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"Out of Egypt"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 1, 2023
By Rev. Dr. Anthony (Tony) Cook, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Matthew 2:13-23

Our text for today is part of Matthew 2. This chapter is a beautiful tapestry of dreams and prophecies. A tapestry which reveals both the faithfulness of God our Father and the identity of Jesus Christ, His Son. It contains four angelic dreams: one given to the magi and three to Jesus' earthly father, Joseph. These four dreams are woven together with five powerful prophecies, each prophecy fulfilled by Jesus' birth and His flight into Egypt.

The dreams given to the magi and Joseph were urgent warnings that required immediate action, while the prophecies fulfilled by God demonstrate His long-suffering and ancient patience. But regardless of their speed or origin, both the dreams and prophecies speak to one thing: God's Son—a promise of a Son prefigured by Israel and fulfilled to overflowing in Jesus.

Our first prophecy draws attention to the stars, more accurately, to a particular miraculous star, one that would lead a group of magi over 900 miles to the door of the cruel and blood-thirsty king, Herod. The magi were likely inspired to undertake this journey by the final oracle of Balaam, a renowned diviner of curses and blessings. His prophecy recorded in Numbers 24:17 reads, "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel." With this prophecy in mind, the magi begin their journey and upon arrival immediately begin to inquire: "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star when it rose and have come to worship Him."

Upon learning of the magi's questioning, Herod was deeply disturbed. He saw this miraculous birth as a threat to his throne that must be stopped. So, Herod called his chief priests and scribes together to discern where this prophesized Messiah would be born—bringing us to our second prophecy, a prophecy given by the prophet of judgment and restoration, Micah: "And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will be shepherd for My people."

Matthew tells us that after visiting King Herod, the magi went on their way. "And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

The long-awaited fulfillment of this astrological prophesy was at hand. An infant King had been born. The Messiah had come, and a true Star was rising out of Bethlehem. But while the magi were filled with exceeding joy over this newborn King, Herod was seething with rage and plotting Jesus' destruction. All he needed was the magi to return as he had asked, and he would learn the location of the Child and kill Him. And then enter the magi's dream: it was an urgent warning not to return to Herod, a dream that would protect the Child and frustrate Herod's plans. So, upon waking, they departed for their country by another way, slipping through Herod's grasp.

Now, with the location of Jesus still unknown to Herod, Herod creates an unthinkable plan. If he doesn't know which infant boy was the promised Messiah, he would need to kill them all. So estimating the time of the Messiah's birth from the magi's account, Herod sent out his men to kill every single boy two years old and younger in all of Bethlehem and the surrounding region.

Matthew connects Herod's murderous reaction to the birth of God's Son to another violent king who oppressed God's children, King Nebuchadnezzar. King Nebuchadnezzar was the one who sent his armies to the city of Ramah, capturing God's children and taking them into exile. In Jeremiah 31, we see Rachel symbolically personifying Ramah's mothers crying out for their captive children: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more."

Just as King Nebuchadnezzar provoked the cries of Ramah's mothers with his exile, King Herod would provoke the cries of Bethlehem's mothers with his infanticide. Herod's heinous evil, however, would be fruitless. For like all plans that are against God's will, Herod's plan was doomed to fail—frustrated by a dream revealed this time to Joseph and a prophecy fulfilled by God. In the same way the magi were warned of Herod's attempts, so too Joseph receives his warning: "'Rise, take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the Child and destroy Him.' And he rose and took the Child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I called My Son.'"

While at first this dream and prophetic fulfillment might seem on its surface simply as God saving His infant Son from a crazed king who sought His death, it holds a much deeper mystery. For this is not the first time the words "Out of Egypt I called my son" have been recorded in Scripture. In fact, the prophet Hosea wrote, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." And it is here that we find the core truth of today's message: Jesus' flight into Egypt and Israel's exile in Egypt are prophetically connected. In fact, Jesus and Israel are frequently compared throughout the whole of Scripture. And why is this comparison so frequently made? Because Jesus represents all of Israel in one Person. Jesus is the fulfillment of all that Israel was meant to be. The key to understanding Israel in Scripture is to see Jesus as its greatest form. He is the perfect example of what it meant for Israel to faithfully follow God and be obedient to the Father's will.

To better understand this truth, we need to explore why Israel was exiled to Egypt in the first place. Simply, it was due to their disobedience and lack of trust in God. They had turned away from Him and had begun worshipping false idols instead of the true God, their Heavenly Father. Hosea recounts: "The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols." As a result, they were punished by being sent into exile. But even in exile we see that God was faithful to His people and His promises to them. Even considering their rebellion, He protected them and led them back to the Promised Land. He demonstrated His gracious heart to His children by saving them, not forsaking them. This insight into the character of God reveals the depth of His grace and that He is One in whom the world can place their trust for salvation.

For in the same way, Jesus is our exiled Brother who was sent into the world to save us from our sin. He paid the ultimate price for our redemption and offers us forgiveness and new life. When we trust in Jesus for our salvation from our sin-filled exile, we are no longer slaves to sin but are set free. We are given a new identity as children of God, as children of Israel. We are given the privilege of being called His sons and daughters.

You see, Jesus is the promised Messiah who came to redeem Israel from their sin. He is the One who makes all things new. Through Him we are transformed into new creations. We are no longer defined by our past but by our new relationship in Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God's promises to Israel. Through Him we have been given everything we need for salvation. And in Him, we find hope, joy, and new life.

And now we arrive at our final two dreams and prophecies. We find the holy family still in Egypt as we close out Matthew 2. The first dream revealed to Joseph while in Egypt is a dream of Herod's death, and the second was a warning to avoid Herod's son who had taken his throne. Finally, finally, it was time for Jesus' safe return. Finally, it was time for His exodus from the land of Egypt and his return to His home in Nazareth. Now it could finally occur—just as it had been prophesied.

What rich theology we find woven together in these four angelic dreams and five powerful prophecies. A story of a nation, a people of God who would be saved by a miraculous Messiah. A Messiah who would walk in their footsteps, experience their trials, and singlehandedly lead all of God's children out of their exile by being exiled Himself, even to the point of death on the cross. For just as God would bring His son Israel out of Egypt fulling His promise to redeem them, so too Jesus' exit from Egypt and eventually even His exit from the tomb would redeem the world. We behold a true mystery that Jesus is Israel in one Person, and through the gift of faith we are members of Israel as well.

And as baptized children of God, we are members of Christ's family. We are sons and daughters of God. And just as Israel and Jesus were protected by the Father's mighty hand, so too are we. Just as the Father fulfilled His promises to Israel, He fulfills His promises to you and to me. Our exile won't last forever; the tears and cries of our mothers will end. And one day we too will be led by a star, not by a star in the sky, but by the true Morning Star, the Lord Himself, as we are called out of exile into our final Promised Land. And in a flash, everything will be changed. All things will be restored, and all prophecies fulfilled. And our exile, our exile will be over. We will be out of Egypt and finally home.

In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Reflections for January 1, 2023

Title: Out of Egypt

Michael Zeigler: Thank you, Mark, and Happy New Year. Happy New Year, Tony.

Tony Cook: Hey, thanks!

Michael Zeigler: Thanks for being with us. Thanks for speaking for us, and thanks especially for bringing this insight out that, Jesus—I liked how you said it—He's all of Israel in one Person.

Tony Cook: Yeah.

Michael Zeigler: And I think that's probably the most helpful biblical theology insight that I heard as I was learning this stuff. How has that been important for you to, how does that help connect things for you?

Tony Cook: There's a lot of ways that it's impacted me. I think it originally impacted me, starting when I was in seminary. I had a book that I was given to read called Sinai and Zion: An Entry Into the Jewish Bible. It was a textbook. It really laid out the connection of Jesus to the Old Testament. Prior to that, it was almost like, "Well, the Old Testament's there, but Jesus came, so do we need it anymore? And what I learned while I was taking that class and reading that book was just this deep appreciation of how Jesus is the fulfillment of all of Israel, of all God had hoped Israel could be. And not only was He the guy who did it right, if you will, but He redeemed all of Israel as well as all of those who were brought into the faith through His life and ministry as well. So, no longer could I simply read the creation account and skip to Matthew.

Michael Zeigler: Yeah.

Tony Cook: There was something else important in between those two, and what was important was a deeper appreciation and understanding of who Jesus is, not only in our kind of western world, but who He is and who He was in His time and His place.

Michael Zeigler: Yeah. I remember one of my seminary professors drew on the whiteboard two lines that were converging together, kind of like a big funnel.

Tony Cook: No. Yeah.

Michael Zeigler: And this is supposed to represent Israel and how the remnant, the faithful remnant keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and then the lines come together and you have one. You have Jesus, and then now the lines on the other side of Jesus expand out as He's recreating Israel and the mission. It's not like the church is doing something different than what Israel was called to do. It's Israel had always been called to be a light to the nations. Isaiah said that, and now—

Tony Cook: That's right.

Michael Zeigler: Jesus is fulfilling that by sending out His twelve, His reconstituted Israel to go and make disciples of all the nations.

Tony Cook: That's exactly right. I mean, if you think from the very beginning, where are we going with this? I would have students, when I used to teach at seminary, they'd say, "Well, what is heaven go to be like? And are we just going to be floating around there? What's happening?" And I said, well, actually, you just look at the beginning. Go all the way back to Genesis, and you see God's creatures living in perfect harmony with Him before the fall, obviously, and that's where He is going. That Adam and Eve, Israel, the church, me and you, we all have the same road that we're on, and that is a road of forgiveness and restoration to where one day we will be back in a new garden, the new creation, the new heaven and earth, and we will live there with Him. So all of this stuff, all of Israel, all of Jesus' work, all of the work of the church is fulfilling God's promise to bring us back to the way we were designed to be.

Michael Zeigler: I like how you say that He blew the doors open, so everybody can walk on this road. And that's really what animates us here at Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Tony Cook: Oh, definitely.

Michael Zeigler: And you get to see this happening, not just here in the country, but you've been traveling all over the world in the last few months, right?

Tony Cook: I have. Wow. I've been to six continents, and I've spent, I think it'll be four months in a hotel room, yeah. And I have visited ministry centers around the world. I've just seen how God is at work. I'm always overwhelmed when I'm on the ground and I see people that are born in that location, that speak that language, ministering to the people that they know, and God working powerfully through that.

Michael Zeigler: So say some more about that outreach philosophy. It's not like we're sending out Americans to other places, other than you and a couple other people that go visit. Tell us about that ministry philosophy or—

Tony Cook: Sure.

Michael Zeigler: Outreach philosophy.

Tony Cook: Well, as you know, one of the kind of traditional approaches is the training of pastors and missionaries and sending them out all over the world, and obviously that is a great model as well. Our model is one that works with the individual Christians. So, as an organization that focuses on lay people, we focus on building and lifting up Christians in their area to minister to the people that are just like them. So we work with indigenous groups of people who don't need to work to overcome the barriers of culture and language and class. They simply serve and minister in the area in which God has placed them. And so that's really, in many ways a unique approach, I think, for Lutheran Hour Ministries, is that we are equipping and training and building up leaders that serve right where they were born, and right where God has placed them. It's a beautiful form of ministry that I think is a great complement to the normal Word and Sacrament ministry that we do all over the world as the Lutheran Church.

Michael Zeigler: So you mentioned these ministry centers, and we have many of them all over the world. We're in about 50 different countries.

Tony Cook: Right. Yeah.

Michael Zeigler: What are we doing to help energize and equip and support the people who work in these ministry centers?

Tony Cook: Well, traditionally, we have given a lot of financial and administrative support. We've helped them establish what we call a ministry center, which in many places is a building, with a staff in which they work. But recently, we have been working on a new model, and that's why I've actually been traveling. We call this model the International Internship Program. It doesn't mean that we're getting interns from the United States and sending them, but we're actually building on our philosophy of using people right where they've been placed. Our ministry centers are being trained to find and equip small groups of Christians so that they can do ministry where they live. So there's many places around the world that we have yet to have a ministry presence. And there are many places in which we couldn't build a full ministry center as we have in other places around the world. So we created this internship project, which is meant to be a very contextual and flexible model that allows these young, strong Christians to minister to their communities, to their neighborhoods in which they live.

Michael Zeigler: So you found some hubs.

Tony Cook: Yeah.

Michael Zeigler: We've got some hubs around the world, and we're going to help them find people in that region, and equip them and then send them to the countries that we're not yet in.

Tony Cook: We found our hubs. Actually, we have a number of ministry centers, but what we did is, we polled our regional directors who oversee that ministry, to determine the ministry centers that they thought were best equipped to train others. So we found four of those, in four different regions around the world. And then we went and visited those ministry centers, told them our plan, what we wanted them to do. And now they're in the process of finding unexplored regions for ministry. So, a region isn't necessarily a country. Sometimes, places like Africa or India are huge places with billions of people, and so what we're simply looking for is an area in which we have yet to gain a hearing for the Gospel, and find Christians in that area, train them, and have them working in those areas to gain a hearing for the Gospel and expand ministry in their particular region.

Michael Zeigler: I know when I see the numbers for what impact Lutheran Hour Ministries has around the world, they're pretty staggering. We say, "Yeah, 150 million people every week all around the world." But then, like you said, there are roughly 3 billion people who don't know Jesus.

Tony Cook: That's right.

Michael Zeigler: And it opens our eyes to see how much more we could do. What do you hope that this intern program will help do to expand that impact?

Tony Cook: Yeah. Yes, our numbers are large. We have a large footprint globally, but we know that the key is that people are exposed to the Gospel. We know that's where the power is. We know the Holy Spirit works through the Gospel. And so you heard me earlier say "gain a hearing for the Gospel" which is a phrase that we use here. I believe that's our primary goal. It's to go into areas that really haven't had the opportunity to hear the Gospel in a deep and contextual and impactful way, in a way that speaks in their own heart language, if you will. And so I get excited about thinking taking the Gospel into these areas that have never really experienced on a personal level.

Every time I go on a trip overseas, I'm confronted with these wonderful stories of people who have heard the Gospel and have been liberated from a life of, maybe, legalism. They might have grown up in a culture where they were controlled by the laws and regulations of either their faith or someone else's faith, and when they hear the Gospel, when they hear the story about Jesus, who offers a forgiveness through His sacrifice, not through our work, but through what He has done, it is unbelievable many times to them. They're overtaken by the fact that this Man named Jesus would offer them all of this—the reconciliation with God, offer them forgiveness, offer them a place in the family, offer them a place in His kingdom, without requiring them to do something first. And it makes me realize just how unique the Christian message of the Gospel truly is. And so my heart burns for more opportunities to have more people liberated by that Gospel message.

Michael Zeigler: Well, Tony, thank you for being with us today, for offering this very first message of 2023 of our Messiah, who's blown the doors off so everybody can be a part of His new life and the new creation.

Tony Cook: Amen. Thanks for having me.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Once He Came in Blessing" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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