AUDIO FOR THIS SERMON CAN BE FOUND HERE
Last time we began to unpack the 7 different labels, titles or designations given to the Christ-child in this short portion of Scripture.
All of these are foundational to how we are to understand both the person and work of Jesus. And they would have been just as formative for Jesus’ parents and those around Him – as well as for Himself.
Just as going back to the account of Creation informs us as human beings about what it means to BE human – so the revelation of God here informs Jesus from His earliest days.
Because of Genesis we know that human beings are not cosmic accidents. That we are a special creation of God. That we were made in His image, rational, self-aware, holy, morally responsible, and made to be God’s vice-regents over Creation.
So it is from His childhood on, it would have been Mary and Joseph’s responsibility to educate Jesus on the very facts we are investigating here.
We heard last week from Ben Zwickl about the New City Catechism the Sunday School is undertaking. What is the purpose of such a thing?
A catechism is simply a method of learning, by questions and answers. And so this one begins with:
Question 1 – What is our only hope in life and death?
“That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.”
The idea is to build into our young ones from the earliest ages a sense of who and what they are in God’s universe.
Now imagine being tasked to do that with Incarnate Son of God. Where would you even start?
No doubt, most of us here at one time or another asked our parents why they named us what they did.
Was it in honor of some other family member? Simply because they liked the sound of it? Because it was trendy? Because the origin of the name meant something in terms of what they hoped would be your character? Was it after someone they admired? Does it have ethnic importance? It is a reasonable and common question to ask.
When I asked my Dad why he named me Reid, he said it was because he read it in a comic book and liked it. So much for more noble purposes. My middle name however was for someone my Dad really admired – a boss of his at Kodak who took my Dad under his wing.
But when Jesus would get to the age when He might ask why He was named Jesus when (as was the custom then) He had no immediate family by the same name – it would probably have been Joseph who sat down and said…”Son, I’ve got some things to tell you.”
Can you imagine that discussion? “Let me tell you about your Mom’s relatives, Elizabeth and Zechariah. About your cousin John and his own amazing birth.”
“Now let me tell you about how an angel spoke to me and told me that I was to give you the name Jesus. And not only did he tell me what your name would be, he told my why that particular name: “Because you were going to save your people from their sins.”
“This is exactly what he said: Matthew 1:21
Matthew 1:21 ESV
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
What I would give to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.
But Joseph would have to go on – “and there’s more Son.”
You need to know that: Matthew 1:22–23 ESV All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).
“And…as if those things are not enough Son, shortly after you were born – we were visited by some dignitaries from the East.”
“They brought gifts for you, gold, frankincense and myrrh. And they told us that when they were looking for you, they went to King Herod to ask about you.”
“And what they asked was”: Matthew 2:2 ESV saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
My imagination pictures something like this going forward: “Now obviously this is a lot to digest, and we’ll have to think long and hard about it all – but while were on this subject, I may just as well go ahead and open up the entire thing.”
So for Jesus and Joseph and Mary – life would be more than just complex. How would you begin to take all of this in? What would you do with it?
As for them, we can only guess. The bigger question – the one we need to wrestle with is – what do WE do with all of this information?
He came to REDEEM us
REIGN over us
How do WE respond to the Scripture’s revelation that Jesus is Jesus because He was sent to Redeem us from our sins, Reconcile us to the Father, and Reign over us as our God?
If those were the only things we needed to wrestle with, that would be enough. But the text before us goes on to put 4 more things before us to consider as central to Christmas – to the incarnation.
So we come to the 4th designation given to us in this passage. And it comes from a very unlikely source – Herod the king.
Matthew 2:1–4 ESV Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
King of the Jews
When I was younger, it used to be sort of a joke to imagine that some people thought “Christ” was Jesus’ last name.
The older I got, the more I realized that the way He is addressed in our English Bibles as “Jesus Christ” lends itself to that idea for those not familiar with Scripture and especially what the term “Christ” means.
So if this was or is you – don’t feel bad. You are far from alone.
In the ESV which I am preaching from – “Jesus Christ” appears 139 times. It is just the way we are used to seeing it.
But if you read carefully, you’ll notice that nearly 90 times, the order is reversed: “Christ Jesus.” You wouldn’t do that with a proper name, only with a name and a title.
When referring to Abraham Lincoln you would never say “Lincoln President.” But you would say President Lincoln or Mr. Lincoln The President.
So it is in the original – if you were a Greek speaker, you would say Jesus THE Christ or Christ Jesus, but not simply “Jesus Christ” like we do. The THE would be implied by the grammar.
A clue to understanding this is to look closely at the text, and then see how that is brought out in other passages.
Note Herod’s words again: Matthew 2:3–4 ESV When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
Do you see the definite article? Herod asked where THE Christ was to be born. Not just Christ, as though it was His name, but THE Christ – as it is – a title.
So later in Matt. 11:2 John heard about the deeds of THE Christ.
Matthew 11:2 ESV Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples
In Matt. 16:16 when Jesus asks who people think He is, Peter says:
Matthew 16:16 ESV Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
To which Jesus responds Matthew 16:20 ESV Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
About 50 times in the NT the definite article is used so that we get the message. Christ – was Jesus’ title, He was Jesus THE Christ.
But what does that mean? Well for us it takes a bit of digging. But in Jesus’ day, it was common knowledge.
Christ = Anointed
In the Old Testament times, when any person or thing was especially set apart for service to God, it was anointed with oil. Oil was poured and/or rubbed on in it some way. The Greek word for this anointing was “chrio” and we get our word Christ from it.
When God appointed a King, the King was anointed with oil to signify he had been set apart for this work by God, and was given special gifts and graces to carry out the work.
The same was true for Priests when they were installed in office. Exodus and Leviticus demonstrate this over and over.
And there was a 3rd kind of person who was anointed this way besides kings and priests – prophets. When prophets were set apart to deliver God’s Word to God’s people, they were anointed to that office.
And so by Jesus’ time the word came to be associated especially with the Jewish Messiah who was to come and be God’s anointed leader. Their King.
We’ve already seen that designation for Him last time but now we get the full picture. For in Jesus as The Christ, the Messiah, yes, He comes as God’s King for His people, but He is also our great Prophet!
Hebrews 1:1–2 ESV Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
He is the prophet to end all prophets – for He is the very Word of God Himself.
And not only that – He is also our Great High Priest Heb. 4:14
Hebrews 4:14 ESV Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
The Christ! Our King. Our Great High Priest. Our Prophet.
What a role He was anointed to take on.
To speak for God – to us – as God.
To be God’s anointed King over us.
And to be the fulfillment of all that the OT priests and priesthood foreshadowed by offering up Himself, the spotless Lamb of God on our behalf.
We go back to our text to see how His person and work are fleshed out even more for us in this exchange between King Herod, the Wise Men and the Jewish scholars Herod calls upon.
Matthew 2:3–6 ESV When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
And oh, what a sweet and wonderful designation this is indeed.
This shepherd concept which is replete throughout the Old Testament, gets taken up by Jesus Himself in the Gospels.
And it makes His relationship to us all the more tender and powerful.
The author of Hebrews will call Jesus the Great Shepherd of the sheep by the eternal covenant.
Peter will refer to our salvation as returning to shepherd and overseer of our souls.
And He goes on to note how it is that when the chief shepherd appears, we will receive the unfading crown of glory.
But it is in the prophecies of Ezekiel and Isaiah about the coming Messiah where we get such lovely intimations of what His shepherding is all about.
Ezekiel 34:12 ESV
As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
Ezekiel 34:15 ESV
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.
Ezekiel 34:23 ESV
And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
Isaiah 40:10–11 ESV
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
What a picture of Jesus! Seeking us out. Gentle. Caring for us. Providing for us. Protecting us. Feeding us. Carrying us. Delivering us safely home.
This Jesus King who is Immanuel, God with us, is God’s Christ – His anointed one to watch over and care for those upon whom the Father has set His eternal love – as a loving shepherd over His flock.
Oh how little we consider Him in all of these offices.
How little we understand the nature of His care for us and provision for us because we are so unaware of what He was sent, set aside and equipped to do on our behalf.
How much about Him is revealed to us in the Christmas story.
And how much of that is lost when we do not understand the true nature of Christmas as placed before us in these few lines of Scripture.
But we are not done yet.
Let’s let the text bring us up to the next designation.
After Herod had consulted with the scribes and priests about where the Christ, the Messiah would be born – we read…Matthew 2:7–15 ESV Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
“Out of Egypt I called my son.”
While we cannot tease this idea out with near the depth we need to, nevertheless we have a most wonderful demonstration here of how it is Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecy, and how it is we need to read those things in light of His coming.
If you were to stand in a dark tunnel, with a light shining in your eyes from the other end, you wouldn’t be able to make out a lot of detail about where you are at the moment.
If you were to walk toward that light, you would see lots of stuff as you progressed.
But once you reached that light, and then turned around to see the whole tunnel illuminated from your new position – everything would light up and you would see it all in detail you never did before.
This is the way it is with the Bible and progressive revelation.
The OT saints were looking toward the day of the Messiah – as Jesus says Abraham did in John 8 where He says “Abraham rejoiced to see my day.” Abraham was looking forward. But he couldn’t make out all the detail. It is why Peter remarks that the Old Testament prophets who prophesied about the the grace that was to be brought to us, searched and inquired carefully trying to figure out who and when the Spirit was talking about when He revealed that the Christ must suffer. They had light – but they were looking into it, not like we can today from this side of the Cross.
We can look back at Scripture and see how Jesus was being typed and shadowed everywhere in it – just like Matthew does here in citing Hosea 11:1.
Hosea 11:1 is a passage specifically about the nation of Israel being brought out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised land.
So how does it fit here? Matthew says, now that passage is “fulfilled.” It was an historical event back then, that foreshadowed something about the Christ that was yet to come.
Jesus Himself will make the connection for us in His own preaching.
Throughout the OT Israel was referred to a “vine.” God’s vine. God’s planting.
Hosea 10:1 is a good example:
Hosea 10:1 ESV Israel is a luxuriant vine
that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
the more altars he built;
as his country improved,
he improved his pillars.
But then Jesus says something startling in this regard in John 15:1–6 ESV “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
Yes, Israel was God’s vine, His planting. But Israel was only a type – a shadow of the real thing.
Jesus is the TRUE vine.
People do not need to be related to Israel for salvation, they need to be in Christ – in the TRUE vine – what Israel was pointing to all along.
And so in this passage, Matthew starts to unpack that for us by showing how it is that Israel’s deliverance from Egypt as divine and miraculous and amazing as it was – was a means to set the stage for the coming of the Messiah – and in due time, it was God’s Son, Jesus the Christ who would be called out of Egypt.
It would be the Son who fulfills all of the Old Testament prophecies and promises and pictures.
In the Christmas story – here in this short Christmas account – the key to unlocking all of Scripture is delivered to us as a gift of inestimable value.
How do we read our Old Testament, all of those rules and regulations and historical accounts and the details about the Tabernacle, the Temple, the Priest’s garments and the sacrifices and rituals?
We read them in the light of the Son of God who has come and fulfilled them all.
God has been true to His promises, and in them has also planted picture after picture of the person and work of Jesus.
And still we have one more to go.
As the narrative continues, we are met with one last designation. And of all of them, this seems the most obscure, and the most overlooked.
Let’s read: Matthew 2:16–23 ESV Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
There is little question that of the 5 Old Testament references Matthew appeals to in this entire passage – this one is the most controversial.
Why? Because the previous 4 were direct quotes:
Isa. 7 was about the virgin conceiving and calling His name Immanuel.
Micah 5 was about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem.
Hosea 11 was about His being called out of Egypt.
And then Jeremiah’s prophecy about the Rachel weeping for her children at Herod’s execution all the boys under 2 in the region around Bethlehem.
But when we come to this one, we have the simple problem that there is no specific passage in the Old Testament that says the Messiah will be called a Nazarene: One who hails from the town of Nazareth.
What are we to do with this?
There are 3 answers that are most commonly given, but I believe one does the best job of putting it together for us.
And a vital clue to that answer is found in the wording Matthew uses here.
Note that he does not refer to a specific prophet or prophecy – but rather says “what was spoken by the prophets.”
Matthew 2:23 ESV And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Do you remember the account in John 1 where Philip found his brother Nathaniel and said: “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”?
Well Nathaniel’s reply was less than enthusiastic.
In fact he chided Philip: John 1:46 ESV Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Now why would he say something like that?
In short, if we thought Bethlehem was Podunk, Nazareth was even less on the radar.
Nazareth is such a backwater, it is never even mentioned in the Old Testament, the Apocrypha or any of the documents from the period between the Testaments.
It is as unremarkable a place as one can imagine.
In other words, to say someone was Nazarene was to say they truly were a nobody from nowhere.
If Galilee was considered a slum district by those in Jerusalem, and its inhabitants looked down on – which was true for most of the Disciples; Nazareth would be the place the Galileans would look down on.
The lowest of the low.
So what of Matthew’s appeal to “the prophets?”
More than likely he was using Nazarene as a figure of speech his first readers would have recognized as summing up any number of prophetic references to the Messiah being a nobody from nowhere. So we read in Isaiah…
Isaiah 53:2–3 ESV For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
In other words, there is no text that says He would be a Nazarene, but there were a number of texts which would mark Him out as without standing and humble.
A man with no human esteem. A nobody from nowhere.
such a one in Jesus’ day would be called – a Nazarene, even if they didn’t come from that city.
And such is our Savior. He hailed from there, AND He wore the label.
Casting off all of the riches and glories of Heaven.
Setting aside the angelic adoration which surrounded Him night and day for eternity past.
Not counting His own deity as something to be waved in front of other’s noses He became a Nazarene: Philippians 2:6-8
Philippians 2:6–8 ESV who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
2 Corinthians 8:9
2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
For our sake – He would be called a Nazarene. He would number Himself with the least of all humanity.
Oh, the glory of Christmas!
Nothing so fully unfolds the true wonder of Christmas, of the Incarnation as does the way our Savior is portrayed in these 31 short verses.
You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
And, He shall be called Immanuel, for He is God with us.
This Jesus, Immanuel, has come to be our glorious King.
He is anointed by God to fulfill all of His offices. All of His duties.
He will shepherd His own with the greatest of tenderness, care and compassion. Divine lovingkindness.
For He is not just God’s emissary, He is God’s only begotten Son.
Come to those of us who are the very least of all mankind – suffering all humility – taking our sins upon Himself, that He might raise us up together with Himself in eternal glory.
This beloved, is the Christmas story.
Oh come, Let us adore Him.