God Strengthens Our Faith - Matthew 2:13-23

For a Jewish person living during the time when Matthew wrote this gospel, it had been a long wait. A lengthy time longing for God to help Israel. About 600 years had passed since the throne of King David had been conquered and dissolved. Israel was no longer a free nation. They were controlled by whatever empire was on top, changed hands like bags of groceries, with no apparent end to their exile in sight. They wanted the land and freedom God had previously given them and taken away because of their sin. And for many, their faith had no doubt grown weak – faith that God still reigned and had not given up on them.

God Strengthens Our Faith - Matthew 2:13-23


Isn’t that what hard times tend to do to all of us?

Life’s difficulties cause us to grow weak in our faith that God is in control.

We start to doubt his power and his love. We fear that God has left us. Maybe you’ve been urged to just dig down deep and “have more faith.” But you try and you can’t seem to. The Scriptures don’t appear to describe people as the producers of faith.
Ephesians 2 says that faith is ultimately a gift of God. God gives faith, and

And naturally, God strengthens faith, especially during difficulty. So we should look to him to make our faith stronger. 

But how does God strengthen our faith? Matthew shows us three ways here:
God deepens our understanding of our helplessness,
he heightens our awareness of our enemy,
and he builds our confidence in our Substitute.

Looking at these verses in Matthew, we see one specific way that God strengthens faith:
through looking at the way in which he has worked in redemptive history past. His plans highlight the material from which God strengthens our faith. Matthew shows us that God carried out his saving plan in a recurring pattern. Nowadays, more and more churches are talking about the one continuous story of Scripture, which is wonderful. However, we must also talk about how the second part of that story (the NT part) looks amazingly like the first part (or, OT part). There is clear repetition, only the second part is much, much better. This is the emphasis of Matthew in verses 13-23. The NT part is the fulfillment of what was pointed to or foreshadowed in the OT part. As Matthew wrote his gospel, he continually made special effort to call attention to how much the life and ministry of Jesus Christ mirrored the history of the OT people of Israel. He wanted those Jews who were waiting and longing for God to see the ways in which Israel was what the Bible calls a “type” of Jesus Christ, which means that in certain ways, OT Israel prefigured Jesus Christ.

So OT Israel did things according to God’s plan, that Jesus later did, only Jesus did them better. It’s not a case of God being unable to accomplish his plans through Israel, and so he had to regroup and try again with Jesus. It’s not a case of OT Israel playing by one set of rules, and the NT church playing by another set. It’s a “lesser to greater” comparison which emphasizes the glory of God in Christ. Many times in Matthew we will see Jesus making these “lesser to greater” comparisons.

For instance, in Matthew 6, Jesus says that his followers should not be anxious about food and clothing. Why? Because if God cares for the flowers, how much more must he care for them. Or in Matthew 7, Jesus says that God will give good gifts to his children. How do we know? Because, Jesus says, if people, who are sinful, know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more must God desire and be able to give good gifts to his children. Arguing from the lesser to the greater.  There are many other “lesser to greater” comparisons made throughout the Bible. For example, the NT describes Jesus as “the second Adam.” 

Jesus Christ succeeded in a role in which Adam, the first man, failed. Romans 5 says, “…if, because of one man's trespass (that is, Adam’s sin), death reigned through that one man (Adam), much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Therefore, Jesus is the true and better Adam to represent us.

Adam is a “type” of Christ, to use the word Paul uses there in Romans 5. We call the study of this “typology.” These are more than coincidences. They are signs pointing to marvelous realities and they are effective in God’s strengthening of our faith. So let’s look closer at Matthew 2.

First, God strengthens our faith by deepening our understanding of our helplessness.

An angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells Joseph they must flee to Egypt. Egypt would be far enough away for safety, and out of the evil Herod’s jurisdiction. Since God is all-knowing, he foresees that the life of Jesus is in danger.
Jesus was a helpless baby. While still fully God, he was also fully human, and he could die. Notice what Matthew says in verse 14 about this flight to Egypt: “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Now, prophecies about the Messiah were not new, but this one was different. How?Well, it comes from Hosea 11 in the OT. Hosea was a prophet.

Listen to the passage as it is stated in Hosea: The LORD says “[1] When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. [2] The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.”

This refers to God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. I want you to take notice of two things here: One, unlike most prophecies, this is something that has already taken place. Israel already left Egypt. And two, God refers to the people of Israel as his son. God had done so before. Exodus 4, God tells Moses, “you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, [23] and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”

But later, Exodus 8, “the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”

That group of people was viewed by God as his dear son. God delivered them from bondage in Egypt, but why were they in Egypt in the first place? God took them there. They found deliverance from famine there, and they remained there 400 years according to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15.

God brought them into Egypt because they were helpless. Their lives were in danger. The same is true of Jesus here in Matthew 2. In order to fulfill his role as the true and better Israel, Jesus was brought into and then out of Egypt. In this way, he fulfilled the words of the prophet Hosea. We’ll see in Matthew over the weeks to come that while Israel had rebelled and gone after other gods rather than worship the one true God, Jesus would remain faithful. Jesus is the true and better son of God. What would a first-century Jew think when hearing this from Matthew? Well, they knew that Israel as a people had failed. That was why they were in exile. They were essentially in the same shape they were in before God delivered them from Egypt. As we read earlier in Isaiah 53, they were told the Messiah would bear the guilt of sins.
We stopped with verse 10, but let me read verse 11 to you:  [11] Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous.”

The righteousness of the Messiah is accounted to, or credited to, his people. Where did Jesus get his righteousness? He lived it. He earned it. It wouldn’t do for the eternal Son of God to be born a baby and die in infancy for the sins of his people. He had to live an obedient life and die an obedient death because we are helpless to do that for ourselves.

Think about the last time you were very sick with something like stomach flu or a virus, when you want to vomit just to temporarily relieve your nausea. It’s awful. You just want to get well. You’re a pitiful sight. I normally notice when I’m sick like that how I had forgotten just how good it felt to be well. In your sick state, now you can see. With your helplessness in view, you realize how wonderful it is to be healthy.

In Romans 5, Paul says that while we were still weak Christ died for us. While we were still feeble, still ailing from sin, still debilitated, still…helpless. To be strengthened by God in your faith during difficult times, you must reflect on your naturally helpless state as a sinner separated from God. Jesus died the death of a helpless sinner to lead you out of bondage to sin. We call Moses’ leading of Israel out of Egypt the “exodus.”
Temporary freedom from physical bondage. Jesus led a true and better exodus. Eternal freedom from spiritual bondage.
God conducted redemptive history in this way to gives us signs, to help us understand.
Like the teachers in each of these classrooms. They employ numerous tools and means to teach these children. In a similar way, God uses numerous tools to teach his children and strengthen our faith.

Also, God strengthens our faith by heightening our awareness of our enemy.

Verse [16] describes Herod’s evil plans to eliminate God’s deliverer. Notice the parallel here with the Egyptian Pharaoh’s command in Exodus 1 to kill the Hebrew baby boys because the Israelites were growing in number and becoming a threat. That event in Exodus 1, and the event here in Matthew 2, are two of many instances in Scripture of something foretold in Genesis 3. In Gen. 3, after the serpent tempts Eve and she and Adam fall into sin, God confronts them in judgement and says this to Satan, the serpent: [15] I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

So literally between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman there will be hostility. But while the seed of the serpent will not inflict a mortal wound, the seed of the woman will inflict a fatal blow on Satan. We see this play out over the course of Biblical history, in fact, in the next chapter. Genesis 4, Cain and Abel. But Cain, who kills his brother, is a child from the same mother, Eve. However, Cain rejects God. God tells Cain, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you (or toward you), but you must rule over it.” Cain was, in effect, the seed of the serpent. Jesus no doubt had this conflict between seeds in mind when he told the Jewish religious leaders in John 8, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning.”

The enmity between the two seeds is seen over and over. Cain and Abel. Joseph and his brothers. The Pharoah and the Hebrews, particularly Moses,David and Goliath, the Philistines and the Israelites, David and Saul; here with Herod and Jesus. Jake pointed out two weeks that Herod was not from the royal line of David. He’s not even an Israelite. He was an Edomite, descended from Esau. Esau who had vowed to kill Jacob.

Remember Jacob, whose name was later changed by God – to Israel. Satan is behind the scenes here working through his seed. Notice verse [17], Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: [18] “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.” This is a quote from Jeremiah 31. He grieves their exile to Babylon in 722 B.C., as the people of Israel were led away. Jeremiah pictures Rachel, the wife of Jacob, weeping for their suffering. Here again in Matthew, it is as if Rachel weeps for the suffering children of Israel. In the next part of Jeremiah, the prophet foresees the return from exile. And Matthew is referencing that return from exile here. Not a temporary return, but an eternal one through Jesus, the deliverer who survives the massacre just as Moses survived the Egyptian massacre to deliver Israel from Egypt.

The general message is this: the enemy of God’s people have always been a reality. Psalm 2 says, [2] The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed.” In difficult times, it’s natural to look at things purely in earthly terms. I don’t recommend blaming everything in your life on demons, but the demonic is real. The Scriptures of both OT and NT describe both a physical and spiritual reality. They describe not only earthly enemies, but a spiritual enemy. For that reason, the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6, [11] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. [12] For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Have you considered your spiritual enemy? As followers of Jesus Christ, we live in war times. These are not times of peace. In every seemingly peaceful neighborhood, lives are falling apart. In Revelation, the apostle John’s vision of the last days, in which we currently live, he describes redemptive history – Satan thrown out of heaven. 
These are figurative images of a very real enemy and war on those born again in Jesus Christ.

John writes, [9] the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.And John says, [13] when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child…[15] The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. [16] But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. [17] Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”

Are you aware of the enemy’s work in your difficult times? He wants to destroy your faith, your purity, your relationships, your fellowship with God and believers, your marriage, your hope, your life. God heightens your awareness of him in order to strengthen your faith.

And finally, God strengthens our faith by building our confidence in our Substitute.

In these final verses of Matthew 2, Herod dies and an angel of the Lord tells Joseph
they can return home. But the son of Herod now rules, and so instead of going back to Judea, Joseph is instructed in yet another dream to go to Galilee. 
Notice verse [23] “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.”
This is fascinating. There is no exact verse which this fulfills, but notice that Matthew says, “what was spoken by the prophets.” Landing in Nazareth summarized a key message about the Messiah, because of how people viewed Nazarenes. They were despised. In John 1, when hearing that the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael sarcastically says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Repeatedly, the OT prophets emphasize that the Messiah will be despised, subject to scorn. Why? Because from birth, he was to take the role of a humble, lowly servant to atone for the sins of his people. He was doing this as the Substitute for his people, who, regardless of earthly wealth and status, are naturally shameful and despicable in the sight of a holy God because of our sin.

J.I. Packer writes, “The presentation of the death of Christ as the substitute exhibits the love of the cross more richly, fully, gloriously, and glowingly than any other account of it. Martin Luther saw this and gloried in it. He once wrote to a friend: "Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him, and say, 'Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You became what you were not, so that I might become what I was not.'"

In difficulty, where is your confidence that God is with you? God constructed redemptive history in this way, so that seeing your own helplessness and your enemy’s hatred, you would see also the glory of the Lord Jesus, your Substitute. Hebrews 4 says that Jesus is not the kind of Savior who is “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Our faith wavers in difficulty. Jesus’ did not. Can you say with certainty that by his wounds you have been healed? If not, admit to God you are a sinner, turn from your sin and trust in Jesus as your substitute. And if so, then look to him again today, worship him, renew your commitment to him, and be made strong in your faith, not by your power, but by the power of God Almighty. 

Let’s pray.