Christmas Pleasure Amidst Worldly Pain - Radical

Christmas Pleasure Amidst Worldly Pain

Christmas can be a difficult time for many people. For Christians, there is hope in the midst of hurt and life in the midst of death. In this message on Matthew 2:13–23, Pastor David Platt provides us three reasons for rejoicing at Christmas.

  1. Jesus inaugurates the new exodus.
  2. Jesus ends the mournful exile.
  3. Jesus loves His fiercest enemies.

If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, I invite you to open with me to Matthew 2 and pull out those notes that are in your Worship Guide you received when you came in. Don’t worry, I’m not going to have a seat and get settled in for the next hour. I know what it is like to have children together in worship. I know what it’s like to come prepared with plenty of little snacks that will last as long as possible while that guy on stage is talking. So I want to involve children and students, for that matter, this morning. I want to tell you a Christmas story and show you how that Christmas story goes back hundreds and hundreds of years. And in the process hopefully, I pray, you’ll see in a fresh way the significance of what we celebrate this morning, probably a way that you’ve not thought of before. 

So our story this morning begins in the text (we’re not going to read through it) but this is the story and then I’m going to make reference to a few different verses there so hold your Bible open. But our story begins after the wise men have left visiting Jesus. So we know that happened a little bit after. The nativity scene is officially ruined. After they had come, they had been told by Herod to come back and share with Herod (King Herod) where Jesus had been born. But they were warned by an angel in a dream not to do that and so they went home a different way. 

At the same time, Joseph had a dream in which God made it clear to him that he needed to take his family to Egypt because King Herod wanted to kill Jesus. And so in the middle of the night, Joseph took his wife and his Son and they began to make the journey—75 to 100 miles—from Bethlehem to Egypt. You thought your Christmas travels were rough. Imagine walking 100 miles with your wife and Son and a camel. And so they journeyed to Egypt and were there. Meanwhile, Herod, infuriated because the wise men had not done what he told them to do, decided that he would take all of the boys in Bethlehem—two years old or younger—and have them killed. 

Scholars estimate that there were probably just about 1,000 people that were living in Bethlehem at that time which means somewhere around 10 or 20 families all of a sudden had their sons taken from them and basically slaughtered. You can only imagine the weeping and wailing and the shock that shook that entire town. Time passed. King Herod died and God told Joseph that it was time to bring his family back to the land of Israel. But Herod’s son, Archelaus, had taken over there in Bethlehem and that area and so the Lord told Joseph yet again in a dream to go instead to Nazareth. And so Joseph, Mary and Jesus traveled back to Nazareth, which is the place where Joseph was from, where Joseph and Mary had lived before they came to Bethlehem.

Matthew 2 13–23 Provides Us Three Reasons for Christmas Rejoicing…

Now, three different times in that story Matthew does what we’ve talked about before. He says all of this took place to fulfill what was written by the prophet. And then he quotes from the Old Testament three different times. And in those three times, I want to show you three reasons (you’ve got this at the top of your notes) for Christmas rejoicing. Three reasons that literally go back 3,000 years. And understanding this Christmas story is dependent on understanding Old Testament stories that happened many, many years before that. So I want you to look with me at the three times where Matthew quotes from the Old Testament. Look first in Matthew 2:15. Right after Joseph takes his family to Egypt, Matthew says, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” 

Now, quiz here. Anybody know where that quotation is from in the Old Testament? What book? Hosea. Okay, that was good. We got the audience participation part of our program here, all right? Hosea 11:1. Now for those of you who are lost or are just thinking, “Wow, I just know nothing about the Bible.” Everybody’s got a little note probably in their Bible. 

Somewhere around where it says, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” in the ESV it’s probably right before it. Some of your Bibles it might be right after that. It takes you down to the bottom. It says, “Hosea 11:1.” So instant Bible scholar. Just like that, you know the Bible backwards and forward. “Of course! That’s Hosea 11:1.” 

So Hosea 11:1 is actually part of Hosea where the prophet Hosea is recalling how God delivered His people out of Egypt. And you remember how He did that. He did that through miraculous plagues. Now here is where we’re really going to dive in. And I want to ask some questions. I’ve got ten objects here in this bag representing the ten plagues that God used to deliver His people from Egypt. So I want to walk around the room here and I want to see if I can find a child who can tell me which was the first plague, and then the second plague, and then the third plague, and we’ll go on and on from there. So what child thinks they know what the first plague was that God used to deliver them out of Egypt? And if you get it right then you get that which is in the bag that represents that plague. Okay? 

So you raise your hand when you think you got it. You think you got it? Okay. Right back here. Saw your hand up first. All right. What was the first plague? “The Nile River turned into blood.” Impressive. Very impressive. Now you’ll be glad to know that I do not have blood in this bag to give you. Instead I have a red Gatorade bottle for you. Just don’t drink that in here or else I’ll get in a lot of trouble with folks. So, yes. So first thing that God did is He took the Nile River—a symbol of life in Egypt—and He turned it into a symbol of death. 

Matthew 2 13–23 Presents Many Plagues 

Water turned into blood. So that was the first plague. 

All right. Second plague. I’m going to work my way back here. Okay? You got it right here? All right. Let me come over here. I’ll tell you what. Chad, one of our distinguished elders, the pressure is on. All right. Here we go. What is the second plague? “The frogs.” The frogs. So here we go. I have a frog. Actually, the only frog I could find was actually a dog toy and so it’s a frog that squeaks but it will be hours of fun, hours of fun. No, no, no, no. It’s great. It’s great. Yes, you are very, very welcome. I mean, the most incredible Christmas gift you have ever received. But I thought, in full disclosure, I should tell you it’s actually a dog toy. So God caused frogs to come up out of the water. Frogs everywhere. What’s a bit humorous in that whole story is Pharaoh tells his magicians, “Let’s see if you can do the same thing.” And so the magicians then call out all these frogs to come out…out of the water as well. Which, you would think if Pharaoh was smart he would have said, “Can you tell the frogs to go back in?” Instead, he contributed to the problem and brought more frogs into the picture. So that was the second plague. 

All right, third plague. Who’s got it? You got it? All right. Let me pass this down. All right. What was the third plague? “Gnats?” Gnats. Mary Caroline, you are going to be blessed by what I’m about to give you. And you would have been the most popular person in Egypt if you would have had some Deep Woods Off. When those gnats came on, you would have been everybody’s friend instantly and you would have been prepared. So gnats everywhere, all over people. That was the third plague. 

All right, fourth plague. Somebody in this section. Are there any kids back here? Fourth plague. You know what the fourth plague was? What is it? “Gnats.” No, not gnats. Close. Guess again. “Flies.” Flies. Very good. And because you got that right, I’ve got a very large fly for you. How’s that? It’s a pretty big fly, huh? Did somebody else over here have their hand raised too that I missed? Right here. And I’ve got a bouncing ball of flies too, so that’s your gift as well. There we go. All right. So flies everywhere, swarming. And this is the first plague that we see actually affect the Egyptians in a way that did not affect the Israelites. And so you had flies everywhere over the Egyptians, covering men, livestock. But then you didn’t have the same thing when it came to the Israelites. 

Next plague. Let me start to make my way over here. All right. Let me come back here. All right. What was the next plague? Can you pass that? All right. What was it? “The livestock.” The livestock. Well done. So what I have for you is a magic grow animal. This is also hours of fun. You wet that and 72 hours later it will be 600 times the size that it is right now. So your parents will love it. It’s great. So the livestock. Again, this was just in Egypt, not the Israelites. You had all of this livestock who were affected as God sent a plague on them. 

All right. Let’s make our way over here. All right. What was the next plague? “Boils.” Boils. Yeah. You got the unfortunate plague. I tried to think of what would be good for this plague and what I’ve got is Elmo band aids because you too would have been popular on that day if you had had Elmo to help bring healing to boils. Boils all over the Egyptians’ skin so that they were…Pharaoh, his magicians, all of them experiencing the judgment of God. And after every single one of these plagues God would say to Moses, “Tell Pharaoh, ‘Bring my people out of Egypt.’” And Pharaoh would say, “Okay, I’ll let you go.” But then he would relent and his heart would be hard and he would not let the people of Israel go. And so the boils. 

What happened after the boils? Now I need you to think about this. You got boils all over your skin. The last thing you want to do is even be touched when you have boils all over your skin. So the next plague was? “Darkness.” Close. Try again. Yeah. “Hail?” Hail. That’s right. So you got hail coming down and so we have for you a…I don’t know how good this would have been with that hail, but this would have been helpful for you to… Oh, be careful. 

Don’t poke anybody in front… Maybe I should put that down. There we go. All right. So that would have protected you, well, at least a little bit from the hail. I don’t think they had invented umbrellas at that point. But, hail came down like had never been seen before the Bible says. Basically, just a picture, if you can imagine, this is the judgment of God in a very real sense raining down on the Egyptians because of Pharaoh’s disobedience. 

Matthew 2 13–23 is Filled with Darkness 

So that set the stage (I’ve got to start making my way down, all right) for the next plague which was the plague of…? “Locusts.” Locusts. Which leads to the big grasshopper. There we go. I don’t know if we can see that. Yeah. That’s a large grasshopper. So locusts eating everything that was green—completely destroying the land. All right, we got two more plagues. Take one here and then one over here. “Darkness.” Darkness. You too would have been the most popular person in Egypt because you would have introduced them to the flashlight. They had no electricity. They needed something battery-powered. And so you can imagine total darkness. No electricity. The Bible says people were afraid to even go out because they were afraid of what was around them. They couldn’t see a thing and darkness covered the land continually. 

All setting the stage for the last plague which was the plague of…? “Death.” Death for the firstborn. And so here was the story. God told… Sorry, it’s not really a “guy-toy” but you can find somebody to give it to or you can remember this moment. And by the way, I looked for a lamb everywhere in Birmingham. This is the only one that there is. Lambs are not particularly popular right now. 

The whole picture was in the tenth day of the month God said to the Israelites, “You need to take a lamb, one year old, without defect, bring it into your home.” Just imagine, parents, bringing a lamb into your home, kids loving on it, playing with the lamb, and then four days later they were to slaughter the lamb, and take the lamb’s blood and put it over their doorposts. What a story! Put it over their doorposts. And the night that God would come to reign down judgment on the firstborn and have every firstborn in the household killed in Egypt, He would spare His people, the Israelites, if there was blood over the doorposts to show that the payment of death had already been paid and a lamb had been sacrificed instead of the children. So there is the lamb. 

Jesus Inaugurates the New Exodus

Now in all of this, God was making it clear that He is the powerful Deliverer. But when we get to the story of Jesus in Matthew 2 and we see Him going to Egypt, we realize that there is something bigger going on here than just fleeing from King Herod, because Jesus (you’ve got this in your notes) is inaugurating a new Exodus. Don’t miss the intentionality in Matthew quoting from Hosea 11:1. He is cluing us into the fact that Jesus is not just running…Joseph and Mary and Jesus were not just running away from King Herod. This is painting a picture. Don’t miss the parallels. 

The Mercy of God in the Old Testament:

God saves His people by bringing miraculous deliverance from Egypt. And these were stories that God’s people would recount over and over again, year after year after year they would tell these stories to their children. And in that way God’s mercy in Exodus in delivering them from Egypt would set the stage for… 

The Mercy of God in the New Testament:

His mercy in the New Testament when God would save His people by bringing the Messianic deliverer from Egypt. In His coming out of Egypt is it a picture of Jesus inaugurating a new Exodus for the people of God. He would deliver, save His people from their sins. (Hosea 11:1.) A new and greater deliverance comes through this King from Egypt.

Jesus Ends the Mournful Exile

So that leads to the second quotation from the prophets in the story. It happens right after Herod kills the infant boys in Bethlehem. Look at verses 17 and 18. Matthew writes, “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.’” Now, who can tell me where this quote is from? I’ll give you a second. Okay? All right. Look. Now where is this quote from—what book in the Bible? Jeremiah 31:15. See? Instant Bible scholarship. 

So Jeremiah 31:15. You look back in the context there and that’s a prophecy that’s talking about the day when God’s people were taken into exile. Remember that story? Babylonians coming. They attack Jerusalem. They destroy the city. They raze people’s homes. And they take people to a place right north of Jerusalem called Ramah. And that is the place where the people of God were separated from one another—separated from family and friends and taken into exile. So here’s what I want to do. I want to invite any child, student, anybody high school age or younger that wants to (you don’t feel like you have to by any means) but I want to invite you if you’re high school age or younger and you want to, to come and join me up here on these steps right here. So get up from where you are and come here to the front and join me across here on the steps and kind of face outward with me. Just stand here on the steps and face outward with me. So you turn around and look this way. 

Anybody who wants to. All right. 

All right. Now I want you to imagine when you look at this scene… So here’s parents out there, many children up here. Now imagine the scene when all of God’s people were taken to Ramah and they were separated from one another—literally separated from family and friends. Imagine this moment being the last moment where you would actually even see each other in your family, knowing that you’re about to be deported to different parts of Babylon, spread out, maybe never to see them again. All of the sudden, in an instant, your family ripped apart. Imagine the weeping and loud lamentation. 

That’s the picture in Jeremiah 31. Mothers weeping for their children. Children weeping for their mothers and fathers. And that’s the picture that’s described. But the whole beauty of it is in Jeremiah 31, that’s a note of sadness. But then right after that Jeremiah says, “But weep no more. Put your tears away because there’s coming hope.” And God gives them a promise there in Jeremiah 31—it’s one of the clearest promises in all of the Old Testament— that He is going to send a New King to inaugurate a new covenant that will bring His people back to each other and reconcile them to God. And so he says, “Weep no more. In the midst of your hurting, there is hope.” 

So imagine that scene. Okay, you guys can make your way back to your seats now. And as you do, I want you to look there in your notes and realize that Jesus, in His coming, is not just inaugurating a new Exodus. Jesus is ending a mournful exile. This is the contrast here in Matthew 2. Don’t miss it. On one hand, horrible news. Children all over Bethlehem have been killed. Parents, mothers, mourning and weeping. So that’s horrible news in Matthew 2. 

At the same exact time, there is good news. It’s exactly what we see in Jeremiah 31. Good news in the midst of horrible picture. 

There is hope in the midst of hurt.

Here’s the good news in Matthew 2. Amidst this difficulty in Bethlehem, there is hope in the midst of hurt. Because all of this is happening as a result of Jesus, the Christ, the King coming, there is life in the midst of death.

There is life in the midst of death.

Where is that hope? What is that life? Matthew says, “A new King is born.” The King that’s been promised. The King Who will conquer death. The King Who will heal our hurts. A new King Who will reconcile us to God and to each other. A new King is born and a New Covenant is beginning

Matthew quotes from Jeremiah 31 about hope in the midst of hurt, the same chapter where we are promised that God will one day enter into a New Covenant with us through Christ. And through Christ we will all know and worship God. Jesus ends the mournful exile. He brings hope in the midst of hurt and life in the midst of death. 

So some of you know that this year has been in a very real sense a sad year for our family as Heather’s mom passed away just a few months ago. And last night Heather and Heather’s dad and I were talking about how yes, there is a sense in which holidays are difficult. But the reality is every day is difficult when you’ve experienced the pain of losing someone you love very much. But when we got up this morning and were having our family worship together, we just praised Jesus, knowing that because He came, Heather’s mom lives. There’s hope in the midst of hurt. Real pain. Real sadness. Real hope and real joy. Because there’s life in the midst of death. Jesus ends the mournful exile. 

Matthew 2 13–23 Reminds Us That Jesus Loves His Fiercest Enemies

He inaugurates the new Exodus. He ends the mournful exile. And finally, third reason to celebrate, Jesus loves His fiercest enemies. Here’s the last quotation. It’s verse 23. And it says, “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.” All right. Here’s the challenge on this one. I’ve got $10.00 to give to the first person who can tell me who can tell me where Matthew is quoting from here. Isaiah 40? No. Not Isaiah 40. No. Not Genesis 42. Ten bucks waiting. Yes? Mark 1? No, not Mark 1:24. We’re looking in the Old Testament. Psalm 22? No. Not Psalm 22. Deuteronomy 18? No. Okay, I’ll give you a hint. 

He’s not quoting from anywhere specifically. Sorry. But hey, who wants five bucks anyway? I’ve got two fives. Who wants? Here you go. One on this side. Here we go. Here’s five for you and five for you. There we go. 

Matthew, and he’s not trying to trick us here, but he says this and there are maybe different verses and many of you were shouting out different verses that have similar things. But there’s not a verse in the Old Testament where it says, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” In fact in the Old Testament, we hardly see Nazareth even mentioned as a place. So what’s Matthew doing? Well, you think about it. Nazareth, known as a place for the lowly and despised. Remember in John 1 when Nathaniel hears that Jesus has come from Nazareth and he says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was a place that was, we’ll just say at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. Despised, derided, scorned and this we see all over the prophets in the Old Testament. Maybe most famously in Isaiah 53 when Isaiah says that Jesus “was despised and rejected by men…and we esteemed Him not.” 

Which really brings the end of Matthew 2 to quite a conclusion. When you realize that the King of the universe, Who comes to save sinners from the start here in Matthew 2, is being defied and derided by the very sinners He came to save. Whether it’s King Herod, or chief priests, or scribes—all of these different people in Matthew 2 are setting themselves up against Jesus as His enemies. And the reality is you and I are the same. Now think about this with me. When we see stories… Maybe you go to a movie. There’s good guys and bad guys. And you like to associate yourself with the good guys. It’s the same thing in the Bible. You see a story with a good guy and a bad guy and you think, “Well, I’m like the good guy.” You think about… Well, let me list some bad guys and you tell me who the good guy is in the story. Bad guy—Goliath. Who would the good guy be? David. 

So, yes. “I’m like David.” Or, okay, bad guy—Cain. Who’s the good guy? Abel. Bad guy— Pharaoh. Who’s the good guy? Moses. Bad guy (or girl)—Delilah. Who’s the good guy? Samson. Esau. Who’s the good guy? 

In our minds and hearts we have rejected Him.

So when we come to Matthew 2, we’ve got good guys and we’ve got bad guys. We’ve got good guys—the wise men, Joseph, Mary. We’ve got bad guys—King Herod, chief priests, scribes, religious leaders. Let me ask you a question. Who do you identify with most? And I think if we are honest we will realize that at the core of who we are, we identify most with King Herod himself—afraid of a King Who will invade our kingdoms, our desires, our plans, our priorities and our lives. This is the reality that Scripture teaches, that at the core of who we are we resist Jesus. Enemies of God. And the beauty of Matthew 2 is he’s reminding us that yes, in our minds and our hearts we have all rejected Him. 

This is not just a story about a bunch of people 2,000 years ago or a group of people 3,000 years ago in the Old Testament. This story is about us, because we in this room find ourselves in slavery to sin, in need of an exodus, in need of deliverance. We too are familiar with pains and hurts in this sinful world. We know suffering in our lives. We see suffering all around us in the world. And we know that in our sin we are enemies of our Savior, but He has come to inaugurate a new exodus for us, to deliver us from our sins. He has come to end the mournful exile in our lives to bring hope in the midst of hurt and life in the midst of death. And He has come to save us. In our minds and hearts we have rejected Him in our sinful rebellion. 

By His grace and for His glory, He has redeemed us.

And though we have rejected Him, by His grace and for His glory, He has redeemed us. And all of that gives us great reason to rejoice on this Christmas day. He has given His body and shed His blood for a people who despise and reject Him. Do not fool yourself. If we were there in that moment, we would not have been welcoming Him in our hearts. We turn from Him. And yet His mercy overcomes our rebellion to Him. And He delivers us from our sins, brings hope in the midst of hurt, life in the midst of death, and redeems us for all of eternity. And that’s a reason to celebrate on this Christmas day. 

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.

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