Bethel CRC Lacombe

December 31, 2023 The Names of Jesus: A Narzarene, Matthew 2:13-23

January 02, 2024 Pastor Jake Boer Season 8 Episode 7
Bethel CRC Lacombe
December 31, 2023 The Names of Jesus: A Narzarene, Matthew 2:13-23
Show Notes Transcript

Today we will reflect on Matthew 2:13-23, A Nazarene, the story of how Jospeh took his family and fled with them to Egypt because of Herod’s murderous anger. Jesus becomes a refugee and spends time in a foreign land because it’s not safe for him in his own land. When they return to Judah after Herod’s death, they go to Nazareth in Galilee, far from the circles of power. Nazareth is a small village with nothing to distinguish it from any other village, in a province that also is not powerful or influential; an unusual place for a Messiah to come from.

A Nazarene

Matthew 2:13-23


This is a story of God’s protection, but also about God’s hiddenness; it’s a story of salvation and of evil, a hard story that echoes back to Moses being saved from oppression and evil while others weren’t saved; it’s a reminder that while many of us are safe and happy, there are many of God’s children today suffering. God can feel so close and powerful while at other times he can feel so far away. This is a story of the world, a story that reminds us that the world is not the way it’s supposed to be and still there’s hope here because Jesus is saved so he can save us and one day fully establish his kingdom of peace, safety, and hope where evil will no longer have any sway or presence. In this short story of Jesus’ birth by Matthew, Matthew refers to how Jesus’ birth and early years fulfill 3 different prophecies, 2 and perhaps even all 3 of them, in painful ways.

The Magi have come and gone after finding Jesus, worshipping him, and offering Jesus tribute. All of this was more for Mary to treasure in her heart. We often focus on the three gifts of tribute, the frankincense, myrrh, and gold and we can assign different meanings to each of the gifts, in the end the important thing is that they allowed Joseph to keep his family safe. In the wonder of angel visits, the birth of Jesus, important and not-so-important visitors with amazing stories of heavenly guidance, the reality that there is still evil in the world intrudes into the lives of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. 

An angel appears again to Joseph in a dream. The angel tells Jospeh, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Herod is on the warpath against this threat to his power. So, Joseph takes Jesus and Mary and they flee to Egypt to keep them safe. While historically, Egypt may seem to us to be a strange place to flee to, Egypt had been a place of safety and refugee for Israel in the past, a place where in the time of Jacob and Joseph, they were able to come during a famine and settle down while still only a large family and over the years grow into a nation. Joseph and Mary settle in Egypt with Jesus since there was a large Jewish population in Egypt, mostly around the area of Alexandria. 

This is the first Old Testament prophecy that is fulfilled in Matthew’s account. This prophecy comes out of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt have I called out my son.” Hosea’s writing about when God called out Israel out of Egypt at the Exodus. He’s referring to Israel when the nation was a young nation and learning how to be a nation because they had been slaves for so long. The metaphorical language of the nation as a child, and as God’s son, comes straight out of the story of the Exodus when Moses tells Pharaoh, “This is what the LORD says, Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go so he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go, so I will kill your firstborn son.” God’s about to punish Egypt for killing so many of the sons of Israel, and Moses uses this history of his own birth to do a wordplay on the word son as Israel is God’s firstborn son, so God is going to kill Pharoah’s firstborn son. Now in the time of Herod, another ruler is going to attempt to kill God’s firstborn son, Jesus. Moses was saved in order to lead God’s people into freedom, Matthew sees God saving Jesus as an echo to Moses as Jesus is saved in order to save his people from their sin. The echoes would have struck the hearts of the Jews hearing Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth and seen God’s hand at work in saving his children. The pain comes in knowing that not every child is saved.

Herod, in a fit of rage at finding out the Magi had deceived him, sends troops to Bethlehem to kill all the baby boys in the area. This fulfills the second prophecy that Matthew connects to Jesus’ birth, “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” This prophecy comes from Jeremiah after Israel has been taken into exile. Babylon has conquered Israel and so many Israelites were killed in the conquest, men, but also many women and children with them. It’s as if Jeremiah can hear Rachel weeping for her lost children. I can still hear my mother weeping when my sister died in a car accident at 18. For a long time, I thought the tears would never end, and honestly, she went to her grave decades later still weeping. Jesus comes with great rejoicing and celebration, but his coming also brings great sorrow due to the presence and cruelty of evil in our world. The lives of the children are not precious enough to prevent evil from sacrificing them for its own benefit and the cries of mothers mourning the loss of their children still ring out today in places like Israel, Palestine, and too many other places in our world. 

Later, after Herod’s death, an angel again comes to Joseph to let him know it’s safe to go home. Joseph and Mary head back to Israel with Jesus, but they don’t trust Herod’s son Archelaus who was as cruel as his father, so they head north to Galilee. They move away from the seats of power of both the government and temple, putting the entire province of Samaria between them and the threats against them. Joseph and Mary settle in Nazareth with Jesus, close to family and old friends, a place of safety for Jesus, hopefully a place that has moved past Mary’s pregnancy before marriage. Matthew mentions that this fulfills a third prophecy that he “would be called a Nazarene.” 

Being called a Nazarene was not a mark of respect. We see this in John 1 when Philip talked to Nathanael, “Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” When Matthew tells us that Jesus being called a Nazarene fulfills what was said through the prophets, we get a glimpse at how the Jewish people used their Scriptures and do theology because there is no prophet who actually mentions in those exact words that the Messiah will come from Nazareth. This is where the Jewish culture and how they do theology comes into play, especially with the Hebrew scriptures.

In Isaiah 11, the prophet talks about a shoot coming out of a stump, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” The word for shoot in the Hebrew is netzer, which is the same 3-letter root that the name Nazareth comes from. Netzer means “a small twig, a sprout, or sucker.” The tree of Jesse has been chopped down and now all that’s left is a sucker coming up out of that old dried-up stump; this is a picture of weakness; the proud strong tree is reduced to a fragile twig. Nazareth, as a town is never mentioned in the Old Testament, the great Jewish historian Josephus also never mentions this small insignificant town either. It’s a small village in a province of Galilee that was also looked down on as being simple farmers rather than the leaders, rulers, or scholars of Israel you find in Judah and Jerusalem. What Matthew does here is he starts off by describing the Messiah Israel was expecting, a king that even foreigners would bow down to and worship, and then Matthew shows us the Messiah the Old Testament actually points to, the servant in Isaiah, the refugee first raised outside of Israel of Hosea, the persecuted child from Jeremiah, the scorned and rejected Messiah who dies for his people in spite of how they receive him. Jesus is identified with helpless, and vulnerable people of this world rather than the powerful people of the world.

Archelaus would never have thought to look for the Messiah in Nazareth. That is the whole point. Jesus of what Matthew is showing us, that Jesus is not the kind of Messiah that they or anyone else was expecting. Nelson Trout, the first African-American bishop in the American Lutheran Church used to say that “in Jesus Christ, God stoops down very low,” as the early church hymn that Paul shares with us in Philippians 2 also reminds us, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” But the story doesn’t end with a dead Messiah on a cross, the hymn goes on, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” bringing us back again to how Matthew first introduces us to Jesus as a king whom other kings will bow down to. 

As one writer put it, The Christmas story begins with the birth of a child. But it doesn’t end until this child has grown up, preached God’s mercy, been crucified and died and then raised again. Actually, it doesn’t end until Jesus draws all of us into that same story, raising us up to new life even amid the very real challenges that face each of us here and now.”