Sermon on Matthew 2:13-18
Text: When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “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.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “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.”
In July of 2013, the world waited with bated breath for the announcement of the birth of the baby of Prince William and Duchess Katherine. The amount of news coverage on this birth was, to me, remarkable. It is estimated that there are more than 370,000 babies born every day around the world. What made this birth so important? It is because the child, George, is of royal blood. Simply because he was born, he is now third in line for the royal crown of England. Maybe, the pomp and circumstance of the royals is lost to us because we do not have a king. This morning, as we take note of this tragic account that is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, we see THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING. We will observe as 1. Herod Moves To Retain His Throne and as 2. God Moves To Establish His Son. Having done this, we will have the opportunity to ask ourselves 3. Who Is The King Of My Life?
This account takes place immediately after the Magi left the place where Mary and Joseph were staying with the child Jesus. You may recall that, before they came to Bethlehem, they stopped at Jerusalem. They inquired of King Herod where the one was who had been born King of the Jews. Upon this inquiry, we read “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed.” King Herod was the ruler of the southern portion of Palestine called Judea. In order to understand his actions in our text, you need to know something about King Herod. First of all, he was not a Jew. He was a foreigner, an Idumean, who got himself appointed as the king. He was not born to this position. Secondly, Herod became increasingly paranoid toward the end of his life that someone would take his throne. To give you an idea of what Herod was like, we read in the history books that he had his brother-in-law, the high priest drowned, and then pretended to mourn at the public funeral that Herod provided. He had his wife, mother-in-law, and three of his sons put to death, because he thought they were trying to take his throne. We even read that, just before he died, he imprisoned the most prominent people of Jerusalem. He gave the orders that, when he died, they were to execute these prominent people to assure that there would be mourning in Jerusalem at the time of his death.
It is no wonder that, when the Magi asked where the King of Jews was, Herod would be so greatly disturbed. After he found out from the book of Micah that this King would be born in Bethlehem, he told the Magi to make a careful search for the child and report back to him, after they found him. He said that he, too, wanted to worship the King. As we see from the subsequent events, it was all a ruse to try and find this King, so that he could do away with him.
When it became clear that the Magi were not coming back, Herod devised such a heinous plan that is beyond our ability to understand. It says that “He was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” He was going to get rid of this rival for the throne, once and for all. This is not to say that Jesus was two years old at this time. Rather, Herod was giving himself a generous margin of error to make sure that this child would be killed. It is estimated that there were between fifteen and thirty little boys that were killed as a result of Herod’s orders. No doubt, he thought to himself, better to sacrifice a few children than to permit a bloody revolution when the newborn king would attempt to seize the throne later on.
Matthew points to this as a fulfilment of a prophecy from Jeremiah, “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.” Rachel was one of the wives of Jacob. She was dearly loved by Jacob and had died giving birth to Benjamin near what would later become Bethlehem. Rachel is pictured as mourning from her grave over the people as they were gathered at Ramah to be taken into exile in Babylon. God reveals this tragedy as being fulfillment of the prophecy from Jeremiah as these children were “no more” as a result of Herod’s attempt to retain his throne and get rid of someone whom he thought would be a rival to his throne.
Yet, God shows that he is in control of all things, as he cares for his Son. It says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘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.’” God knows all things and is going to make sure that the Savior of the world would be kept safe. He sends this warning to Joseph, who is to take the child to safety in Egypt. This is not the first time that God’s people had gone for refuge to Egypt. Abraham and, later his grandson, Jacob, went to Egypt in time of famine. Again, Matthew sees a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy in this as he quotes from Hosea 11, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Just as God was at work, behind the scenes as the nation of Israel was brought out of Egypt in God’s good time, so his Son, Jesus, would be brought back to the land of Israel under God’s protecting hand. God was not going to allow Herod to disrupt the plans he had for establishing his Son’s eternal kingdom.
We are reminded in Psalm 2, “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.” King Herod, as well as others through history, have tried to usurp the authority of God. They try to do things that are against what God wants. Yet, as the psalm continues, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” The Lord looks at them, shaking his head, asking them, ‘Who do you think you are to try and usurp the authority that I have given my Son?’ We read of the establishment of the kingdom of Christ in Ephesians 1, “[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”
This is how Christ’s kingdom was established. When Jesus came to the earth to be our Savior, he did everything necessary for our salvation. He lived a perfect life. He willingly went to the cross to pay for our sins. He showed that he was triumphant in his conquest as he rose from the dead. Because Jesus did all of these things, as we say in the Second Article of the Apostles Creed, he is “sitting at the right hand of God the Father.” His kingdom will never end. Though there have been and will continue to be rivals to his throne, Jesus’ kingdom will never end. Any rebellion against his throne will, ultimately, be put down.
When we became believers, Jesus made us part of his kingdom. He rules in our hearts right now. However, there continue to be rivals who would try to take his place there. What are those things for you? What are those things that you know are not right, yet you want to do them any way? Many times, we are like Simba in the movie “The Lion King.” In this movie, he sings a song entitled, “I just can’t wait to be king.” He sings about all of the rules he will not have to follow when he gets to be king. What are the rules, commands of God, that you wish you did not have to follow? What would you change if you were the king? Each of us has our own list of things that try to usurp Christ’s reign in our hearts. It might be a relationship that we have with someone that we know isn’t right. It might be the fact that we wink at the sins that others are doing because we don’t want to upset them. It might be the stuff of this world that so fills our hearts that we are not satisfied with what God has given to us. It might be that we find ourselves going through difficult times in our lives and we complain to God, insinuating that he really doesn’t know what he’s doing. This is really nothing new. This is the same temptation that the devil used with Eve in the Garden of Eden. He implied that God was trying to keep Adam and Eve under his thumb by not allowing them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. ‘You deserve better than you are getting. If you were in charge, think of how much better your life would be.’ Tragically, when we allow these things to rule in our hearts, we are rebelling against God. Any act of rebellion will not be overlooked. Because of these acts of rebellion, we should be cast out of Christ’s presence forever.
However, it is exactly because of these acts of rebellion that Jesus came to the earth. This is the entire point of the Christmas story. Jesus came to the earth to rescue you from your sins. He came to live for you, to die for you and rise again. When you were brought to faith, he came into your heart to reign. He helps us in our struggle for supremacy in our hearts. The Apostle Paul spoke of the struggle that all Christians face in Romans 7, “I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” How often haven’t we felt like that! We want to do things God’s way. We want to keep Christ at the center of our lives, filling our lives with thankfulness for all that he has done for us. Yet we, so often, struggle. We come to the same conclusions as Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” As Paul looks for help in his situation, he finds it in the same place that we can, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” On our own, we are powerless to stand up against all these usurpers to Christ’s throne in our hearts. With his help, as we are strengthened through his Word and the Sacraments, we can stand firm and have Jesus reign without rival in our hearts.
Throughout history, there have been rulers who have monikers attached to their names that describe their reign. For example, there was Richard the Lionhearted, who obviously was brave in battle. In Martin Luther’s time, there was an Elector who was called “Frederick the Wise.” Those are very flattering names to be given. However, there was a king in England who was known as “Charles the Pretender.” The people disputed his claim to the English throne. They felt that he had usurped the throne from its rightful heir. There are many that would try to usurp the throne of Christ in our hearts. May he help us to keep a close watch out for them, so that they do not take that place in our hearts. In closing, we pray using the words of the first verse of the hymn, “Jesus, Your Boundless Love to me”:
Jesus, your boundless love to me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare.
Dwell in my heart eternally,
And reign without a rival there.
To you alone, dear Lord, I live;
Myself to you, dear Lord, I give. Amen.
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