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Matthew #4 . 2:12-23
Sometimes, at my house, we have leftovers for supper. We often do this on Sunday nights, so no one has to cook, and we can all have a day off. I actually really enjoy this, particularly when we have high-quality leftovers. So, we might get it all out, and then call the family together and say something like:
“OK, everyone, we have some leftover lasagna from when we went out to eat, some spinach pie, and some curry. Take your pick, and dig in.”
Sometimes, I think of bible passages like leftover-night. We’ve got several good things to choose from, and maybe everyone will get something a little bit different from it. That’s how I feel about our text this time. So, I’ll set out the food and let you dig in. Start out by reading the passage, if you haven’t already (Matthew 2:12-23). For those of you who got sucked in by the title, let me offer full disclosure: I’ll get to Jesus and Barack Obama in the second half of this post. That’s part of the “second serving.”
Last time, we looked at the Magi (wise men). Our text this time picks up at the end of their appearance in the bible. On the way to see Jesus, they had stopped first in Jerusalem and asked King Herod about the birth of the Messiah. Herod had pretended to be interested for the sake of worshipping the Messiah himself, but in truth, he asked the Magi to come back and tell him about it so that he could learn the identity of the child, and have him killed.
Herod had become king of Judea through scheming with Rome, and he held the position because he was supported by the Roman army. He wasn’t a Jew, and the Jews resented him. Just a little more than a generation before Herod, the Jews had still been ruled by a Jewish king. As a king, Herod was smart, insecure and ruthless, which was a bad combination for the people he ruled. Most likely, he thought that the child was some kind of descendant of the Hasmonean (Jewish) kings who had ruled the region in his father’s time. He saw the messiah as a real and political threat to his throne and to his life.
God warned the Magi in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they obeyed. After they left, God spoke to Joseph in a dream also, and warned him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape from Herod. Joseph also obeyed. The fact that Jesus spent time in Egypt fulfilled another Old Testament prophecy, the fifth fulfilled prophecy that Matthew refers to:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. (Hos 11:1, HCSB).
After time passed, and Herod never heard from the wise men again, he realized he was not going to learn the identity of the Messiah. He flew into an evil rage, but it was also a cold and ruthless rage. By simple mathematics, he figured out how old the Messiah would be, and had every male child that age and younger in Bethlehem killed. This fulfilled yet another prophecy, from Jeremiah 31:15.
This is what the LORD says: A voice was heard in Ramah, a lament with bitter weeping — Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children because they are no more. (Jer 31:15, HCSB)
After Herod died, Joseph had yet another visit from the Lord in a dream. This time he was told it was safe to return to the territory of Israel. One more dream warned him not to go back to Bethlehem or Jerusalem, however, which were controlled by Herod’s son Archelaus. So Joseph settled the family back in Nazareth, Mary’s hometown. Matthew makes reference to one more prophecy, the seventh so far, that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene. This probably comes from one or two sources. Isaiah 11:1 says:
Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. (Isa 11:1, HCSB)
In Hebrew the word “branch” sounds a lot like the word Nazarene. There is another prophecy that does not name Nazareth, but it does name the region (Galilee):
Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future He will bring honor to the Way of the Sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness. (Isa 9:1-2, HCSB)
Matthew may have been thinking of either or both of these passages, which were widely regarded to apply to the Messiah.
These fulfilled prophecies are important, not only to the Jews who first read Matthew’s book, but also to us. Let me review them for you, with a reference to where Matthew shows them as fulfilled. The Messiah was supposed to be a descendant of David (1:1-17), but born of virgin (1:18-25). He was supposed to be born in Bethlehem (2:1) and associated with a star (from Numbers 24:17, fulfilled in Matt 2:1). Though born in Bethlehem, he was to come from Egypt (2:14), and there would be lamenting in Bethlehem near the time of his birth (2:16-18). Though born in Bethlehem and called from Egypt, the Messiah was supposed to come from Galilee/Nazareth (2:23).
Even if you took out the virgin birth, the probability of a single individual meeting all these criteria is extremely low. You see, this is one reason that prevented every woman who had a baby boy out-of-wedlock from claiming that she was really a virgin and her baby was actually the Messiah. There were simply too many strange requirements to meet. Only Jesus met them. And Matthew is not even close to finished pointing out all the ways Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. If you were with us on our study called “Understanding the Bible” you know that there is no doubt that all those prophecies were written long before Jesus was born.
That should encourage our faith. This is one of our “meals” this time. Do you need to hear again how unique Jesus was? Do you need the faith-boost of understanding how he fulfilled things that were written about him hundreds of years before he was born? Do you need to be reminded of how amazing and how reliable the bible is? Sink your teeth into these fulfilled prophecies.
There is another one here that is very personal for me. Some of you know that I grew up in Papua New Guinea. When you grow up in a country that is not the home-country of your parents, you experience some very unique things. People who grew up this way are called Third-Culture-Kids (TCKs), because we are not really from the first culture (the home country of our parents), but we aren’t really from the second culture either (the place in which we grew up). By the way, President Barack Obama is one of us.
When I was younger I had to come to terms with the fact that I am a person without a real home culture or home country. Sometimes, I felt like I was from outer space. Even after more than twenty years in the same country, I still feel like this at times. For all my life, I’ve had to deal with being absent from either one home, or the other. I’m not trying to say “poor me,” but the fact is, I’ve found that only other TCKs really understand. When I was coming to terms with all this, I remember complaining a little to the Lord. I said, “You say that you can understand and empathize with our weaknesses, because you’ve been tested in every way just as we have (Hebrews 2:17-18). What about this? What about the strange struggles of being a TCK?”
I thought I had him, until the Lord pointed me to this passage in Matthew, and it hit me like a cement truck: Jesus was a Third Culture Kid. Like me, and like Barack Obama, Jesus was a TCK. He was born in Judea, but raised for some of his childhood in Egypt, a place where his parents were not from. He wasn’t really from there either, but by the time he came back to Nazareth, he would not have really thought of himself as from that place, either. If you had asked him, “Where are you from?” he would have given a typical TCK type answer:
“Well, I was born in Bethlehem, Judea, but I grew up in Egypt. I come from Nazareth, but right now I’m living in Capernaum.”
To make this more applicable to people other than TCKs, let me clarify the main point: Jesus can really, truly identify with you. There are probably only a few hundred thousand TCKs in the entire world (maybe far fewer), but Jesus made sure he could relate to us, and us to him. Whether you are a TCK or not, realize this – Jesus has made it so that he can truly understand you and your struggles. Don’t doubt that he knows and understands what you are going through, and cares about you in the midst of it.
A third “dish,” that I notice in this passage is the way the Lord spoke to people in dreams. In this passage, he did it four times – three to Joseph. Joseph also heard from the Lord in a dream in Matthew 1:20. Dreams are a tricky thing. First, and most importantly, I want to caution that you should never listen to your dreams if they are “guiding” you to do something that the bible clearly says you should not; or if they guide you to refrain from doing what the bible says you should. The bible is our final and authoritative guide. Even so, I do think that sometimes Christians put God in a box – that is they won’t even consider the possibility that he may speak to them in dreams. Joseph’s experience shows us that the Lord can and does lead us directly in choices and directions where the bible is not specific, or in things that the bible does not address. It may be through dreams, or some other method, but the point is, God remains active in our lives.
Yes, it is true, Joseph was the step-father of the Messiah, so his choices were pretty important. But there is nothing in the text that suggests other Christians should be different, or treated differently by God. In fact, the Holy Spirit gave dreams to lead Peter (Acts 10:10-19) and Paul (Acts 16:9-10) and even Cornelius (Acts 10:3-5). Joel, the prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit, predicted that the Lord would use all sorts of ways to speak to his people after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions. I will even pour out My Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days. (Joel 2:28-29, HCSB)
So, what I get from Joseph’s dreams is that God wants to speak to us, even about our specific lives and the choices that we face. As you face choices, I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you and guide you; and then trust that He will. In fact, I trust that he is speaking to you right now. Why don’t you pause and listen, and absorb what he wants to do right now?
I want to briefly make you aware of our situation. This ministry (Clear Bible) until recently was supported by our local church. However, we have had some changes there, and we are now a house church. Today, we have about 8 families. Our church cannot fully support me financially any longer.
In contrast, about 430 people subscribe to this blog, and an additional 300 or so each week come and visit the site. In other words, by far, most of the people who benefit from this ministry are not part of our little church.
I’m asking you internet readers/listeners to pray for us. Seriously, before you give any financial support, please give us some prayer support. I value that more than anything else. Pray for this ministry to touch lives. Pray also for financial provision for my family and me.
But then, as you pray, do ask the Lord if he wants you to give financially as well. Be assured, after a small fee to Paypal, 100% of your donations will go to help support my family and me in ministry. In turn, supporting this blog means that you are helping to bless more than 15,000 people each year who visit this blog.
Some of you may have noticed that I am also a novelist. Often, people have misconceptions about authors. Most of us, including me, make a part-time income through writing, and no more. In other words, we aren’t “raking it in” somewhere else. Now, we trust the Lord to provide, and I don’t want you to give out of guilt or fear. I just don’t want you to get the idea that your donations will only be an “extra” for us somehow.
If most of our subscribers gave just five or ten dollars each month, (or even less, if everyone pitched in) we would be in good shape. It’s easy to set up a recurring donation when you click the Paypal donate button that is located on the right hand side of this page, down just a little ways.
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Thank for your prayers, and your support!