A Quick Way to Gain a Deeper Understanding of the Christmas Story

It was if I had never read the Christmas story before.

There on the page of a child's book, the story was totally foreign to me.

That frigid night my son and I sat by the window sill—the cold air bleeding through the panes, doling out goosebumps. With son on my knee, we read through the entire Christmas story culled from all three of the synoptic gospel accounts.

Maybe it was the simplicity of the book or the setting in which we read, but something about those words struck me that night.

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
Matthew 2:13

You’ve probably read this verse before. I know I had.

And while it might seem like a side note to the story of Christ, it actually holds the key to why Jesus came to earth.

Let me explain.

Why a Jew Should Never Visit Egypt

What do you think of when you hear the word “Egypt”?

If you are a Jew, you probably think of the Exodus. And in that context, Egypt is the bad guy. The enemy. The slave master.

In fact, Egypt was so reviled that God told Israel never to return: 

The LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” Deut. 17:16

Returning to Egypt would have been an insult to the LORD who had delivered them out of the land “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut. 26:8).

A return to Egypt would signify that they did not value their salvation.

God could have sent Joseph, Mary, and Jesus anywhere.

He could have hid them in a cave or He could have sent the angel of death to visit Herod that very night.

So why, of all places, Egypt?

The End Result of Godlessness

If you look at the context of Deuteronomy 17:16, you’ll see that these instructions were directed at the (future) kings of Israel.

So it is no small irony that Jesus and family had to flee to Egypt because of the king—Herod of Judea—when centuries earlier Israel was begging for an escape from Egypt (Exo. 2:23).

In effect, Herod broke this commandment by forcing the family to go to Egypt; Jesus was safer there than in Judea.

Of course God’s plan didn't involve a human king at all. The LORD was their King, and He was enough. But the people persisted in spite of God’s warnings, so He gave them what they wanted.

And we all know how that turned out.

Here in the book of Matthew, the folly of their insistence reaches a crescendo.

Immediately after Jesus, Joseph, and Mary escape to Egypt, Herod does his best Pharaoh imitation. He orders that all male babies two and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem be slaughtered (2:16).

Compare that with Exodus 1:22: 

Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile.”

This is the end result of a godless kingdom: Judea had become Egypt.

The Hebrews had come full circle from enslavement, to the Exodus, and back to Egypt. Only this time it was worse.

Herod was killing his own people.

The very act Herod thought would preserve his throne actually proved his inadequacy as king and demonstrated the need for a new one.

A New King

When Israel demanded a human king, the LORD warned them:

. . . you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen . . . 1 Sam. 8:18

Herod’s infanticide caused much sorrow, fulfilling the prophecy from Jeremiah:

A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. Jer. 31:15

(And the mention of Ramah is no coincidence; it is in this very location that the people first demanded a king. See 1 Samuel 8:4-5.)

So why did God send Jesus to Egypt?

To make it painfully obvious how depraved man is without God.

At this point it was obvious that the Israelites needing saving again. Only this time they didn’t need saving from Egypt (or even Rome for that matter). Instead, they needed saving from themselves.

They needed to be saved from their sins.

And you know the rest of the story. The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said:

You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matt. 1:21

Herod refused to submit to another king, just as we do when we rebel against God.

But there is a new king: Christ Jesus whose reign is eternal.

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  1. . . . you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen . . . 1 Samuel 8:18. America, in another 1 - 2 years

    1. All the more reason for us to hope in Christ, right?

  2. Thanks for these insights, Andrew. I've never thought of what symbolism might be behind the flight to Egypt. It brought new meaning to the Christmas story.