Spirituality Information

Understanding the Gospel of Matthew and Why it Matters - Part 7

Matthew 2:19-23
The Return to Nazareth

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,

20 saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead."

21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

22 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 in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.

23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene."

The Death of King Herod (v.19-20)

As you remember, Joseph was warned by an angel in a dream to take his family and flee to Egypt, for Jesus' life was in danger. Probably using the gifts of the wise men to finance the trip, Joseph, Mary, and the baby came to the African nation and settled into their temporary home. At this time there were many Jews in Egypt - Alexander the Great had allotted land specifically for them when he planned his city Alexandria - and they even had their own temple there. Joseph may have attempted to earn some income using his carpentry skills, or doing odd jobs for other Jews. The wait in Egypt was not a long one, however, for in just a few months King Herod had died.

The disease that afflicted King Herod at the end of his life was awful and fitting for such a cruel man:

"But now Herod's distemper greatly increased upon him after a severe manner, and this by God's judgment upon him for his sins: for a fire glowed in him slowly, which did not so much appear to the touch outwardly, as it augmented his pains inwardly; for it brought upon him a vehement appetite to eating, which he could not avoid to supply with one sort of food or other. His entrails were also exulcerated, and the chief violence of his pain lay on his colon; an aqueous and transparent liquor also had settled itself about his feet, and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly. Nay, further, his privy-member was putrified, and produced worms; and when he sat upright, he had a difficulty of breathing, which was very loathsome, on account of the stench of his breath and the quickness of its return; he had also convulsions in all parts of his body?"

King Herod's son Antipater would have been the rightful heir to the throne, but Herod, in a maliciousness that was typical of his life, ordered that he be killed. Five days after the death of this son, King Herod himself died. Thus, the angel could say to Joseph, "those who sought the child's life are dead."

The Return to Israel (v.21-22)

After Antipater had been slain, and shortly before dying, King Herod ordered that his kingdom should be divided and placed under his remaining three sons. Idumea, Samaria, and Judea were given to Archelaus, Galilee and Berea were given to Antipas, and the northern lands of Gaulonitis, Trachonitis, and Paneas were given to Philip.

Joseph's original plan seems to have been to return to Bethlehem, where he and Mary both had family. Yet upon hearing that Archelaus, who was known to have inherited the evil nature of his father, was ruling over Judea (which included Bethlehem and Jerusalem), Joseph heeded a warning from God and passed through Archelaus' lands to the region of Galilee. The ruler in Galilee - Herod Antipas - was not exactly a model of integrity and moral soundness, but at least he was not the type that would likely pursue the death of Jesus as his father did.

Thus, Joseph returned to his former home of Nazareth, this time with a family in tow.

The Sixth Fulfilled Prophecy (v.23)

As you might suspect by now, even this part of Jesus' life fulfilled a Messianic prophecy. Unlike the other prophecies that we have seen fulfilled, however, this particular prophecy is not recorded in our Bibles. Certainly many of the prophecies spoken in Israel were not included in the Scriptures, and this seems to be one of them. However, it appears that this prediction was made by more than one prophet, and it would have been well known among the people of Israel.

In two chapters of Matthew's gospel, we have already seen six prophecies fulfilled. As a review, here they are again:

1. The Messiah would be an heir of David.
2. The Messiah would be born of a virgin.
3. The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
4. The Messiah would be called out of Egypt.
5. The Messiah's birthplace would experience pain.
6. The Messiah would be called a Nazarene.

The lesson here is simple: what God says will happen will happen. He is completely trustworthy. When God makes a promise, you can take it to the bank. Our faith is not in a flimsy God who may or may not keep His Word. Instead, our faith is in the rock-solid guarantee that our God will prove Himself faithful to us, and that He our souls are secure in His care.

Jesus: A Model of Humility

One lesson we can learn from our Master as we consider these past two chapters is that Jesus was truly a model of humility. We see this in at least two ways:

First, we see the humility of Jesus in that He was willing to come to earth as a child. In doing so, he went from absolute power to absolute helplessness. The Jesus that ruled the world became a fetus, then a baby, then a toddler - completely dependent on the care of a twelve year old girl and her teenage husband.

Of course, the Father was still sovereign and would never have allowed His plan to be thwarted. Jesus was to live blamelessly for thirty-three years and die on a cross for the sins of the world. God's providence would not permit any accidents that might prevent that from happening.

Yet while the Father was still in absolute control, Jesus "made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." Second, we see an incredible example of humility in that Jesus was to be called "a Nazarene." He could have been brought up among the philosophical elite of Athens, the powerful leaders of Rome, or the religious heritage of Jerusalem. Yet God ordained for His Son to grow up in a town of about 500 people with no honor or prestige.

Indeed, Nazareth was just the opposite. It was a military post town on the outskirts of a larger city (Sepphoris), and like many military towns was known for its debauchery. Wine and women were the token of the city. It is no surprise, then, that when Philip from Bethsaida found Nathaniel and declared that he had found the Messiah, and that He was Jesus of Nazareth, Nathaniel replied: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Jesus modeled humility in many ways as He grew into manhood in the town of Nazareth:

1. Jesus was a peasant. The richest being in all the universe made Himself one of the poorest!

2. Jesus was a worker. Rather than being a wealthy man with servants and enjoying a luxurious life on earth, He became a simple carpenter. Jesus was a blue-collar worker who was not afraid to sweat and knew what it meant to put in a hard days work.

3. Jesus spent His young life surrounded by uniquely sinful people. Though Joseph and Mary certainly sought to create a home of devout faith for Jesus, they could not shelter Him from the environment of drunkenness and fornication that permeated their town. Jesus knew temptation, even before the 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness! Jesus was a teenager. He felt the desire to lust, to be angry, and to disrespect his parents. Indeed, He endured these temptations to a greater degree than most Christians, because He did not give in as we do. Many Christians are spiritual wimps, and cannot endure more than a few minutes of powerful temptation before giving in. Jesus never gave in, and therefore experienced an intensity of battling temptation that many believers have never encountered.

4. Jesus modeled humility by living a life that included real pain. He almost certainly experienced the physical pain of having His finger smashed by hammer, but He also experienced the emotional pain of losing His step-father. Sometime between age 12 and 30, Jesus became the man of the house. How Joseph died is unknown, but throughout the remainder of Matthew's gospel Mary will be treated as a widow, indicating that he was somehow tragically taken from his family.

Why did Jesus, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, humble Himself to this kind of life? He did it for us, to obtain the righteousness we could not obtain. His perfect life of thirty three years is foundational to our salvation. When Jesus was on the cross, God treated Him as if He had lived your life; once you've placed your faith in Jesus, God treats you as if you have lived His life. Jesus' grades are on your report card. The Apostle Paul once said, "For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ?"

Without this imputed righteousness, the Holy Spirit would not be living inside of you, performing His work of sanctification. Without this imputed righteousness, you would have no hope of heaven. Jesus' life of humility was for you.

Jesus' life of humility was also for His Father. It was Jesus' passionate love for His Father that caused Him to submit to the divine plan. Jesus once said, "I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me." That was Jesus' ultimate purpose in living and dying, namely, to do what He must to see His Father glorified. Jesus is the most God-centered person that ever lived, and thus He was also the most humble.

What About You?

Would you consider yourself a humble person? The question is a trap - whatever you answer you come across as being prideful. Yet we have been called by our Master's example to seek humility. Why? Just as Jesus humbled Himself that we might be saved, we ought to be humble because we are saved. For example, if any Christian would take a few moments to meditate deeply on what the Bible says we were saved from, humility would naturally arise in the heart. The incredible reality that we were dead in our transgressions and sins, living a self-destructive life of dangerous pursuits, and deserving of eternal punishment should quickly end any inclinations we might have to boast.

Furthermore, if we would take a few moments to consider how we were saved, humility would be nurtured in us. Before we were born, God chose us! While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us! The only reason we are saved is because we believe on Christ, and even that faith is a gift from God, unattainable without His gift of regeneration. There is nothing that we can boast of in our salvation. We have been saved by grace and grace alone. Therefore, we have no right to look down upon those who still live in their sin, as if we are better than them. We are no better at all - only forgiven! Christians ought to be the most humble people in the world! We ought also to pursue humility because it is only through humble people that God is glorified. God is not honored by believers who boast of themselves rather than Him. To be a Christian is to be completely enthralled with His goodness and mercy, and to proclaim His wonders to the world. Such is the meaning of Paul in paraphrasing the prophet Jeremiah: "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

The truth is that this is who we were created to be: lovers of God. We will never know true joy if we pursue it through love for ourselves. The greatest happiness in the world is to be so enraptured by God that boasting of Him is the natural outpouring of your heart.

A Test for Humility

As you consider your own life and whether or not you are imitating Jesus' example of humility, take some time to meditate on the following questions.

1. Is your heart empty of all arrogant thoughts?

2. Are you quick to boast about yourself to others?

3. Do you consider others better than yourself?

4. Do you take credit for your achievements, or do you give the credit where it is due, namely, to God?

5. Is your heart full of God, or full of yourself?

6. Are you a complainer? How is your complaining evidence of pride?

7. Are you quick to point the finger at others' faults?

8. Are you always willing and ready to receive reproof from others, or do you hate reproach?

9. Are you willing to be with people of all races, classes, and ethnic backgrounds, or do you consider yourself above certain groups of people?

10. Is there any trace of prideful, self-love hidden in your heart?

Justin Nale is pastor of Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, NC - http://www.mhmbc.org


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