The Exodus | Matthew 2:13-23
Brian Hedges | December 31, 2023
Let me invite you to turn in Scripture this morning to Matthew 2. We’re going to be reading Matthew 2:13-23 as we continue in this series we began a few weeks ago called “The Advent of the King.” We have been looking together at the birth and infancy narratives that are found in Matthew’s Gospel, and we continue that this morning, completing the infancy narratives with Matthew 2. And then, for about the next four or five weeks, we’re going to be looking at Matthew 3-4, continuing the study in Matthew’s Gospel, as we look at the very earliest portion of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
We might call the sermon this morning “The Exodus,” because it is a story concerning the life of Jesus as a child that in many ways is patterned after the Exodus story found in the Old Testament. Or, if you want another title for the sermon, we might call it “The Great Escape,” the title of a great 1963 film about POWs in Germany who escaped from a concentration camp. What we’re reading about today is the story of a great escape as well. We might even say that the whole story of redemption is a great rescue story, a great escape story, as we who were the prisoners of war because of the invasion of sin in the world have been delivered from that tyranny. That’s really what this passage is showing us, kind of a microcosm of the story of redemption as it unfolds in the life of the infant child Jesus, the Messiah.
I think there’s a lot that this passage teaches us, both in the typology that is included in this passage as Matthew writes to show how the Scriptures are fulfilled in the life of Jesus, and also in some of the practical lessons we’ll learn.
We’re going to be reading Matthew 2:13-23. You can follow along in your own copy of God’s word or you can read along on the screen. Matthew 2, beginning in verse 13.
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘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, to 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.’
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 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.’
“But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 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 God’s word.
This passage shows us three things—these are the three points this morning:
1. The Tyranny of Evil
2. The Pattern of Deliverance
3. The Mystery of Providence
As we work through these three things, I think you will see that there are some important both theological and practical lessons for us as we try to understand how Matthew tells the story of Jesus, weaving it together with the broader story of Scripture and showing how the prophecies of Scripture have been fulfilled.
1. The Tyranny of Evil
We could say that both the word “tyrant” and the word “evil” well applied to Herod the king. We see that evil in this passage, as he seeks for the Christ-child in order to kill him, to destroy him. This is why Joseph and Mary have to flee to Egypt. Then we see that when he doesn’t find Jesus he is enraged, he is furious, and thus kills all the male children in Bethlehem and that region two years old and under, this horrible event that has been called “the slaughter of the innocents.”
Herod was Herod the Great. He was the king of Israel at that time, under, of course, the Roman Empire, born in 73 B.C. and in 40 B.C. named by the Roman Senate the king of Judea.
He has been described as a man of capability, craftiness, and cruelty. His capability as a political leader was evident in his swiftness in stamping out guerilla bands, his proficiency in building things, including his reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple beginning in 20 B.C., and his resourcefulness in carrying the region of Judea through drought and famine in the thirteenth and fourteenth years of his reign.
But he was also a very crafty man. He was a politician in the worst sense of that word, constantly manipulating situations and circumstances in order to keep himself in good graces with the Roman Empire and to maintain his power at all costs.
This is where his cruelty is most evident. He was such a cruel man that he did not hesitate even to assassinate members of his own family. Here are some of the facts we learn from outside of Scripture. When he feared a potential threat from his brother-in-law, he had him drowned, and then pretended to weep in an extravagant funeral, which he financed himself. His paranoia reached the point of insanity when he eventually executed his wife, his mother-in-law, and two of his sons. Five days before his death he executed a third son, and, knowing that the multitudes would not weep for him when he died he ordered the arrest of the most distinguished and noble citizens of Jerusalem and had them executed the moment he died to ensure that people would mourn on the day of his death. This man was absolutely insane, and he was a tyrant, and he was an evil man. We see that evil in this passage.
That’s not merely of historical interest, but it also teaches us some things about the very nature of evil. There are a couple of lessons for us.
(1) One thing we learn is that evil often masquerades as good, and therefore we need to beware of the subtlety of sin. You can see this when you remember that, earlier in Matthew 2 (we saw this a couple of weeks ago in the story of the magi, the wise men), Herod had said to the wise men in Matthew 2:8, “Go and search diligently for the Christ child, the king of the Jews who is to be born, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” Those were the words that were in his mouth, but it certainly wasn’t true to what was in his heart. It was a mask, a masquerade. He was pretending to be something that he was not, pretending to be a worshiper when really his intention was hostile against the Lord.
This is often the case with evil, brothers and sisters. Evil masquerades as good. Last week I quoted from this wonderful book on the doctrine of sin by Neil Plantinga, a book called Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be. There’s a chapter simply called “Masquerade” in this book, and Plantinga in that chapter says this:
“To do its worst, evil needs to look its best. Evil has to spend a lot of time on makeup. Hypocrites have to spend time polishing their act and polishing their image. Hypocrisy is an homage that vice pays to virtue—vices have to masquerade as virtues—lust as love, thinly veiled sadism as military discipline, envy as righteous indignation, domestic tyranny as parental concern. This is so whether the masquerade takes the form of putting on an act or making up a cover story.”
In application, we should be suspicious of evil and of the way that evil masquerades as good, and suspicious especially of our own hearts. We may not be nearly as extreme as Herod is in his pretense and his hypocrisy, but isn’t it true that sometimes we also masquerade, we put on a mask, and we pretend to be that which we are not? We’re also sometimes guilty of hypocrisy when we are hiding the evil in our own hearts and pretending that we’re something other than that. This story should show us the subtlety of evil and of sin and should cause us to search our own hearts.
(2) Here’s the second application or second lesson from this passage. We see in Herod that the rulers of the world are often hostile to the Lord, and that means we should be wise and discerning, but not fearful.
This is usually the pattern that we see in Scripture. There are a few exceptions, but most of the time in Scripture the world rulers are hostile and opposed to the Lord and to his kingdom.
We see this in the life of Jesus, of course. He’s not only mercilessly hunted by Herod at his birth but he is unjustly condemned by Pilate at his death. If you look at the whole course of Scripture, from Pharaoh to Nebuchadnezzar, usually the kings of the earth are opposed to God and to his anointed, as Psalm 2 says, and to the people of the Lord.
That means we should be wise, we should be discerning, we should not be quick to trust those who have power of governing authority, but it also means that we should not be fearful. We should recognize that even as Herod eventually met his maker and justice was seen in the Lord’s hand, so it is true throughout history and it will be true at the end of time.
I appreciated these words from the bishop J.C. Ryle in his Expository Thoughts on Matthew’s Gospel. He said,
“True Christians should never be greatly moved by the persecution of men. Their enemies may be strong and they may be weak, but still they ought not to be afraid. They should remember that the triumphing of the wicked is but short. What has become of the Pharaohs and Neros and Diocletians who at one time fiercely persecuted the people of God? Where is the enmity of Charles IX of France and Bloody Mary of England? They did their utmost to cast the truth down to the ground, but the truth rose again from the earth and still lives, and they are dead and decaying in the grave. Let not the heart of any believer fail. Death is a mighty leveler and can take any mountain out of the way of Christ’s church. The Lord lives forever; his enemies are only men. The truth shall always prevail.”
We see in the story of Herod seeking the life of Jesus the world persecuting the church, we see the kings of the earth seeking to stamp out the true King, Jesus, but the words of Psalm 2 ring true, and they always will. Remember these final verses of Psalm 2:
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Well, Herod did not kiss the son, he sought to kill the son, but eventually met his own death. We see here the tyranny of evil. And just as this is a component in the story of the exodus in the Old Testament, so it’s a component in the story of Jesus here. And that really leads us to the second point.
2. The Pattern of Deliverance
Here what I want to do is really focus in on just Matthew 2:14-15 and note the way in which Matthew interprets and applies the Old Testament prophecy from Hosea 11:1. I think this teaches us something about how to read our Bibles well. Look at Matthew 2:14.
“And Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. [Notice this.] This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”
Once again we are seeing a theme that is common in Matthew’s Gospel. It is the theme of fulfillment—the fulfillment of the prophets, the fulfillment of Scripture. Over and again Matthew in his Gospel draws attention to how the life of Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecy. Matthew’s Gospel in many ways is the most Jewish of all the Gospels, as he is writing to persuade Jewish people that Jesus really is the Christ, he really is the Messiah, he really is the Son of David, the true heir to David’s throne, and that Jesus in his life and in his death is fulfilling the Old Testament prophetic word. As Spurgeon one time said, “Our Prince steps along a pathway paved with prophecies.” And you see that even in Matthew chapters 1 and 2 as five times Matthew draws attention to how the birth narratives are fulfilling specific Old Testament prophecies.
But there is a problem that you’re likely to feel if you start really trying to dig into the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Sometimes you’ll be reading this and then you’ll go back, maybe, and read the Old Testament prophet in the original context, such as the prophet Hosea in Hosea 11:1. And you’ll wonder if Matthew or another New Testament author, are they really rightly interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures? If you read Hosea 11:1, this is what you read, “When Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” And so it seems that the son in Hosea 11:1 is not the Messiah, but Israel.
So, is Matthew mishandling the Old Testament Scriptures? Is he not using a literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic? What’s wrong? Don’t the New Testament writers know how to read and interpret their Bibles?
I think we can find some help if we try to understand the way these New Testament writers were thinking, and we can actually learn something from them. I’ll quote here New Testament scholar Donald Carson, who says in his commentary on Matthew these words—I find this helpful. He said,
“Matthew is not simply ripping text out of Old Testament context because he needs to find a prophecy in order to generate a fulfillment. Discernible principles govern his choices, the most important being that he finds in the Old Testament not only isolated predictions regarding the Messiah, but also Old Testament history and people as paradigms that to those with eyes to see point forward to the Messiah.”
That word “paradigm” is important. What is a paradigm? A paradigm is a framework of basic assumptions, ways of thinking, methodology that’s commonly accepted by members of a community. It’s usually a scientific word. The word “paradigm” is a scientific word, but it can be applied to our understanding of Scripture. A paradigm is a set of assumptions; it’s a way of thinking.
There is a set of assumptions and a way of thinking that the New Testament authors embrace that lead to their Christ-centered interpretation and application of the Old Testament. The pattern in Matthew’s mind, as he writes Matthew 2, is the pattern of the exodus.
We know the story of the exodus. I’m sure that you’ve read it. Many of you were here when we taught through that wonderful book last year. What I want you to see is that in Matthew’s Gospel there is a parallel between the story of Israel and the life of Jesus, as Matthew weaves these stories together. Here are some of the parallels.
You remember that in the beginning of the book of Exodus Pharaoh orders the slaughter of children, and here in Matthew 2 you see another evil king who also orders the slaughter of children.
In the story of the exodus you have the children of Israel, who passed through the Red Sea; that’s part of their redemption. 1 Corinthians 10 calls this “baptism in the sea.” And the very next thing you have in Matthew’s Gospel, in Matthew 3, is Jesus, who is baptized in the Jordan River, who passes through those waters.
Israel is called in Exodus 4:22 “my firstborn son.” It’s the first time that the concept of son of God is used in Scripture. It’s used of the nation of Israel. But now, in Matthew 3:17, Jesus is called God’s beloved Son.
This is then followed by forty days of testing in the wilderness, which of course parallel the forty years of testing in the wilderness with the children of Israel.
Then, you remember that in Exodus 19-20 the children of Israel come to the base of a mountain, Mount Sinai, and from that mountain God delivers his law to his people. But what do we find in Matthew 5-7? We find the Lord Jesus on a mountain in the Sermon on the Mount, where he declares that everything that was written in the law was to be fulfilled. He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill the law, and Jesus gives the greatest exposition of the true nature of the law of God in his words in that sermon.
Finally, when you come to the end of Matthew’s Gospel, prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, do you remember what he does? He sits down with his disciples at a Passover meal and he declares that he is inaugurating the new covenant. “This is the new covenant in my blood.” Of course, it’s an echo of the original Passover meal and the annual Passover festival, where the children of Israel every year would celebrate their redemption from Egypt and they would renew their covenant with God.
This is the exodus pattern that is in Matthew. Now, this isn’t just of academic interest. This is teaching us something. It is teaching us how to read our Bibles well.
Here’s the main application: brothers and sisters, I want us to learn to read the Bible in a Christ-centered way, where we see in the Bible not simply things for us to do but we see that the very stories of Scripture are ultimately pointing us to the great story of redemption in which Jesus Christ himself is the hero of the story.
When we read the Bible, we’re always reading through a set of lenses. You might think of these as a set of glasses through which you read. You know that with a set of glasses if you have the wrong prescription things will become distorted and blurry. If you have glasses that have a colored tint, red-tinted lenses, you’re going to see everything with a red tint.
The same is true in the way we read the Bible. You have perspective. You have assumptions. You have questions that you’re already asking. If you come to the Bible with those specific assumptions or questions, it’s going to shape the way you read.
For example, if you read the Bible looking mainly for how to live a better life, you’re going to read the Bible with moralist, legalistic-tinted lenses, where the Bible is mainly about what you’re supposed to do instead of being mainly about the story of what God has done.
Or, if you come to the Scriptures simply looking for verses to support your theological position over and against someone else’s theological position, you’re going to read Scripture with something of an intellectualist lens and maybe even a sectarian spirit, where you’re looking to bolster up your arguments so that you can win in a discussion against another Christian with different theological convictions.
Or—and this is probably the most common thing—if you simply come to the Bible looking for an inspirational thought for the day while ignoring the narrative coherence of the biblical story of redemption, you will tend to read the Bible through rose-colored, sentimental, Hallmark-card style lenses, where all you’re getting are nice thoughts, but you’re missing the story!
Of course, I’m exaggerating slightly here. Of course the Bible gives us moral commands, and we should obey what the Scripture teaches us to do. Of course the Bible teaches us doctrine, and we should develop our doctrine based on the careful interpretation of Scripture. And of course we can find inspirational and devotional help from the Bible. But what I’m trying to say is simply this, that if we use the Bible for all of those things but we miss Jesus, then we’ve missed the main point of the story. We need to read the Bible with Christ-centered lenses. We need to see that all of the stories and the themes of Scripture find their climax, find their fulfillment in the life and the death and the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Son of God, who came to win and purchase our redemption and to rescue us from sin.
How might you do that? We are right at the cusp of a new year, and while probably most of us have given up anything like formal New Year’s resolutions, I hope that you’re at least thinking about your spiritual life as you move into 2024. What will your Bible reading be like? What will your Bible study be like?
I want to give you some suggestions. Here are just three ways that you could grow in your own capacity and ability to read and interpret the Scriptures in a Christ-centered way.
I’d recommend, first of all, D.A. Carson’s wonderful devotional book For the Love of God. It’s one page per day that will cover a specific portion of Scripture. I think this is probably the best daily devotional that I’ve read. You can buy copies of this easily online. You can even find this for free online. You can even get this delivered straight to your inbox, or if you use the YouVersion Bible app on your phone there are plans that incorporate Carson’s reading into your daily Bible reading plan.
What you’ll find is simple but helpful historical background as well as clear doctrine, clear application of Scripture, and especially this Christ-centered understanding of the word of God.
If you want something a little deeper than that, I recommend the biblical theology study Bible. That’s for the NIV, published by Zondervan. It’s a wonderful study Bible. This will give you thorough study notes. It will give you the maps and the charts and everything that you could possibly want for your devotional life to help you understand rightly interpret the Scriptures.
If you happen to be that person who needs a book with pictures, then I recommend Kevin DeYoung’s The Biggest Story. In all seriousness, this is very helpful if you’re a parent and you have children and you want to train your children how to read the Bible according to this perspective, this Christ-centered way. But it’s also helpful for adults, and you’ll find this compelling reading—Kevin DeYoung’s The Biggest Story.
Those are just three of many possible resources that I would recommend.
So we’ve seen this morning the tyranny of evil. We’ve seen this pattern of redemption and how that is worked out in the life of Jesus. One more thing that I want us to see this morning—and I’ll focus on this in the last ten minutes or so—and it’s the mystery of providence.
3. The Mystery of Providence
When you read this story there is kind of a mystery. Why did things happen as they do? I mean, there’s good things that happen in this passage, but you don’t have to think for very long to maybe walk away feeling a little bit unsettled. I mean after all, God clearly delivers Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus. He gives Joseph supernatural guidance—sending an angel of the Lord, giving of visions and dreams, guiding him to safety. But what about all of the families that lost their children in Bethlehem? Was God not caring for them? Was God not guiding them?
You see, these are the questions that we have to raise, that often do get raised in our lives. We know that God can provide. We know God can protect. We know that God can guide and he often does so. And yet there are times when our expectations are disappointed. There are those times when suffering seems to come in spite of every attempt to avoid it and in spite of our prayers. How are we to wrestle with the mystery of God’s providence in our lives? And I think this passage gives a few clues.
Let me just suggest three lessons for us in the last few minutes.
(1) We could say that God’s commands are always clear though his ways are often dark. God was giving some clear guidance for Joseph. And if you think about what Joseph must have experienced it would be wrong for us to underestimate the amount of stress and anxiety he must have felt. I mean, here he was with the newborn child, Jesus, and with Mary, his mother. Even if Jesus was a few months old by this point, still it must have been stressful to make this seventy-five mile journey from Bethlehem to just the border of Egypt in order to find safety from the king, the king who wanted to kill their child. And yet God was giving clear guidance even though Joseph and Mary wouldn’t have fully understood what was going on. And this is often the case in our lives that God will give us clear direction from his word. The commands are clear, even if we don’t understand God’s ways.
I’ve for many years now taken a great deal of comfort in a hymn that was written by this English poet of the 18th century, William Cowper. He was a manic depressive. He actually attempted suicide multiple times in his life, mercifully was never successful in it. Often counseled by the pastor, John Newton, and wrote a number of hymns that we still sing today. And one of his greatest hymns was called “Light Shining Out of Darkness.” And the words go like this:
“God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform,
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
“Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up his bright designs
And works his sovereign will.”
Don’t miss the metaphor here. God is working in a deep, unfathomable mine. You can’t see what he’s doing, but he’s treasuring up his bright designs. He’s working his sovereign will.
“You fearful saints, fresh courage take!
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
With blessings on your head.
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust him for his grace.
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”
I don’t know what all you’re going through right now. It may be that you are in the midst of a frowning providence. It may be that there are clouds—thunder clouds that are building on the horizon of your life that you dread, things that are happening or things that have already happened. It may be a difficulty or problem in your family. It may be financial needs that have not been met. It may be a lack of fulfillment in your vocation and your job. It may be a diagnosis that has come recently in your life and you are facing difficult health and medical decisions. Whatever those things are, you can trust that God is working out his good purposes, even though we can’t see exactly what he’s up to. We don’t always understand his ways. But we can be sure he’s working these things for our eternal good. The hymn goes on:
“His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.”
And that’s often our experience in life. There is a bitterness that happens in many of the circumstances of our lives. But, through faith in Christ, trusting in him, trusting in God’s sovereign purposes, we can believe and we can rest in the truth that God will work these things ultimately for our good.
(2) Here’s a second lesson. We also see in the story that trial and difficulty usually accompany joy and blessing. Was there ever a greater joy in this earth than in the birth of the Lord Jesus? We just read the story in Luke’s account, the message of the angels and the visit of the shepherds and the great joy that here the Savior has been born. But as soon as Jesus is born, it seems that Herod is ready to destroy him. So on the heels of joy and blessing there is trial, there is difficulty.
And this is the pattern we see in Scripture. Jacob wrestles with an angel to receive a blessing. His name is changed. He is Israel, a prince with God, but he walks away with a limp for the rest of his life. David is anointed the king of Israel, but for years is hunted down by murderous King Saul. Paul receives a vision. He’s caught up into the third heaven and has a vision of the glory of the Lord and he’s given a thorn in the flesh. The day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is given to the church and they are filled with the Holy Spirit, full of joy. And yet, right on the heels of that, persecution of the church begins. And here’s Mary who’s just given birth to baby Jesus. She’s been honored as one who will be the mother of our Lord, who brings Jesus into the world, and yet, shortly she’s running for her life because of King Herod.
Brothers and sisters, this is the normal Christian life. Trials come along with the blessings. It’s not always as severe as this, but often the trials are difficult. We should remember the words of the apostle Peter when he said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trials when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” This is normal. This is what life in a fallen world is like. God gives many trials. He gives many blessings and joys, and yet many trials come along with them.
Earlier this year, I read a biography of Andrew Murray. He was the Dutch Reformed pastor and minister in South Africa in the nineteenth century. He authored many devotional classics. There was a point in his life where he was facing a very difficult trial. He had many health problems throughout his life, and he wrote these words in this journal. I think these are helpful. He said,
“First, God brought me here. It is by his will that I am in this strait place; in that I will rest. Next, he will keep me here in his love, and give me grace to behave as his child. Then he will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons he intends me to learn, and working in me the grace he means to bestow. Last, in his good time he can bring me out again. How and when, he knows. Let me say, I am here (1) by God’s appointment, (2) in his keeping, (3) under his training, (4) in his time.”
And I commend that to you. With whatever you are facing, you can trust in a good and sovereign God even though his ways are mysterious, that you are where you are, you are facing what you are facing by God’s appointment. You are in his keeping. You are under his training and you will be there for his time.
(3) Final lesson, we also learn from this story that God prepares his people through seasons and in places of obscurity.
This passage ends with the settling of Joseph and Mary and Jesus in Nazareth. Nazareth of Galilee. Not in Bethlehem of Judea. And Matthew says that this is so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. Now, there’s not actually a specific verse in the Old Testament that says that Jesus will be a Nazarene. Most scholars believe that this is actually a fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, would be despised and rejected by men. Because Nazareth was a despised community. Nazareth was not a place that you would expect a Messiah to hail from. It wasn’t a place you’d expect a king to come from. You remember in John 1 that Nathaniel, who eventually became one of Jesus’s disciples, before he was introduced to Jesus and he learns of Jesus of Nazareth, he says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” People despised Jesus because of where he came from.
Here he was for almost thirty years of his life in Nazareth. And it is a place of obscurity. And for most of that time, with only one exception, the years are hidden in silence. We don’t even know what took place in the life of Jesus during those years. And yet, God was preparing him in the obscurity of Nazareth for the work that he had for him to do. And again, it’s the pattern in Scripture. Moses prepared to lead Israel through his forty years in the wilderness. David, the shepherd king, who is anointed and yet spends many years on the run before he actually becomes the de facto King of Israel. And this is often the case in our lives as well, that we go through these seasons and these places in our lives where we live in seeming obscurity. It doesn’t seem as if the things that are on our hearts to do, things that we even want to do for the Lord, that he’s allowing us to do that. It seems that sometimes we’re just in that wilderness season and we’re waiting for God to hear and answer our prayers.
There’s a wonderful illustration—I came across this years ago, and I’ll end with this. Have you ever heard of the Chinese bamboo tree? This is a real tree. It’s a tree that, when the seed is first planted, in the first year the shoot never even breaks the ground. It has to be watered, it has to be fertilized and taken care of, and yet the shoot never even breaks the ground.
Nothing for the second year. Nothing for the third year. Even in the fourth year, you can’t even see that a seed has been planted. But if it is tended—if it is watered, if it is fertilized, if it’s taken care of—in the fifth year, in the course of just six weeks, it grows to be ninety feet tall. There’s a picture of a Chinese bamboo forest.
What a wonderful picture of the way God often works. He works through the times and the places of obscurity, through the silence, through the wilderness years, when it seems that the seed is just lying dormant in the ground. We wonder, “What is God up to?” and yet he’s doing something. He is preparing us, he is shaping us, he is forming us, and he is surely at work.
Brothers and sisters, the story of the Bible is in many ways an exodus story. It is a story of redemption, as God rescues us from the tyranny of evil, working out this pattern of deliverance in our lives, applying to us the work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit, and then, in his mysterious providence, guiding us into his purposes for us.
I want to ask you this morning, have you embraced that story of redemption as your own story? You also were once under the tyranny of sin and evil, but God in his grace has brought deliverance through Jesus Christ. If you trust in him, you will experience that redemption, that salvation, and God will work in your life, sometimes in ways you can’t see, but he will surely work and bring his good purposes to bear. I commend it to you; I hope that you’re trusting in him today, and if you’ve never done so that you will do so this morning. Let’s pray together.
Father, we thank you for the wonderful truths of your word. We thank you, Lord, for this passage of Scripture, and we ask you to give us the grace and the wisdom to apply it well to our lives. Whatever our specific circumstances are this morning, may we take heart in knowing that you are a God who works out your good, redemptive purposes. We thank you for what you have done in and through Jesus, who is our Redeemer and our Savior.
As we prepare our hearts now to come to the Lord’s table this morning, we want to come with our faith fixed on him, looking not to what we ourselves can do to rescue ourselves—we can’t save ourselves—but looking instead to what Jesus Christ has done in his death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf.
We ask you, Lord, to draw near to us as we draw near to you. We pray that you would fill us with your Holy Spirit and that you would work in us what is pleasing in your sight. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.