Passage: Matthew 2:13-23
Speaker: Steve Hands
Series: Advent – Our Hearts, Christ’s Home
At Home In Our Exile
Places shape us. The places that shaped Jesus were not powerful Rome, educated Alexandria or religious Jerusalem but exiled Egypt, painful Ramah, and despised Nazareth. If Jesus lived today he may not have lived in powerful Washington DC, educated Boston or religious Wheaton. Instead Jesus was shaped by Egypt, Ramah, and Nazareth, and these are exiled, painful, and despised places. Yet God calls his son from that place to rule. Similarly we must discern the shaping hand of God through our own painful places. For God calls his son out of exile (Egypt) through weeping (Ramah) from a despised place (Nazareth).
First in Egypt God calls his son out of exile (Matt 2:13–15). Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt because of Herod’s plot to destroy him. He departs to Egypt that very night and remains there until Herod’s death. Intriguingly this journey to Egypt fulfills Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son;” this description of Israel’s Exodus in Hosea 11:1 looks forward to a return from exile (Hos 11:10–11). While Israel’s exile had failed to purge Israel of her sin, Jesus is faithful where Israel had failed.
Also in Ramah, God calls his son through weeping (Matt 2:16–18). These verses are profoundly disturbing as Herod, enraged that the wise men did not return to tell him the location of Jesus, kills all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger. This also fulfills a description of Israel’s past experience in the exile, in Ramah, with the weeping of Rachel for her children (2:18; cf. Jer 31:15). Like the description in Hosea 11, this weeping in Ramah, though, is followed by a word of hope for a return from exile: “There is hope for your future…and your children shall come back to their own country” (Jer 31:17). These tears and the hope for this return from exile is fulfilled in Jesus who has come to bring us back from exile.
Finally in Nazareth, God calls his son out of exile through weeping to rule from an unlikely place (Matt 2:19–23). When Herod dies and Joseph returns to Israel, they live in a deserted town, Nazareth, in Galilee, a no-good place (Matt 1:23; cf. John 1:46). Yet this fulfills what is spoken by the prophets, that he is to be called a Nazarene (Matt 1:23). The Bible never says that Jesus was to be from the town of Nazareth, but this obscure, despised town is the hometown of the Messiah, just as the prophets had foretold that the Messiah would be despised (e.g., Isa 11:1; 49:7). Isaiah 11:1 is particularly important, because it says that “There shall come forth a shoot (Nezer) from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” This shoot, Nezer, looked forward to the coming of a Messiah, a branch from a royal line hacked down to a stump and growing up in despised situation.
So if God calls his son out of exile through weeping from a despised place, why are we surprised by suffering? Sometimes God does his best training through suffering; Hebrews even instructs us that “it is for discipline that you have to endure; God is treating you as sons” (Heb 12:7). Jesus is at home in our exile; he took our exile upon himself. And if Jesus the perfect son of God was not surprised by suffering, neither should we. God can use even these painful places to shape our calling and invite us to himself. May we find, in this Advent season, that God indeed is at home even in our exile.