The Unstoppable God

Posted: June 27, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 2:13-23, “The Unstoppable God”

Have you ever played checkers with a 5-year-old?  Sometimes you have to work pretty hard to let them win!  Of course if you choose to assert yourself in the game, there’s no possible way they can stop you – as the experienced adult you see every possibility on the board (and likely several moves ahead) & you can anticipate their every move. 

Obviously we don’t play a game of checkers with God (His sovereign plans for the world are much more involved than a game of chance!), but in a similar way, God has seen every move from every human being from before the foundations of the world.  God already knows what decisions we will make & He’s infinitely “ahead” of us.  There is simply no way to outsmart, outwit, or out-maneuver God – He is unstoppable.

Herod’s vicious attempt to kill Jesus as a Child illustrates this in a vivid way.  Obviously inspired by Satan (who had attempted to kill of the bloodline of Jesus for centuries), Herod attempts to wipe out any competition for his throne by killing all of the male children in Bethlehem.  Surely a sneak attack would do the job…right?  Wrong.  How does someone carry out a sneak attack against the All-knowing, Almighty God?  God already had an escape planned for Christ – God already knew of the murder of the babies – God already had a return planned for Christ – all of it demonstrated through the prophecies of the Old Testament.  God already had a plan in mind & God’s plans are unstoppable!

Matthew 2:13–23 (NKJV)
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

  1. Not the 1st time Joseph received a message from an angel in a dream.  This seems to have been the common way that God communicated with him. (Matt 1:20, 2:13, 19, 22)  Again, this is not something that we would normally expect for us – but this is certainly what Joseph experienced for himself.  We CAN (and ought) to expect God to speak to us through the Scripture & prayer – we serve the Living God who is our loving Heavenly Father.  We can trust Him to guide us as we submit to Him.
  2. What was it the angel said?  Basically that Jesus was in danger – “Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him”.  Just as Jesus had been in danger when He was still in the womb (Mary might have been stoned to death as an accused adultress), Jesus was in danger outside of the womb as well.  As a toddler, the threats against His life continued.  Indeed, they would continue all His life until the moment God was ready for Him to go to the cross.  No one could take the life of Christ; He willingly chose to lay it down.
    1. Question: “Why was this a big deal? Didn’t Jesus come to die anyway?”  Yes – but He was to die according to God’s plan & God’s timing.  He could not be randomly killed before the time.  If Jesus had died outside of the method prophesied in the Bible, He would have shown Himself not to be the Messiah (because He would not have fulfilled prophecy).  If Jesus had died outside the timing of God, He would not have fulfilled God’s perfect work.  Things had to be done exactly according to plan & thus God ensured that Jesus was absolutely protected from any attack of the enemy.
    2. Satan continually attempts to thwart the plans of God, and yet God always perfectly out-plans him.  Satan thought he had the upper hand when for a brief moment in Judah’s history, it appeared that the bloodline of David was cut off as a usurping queen Athaliah sat on the throne – yet there was an heir of David left alive & hidden for 6 years (2 Chr 22:12).  Throughout history, we see the same story – even in the very beginning!  In the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Adam & Eve, but even this was no surprise to God.  God had already made provision for sin by having Jesus slain from the foundation of the world!  Satan can never defeat God because God sees the end from the beginning!
  3. Note where God told them to go: Egypt.  Keep in mind that going to Egypt would have seemed to have been going in the wrong direction.  After all, Jesus came first to the house of Israel (Mt 15:24)…He could not reveal the grace of God to the Jews if He wasn’t ever among them.  Beyond that, Egypt was the place of Israel’s earlier bondage – and God was sending Joseph there?  Obviously Jesus wasn’t going to stay in Egypt; He was just going there for a time.  God knew exactly what He was doing – what might have seemed to be backwards for Joseph & the family was actually God’s perfect plan.
    1. Does it ever seem to you that you’re going in the wrong direction?  Perhaps you know that you’re doing everything the Lord wants you to do, and it still seems like things are headed backwards.  Be patient – perhaps the Lord is just allowing a temporary detour for a time, in order to do something amazing later. …

14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

  1. Joseph was obedient – even in the midst of danger & uncertainty.  Think of it: if it’s stressful enough to travel internationally today – how much harder was it 2000 years ago when travelling by foot?  (Of course, at least Joseph didn’t have to deal with the TSA patdowns! J)  The good news is that Egypt was a natural place into which a Jew could flee.  At the time, there was a rather large Jewish community there, so it was a good place for Joseph & the family to go for months (or years – we’re not told how long they were there).  Even so, this was a hardship!  To be a fugitive away from home is not a relaxing experience.  Yet Joseph submitted himself to the word of God & obeyed.  Joseph valued the command of God more than his own comfort.
  2. Even in the danger, Joseph wasn’t alone…God provided for them along the way.
    1. God had provided for their physical needs: the gifts of the magi.  The gold, frankincense, & myrrh they received would have made this little family extremely rich (comparatively speaking), yet at the same time they would have been able to hide their wealth relatively easy.  (Their wealth was in valuable items; not livestock, etc.)  Thus they would have been able to slip into Egypt & live there out of sight as long as was necessary until God called them home.  (The same Father who provided for them is our Heavenly Father as well!)
    2. God had provided for their spiritual needs: they were headed at God’s direction via God’s word.  After all, Joseph didn’t head off to Egypt on a whim – he had been sent there by God.  What an assurance this would have been, even in the midst of hardship!  To know you’re in the center of God’s will is a wonderful thing.  We can know the same as we stay in the word of God…
  3. Note that the flight into Egypt was a fulfillment of prophecy.  Hosea 11:1–2, "(1) “When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son. (2) As they called them, So they went from them; They sacrificed to the Baals, And burned incense to carved images." [] The original context speaks of God’s love & care for Israel, despite their continued rebellion against Him. 
    1. How does this relate to Christ?  Through a commonly seen principle in Scripture called “double fulfillment.”  Anytime we read Scripture (including prophecy), the first step in interpretation is to determine what the meaning was to the immediate intended audience.  IOW, what did Hosea have in mind when the Spirit inspired him to write the words?  To whom did it immediately apply in its context. In this case, the context shows that the prophecy was immediately fulfilled in Israel.  Yet Matthew makes it clear that there is a deeper meaning to the prophecy – in the double-fulfillment, the prophecy is “fully” fulfilled in Christ.  This is going to be the case with the majority of Messianic prophecies throughout the OT.
    2. Question: so how do we know which prophecies have a double-fulfillment?  The best way is to simply stick with what the NT clearly shows as dual-fulfillment.  The Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible…
  4. Note also how Jesus is enduring the same hardships as the nation of Israel.  Just as Israel had to go into Egypt for protection & be called out of Egypt by the hand of God, so did Israel’s Messiah. …  There will be several parallels we’ll see: Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years after falling into temptation; Jesus will be in the wilderness for 40 days successfully enduring temptation – even answering some of the same exact issues of temptation in which Israel had failed.  Just as Israel received the Law of God from a mountain (Mt. Sinai), so does Jesus teach the heart of the law on a mountain (the Sermon on the Mount), etc.
    1. Jesus identifies with us!  That’s one of the major points of the Incarnation.  He was tempted in all ways as we are, except without sin.  He knows what it’s like to suffer & be betrayed…  He knows what it is to be us, because Jesus IS one of us: fully man, and yet still fully God at the same time. We don’t serve a God who is removed from us & holds us at a distance; we serve a God who identifies with us on the most intimate levels!
  5. BTW – there’s a bit of wonderful irony here which goes to show the extent of the humility Jesus took on when He became an incarnate man: God the Creator had to be protected by His creation. …

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

  1. Herod’s insane rage…this is what Jerusalem had feared (Mt 2:3). … The wise men had been warned by an angel to return to their own country by another route, and that’s exactly what they did.  Herod believed that he had been duped (and frankly, he was) & after realizing he couldn’t kill the Christ through subtlety, turned to outright violence.
  2. Some skeptics doubt the historicity of this event, because Matthew is the only author that mentions it.  Yet from what is known of the murderous character of Herod, the event certainly fits with what we know of him.  In addition, the location was limited to Bethlehem & the surrounding area; this wasn’t a nationwide pogrom that would have been recorded by the Roman historians. By killing all the male children in Bethlehem & the surrounding area, likely dozens of children lost their lives (between 10-30); not thousands.  Obviously, it was still evil – no matter how many were killed. 
    1. This is another parallel between Jesus & the nation of Israel.  Herod’s persecution was not unlike the Hebrews who died under Pharaoh (Exo 1).
  3. Question: “Why did God specifically protect Jesus while allowing scores of other kids to die?  Couldn’t God have saved them all?”  Yes – God could have spared all of them.  Some questions don’t really have easy answers.  Keep in mind that God did not love those children any less than God loves any of us – in fact, God has pretty harsh words to say about those who cause little children to stumble (Mk 9:42), how much more when they are killed!  Yet God although God did not specifically save these children, God did not kill them.  Their death is one of the tragic results of evil existing in the world…and thus one of the reasons that God sent Jesus to die on the cross!  God had to specifically spare Jesus from this particular death in order to save Him for time when God’s own Son died on the cross for all mankind.
  4. One other thing we need to keep in mind: just because God allowed this evil does not mean He was not grieved over it.  God weeps over sin just like we do. … Shown also in prophecy – see vs. 17…

17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”

  1. Even this evil tragedy had been prophesied in the Scripture.  Jeremiah 31:15–16, "(15) Thus says the LORD: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.” (16) Thus says the LORD: “Refrain your voice from weeping, And your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD, And they shall come back from the land of the enemy." []  Why Rachel?  Rachel was the favorite wife of Jacob & thought of the general “mother” figure of the Hebrew nation.  She gave birth to Joseph (who begot Ephraim & Manesseh, who comprised much of the northern kingdom), and Benjamin (who was intertwined in the southern kingdom with Judah).  In the immediate fulfillment in Jeremiah’s context, Rachel wept over the descendants of her children who had been taken into captivity away from the land.  Yet the Lord still have a word of hope in that the people would return to the land – and even looked forward to the New Covenant that would be given through the coming Messiah (Jer 31:31). … The ultimate fulfillment comes in Jesus as Rachel (who was buried near Bethlehem Ephratah) symbolically wept over the children who were killed in Herod’s murderous rampage.  What had initially spoken of Israel’s captivity also demonstrated God’s knowledge of Herod’s insane persecution of Christ.
    1. God is not taken by surprise by anything that happens to us.  Whether it is a good gift He gives us, or an attack of the enemy that God sovereignly allows – our God knows what we are facing & will still yet face.  There’s two ways people might respond to this: (1) by thinking God is uncaring – but yet we KNOW that’s not true.  God’s love is demonstrated for us at the cross of Christ (Rom 5:8).  (2) By thanking God that our Loving Father is still watching over us!  Even in our worst times, we can be sure that God is still in control – and what better time to know that God is in control than the times when it appears that things are spinning into chaos? …
  2. God does not stop every evil tragedy, but He has the perfect answer to it: His righteous wrath.  Whether poured out upon Jesus at the cross, or put upon the unrepentant in Hell, God’s perfect justice regarding each and every sin will be known throughout eternity.

19 Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.”

  1. Another dream – God was faithful to follow up with Joseph, just as the angel had said He would do. God is ALWAYS faithful to His promises! …
  2. It was absolutely necessary that Jesus return to Israel.  He is the Jewish Messiah.  He could not have been raised in Egypt & then just stroll into Jerusalem; He had to live among the people because He had been sent to the people.
  3. Keep in mind that just because Herod the Great was dead didn’t mean that Jesus was completely out of danger.  It simply meant that this immediate danger had passed.  There would always be danger – but they would also always have the protection of God.  God had watched over them for this far; there was no reason to doubt now.
    1. Likewise for us!  There will always be battles & trials – but the God who saved us from our sin & gave us new life is still our God today.  The God who sustained us for our salvation will continue to sustain us for whatever it is that we face.

21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.

  1. Again, Joseph was obedient to the Lord.
  2. Seems like such a simple act – but simple acts of obedience are important!  How can we be trusted with larger responsibilities if we’re not faithful in the smaller issues?

22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.

  1. Matthew is being historically precise here.  Joseph did indeed return to the land of Israel, but he did not go into the region of Judea (the latinized name for Judah).  Herod the Great had ruled over all of the land (under the authority of the Roman empire), but when Herod died, the Romans did not allow his sons to carry on the full authority of their father & thus split the kingdom.  Archelaus was made tetrarch over Judea, but his brother Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee.  Apparently, that was seen as a more favorable environment for the holy family.
  2. Note that Joseph did not randomly decide to go to Galilee by himself; God had directed him in a dream.  God was continuing to protect the family…

23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

  1. Eventually they settled in Nazareth – which had been Joseph’s & Mary’s home before their whole journey to Bethlehem had begun (Lk 2:4).  Apparently Nazareth was even more non-descript than Bethlehem, even among the Jews.  (Nathaniel asked “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” – Jn 1:46) It was a humble town in which to raise the most glorious King of kings – but again, it highlights the humility & identification that our Savior has with us.  From the smallest beginnings, God did something amazingly wonderful.
    1. Ever wonder if God can do anything good with you?  After all, you know where you’ve come from & what you’ve done.  Those who knew you prior to your conversion to Christ might well ask the same question as Nathaniel – “Can anything good come from ____?” The obvious answer is YES.  When GOD is the One doing the work, He can do anything.  If God can make water come from a rock – if God can make a shepherd boy a king – if God can make a tax collector a disciple of Christ – surely God is well-experienced in turning “non-descript” situations to His glory!  Few to none of us will be the next Billy Graham – but the unsung saint serving in the back room pleases God just as much as the evangelist up-front when he/she is doing what God called & equipped him/her to do.
  2. Even in this, prophecy is fulfilled.  Scholars have had a tough time pinpointing the exact prophecy that Matthew refers to here.  Obviously we can trust that it IS fulfilled prophecy, because Matthew was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Yet it seems to be a rather “freer” interpretation than what we might normally expect.  There are three popular options:
    1. Option #1: Isaiah 11:1–2, "(1) There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. (2) The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD." [] The Hebrew for “branch” = “netser” – very close in sound to the word for “Nazarene.”  Jesus is indeed the Branch!  He’s the true Vine in which we find our life – He is the solid Rod of God upon whom God has anointed with the Holy Spirit.
    2. Option #2: Judges 13:5, "For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines." [] Obviously a Nazirite was not the same thing as a Nazarene – one depicts a vow of dedication; the other is a designation of a town. Yet Jesus did live His life in complete dedication to God.  Where Samson fell short, Jesus fulfilled in every respect.  Even so, this interpretation seems unlikely.
    3. Option #3: Matthew isn’t quoting a specific prophecy, but referring to a general theme reflected through the “prophets” – that the Messiah would indeed be a Branch, but be despised & rejected (as seen in the town in which He was raised).  Isaiah 53:3, "He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." []  Just one of many examples… Jesus came unto His own & His own received Him not (Jn 1:11).  As with everything else in Jesus’ life, His rejection was not unexpected by God – it was prophesied throughout the centuries & indeed is the very attitude God used to send Jesus to the cross in order to redeem us from sin. …

Conclusion:
After the wise men leave, Matthew gives three aspects to Jesus’ childhood – all of which are the fulfillment of prophecy:

  1. God protects Jesus.  By sending Him to Egypt, what appeared to be a step backwards was actually God’s provision for Jesus & the rest of the family.
  2. Herod murders the children.  Back in Bethlehem, Herod goes on a rampage.  Yet as tragic as it is, God had known it would happen & has an answer for it in Christ.
  3. God returns Jesus to Israel.  God did not leave the Messiah in Egypt, but brought Him into the land, just as the nation of Israel was brought into the land – all according to the word of God.

Not a single aspect of this was unknown by the prophets!  Satan may have done his best to stop the coming Savior, but the plans of God are unstoppable!  God knew every detail on the ground – every scheme in the mind of the enemy – and planned the solution to the problem before the world had ever been made.  The mind & the plans of our God are absolutely amazing!

If God knew all of this regarding His Son, do we think He knows any less regarding us?  Perish the thought!  Jesus tells us that God knows the sparrows that fall, the number of hairs on our heads, and even our prayer requests before we ask them.  Beyond even those things, God knows US – and He has a glorious plan for us in our eternal redemption.  We often quote Romans 8:28 in the context of God’s sovereign plan over the events of our lives – but there’s an eternal aspect to the context that we sometimes forget: Romans 8:28–30, "(28) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (29) For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (30) Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." []  God knows US & His plan for us is to be called, justified, and glorified with Christ – and everything that we go through in life will be used by God to prepare us for that singular goal.  As a child of God, you can trust that whatever you endure will be used by God to mold you more & more into the image of Christ & prepare you for the glorious eternity that you’ll spend with God.  What a glorious plan God has for each of us as His children!  And His plan is unstoppable.

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