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We’re going to begin our message today by talking a little about prophets and prophecy.
The job of a prophet is to announce God’s Word. Sometimes that Word has to do with things that have already taken place. Sometimes that Word deals with things that are currently happening. And sometimes a prophet speak of things yet to come.
When most people think of prophecy, they think of Predictive Prophesy. Prophecy that foretells events that haven’t yet taken place. The Greek word for “prophecy” is made from two words smooshed together—“before” and “saying”. It literally means, “a before saying.”
THE PURPOSE OF PROPHESY
Predictive Prophecy serves both the people who live before, and people who live after, its fulfillment.
For those living before, Predictive Prophecy engenders hope. When Adam and Eve heard that the Lord would crush the power of Satan through one of Eve’s descendants, they were given hope through that first Gospel prophecy.
Those living after a Predictive Prophesy is fulfilled receive reassurance of God’s faithfulness as well as validation that God’s wisdom and power transcend space and time.
TYPICAL AND DIRECT PROPHESY
There are two basic types of Predictive Prophecy: Direct Prophecy and Typical Prophesy. A Direct Prophecy is fulfilled by ONE person or event. Typical Prophecy is fulfilled by more than one individual at different times in history. However, even though Typical Prophesy may be fulfilled by more than one individual, it finds its ultimate fulfillment in One person or event. For example, in our Old Testament reading for today a Typical Prophesy was announced to king David. We read…
“Also the Lord tells you that He will make you a house.
12 “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15 But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”” (2 Samuel 7:11-16 NKJV).
When king David wanted to build a temple for the Lord to replace the worship-tent they had been using, God told him “no”. Instead God prophesied the coming of one of David’s sons who would…
· Have a kingdom
· Build a house for the Lord’s name
· Have the throne of his kingdom established forever
· Be the Lord’s son
· Be chastened if he sinned
· Not have the Lord’s mercy fully removed because of sin
The question is, does this prophecy refer to David’s son Solomon, or does it refer to David’s later son, Jesus Christ? The answer is both. Solomon built a physical Temple for the Lord, but Christ builds the eternal house of God in people’s hearts, through the Gospel message. Solomon was a “son” of the Lord by faith, but Jesus Christ is the Son of God by substance, from eternity. Solomon and his descendents were indeed chastened by the Lord for their sinful departures from God’s Word. And yet their line was not extinguished because the promised Savior had to come from David’s family tree. Jesus Christ was also chastened, even punished fully for sins—though they were not his own sins. Christ experienced hell on the cross when he stood in the place of all sinners. And yet, when this payment was complete, three days later, the Lord raised his Son from the dead. Even though the Lord punished Christ on the cross, he was not abandoned forever.
Solomon is called a “type” of Christ because he fulfilled this Christ-prophecy in a small way. Jesus Christ later fulfilled this prophecy in the most complete way. This is how Typical Prophecy works. Smaller “types” fulfill the prophecy before the most complete fulfiller comes.
PROPHETIC FORESHADOWING IN ACTUAL HISTORY
Sometimes Predictive Prophecy is made so that the hearers will be able to act when an event is about to take place. For example, Christ told his disciples about certain signs that would precede the destruction of Jerusalem so that they might recognize these signs and escape before the Roman army surrounded the city. But more often, Predictive Prophecy is simply God calling his shots so that afterward people will know this was no chance happening—this was the Lord’s hand in action.
The Bible tells us the Old Testament is full of “shadows of the good things to come”. What that means is, God used the actual events of Old Testament history, to foreshadow more significant events to come. These foreshadowings served to give hope to God’s people as they waited for the promised Savior. And these foreshadowings still serve us today by verifying that God’s hand has been preparing our salvation—and has now finished that work in Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament way of worship, with all its animal sacrifices foreshadowed the great sacrifice God’s Son would offer on the cross.
In Colossians it says…
“16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17 NKJV).
Even the Old Testament days of rest and worship were shadows of things to come. The religious festivals and Sabbaths, on which the people rested and worshipped foreshadowed the peace that each believer finds in Christ.
UNDERSTANDING THE PROPHESIES IN MATTHEW 2:13-23
Now, we’ve been reviewing all this stuff about Predictive Prophecy, and Typical vs. Direct Prophecy in order to help us understand our sermon reading for today. Our sermon reading speaks of the flight into Egypt. As we read, listen for the different kinds of prophesy we just talked about.
Matthew 2:13-23 (NKJV)
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”
19 Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
In the account of the flight to Egypt, we find a number of prophesies, some of them Typical Prophecies.
First off, after the wise men visited the Christ Child and presented their gifts in reverent worship, they were warned by God not to return to King Herod. Herod wanted to use the wise men to find the newborn King so that he could kill him. Simple minded Herod saw the Christ Child as a threat to his reign.
So, an angel was sent to Joseph, and away they fled to Egypt. Matthew notes that this event was guided by the very hand of the Lord so that what had been foretold in the past would come true in its greatest sense. Through the Old Testament prophet Hosea God had said…
“11 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son” (Hosea 11:1 NKJV).
At the time when this prophecy was originally spoken, this had already happened. God had called Israel out of Egypt. Moses had gone down to the enslaved Israelites and had led them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. But in Christ’s time this Typical Prophecy was fulfilled in a greater sense. It wasn’t just God’s figurative “son” that was called out of Egypt, but his actual Son, the eternal Son whose human name is Jesus.
This example of prophecy and fulfillment serves to strengthen our faith in God’s promise keeping ability. First God called Israel out of Egyptian slavery to a new and bountiful land. Then God called his only-begotten-Son out of Egypt to return to Judea. And now, God has called us through the Gospel to live no longer in the land of sin, and condemnation, but to live in the land of forgiveness and justification through Christ. And this prophesy will be fulfilled one more time on the Last Day when God calls all his faithful followers to live beside him in the promised land of heaven.
When Herod found out that the wise men weren’t coming back to him, he was enraged, and tried to carry out his plan to extinguish the Christ’s life. He ordered the execution of any child that had been born around the same time. Matthew notes that another Typical Prophesy was fulfilled in this tragic event. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had said,
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15 NKJV).
Ramah was a town about five miles north of Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, when Jerusalem was conquered and the Israelites led captive to Babylon, they passed through this town on the way. There must have been much weeping and sorrow, for before Jerusalem was finally conquered, many had died at the hands of the Babylonian armies.
At the time of Christ, this “weeping prophesy” was again fulfilled. Herod’s rampage left the unspeakable carnage of many dead children. Once again, there was much weeping in Ramah.
And yet, this dark prophesy has a light of hope along its edge. The Babylonian Captivity, which caused the first weeping, did not last forever. A remnant of the people returned to Israel, after a time, and from that remnant the Savior of the world was eventually born.
Furthermore, we are given hope today. Just as Herod was not able to extinguish the life of our Savior before his time had come, so also we are assured by God’s Word that a remnant of faithful followers will remain in this world until the Last Day. The light of the Gospel will continue to call sinners to forgiveness and life in Christ. And finally, the remnant of God’s followers will be called to eternal peace and glory at God’s side in heaven where there will be no more weeping and sorrow among God’s redeemed children.
The final prophesy that Matthew relates is a little different than the first two we’ve addressed. When Herod was dead, God sent an angel to tell Joseph to return to Palestine with his family. Upon returning, Joseph learned that Herod’s son Archelaus was ruling in Judea. So, instead of returning to Bethlehem, Joseph took his family north to a little back-water village called Nazareth. Matthew tells us that yet another prophesy was fulfilled here. A prophesy that had been spoken by a number of different prophets.
If you search the Old Testament for a specific prophecy that says, “He shall be called a Nazarene” you won’t find one. The statement that the Christ would grow up in Nazareth simply wasn’t made in the Old Testament. However, if we look a little closer, we can see what Matthew was talking about.
Over and over in the Old Testament it was predicted that the Savior would be despised by the people. In Psalm 22 the Savior himself says…
“6 But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6 NKJV).
In Isaiah 49, the Redeemer of Israel is called…
“…Him whom man despises…Whom the nation abhors…” (Isaiah 49:7 NKJV).
Isaiah again describes the Savior in chapter 53, saying…
“3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV).
When Jesus began to reveal himself as the promised Christ during his ministry, his enemies seized on the opportunity to remind everyone where he came from. That he was a mere Nazarene. Nothing good came from Nazareth. It was a piddly back-water city not noted in the Old Testament even a single time. The title “Jesus of Nazareth” served to simply indicate which Jesus this was, the one who came from Nazareth. But, to those who hated Jesus it also served as a title of insult and disgrace, “Jesus—OF NAZARETH.” Thus was fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy that proclaimed that the Christ would be despised by the people.
When Joseph made the decision to turn aside and settle his family in Nazareth, he just wanted to put them in a safe, easily overlooked location. But the Lord of Heaven was working behind the scenes, even in this. And this fact should also strengthen our faith in the power of God. In the Old Testament, God guided the actual events of history to foreshadow the work of salvation which his Son would do. And in the life of Jesus, God was continually working so that each Direct Prophecy, and every Typical Prophecy was fulfilled. Through these foreshadowings and fulfillments God draws our attention to his great work of saving us through Christ.
So, how has the Lord guided your life to this day? What has he caused to happen so that you have been led to just the right place, at just the right time, to see your sin and your Savior from sin? And how has the Lord guided your life to help bring others the knowledge of salvation through Christ?
Some people wonder what we’ll fill our days with in heaven. Perhaps God will take some time to show us just how he worked in the lives of each redeemed sinner to carry out his master plan of bringing salvation to the world. What a feature presentation that would be.
But for now, lets just take comfort in the lessons God has given us here in the simple story of the flight into Egypt. God’s plan of salvation was predicted and foreshadowed in so many ways. And his every promise and prediction was fulfilled. The Christ Child, though hated and despised, was not allowed to die until he had suffered on the cross for each and every sin we have ever committed. Only after our debt was fully paid did he speak those precious words…
“…It is finished…” (John 19:30 NKJV).
It was then that Satan’s power was shattered. With our sins forgiven, Satan no longer has any charge to make against us that can stick. Praise be to our gracious, and all powerful God who has painted prophecy and fulfillment right into events of human history. May his skilful and beautiful craftsmanship serve to give us hope, and strengthen our faith in our great Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.