others of you, that means confessing your sins to Jesus instead of working hard to conceal them. The Bible says: "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion" (Proverbs 28:13). Still for others, that means forgiving and praying for those who have deeply hurt you instead of holding unto bitterness in your heart against them. For others of you, that means obeying Jesus' command to share His good news with those without hope and without God in the world. Fourth, continue to trust the Lord your God that wherever He guides you, He will also assuredly guard you. God will not direct you into His path and purpose for your life without delivering you from the dangers that may threaten to derail the fulfillment of His purpose for your life. So it was in Joseph's life both in Egypt and Israel, until all of God's purpose was accomplished in his life. So it will be in your life and my life. Fifth, consider it a privilege when you are scorned and ridiculed for your faith in Jesus Christ. He was given a nickname of reproach and ridicule. Let no name of reproach for Christ's sake seem hard to you when your Master Himself was called a Nazarene - because He grew up in the despised and obscured town of Nazareth. Sixth, cast all your cares upon Jesus, whatever they are! He cares for you like none other!
Now if you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, may I humbly and honestly say to you today that, a day is fast approaching for you when God will assuredly require your life. May I solemnly say to you that, in your state of unbelief, that day will be a day of great dread and damnation for you as it was for Herod. But you say, "I am not like Herod who killed hundreds of innocent infants, his own wives and sons, and those he considered a threat to his kingdom?" Yes, I know that! You are not like the brutal and blood-thirsty Herod. But the Bible says, you are a sinner. That's the problem. The Bible says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). But thank God, Jesus came to save us from sin and Satan. Out of His love for us, He came to seek and save the lost. That is why the Bible says, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Simply come to Jesus today just as you are. You don't have to clean up yourself. Jesus will do that for you. Confess to Jesus today that you are a sinner who cannot save yourself from sin let alone from Satan. Call on Jesus today with simple and sincere childlike faith - believing that He died on the cross for your sins, and that He was buried to put away your sins, and that He rose victoriously from the dead on the third day to bring you into a right standing with a holy and righteous God, and you will be saved and set apart for the purposes of God in this present life and in the soon to come.
"To God be the glory great things He hath done! So loved He the world that He gave us His Son, Who yielded His life an atonement for sin And opened the Life-gate that all may go in." - Fanny Crosby