This Christmas season (2011) I’ve been reading in Matthew’s Gospel. As with my reading in John’s Gospel I have combined the reading of Scripture within an historical theological commentary. Sometimes it gets a bit cumbersome and I long to simply embrace Jesus but I recognize that it’s important to school my thinking about my Savior to see how he describes himself so that I do not embrace a fantasy Jesus but my true Savior.
Matthew 2:13 – 15
“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 I 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.'”
So, not only was Jesus born in an animals feeding trough, had to be hidden away so people would not kill him, but add refugee status to the list. I do think it’s important to see that Matthew is making a parallel here with Israel. Jesus, being Israel’s king, was also called out of Egypt.
Craig Keener adds to this, “But all four stories in Chapter 2 also surround place names rooted in Scripture; Jesus is ” forced to wander from place to place,” King of the world hostile to him…. The world’s treatment of Jesus likewise promises little better for his followers (10:23 – 25); they must expect hostility, false accusations, and even death for Jesus’ name (10:17 – 39; 13:21; 16:24 – 27; 24:9 – 14; cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Peter 4:12 – 13). This also fits the motif of withdraw from opposition that characterizes Matthew’s narrative and undoubtedly instructs his community.”
Long quote, but you can see why it’s important. This is not the sanitized nostalgic nativity of wealthy suburban America but is more in line with an oppressed majority world poor urban society. I find Jesus’ refugee status more instructive for the persecuted believer in a hostile Muslim or Hindu context than with a 40%+ churched and Christian majority worldview dominated place we live here in Georgia.
I find this quite challenging and it draws me to pray for the persecuted Church and for believers who may be confused about how to live out new found relationship to Jesus in a hostile culture, “… withdrawal from opposition… undoubtedly instructs his community.”
This withdrawal, I believe, is certainly not for contexts where there is no persecution that is physical in nature. In this case I think we should integrate with society, incarnate the life of Jesus among those who do not have a relationship with him and allow them to feel the beauty of Christ’s love. But where physical persecution increases there withdraw from opposition must increase. First the withdraw from open expression of faith to sharing faith quietly, then toward a more physical absence as dangerous persecution increases. Though that makes sense, I struggle with the truths of Romans 10:14 “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”.