The Anger Against the King

// December 23rd, 2019 // Sermons

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Advent 2019 Sermon Series

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent. You can listen online or download it and listen later…The Anger Against the KingIn preparation for the Advent Season this year, God took me to the first 2 chapters of the Gospel of Matthew.  I gave this Advent Series the title:  The Coming of the King!

On the first Sunday of Advent – Dec. 1, we looked at The King’s Ancestral Line – so that we could understand that our Lord Jesus had a human ancestry.

The second Sunday of Advent – on Dec. 8th, we looked at The King’s Arrival – using Matt. 1:18-25 – learning that Jesus most definitely had a divine or heavenly genealogy – He is the Son of God and His conception proved this.

Then, last week, the third Sunday of Advent, we looked at Matt. 2:1-12 and were reminded about the Wise Men who came from the east to worship this newborn King – we learned that there are basically 3 responses to the coming of Jesus and that those 3 responses are still relevant in our society today.  I called that sermon, “The King Adored”.

Today, we will carry on with where last week’s text left off, ch. 2:13-18 – with King Herod waiting for a follow-up visit from the Wise Men – a visit that an angel warned them not to have with him.  We know that King Herod was an angry cruel man, therefore the title, The Anger Against the King.

Again, as we look at this passage, we need to keep in mind that Matthew, the tax collector who was called by Jesus and became one of Christ’s disciples…Matthew wrote his Gospel in order to show his fellow Jews that Jesus really was the long-expected Messiah and that the baby in the manger was born king of the Jews.

And, since Matthew wrote his gospel account mainly for a Jewish audience, his book is filled with facts that would interest them.  John MacArthur, in his commentary on the Matthew, points out that Matthew gives several evidences of Jesus of Nazareth’s legitimate, unique, and absolute royal right to the throne of David.

In Matthew 1 – he presented Jesus’ royal genealogy.  He shows how Jesus descended from King David and for that reason, was a natural heir to David’s throne.

Then, also in Matthew 1, we took note of Jesus’ supernatural conception and virgin birth.  This confirmed Jesus’ deity by virtue of the fact that not Joseph or any other man had been involved in the Jesus’ supernatural conception.  Matthew clearly tells us that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

And the 3rd evidence is in Matthew 2 – the testimony of the Wise Men.  These men who came from a distant land, to worship Jesus and give gifts to – using their words – “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (v. 2).  These Wise Men traveled a great distance to recognize and honor a king who was largely rejected by his own people.

The next proof Matthew presents is shown in a negative way through the intense hatred of King Herod.  Herod’s devious plan to find out as much detail about this “king of the Jews” that had been born in Bethlehem, and the radical decision destroy this unknown baby shows his fear that the testimony of the Wise Men about the child had merit.  This again proved that Jesus truly was deserving of being king.

Herod liked his esteemed position as being King of the Jews, but he knew that he was in this role simply by virtue of Rome.  You see, Herod was an Edomite, not a Jew – and, for this reason, he had no legitimate claim to be the Jewish king.  He was not of the lineage of King David, and so he feared and hated even the suggestion of a potential rival.  But, it’s interesting to note that King Herod, through his intense hatred of baby Jesus, he gives indirect testimony to the identity of the true “king of the Jews”.

The fifth evidence of Christ’s kingship that we find in Matthew 2 is through the 4 fulfilled messianic prophecies that he quotes.  There are some 330 OT prophecies concerning Jesus.  Throughout the Gospel of Matthew he refers to about fifty prophecies, but here in chapter 2 he points out four prophecies that were fulfilled during Jesus’ infant stage.

As Josh McDowall states in his testimony, there is not even a remote chance that 4 of these prophecies could have come true in the life of one baby born in Bethlehem…never mind the fact that there were actually 330 prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of one person.  That fact in itself is overwhelming evidence of God’s sovereign control of history and of the utter reliability of his Word!

Matthew uses those four prophecies as his literary structure around which he presents the events he recorded in Matthew 2.  Each of the predictions is directly related to a GPS coordinate that is closely tied to Jesus’ birth and early childhood.  The four locations that are fulfillments of prophecy are Bethlehem, Egypt, Ramah, and Nazareth.

The first OT prophecy that Matthew presents as part of the events of ch. 2 is the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem – 2:6 is the quote that comes out of Micah 5:2.  We looked at v. 6 last week as part of the visit of the Wise Men.  Matthew wants to make sure his readers took note that the baby born in Bethlehem was none other than the ruler that God had Micah that prophet write about 400 plus years earlier.

The other three prophecies are in the rest of this chapter.  So, as we look at Mary & Joseph’s trip to Egypt, the quote about Ramah and then their return to Nazareth.

At the center of our text, is the anger of King Herod against King Jesus.  This anger is the big reason they had to take the trip to Egypt.  So, first:

  1. Why they travelled to Egypt – v. 13-15

Actually, there are two reasons for the trip to Egypt.  The big one is:

  1. To escape Herod’s Wrath – v. 13-14

I imagine that the Wise Men’s sudden visit at the house where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying, must have been an incredible encouragement and confirmation to both sides.

I mean, both Mary and Joseph had been visited by an angel giving them a forewarning of what was coming.  They would have known of the angel visiting Zechariah, Elizabeth getting pregnant and the birth of John the Baptist.

And then, after Baby Jesus was born the shepherds would have arrived telling of the visit from the angel and angels and the message they had received.  Their hearts would have been warmed by their encounter with Simeon and Anna when they went to dedicate their baby at the Temple.

And, to follow all that, to have these strangers from a far-away land…that would have been almost overwhelming as they told of following a start to the place where they were, and their gifts…if they had any doubts as to Jesus being the Messiah King, that should have taken care of those.

But, all the rejoicing and celebrating God’s goodness, was short-lived.  No sooner had the Wise Men left when an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, a 2nd angelic dream message.  The first time was to tell Joseph that Mary was pregnant through the Holy Spirit, and that he should take Mary as his wife.  This time, however, the angel appeared to Joseph to warn him of pending danger because of Herod.

The angel told him, “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother. Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

The angels were quite busy throughout this whole time – in v. 12 we are told that the Wise Men had also been warned in a dream to not return to Herod.  And now, after the Wise Men visit, Joseph received warning by God to flee the evil, murderous Herod.

Again, in immediate obedience, Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.  As soon as Joseph heard the word of God, he obeyed it!  What a great example for all Christians to follow!

We are not told where in Egypt Joseph took his little family.  Some Bible scholars suggest that they went to Alexandria because more than 300 years earlier Alexander the Great had established a safe haven for Jews in the city he named after himself.  The Jewish philosopher and historian Philo, himself a prominent resident of Alexandria, reported that by 40 AD, only a few years after the death of Jesus, Alexandria’s population included at least one million Jews.  So, that is a possibility.

The distance from Bethlehem to the border of Egypt was about 75 miles.  And then it was about another 200 miles to Alexandria.  Traveling with a young child would have made the trip slow and difficult.

This whole Herod threat and quick trip to Egypt brings up the question of God’s ability to protect this family and the Christ-child.  There is no doubt that God could have protected Jesus right there in Bethlehem, right under Herod’s threat.  God could have made it impossible for Herod and his soldiers to find Jesus and protect Him from harm.

But, God used ordinary means to bring about His extraordinary purposes.  He had Jesus and His family take the journey to Egypt.  I wonder if this is part of what God meant when we read in Heb. 4:15 – “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Mary, Joseph & Jesus had to undergo many difficulties and hardships, just like everyone else.  But God’s plans are not without purpose.  This brings us to the 2nd reason for the trip…

  1. To Fulfill Hosea’s Prophecy – v. 15

Matthew tells us they stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod – that might have been only a few months.  We don’t know the details.

But Matthew tells us the main reason for this trip to Egypt.  In v. 15, he says, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  This quote is from the prophet Hosea, recorded 700 years earlier – Hosea 11:1.

What do these words mean?  John MacArthur wrote, “The Old Testament writers were the Lord’s spokesmen. Just as they had no way of knowing, apart from divine revelation, that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, they had no other way of knowing that He would live awhile in Egypt. The flight to Egypt was one more piece of divine evidence that Jesus was God’s Son, the promised Messiah.”

The reference to “my son” in the book of Hosea was to the nation of Israel – back to the time of the Exodus, when God delivered His people.  Hosea collectively calls the nation of Israel “my son” – God took them from the bondage of Pharaoh and brought them to the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses.

Matthew compares Jesus’ return from Egypt to God calling the nation of Israel from that same country many centuries earlier.  In this way, the Exodus was a type of Jesus, Mary & Joseph returning from Egypt.

Commentator Craig Blomberg wrote, “Just as God brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt to inaugurate his original covenant with them, so again God is bringing the Messiah, who fulfills the hopes of Israel, out of Egypt as he is about to inaugurate his new covenant.”

We need to realize that God’s plans are never without purpose!  God is always in sovereign control of all the events of history.  He orchestrated every single event in the life of Jesus in order to show that Jesus truly is the promised Messiah, the king of the Jews.  The next thing we need to see:

  1. What Tragedy Around Bethlehem – v. 16-18)

First, we need to be reminded of:

  1. Herod’s Purge – v. 16

Matthew tells us that when Herod realized that the Wise Men had out-smarted him, he was furious, and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and area that were two years old and under.

The Greek phrase translated, “he was furious,” indicates that Herod was outraged, livid, his anger was out of control.  MacArthur notes that “Herod’s crime was made even more vile and heinous by the fact that he knew that the Child he sought to destroy was the Messiah, the Christ. He questioned the chief priests and scribes specifically about ‘where the Christ was to be born’ (v. 4). He arrogantly set himself against God’s very Anointed.

I have sometimes wondered how many baby boys would have been killed as a result of this.  Given the small size of Bethlehem, which even today only has a population of about 20,000 people, Bible scholars guess that at most it would mean that about 20 boys would have been killed.  Like the atrocity of abortion, even one is too many!

This is the only place in the Bible that this slaughter of boys is mentioned.  Even the Jewish historian Josephus did not mention this wicked act of killing innocent babies.  Bible scholars say that shouldn’t surprise us, because Herod’s many crimes and atrocities would have overshadowed the death of a few Hebrew children in an insignificant village.

Historical record states that he put to death several of his own children and some of his wives whom he thought were plotting against him.  Emperor Augustus reportedly said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son, for his pig had a better chance of surviving in a Jewish community.

The Pulpit Commentary had an interesting note – it said that the boys who were killed in Bethlehem “were martyrs in deed, though not in will.”  In a sense, they died for the sake and cause of Christ even though they didn’t make the choice to take that stand for Him.  We also need to note that this atrocity happened…

  1. To Fulfill Jeremiah’s Prophecy – v. 17-18

Of course, Herod had no intention of fulfilling prophecy, but our Sovereign God was control.  Matthew notes that what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “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 is a quote from Jer. 31, where Jeremiah is speaking of mothers in Israel weeping and mourning as their sons are led off into exile.  In sharing this, Jeremiah recaps an event in history – Israel was a type of “Rachel,” the mother of Joseph and Benjamin.  They had also been threatened with being “no more”.  Matthew takes these OT scenes and applies them to first-century Israel, to mothers who are in anguish over the babies that Herod had killed.

Matthew does not mention it here, because he is emphasizing the tragedy of the killing of babies, but the passage he quotes from in Jeremiah continues with a beautiful word of hope and promise – Jer. 31:16: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,’ declares the Lord.  ‘They will return from the land of the enemy.’”

Within a few generations, God brought His people back from Babylon; and one day He will bring all His chosen people back from captivity to Satan.  Listen to Rom. 11:26-27 – “And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob’; ‘and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’”

But before that great and wonderful day – there is much disobedience, rejection, and tragedy that would continue in Israel.  The massacre of the little boys in Bethlehem started a new level of terrible conflict.

The main thing that I want us to glean from this passage today is that God is in Sovereign and Providential control of everything.

Herod, out of intense anger, did his utmost against Jesus…and his best efforts could not eliminate Jesus.  Instead, of achieving what he had hoped, he only managed to be a pawn in God’s sovereign fulfillment of prophecy.  God was actively involved in orchestrating all of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, His infancy, His ministry, and ultimately His death and resurrection.

So, the bottom line:  You can trust God to carry out all of His perfect purposes in your life.  If you are a Christian, you know that “God works all things together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  So, whatever your situation, whatever circumstances have framed your life…learn to continually submit yourself to God and to His purpose for your life.

If you are not yet a Christian – a true follower of Jesus – I urge you to cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness; to trust Him for the forgiveness of your sins.  You need to know that if you are procrastinating that decision, you are putting yourself into a very dangerous place.  If you don’t turn from your sin, your fate is the same as that of wicked King Herod or any other person who refuses to trust in the Lord.  As far as we know Herod died still directly opposed to Jesus…still refusing to see Him as the Messiah and Savior – refusing to bow like the Wise Men did.

We need to grasp that Herod is in eternal torment and anguish in hell not for killing baby boys in the region of Bethlehem, he is in that state because he rejected the Savior.

I urge everyone to repent of your sin.  Think of all the ways in which you have broken God’s Law, and then, confess that to God and trust in Jesus as the One who has been sent by God to pay the penalty for all our sin.   He is the One that has purchased our salvation and reserved us a home in heaven.  Don’t delay.

Let’s pray…

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