Christmas out of the Wilderness
If you’re thinking about it already this morning, Sunday’s a great day to shop in Utah. Right? You’ve got less than 48 hours for you late bloomers when it comes to Christmas. Guys, I don’t know if you’re still looking for any ideas. If you are, God be with you.
I heard a story about a guy in our area, he was feeling a little gloomy recently during Christmastime, and just lonely during the holiday season, going through something. He looks at his wife in the middle of this difficulty and he just says, I gotta go to the other room. I need to call the kids. He goes to the other room and he calls his kids. He calls his son down in Vegas, and he says, son, I hate to break this bad news to you at Christmas, but your mom and I are going to get a divorce. 43 years, and I can’t fake it any more. We’re not going to do it any more. I don’t want to talk about it. In fact, I don’t even want to tell your sister. You call your sister and you tell her, and he just hangs up the phone.
The son calls his sister. She lives up in Boise. He tells his sister all that dad had said. The daughter immediately hangs up the phone and calls her dad and says, dad, you can’t do that. My brother and I, we will be there tomorrow, and we’ll talk about it. Promise me you won’t don’t do anything. The dad says, fine, I promise. He hangs up the phone and goes in the other room. The wife says, honey, how’d it go with the kids? He goes, it was great. The kids are going to be here for Christmas and you won’t even believe it, they’re paying their own way. Glorious, right? Now, Christmas suggestion.
But for those that don’t like to lie to their kids, gingerbread’s are all of a sudden just sweeping the nation, all these gingerbread building going on. We’re watching Christmas classics. Gotta get those in. I was reminded even this week of the four major food groups, candy, candy canes, cotton candy and syrup. Around the holidays whatever excuse I can have to get more of that candy in my belly, that’s what I like.
Christmas is important and all that goes with it. On Christmas Eve Eve, I want to share with you one of the most powerful Christmas verses I think in the Christmas story. It’s one of those verses I think is a little obscure. Unfortunately I used to look at this verse and just pass by it. It was a little different. I didn’t completely understand it, but in the end it really helps me understand the attitude that we are to carry at Christmas. It helps me see what’s so important about bringing Christmas to everyone because I think this verse really shares the heart of God. You think about the importance of Christmas, even here. There’s maybe a famous elf that tells you the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. For the church, the way you sing that song at Christmas is important because it highlights what is important about this time of season and how it’s not just really a time of year, but Christmas is something that’s intended to be celebrated every year.
This passage comes in Matthew, Chapter 2, that I want to share with you. This random verse. We’ve looked at really the Christmas story told, as it’s been portrayed in the Gospels. We’ve looked at the Gospel of John, spent a couple of weeks in the Gospel of John talking about the theological implications of Christmas. We looked at the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke. That’s Gospel of Luke, first couple of chapters, famous section for the Christmas story. The other portion of the Gospels that are really popular when it relates to the Christmas story is the book of Matthew.
Matthew, first couple of chapters shares a different angle from the Christmas story. While you look at Luke, you see the shepherds. You come to Matthew and you see the Wise Men. Right after the Wise Men leave, there is this strange verse. It says this in verse 13. Now when they had gone, talking about the wise men, behold, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and said, get up, take the child to his mother, and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you.
Now, I want you to know, people speculate as to how long it was before the Wise Men arrived to Jesus. Some people estimate as high as two years. We don’t really know. We know it wasn’t right at the birth. The shepherds were likely there right around, at the birth. The Wise Men had to travel some distance. They followed a star. One of the reasons they speculate could have been as much as two years before they got there is because when Herod gets angry and kills all the children in this area, he chooses the age of two years and younger, so Wise Men it would have been some months likely before they came to Jesus. When it says to Joseph, get up and head out, he’s not looking to marry five minutes after giving birth, and it’s like, alright, let’s hit the road, Mary. There’s some time that elapses here. It’s definitely more than a day and not quite two years. He says, get up, take the child to his mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.
Joseph got up and took the child and his mother while it was still night and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, out of Egypt I called my son. This is the obscure thought. You look at this passage of scripture, it’s really setting up a statement of prophetic fulfillment.
You have four different Gospels in the Bible. The four Gospels are written to different audiences. The audience in which the author is choosing to write to dictates the style in which the author’s writing, and the way he shares the stories and the perspective from which he writes. Like for instance, Mark is written to the Romans and it is a book of action. Romans were doers. You see a lot of action taking place in the book of Mark. Matthew is written to the Jews. In the book of Matthew you’ll see a lot of Old Testament prophecy being fulfilled. He tells this little snippet in the story of Christmas as it relates to Jesus coming in this world, of them leaving for Egypt, to recognize that this is also a prophetic fulfillment.
When you read this passage of scripture it is unique, it is strange, because when I think of all the prophecy that Jesus fulfilled, and there’s hundreds of them, and all the things that Matthew could have picked to highlight as significant related to the birth of Jesus. For me the knock it out of the park ones are, virgin birth, Immanuel, God with us, born of the House of David, born in Bethlehem. Even when you go beyond that, Jesus sold for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus talked about being crucified on the cross in Isaiah 53, hundreds of years before the crucification even exists. Those are pretty incredible prophecies. It’s like, is there some sort of quota that you need to get out on prophetic fulfillment where you’ve gotta make this one a deal? Out of Egypt I come, this seems like natural. Someone’s coming to kill you. Run as far as you can. But then you have to tag on in the end, oh, this is a prophetic fulfillment. What the world does this have to do with what God wants us to understand, related to the birth of Jesus?
But what Matthew is doing is showing us the purpose of Jesus’s life through an amazing story and imagery. If you’ve been here for any amount of time at ABC, hopefully you’ve come familiar with the word kesher. In the New Testament, the New Testament is written by Jews. Jews understood the Old Testament. They quoted it, chapter and verse. They memorized it, I should say. When they would want to talk in the New Testament about the fulfillment in which God would bring they wouldn’t quote an entire section of scripture. Rather, knowing Jews would memorize scripture, they would quote a piece of that. In behind that piece of scripture there was this beautiful imagery. There’s a lot of I should say, baggage that comes along with this thought. It’s not just something they’re pulling out of the air and saying this happened. But there’s a history behind the statement, especially as it relates to the portion of the scripture from which it comes that paints a beautiful illustration for God is doing in this moment.
In Matthew 2:15, Matthew is quoting from the Book of Hosea. Now, if you remember Hosea, Hosea has a story related to his marriage with a lady named Gomer and it’s a comparison to God’s relationship with Israel. Gomer was a prostitute whose heart was never fully devoted to Hosea. In fact in the Book of Hosea in Chapter 3, Hosea goes to purchase Gomer out of slavery, out of prostituted slavery. When he goes to purchase, it tells us in Chapter 3 the amount that he pays for Gomer isn’t even the total you would typically pay during that time for a slave. People have speculated as to why that is. Some of us assume what Hosea did was he literally just gave all that he had in order to buy her out of slavery. When Matthew is quoting in Chapter 2:15, out of Egypt I called my son, what Matthew is actually doing is he’s quoting from the Book of Hosea. Hosea is quoting from the Book of Exodus and he’s stringing together this idea of what this phrase means for us, out of Egypt I called my son.
When you read it in Hosea 11:1, it says like this. When Israel was a child, I loved him. Out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. I sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. If you’re not familiar with how the Bible story goes, when you read the account in the Book of Genesis, very first book of the Bible, God promises us all the way back from the Garden of Eden that he would send a deliverer who would crush the head of Satan and free us from the curse of sin. Then he starts to identify where that promise is going to come from by pulling out a people group that was Abraham. You start to see that story be told in Genesis 11. There comes, when you get to the Book of Genesis into Exodus, there comes a time period where that people group, the Jewish people group from which the Messiah would come, find themselves in slavery in Egypt. They need rescued. We refer to that as the great exodus in scripture when God calls his children Israel, out of Egypt where it says in this phrase, out of Egypt I called my son.
But here’s what it’s telling us in verse 2. He called them but the more they were called, the more they went away from me, and they sacrifice to false Gods. What we see in Israel’s story is though they came out of Egypt physically, they never fully devoted themselves to God spiritually and mentally. They’re physically present, but they weren’t totally there. In fact right after the exodus the story of Moses is unfolded in the first five books of the Bible, you get the story of Joshua leading them into the Promised Land, which God had given to them. Right after Joshua leads his conquest in the Promise Land, you get to the Judges and he tells us, when they get in the land, they do whatever pleases them, whatever’s right in their own eyes. They don’t listen to God according to his truth. They define what is truth and they dictate it for themselves. They elevate themselves to the position of God and the live life however they want.
While they came out physically, never fully committed. In fact, the perpetuation of the idea of the exodus and what Israel did continues to be played out into the story of Hosea and Gomer. That’s why God chooses this relationship to illustrate to the people of his relationship to them. As Hosea marries Gomer in this marital covenant which they are supposed to be devoted to each other, so Gomer strays from Hosea. This the thought out of Egypt, he calls his son as a thought that perpetuates throughout the Old Testament. God compares his relationship to Israel this way, continuing to remind them that they never really fully came out of Egypt.
Then, just a few verses after this you still hear God’s heart. He says this, how can I give you up O Ephraim? This is the Northern tribes of Israel. How can I give you up? How can I surrender you O Israel? Then in verse 10 he says this, they will walk after the Lord. He will roar like a lion, indeed he will roar. While you see their hearts stray, God continues to pursue them in their sin.
In Matthew, you see through this prophetic passage, God calls his people to him, the way that it was prophetically communicated, be fulfilled in the Book of Hosea. As in Hosea, their hearts are straying. God in Matthew is recognizing his people at this time when he arrives, where they are. And out of Egypt he calls his son, saying God doesn’t just want you to show up physically. But Jesus said the greatest of the commandments, to love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength. In a very practical way it’s not just physically showing up to a church building on Sunday. God desires more, because God desires to covenant with you, to experience that place of intimacy for which you were created for him.
This passage in Matthew, in Exodus, in Hosea, this kesher, this string of this idea is to remind us that God is pursuing our callused heart. God came for those that struggle and need grace. You see them struggling in Egypt. You see them struggling in Hosea. You see them struggling in Matthew. God came for those in that struggle, needing his grace. God’s point is this, that all of us, Egypt, Gomer, all of us, need him.
If you were to even take this concept of out of Egypt calling his son, and just look in the story of Gomer in the Book of Hosea, this was a theme that was repeated throughout his book, not just in this passage. If you were to see in Chapter 2 of this same Book, it says this, therefore I am not going to allure her. We’re talking about Israel. I’ll lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards. I will make the Valley of Achor, which is a place of trouble. That was where Achan sinned, if you know that story, it’s the Valley of Achor, a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came out of, look at this, out of Egypt. In that day, declares the Lord, you will call me my husband, which is really Ishi. You will no longer call me my master, which is a play on words for Baal or false God. I’ll remove the names of the Baals from her lips. No longer will their names be invoked. In that day I will make a covenant for them.
God’s still carrying this idea of Egypt. He called them out of Egypt, but they were still devoted to these false Gods, the Baals. God’s desires for their heart, God is not giving up on them in the midst of their prostitution. It tells us in verse 14, he wants to allure them. While the rest of the world is attracting, he wants to allure them back into the intimacy for which he calls them, comparing this to the battle over Egypt. Unlike the first Egyptian exodus, where they didn’t completely eradicate their worship of false Gods, verse 18, he wants to make that covenant with them, an intimacy.
The idea carries this thought that the Israelites came out physically out of Egypt. They never came out spiritually, completely devoted to God. Their hearts were callused, need and awakened. This call in Matthew is the same. The call of Jesus comes for those finding themselves devoted to other Gods, who finds their hearts callus towards him, who find themselves in bondage and slavery with no hope in their own strength. What is this Christmas story tell us?
When you look at the Gospels, you ever wonder why the authors chose to write the stories they do? Out of everything they could say about Jesus, why the stories that they tell and why in that way? Now, you look at the Gospel stories, like in Matthew you get the very beginning of Jesus’s life, and then it’s like skip a bunch of years and all of a sudden he’s in his 30s. What happened in the in between? Why do the Gospel writers only tell us that? Is it because they don’t really know? You watch the History Channel, they’ll tell you a lot of crazy things. He went to India and became a Buddhist monk or something. It’s just bizarre. Why do the authors chose to write what they write about Jesus?
When you consider what Hosea’s saying in Chapter 2:14. Look at this. Therefore, I am now going to allure her. I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. God’s desire is to bring you into the wilderness. The wilderness for Israel had a lot of imagery to it. Wilderness tended to be a place where God dealt with people that really needed him. It really often times became a symbolic place of repentance, a place where you finally got away from everything that could distract you, and God dealt with what was going on in your heart. What he’s saying in this passage is that God wants to allure you, or to entice you towards what you truly need in him. Israel in the exodus in Egypt for 40 years, wandered in the wilderness. Their hearts were straying from God. God used that wilderness experience to lure their hearts back to him.
This wilderness carries this idea of this imagery. When you think about this Christmas story as told in Matthew 2:5, out of Egypt, I called my son. When you get to Chapter 3 in the very first verse, look what it says. Now in those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Now, God didn’t just want to bring Israel out physically, he wanted to bring Israel out faithfully. The wilderness became this place of calling in that heart.
Now when it says about John in this passage, John’s now in the wilderness, calling on us to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand, I don’t necessarily think that John is fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea 2:14, but rather what I think is happening here is the idea of wilderness and the significance of God drawing us into a place where we’re secluded to him, and no other idol, no other lover hearkens our heart, but God himself is calling us into relationship with him, I think that theme is what John is carrying here. Reality, I think, what John is doing actually is fulfilling what Isaiah 40:3 is telling us, to make straight the path and to call God’s people into the wilderness. John, in this passage in Matthew 3 is showing us this God who is bringing us to this place to call our hearts to him, that hearts have strayed and never fully belonged.
In fact Hosea 2:18, in that day I’ll make a covenant for them. That’s the goal. Into the wilderness I will call, because into my covenant is where they belong. Why does Matthew chose to write what he writes? It’s because Israel’s heart had faltered in the exodus, all the way to Hosea’s day, all the way to today. If you’re to look at the Book of Matthew, just the concepts that are taught there, when the author in Matthew writes the stories of Matthew he’s not just thinking, man, I gotta fill this page up. I got a manuscript that’s about four feet long. What am I going to say? He just starts telling whatever story he thinks is cool about Jesus. That’s not how the author pieces together the Book of Matthew. It’s when the Gospels are written, they’re written for a very intentional purpose, to draw our hearts to exactly the identity of Jesus and the significance of who he is for our lives.
When you start off in Matthew 2:15, out of Egypt I called my son, you see that what he’s bringing to mind is the exodus story and how Israel, they continued to be wayward in the heart to God. Matthew continues on the idea of that theme. If you were to see in Matthew 2:14 and 15, Jesus is running from a king who wants to take his life. In the exodus Moses in Israel, run from a king or a Pharaoh that want to take their lives. In Matthew 3:13 to 17, Jesus goes down to the waters to be baptized. He passes through the waters, which is really his anointing as King and Savior. But, Jesus goes through the waters. The exodus, when the children of Israel are fleeing from this king, they pass through the waters. They go through the Red Sea and ultimately cross the Jordan.
Matthew 4, Jesus goes into the wilderness for how many days? 40. 40 days. Ever wonder why 40? Why would Jesus want to go … Why would anyone want to be in any desert for 40 days? Why would you do that? Jesus is faithful in those 40 days in the desert, but when you read about the exodus which the author highlighted for us in Matthew 2. How many years did Israel wander through the wilderness? 40. Jesus isn’t randomly going for 40 days. Jesus is demonstrating himself as true Israel. The one who comes through the exodus faithfully for us.
God isn’t randomly telling these stories for Matthew, but rather the author is taking intentional stories of the life of Jesus that illustrate that he is the true one to follow. When all others were unfaithful, Jesus is faithful. God isn’t randomly picking a verse out of Hosea to get a quota of prophecy fulfilled. He wants you to see his intentional pursuit for you no matter how sinful the heart may be.
Do you ever get to that place in life where you feel so weak that you don’t even feel like fighting for you, and you need someone else to do it? Someone else, you don’t even want to cry out for help, you feel like you’re so far down that you just wish someone would show up miraculously. You need someone. Could you think of a better way to illustrate that than slaves in Egypt or a prostitute who finds herself in slavery needing freedom?
Then God takes these stories and through the form of a kesher ties it all the way into his birth. God becomes flesh. And out of Egypt he calls his son. This isn’t just a story. This is an illustration of something greater in Jesus’s pursuit for you. That’s why the author of Matthew continues from this point and goes on to illustrate ways Jesus’s life mimics the exodus, so you can see the goodness of who he is and how he himself is the faithful one, so that we in our own lives when we are at a place where we can’t even fight for self, we see a Jesus who fights for us. He has already been declared victorious. Jesus is walking in the brokenness of Israel’s history to show himself sufficient. Jesus is walking the path of all our brokenness because we are like Gomer and need freed.
He says this is Hosea 2:19, I will betroth you to me, look at this, forever. I will betroth you in righteousness, in justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will acknowledge the Lord. Out of all of Gomer’s unfaithfulness, out of all of Israel’s history of unfaithfulness, and here Jesus shows up and says, my faithfulness will become your faithfulness, by love and compassion. It’s what you learn in Israel’s past. No matter how much religious law you give it will not legislate the heart. Our hearts are deceitful, misleading, but yet in the midst of the darkness of the heart, what compels us? This is love.
1st John 4, 9 and 10, we love because he first loved us. It says, his truth and honesty, he’s honest where Gomer’s at. He’s honest with where Egypt’s at. But that’s his grace. It says in this passage, he will betroth us. In order to have a betrothal in Jesus’s day it required a dowry. If I were to relate it to the exodus, in Exodus 4:22-24, Moses is told that he needs to go and declare before Pharaoh to let his people go. God tells him, he tells him from the very beginning before he gets there what it’s going to take. He says to him, it’s going to take the death of the first born.
You know how the story goes, right? That Israel, God tells them to sacrifice the passover lamb and to place the blood over the doorpost. When they placed the blood over the doorpost that the death angel will pass by, but what the death angel’s requirement was going into this land was the life of the first born of every family. When you come to Jesus, Jesus is referred to in the scripture as God’s only begotten son.
In fact, in the Book of Matthew in the chapter 3 when Jesus is baptized, that is anointing when the Spirit descends on him, the Father speaks from heaven. This is what he says. He says over Jesus, this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. Again a passage for us that may not mean a whole lot when you just look at the statement until you recognize where these passages come from in the scripture, because these again are keshers. This is my beloved son, comes out of Psalms 2, which is a kingship psalm. It’s a declaration of Jesus the King Deliverer. And in while it’s coupled with the statement of, this is my beloved son, King Deliverer, there’s this last phrase with whom I am well pleased. Comes from Isaiah 42. In Isaiah 42-53, that’s the section of scripture of the suffering servant where it tells us, Jesus dies on the cross.
In this statement of this exodus where the Passover land took place, and Jesus’s declaration by the Father at his baptism, he sang to us that this King has come, and he’s one who will suffer for those in need. In fact, at Jesus’s last day of his life, he sat in the upper room with his disciples. In that betrothal that’s promised in Hosea, he says in the form of a dowry, Luke 22:19, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
Out of all the prophecy Matthew quoted for Christmas to show Jesus, out of Egypt I called my son. That passage isn’t just an event. It’s a greater picture of the love of God luring you in your sin to a king who will not give up on you. He will roar like a lion. When Egyptian slaves had no power for freedom, when Gomer had no power for her freedom, Jesus fought and won. Christmas is that out of Egypt, I called my son. It is a declaration of God’s victory story, finally one who came for me in my sin.
The Gospel writer’s guys, aren’t randomly sharing these stories. But these stories paint a bigger picture of the goodness of who God is. That on a holiday that we celebrate once a year it is not something to end on December 25th, but wherever we are in life, no matter how far or how weak you feel, to recognize there is a God who fought for you and won.