Matthew 2: 13 - 23
Some time ago, Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests came to blows in a dispute over how to clean the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem following the Christmas celebrations. Priests were actually seen swinging brooms and throwing stones at each other! 7 people were injured in this 15-minute fight on the site where many believe Jesus was born. Christmas can lead to conflict and chaos.
Now that Christmas has crescendoed, some of us are back to our complicated and chaotic lives. Others of us have moved from “ho, ho, ho” to humdrum.
I read a powerful post called, “Holidays and Empty Chairs” and was reminded of the deep sorrow that many feel during this season - “Though you may indeed have so many reasons to feel fortunate and to give thanks, what this season is now marked by more than anything else—is absence. Surrounded by noise and activity and life, your eyes and your heart can’t help but drift to that quiet space that now remains unoccupied: the cruel vacancy of the empty chair. The empty chair is different for everyone, though it is equally intrusive. For some it is a place of a vigil…for some the chair is a memorial…for some it is a fresh wound…this may be the first time the chair has been empty for you, or you may have grown quite accustomed to the subtraction.”
We don’t spend much time on this but I think Joseph and Mary had a letdown as well...and they almost had an empty chair. Luke’s account has no songs of sadness, but Matthew’s narrative is drenched in tears and fears, pain and problems, lament and loss. The picture is not pretty and is usually kept off the cover of our Christmas cards and out of our Christmas carols.
We’re going to focus on 3 post-Christmas scenes. Let’s first familiarize ourselves with what happened and then lock into some lessons that will help us beat the blues. Here’s the main truth - Even when you’re blue, do what you know to be true.
• Each of these violent scenes ends with a reference to fulfilled Scripture. “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken…” “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah…” “…that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled.” Amazingly, the coming of Christ fulfilled some 300 prophecies!
• God used the revelation of dreams to get Joseph to move. On Christmas Day we saw that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to move him to take Mary as his wife.
• Every time Jesus and Mary are mentioned together, Jesus is always first. “The child and his mother.” Normally the focus is on the adult and the child is spoken of in reference to the parent – “a mother with her child.” Here the emphasis is on the person of Jesus Christ. The child is a threat to Herod, not Mary or Joseph. Notice that Mary is not given any title like “Queen of Heaven” or “Mother of God.” We also see how Joseph is not the “real father” of Jesus, as it doesn’t say, “Take your son” but “take the child…”
• God is divinely directing these events. God is not a passive observer but rather the supreme mover as He orchestrates everything according to His plan and for His ultimate glory.
Let’s consider the first scene…
1. The Escape to Egypt v. 13 – 15
A Sunday School teacher asked her class to draw pictures of their favorite Bible stories. Kyle’s picture showed 4 people on an airplane. She asked him which story it was -“The flight to Egypt,” said Kyle. “I see…and that must be Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus,” the teacher said. “But who’s the fourth person?” The young boy exclaimed, “Oh, that’s Pontius…the Pilot.”
There was a flight to Egypt, but the pilot is not Pontius, but God himself. The first part of God’s plan to protect His Son was to warn the wise men to return by a different route so Herod would not know the whereabouts of Jesus. After the wise men head back home, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph while he’s dreaming.
Joseph jumps into action. He believed and he boogied. He didn’t debate but instead departed. Once he heard he hurried to obey, not even waiting until the morning.
If you know your OT, you’ll recognize the significance of Egypt. On the one hand it represents slavery and stress. On the other, it signifies safety and security. This trip from Bethlehem to the border of Egypt and then to Alexandria, a city known to be home for 1 million Jews at this time, could have taken several weeks.
Even when you’re blue, do what you know to be true.
Let’s consider the second scene…
2. The Butcher in Bethlehem v. 16 - 18
Born into a politically well-connected family, Herod was destined for a life of hardball and power brokering. At 25 years old, he became the governor of Galilee. In 40 BC the Roman Senate named him “King of the Jews.” It was a title the Jews hated and that explains why he went berserk when he heard that a baby had been born “King of Jews.”
Soon after becoming King, he wiped out several bands of terrorists who were terrorizing the countryside. He held tightly to the reins of power and brutally removed anyone who got in his way. Over the years he killed many: His brother-in-law, his mother-in-law, 2 of his sons, and even his wife. Caesar Augustus reportedly said: “It’s better to be Herod’s pig than his son.” Josephus, the Jewish historian said, “He was a man of great barbarity toward all men equally, and a slave to all his passions.”
Ever since an enemy poisoned Herod’s father, who was a king himself, Herod was beset with paranoia. He went to great lengths to make sure a secret ingredient never ended up in his food. When he became king, he commissioned tens of thousands of slaves to build over 10 emergency fortresses, all heavily armed and well provisioned. In addition, he established an elaborate network of spies. Those who opposed him would be invited to a midnight swim in the Jordan River with a cement bathrobe on.
He does something worthy of Hitler or Stalin and orders the cold-blooded murder of all males less than 2 years of age. Herod the Great had become the Butcher of Bethlehem. He was perhaps the ultimate oxymoron in history. Rich in what most of us consider valuable, he was totally bankrupt as a human being. He was addicted to power and obsessed with possessions.
It’s a time of exceeding anguish and widespread weeping, especially by mothers for their children. Some of you are grieving the loss of a child or grandchild. I can’t even imagine the pain you are experiencing. Others of you are sorrowing the loss of your spouse, parent, family member or friend. I pray you find comfort: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Even when you’re blue, do what you know to be true.
Let’s look now at the final scene -
3. The Return to Nazareth v. 19 – 23
Sometime later, Herod dies and then an angel appears in another dream to Joseph. We know from history that Herod died of a fatal disease at the age of 70. After making it back to the Bethlehem area, Joseph finds out that Herod’s son is now on the throne and he becomes afraid because he is even more sinister than Herod. He began his reign as king by massacring 3000 people.
I wonder if Joseph was getting frustrated and fed up. He and his young family have been gone from Nazareth for a long time. Once again, he has a dream. Jesus was often called “The Nazarene” as a title of derision, an expressive way of saying that He was despised and not influential. Nathaniel summed up what people thought of this town: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” No one lived in Nazareth except those who could not afford to live anywhere else. Even in His death, the sign on the top of the cross was used to mock Jesus. The letters were the Latin abbreviation for: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Let’s bring these scenes together so we can learn how to beat the blues.
Beating the Blues
1. Exhibit instant obedience
While we have no record of Joseph ever saying anything, his actions sure spoke loudly. In every case, when Joseph is told what to do, he instantly obeys as he first did in Matthew 1: 24 “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife.”
In scene 1, when he heard the angel tell him to go to Egypt he didn’t wait until morning but got up while it was still dark and departed. In scene 2, when he’s told to go back to Israel, he does so immediately. Then, when he’s warned in a dream to not stay in Judea in scene 3, he leads Mary and her son back on the road where they head north to Nazareth.
Obedience is seldom convenient, but it’s always correct. Even when you’re blue, do what you know to be true.
Joseph does not ask for more information nor does he request more time. Once the Lord says it; that settles it. He doesn’t ask questions or make a deal or tell the Lord that he’ll obey later on. He doesn’t complain about how hard it is to uproot his young family or wonder about travel plans. He just gets up and goes like Abraham did when he “went out, not knowing where he was going.”
In what area is the Lord expecting your instant obedience right now? Is there something He’s prompting you to do but you’ve been delaying? If you want to obey, don’t delay. Is there a decision you’ve been putting off? An ungodly relationship you need to sever? An application you need to send in? Is there a gift you need to give? A commitment you need to make? Is there a person you need to forgive?
2. Expect constant opposition
Have you noticed that every time hope is born, hard times are sure to follow? We may want a sentimental and sanitised Christmas, but that’s really not an option. Properly understood, Christmas will take us out of our comfort zone. Hebrews says that we are “aliens and strangers on earth.” This post-Christmas world is neither our hope nor our home. Just as Joseph endured opposition for the sake of the baby, as those who bear his name, we should expect no less.
2 Timothy 3: 12 “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Joseph learned that to be caretaker of the Christ-child meant that his simple and quiet life was over because good news always has enemies. I don’t know who said this but it’s so true: “In order to see the Babe in Bethlehem, one must pass through Jerusalem and awaken King Herod.” There are Herods everywhere because Herod is simply the seed of the serpent.
3. Embrace God’s operation
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, then the real work of Christmas begins.” God is weaving everything together to accomplish His will. The happenings of history work out in a way that will bring Him ultimate glory for He is the God of history. There is nothing that surprises Him, nothing that slows Him down because He rules and reigns. King Herod was strong but he was nothing compared to King Jesus. Life is often not like what we planned. Blues come, plans change, life happens but God is great and He is good and He’s in charge.
God takes care of us and prepares us for what hasn’t happened yet. That means He brings blessing from brokenness, triumph from tragedy and he can turn our mess into a message. Hold on to these 3 truths:
• God provides what we need
• God is always present
• God’s purposes will prevail
God doesn’t always tell us everything about the future, does He? Here’s a principle that is helpful. If you want to know God’s will then do the will of God that you already know. Many times we ask God to tell us what to do and God says, “I’ve already told you in my Word. Even when you’re blue, do what you know to be true.”
I find it very interesting that God did not tell Joseph to go to Nazareth until he had first obeyed and went to Egypt and then to Judea. The old adage is true: “God doesn’t steer parked cars.” If you want God to guide you, then start moving on those things you already know He wants you to do.
Lucy walks up to Charlie Brown just before Christmas and says to him: “Charlie Brown, since it is Christmas, I suggest that we lay aside all our differences and be friends for this season of the year.” Charlie Brown responds: “That’s a great idea, Lucy, but why does it have to be just at this time of the year? Why can’t we be friends all year long? Lucy looks at Charlie Brown with disgust and asks, “What are you, a fanatic or something?”
Friends, Christmas changes everything. Let’s let it change us all year long. Most of us could stand to be a bit more fanatical in our faith. Let’s do that by… Exhibiting instant obedience. Expecting constant opposition. Embracing God’s operation.
Even when you’re blue, do what you know to be true.