Matthew 2:13-18 The Coming Opposition

Preached Sunday 12th December 2010

Click here to download the Bible study in PDF format.

READ Matthew 2:13-18

We are in the season of advent, and thinking about the opposition Christ faced even from his birth.

READ 1John 3:13 and John 15:18

QUESTION: What do these verses warn Christians about?

As Christians we don’t want to be hated; we don’t need to be hated; we won’t be hated by everyone; and we won’t be hated all the time.  But if we are hated, the Bible teaches us a) not to be surprised, and b) to bear in mind it hated Christ first.

At the very beginning of his life, Jesus was hated and Herod determined to kill him. In our sinful world there can be a powerful and malicious reaction to the presence of Jesus.  And what was true for him will be true for his followers as well, as the Spirit of Christ is in us.

Barnabas Fund supports Christians facing persecution.  They say in their Autumn 2010 magazine:

“In many parts of the non-Western world, Christians find that persecution is part of their regular experience.  Whether this takes the form of pressure or discrimination, harassment or violence, they must always be prepared for it.  Christians in the West often suppose that they do not – and never will – suffer for their faith, and so they do not need to be ready.  But now the Western churches are facing several serious challenges: from a belligerent and shrill secularism, from the growth of political Islam, and from legislation that threatens our basic freedoms.  It is more and more evident that, like our brothers and sisters elsewhere, we must be ready to suffer for our faith.”

QUESTION: Can you think of any examples of Christians facing opposition in this country?

Main Points

1. Why was there opposition?

The simple answer here is that Herod was threatened by the possibility of another king who might overturn Herod’s dynasty.  The fact he totally misunderstood Jesus Christ didn’t come into the equation as Jesus was never going to be an earthly king.  Matthew 2:3, “King Herod … was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”  Herod and his people were full of anxiety about the birth of another king; Herod decided the boy should be killed.  He hoped to find out the whereabouts of Jesus through the Magi, but he was outwitted by them, and so he ordered for all boys 2 years old and under in the region to be killed.  This is traditionally known as the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Click here to see an example of a painting of the Slaughter of the Innocents by

Opposition to Christ can be difficult for us to understand.  First, why should anyone want to kill an innocent baby?  And when Jesus grew up, why was he hatred so much by the religious leaders that they wanted to kill him?  Acts 10:38 tells us that, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.”  Why would they want to oppose and kill such a person?

QUESTION: Why do you think Christians can face opposition?

READ: John 7:7

There can be many reasons (or excuses,) but in John’s gospel Jesus tells us the real and root reason for hatred against Christ and his followers.

READ: John 3:19

Herod was a very wicked man; somehow even the presence of the infant Christ caused him to react.  Isaiah 37:28 can be applied to Herod.  The Lord says, “But I know where you stay and when you come and go and how you rage against me.”  There was a rage in Herod’s heart against God.  And a rage against God is a rage against his Christ.     It’s a spiritual matter; it’s totally irrational and can be unconscious.  When we face opposition, we need to remember the real reason is a spiritual rage and hatred against God.  John Wesley said, “As the love of God is inseparable from faith, so is the hatred of God from unbelief.”

QUESTION: Have you ever experienced an irrational reaction to you as a Christian?

2. How should we respond to opposition?

The Bible teaches us ways we should respond to opposition such as “Bless those who persecute you” [Matthew 5:44].  But I want to keep the passage, so let’s see how Joseph responded to the opposition.

READ: Matthew 2:13-15

Joseph and Mary had their first child, and had received very special visitors from the east.  We can imagine they knew Herod was a baddy.  They may well have been on their guard; but they weren’t aware of the immediate danger.

Then Joseph heard from God as the Lord spoke to him in a dream.  This is the important lesson for us.  One way to prepare for opposition is by learning as a church to hear from God.  We need the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 12.  Dreams are just one way in which God can speak to us.

DISCUSS: Discuss times when God has spoken to you and how this has helped you make decisions.

The spiritual gifts can be misused, and they have been misused.  But just because something can be misused doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it.  You can drown someone in water; that doesn’t mean we should ban water.  What is important is how you use it.  We need the spiritual gifts that are from God.  They are not an optional extra; not as toys to play with; they are absolutely essential to fulfil his plan – the great commission.  Think about it: for Joseph, the survival of his family depended on hearing from God; God’s plan of salvation for Jesus depended on Joseph hearing from God.

We need to draw near to God, and to cultivate our relationship with God in prayer and reading the Bible. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to teach us to hear his voice and use his gifts; we need to be prepared to be obedient, even if it seems a bit foolish.

Joseph didn’t waste any time.  He woke up from his dream, packed their bags immediately, and fled that same night.  It seems to me there are two narratives in the Bible in regard to opposition.  One, like here, is to flee.  There are plenty of other examples.  When persecution broke out in the early church in Jerusalem the Christians had to run, but it had the effect of spreading the gospel.   The other narrative is to stand firm, as with David and Goliath, and to know the battle is the LORD’s.  Both situations are true.  Each situation is different which is why we need to listen to the Lord.  We should remember the Iraqi Christians who are just in this dilemma now.

PRAY: Ask the Lord to help you grow as a Christian.  Ask the Holy Spirit to be your teacher in regard to the things of God.

3. What is God’s purpose in the opposition?

If we can see a purpose in suffering, it helps us to endure and makes it worthwhile.  If we lose our sense of purpose we lose hope as well.

Joseph and Mary have had to run for their lives; lots of baby boys have been murdered.   We might ask, where is God in all this?   The question we usually ask is, “Why do the innocent suffer?”  But Matthew isn’t a philosopher; he’s a pastor.  He is concerned to give pastoral help for suffering Christians and seeing God’s purposes in it all.  This is what we really need.

What sort of pastoral help does Matthew offer?

READ: Matthew 2:13

First we notice that God says to Joseph, “Stay there until I tell you.”  God had his hand upon Joseph and the family in Egypt.  It was Brother Francis who said, “Suffering is a not a question that demands an answer; it is a mystery that demands a presence.”  God was with Joseph and Mary, and he is with you.  He has promised, “Never will I leave you and never will I forsake you” [Hebrews 13:5].  They were to stay in Egypt until they hear from God again.  They were not to move until they had fresh orders from God.  We need to be similarly dependent on the Lord.

READ: Matthew 2:16-18

Second, Matthew quotes from the Old Testament, twice in v15 & v18, saying, “And so was fulfilled what the Lord said through the prophet.”  When Matthew’s quotes from the Old Testament he is not just trying to show us how accurate the Old Testament is.   He’s a pastor.  He is saying something like this, “I know this is a difficult situation, but I want to show you what God is doing.”

Let’s look at first fulfilment scripture is Matthew 2:15, “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”

QUESTION: How can this verse about the Exodus be relevant in this situation?

The verse from Hosea refers originally to God calling the Hebrew people out of Egypt.   Matthew uses this verse to explain what God is doing in the life of Jesus.  Even though Joseph and Mary are fleeing for their lives, God has a purpose.  Matthew sees the whole history of God’s people being recapitulated in God’s Son.  Jesus is the true Israel, who will come up out of Egypt.  Jesus the Messiah will save us from our spiritual Egypt.   It’s all part of God’s plan of salvation.  In a situation of opposition God’s sovereign purposes are being worked out.   The same is true for us; we shouldn’t be taken by surprise and we need to see know God is working his purposes out.

But what are these purposes?  The second fulfilment in Matthew 2:18 gives us a clue. In Matthew 2V16-17, Matthew tells about the slaughter of the innocents.  The innocent children were certainly martyrs, suffering for the sake of Christ and theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   Then Matthew quotes 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.”

QUESTION: Who was Rachel?  Where was Ramah?  Why does Matthew quite this verse in this context?

Rachel was the much loved wife of Jacob.  She died in great sorrow giving birth to her second son Benjamin.  In death she gave life to Benjamin.   The territory of the Benjaminites included Bethlehem and nearby town of Rama was in; Rachel’s tomb was in Ramah.

The quote is referring to the time of exile during Babylonian captivity.  The mothers of the Benjaminites saw their sons being marched through Rama away to Babylon, and there was weeping and great mourning.   Figuratively it was as if Rachel was weeping for the children she loved.  The exile was a time of great grief and pain.  Yet God’s purpose, as indicated by the prophet, was for renewal.  Life would come out of death; blessing out of pain.  70 years later the exiles returned.  The event is recorded in the Psalm 126:1-3.

READ: Psalm 126:1-3

Matthew’s message is clear.  Even though there is suffering and there will be suffering, God’s plan and purpose, even in his Son, is to bring resurrection life out of death.  For Christians, suffering is always temporary.  There will be an end, so we need endurance.

Even though Rachel was not comforted and refused to be comforted, we should certainly be comforted by this fact.

Even the Apostle Paul, who suffered more than most of are likely, called his suffering and light and momentary affliction.

READ: 2Corinthains 4:17

DISCUSS: How do these thoughts comfort us?

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