Saturday, July 21, 2007

Matthew 2:19-23. Responses to Christ-A father’s faithful obedience

Before I began studying through the book of Matthew, I knew who Joseph was. I don’t think I realized what a godly man scripture reveals him to be. In this passage, God reveals through Matthew once again what an obedient man Joseph was. Also, we see Matthew reveals more about the character of the Messiah as revealed from the Old Testament to continue to drive home the message to his audience that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Jewish people.

Scripture records in verse 19 that sometime after the massacre that occurred in the passage we studied last week that Herod was dead. This evil man who had caused so much pain and suffering and even tried to murder our Lord and Savior met his death in an excruciatingly painful manner. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Herod had “a burning fever [which] seized him, with an intolerable itching all over his body, and continual pains of the colic; his feet swelled with a dropsy; he had an inflammation in the lower part of his belly.” Scripture does not record that this was God’s judgment. We can take note, however, that a person can never know how long they have left on this earth. Because of that, we should not presume on God’s mercy to allow us time to repent. We should come to faith in Christ or suffer a punishment that will make Herod’s suffering seem like a vacation.

We further observe that Joseph received another visitation by an angel of the Lord while he was dreaming. God had told Joseph in verse 13 to stay in Egypt until He sent word for Joseph to go elsewhere. Joseph is found here in verse 19 doing what we have seen him do time and time again in this book-he is being obedient. The angel, in verse 20, brings instruction from God for Joseph to return with Jesus and His mother to Israel because those who sought the young Child’s life were dead. The danger had passed. We see that, as He always does, God worked this situation out to bring His will to pass. Joseph and Mary didn’t know what the future held or how long they would have to stay in Egypt. Even though they may have felt that they were just “marking time”, God was working in the situation. Isn’t it wonderful to serve a God who takes care of all the details perfectly and works behind the scenes even when we can’t see it? Again, when Joseph receives instructions from God about what to do and where to go, he obeys immediately. Matthew records that Joseph took Jesus and Mary and departed for Israel. I love the simplicity of Joseph’s faith. When God calls, Joseph responds.

However, God gave people the ability to reason and He expects us to use that ability. There is a difference between trusting God and tempting God. If I were to walk through a dangerous neighborhood after dark just to see if God would protect me, that would be foolish. If I spend mu paycheck on pizza and video games just to see if God will truly provide for me, I am making an unwise decision in doing so. Joseph learned, while traveling back to Israel, that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod. Now, Herod was a fruit-loop. His son, Archelaus, was just as nutty as his father and just as dangerous. Joseph became afraid when he heard this news. Matthew then notes that Joseph was warned by God in a dream and told what to do. We don’t know if the dream was the result of Joseph seeking God’s guidance or not. However, God provided the direction and Joseph was obedient to follow it. He took the Child and Mary and went to dwell in Nazareth. Even this choice, however, was directed by the providence of Almighty God. Matthew records that this home in Nazareth would fulfill prophecy that “He shall be called a Nazarene”. However, the Old Testament does not record this specific prophecy. Some Bible scholars debate exactly what this prophecy that Matthew records means and, to be honest, I’m not sure that we have a satisfactory “right” answer. Let’s look at a few things in scripture and see if we can at least get a good idea of what Matthew was getting at in this passage.

First of all, Nazareth was a small village in Galilee and it didn’t have the best reputation. I imagine people from Nazareth might have been regarded much the same was as “rednecks” are today. For whatever reason, people looked down on them. In fact, scripture records in John 1:46, Nathanael said of Jesus “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The book of Isaiah 53 says that the Messiah would be despised and would not be attractive to people. It was prophesied in this scripture that the Jewish people would reject Him. In fact, the Bible says He would grow up as a “root out of dry ground”. Further, Isaiah records in 11:1 of His prophecy that the Messiah would spring up as a “Branch” that would grown from Jesse’s roots. The Hebrew word for branch is netser and this word is one of the roots of Nazarene. In short, Matthew here quotes the prophets (plural) because the Messiah was revealed in the Old Testament as someone who would suffer rejection. He recognized, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, that even from a young age, Jesus was one who was rejected. By living in Nazareth, Jesus began His life in a humble manner. Truly, He was a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc Used by permission All rights reserved

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