Friday, December 27, 2019

To Fulfill What Was Spoken by the Prophets

Matthew 2:13-23 Life doesn’t always work out as we had planned.  I know that’s not exactly a news flash--but still, we’re shocked when the course of our life takes a turn that we never planned for and never expected.  We suffer under the illusion that life-changing, even life-shattering events always happen to someone else.  But they don’t–they happen to us too--and the entire course of our life is changed.  
            A young wife and mother is unexpectedly left with small children to raise when her husband dies.  Chronic illness changes the plans of a couple who have waited their entire life for their golden years.  Our adult children make decisions that we could have never foreseen—decisions that change the future that we had planned. 
As we travel through this world on our way to our heavenly home--events big and small change the direction of our lives-- and oftentimes, we are forced to go down roads not of our own choosing.  Instead of the straight and easy road that we want–we find ourselves traveling a path of suffering and hardship.
That is the way it was for the Holy Family who were also forced to go home another way–a way not of their own choosing—and yet a way of God’s guiding.
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….This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son.  
            Life for Mary and Joseph started out hard and just got harder.  At the beginning of their lives together there were all those painful questions and difficult events surrounding Mary’s pregnancy.  Then they were forced to travel to Bethlehem in the late stages of her pregnancy.  Then she had to deliver her first-born in a stable.  And now this flight into Egypt–away from all that was familiar and comfortable. 
Joseph must have thought to himself:  “What else can go wrong”?  But there was much more hardship still to come for the Holy Family.
            The king who ruled Judea at that time was a man by the name of Herod–a wicked king by even ancient standards.  Herod heard of the birth of the new born king of the Jews from the Magi and was determined to kill this rival just as he had murdered his own sons and wives who got in the way of his ambition.  Nothing would stand in his way this time--not even the death of every male child around Bethlehem two years old or younger.
            Not only did it seem that Mary and Joseph and Jesus were at the mercy of one of the most powerful, evil men of their day, we learn from the book of Revelation that Herod’s murder of the Holy Innocents was not just the action of an evil king, but the plan of Satan to destroy the Messiah while he still a helpless child.  Powerful, evil forces were allied against the Holy Family.
            And while Mary and Joseph could not have known the cosmic dimensions to all these events–their loving heavenly Father did-- and his guiding hand was upon their lives.  He had other plans for them–plans to bless and prosper them.  He had prepared a way home for them that was even better than what they would have chosen for themselves.
            They were not at the mercy of terrible forces beyond their control at all.  Instead, they were safe and secure in the hands of their loving heavenly Father who was guiding their lives and ordering history for their good—and for our salvation.
            God had already seen these events before the beginning of time and made plans to accomplish his good and loving will in their lives.  Everything that happened to them—even the painful and unexpected—worked together according to God’s plan for their good and for our salvation.  The Bible says:
 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:  "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation”…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…And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene."
Centuries before Jesus’ birth, God had promised through the prophet Hosea that he would call his Son out of Egypt and so he led the Holy Family to safety in that land.
And then, when Archelaus (Ar-ka-lay-us) was ruling in Judea, God had already planned that they would find safe refuge in Nazareth so that his Son would be called a Nazerene—just as had been prophesied, fulfilling his promise.
            God took the evil that surrounded the Holy Family and worked it to their good.  In every situation and moment, he directed the events and circumstances of their lives by his guiding hand so that they would be a blessing to them and accomplish our salvation. 
Of course, God could have easily have prevented the whole situation.  He could have changed the course of history so that Herod was never king–he could have directed the wise man so they never met up with Herod–he could have had his Son be born in a different time and place.  So many different paths the Lord could have taken. 
When we look at that situation it might seem as if we could have done the whole thing a lot better.  But the Bible says that,
“When the fullness of time had come (in other words:  at just the right time and in just the right way) God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” 
God’s timing and God’s plan were perfect in the life of the Holy Family—not only for their sake-- but for our salvation.
An important part of God’s plan to save us was for his Son to succeed in every place where man, and especially ancient Israel, had failed.  Though the Israelites were led out of Egypt by the might of the out-stretched arm of the living God, through their disobedience and faithlessness, they failed to enter into the Promised Land. 
            But God’s Son would not fail.  He too would be called out of Egypt by God’s guiding hand, but where his people had sinned, he, by perfect obedience and faithfulness to his heavenly Father, would lead his people to the Promised Land. 
Led by Jesus, we are on the way home to heaven at this very moment.  On our way home, there can be detours–changes in our travel plans for us too.  I know that we would all very much prefer the smoothest, most direct way to our heavenly home with no bumps or roadblocks along the way.  But life doesn’t work out that way.
            As those who follow Jesus Christ as his disciples, we must not think that we will receive better treatment than our Lord received.  Just as the Christ child went home another way that was much more difficult, so will we who follow in his steps.
            Like the Holy Family, we too are affected by the broken sinful world around us–there are events and people and circumstances beyond our control and not to our liking. 
The devil who prowls this world like a roaring lion looking for those he can devour just as he once tried to devour the infant Jesus.  We struggle to live in a world broken by sin–experiencing fires and famines and disease.  Our own sinful flesh leads us astray.  But just as God did not just zap Herod on the spot, so God does not eliminate every evil and hardship in our path.
            In the journey of the Holy Family, we see that just because we suffer hardships or setbacks, it does not means that God is angry with us or punishing us for some sin.  God punished Jesus once for all on the cross—in our place-- for our sins. 
The hardships we endure and the plans that go awry are simply a part of the life of a child of God who lives in a broken world-- just as they were for the sinless Christ Child.  But just like him-- we are always safe in the guiding hands of our loving heavenly Father who fashions and shapes hardship and suffering for our eternal good.
            When you have setbacks and detours in life I want you to remember that God sent the Holy Family home another way-- not to punish them, but to help them and protect them.  In the same way, God’s guiding hand rests upon all of those who are his children by faith in Jesus.  And so I ask you ere this morning:
            Has your life taken an unexpected detour?  Is it not going according to your plan?  Do you find yourself on a road of suffering, sacrifice, and trial?  Do you feel as if you are traveling down a deserted highway?  You are not alone.  God has not abandoned you and you can be confident that he will bring you home.
            In fact, all of God’s faithful people have gone home in ways that they never expected–in ways that they never would have chosen for themselves.  We cannot arrive at our heavenly home by always following the way of ease, safety, and comfort.  
The Christian life involves fleeing evil, enduring hardship, and making sacrifices.  That’s the way it is for the Holy Family and that is the way it is for all those who follow Jesus in a world broken by sin and death and held captive by the power of Satan. 
            But you are not alone on this earthly journey.  God goes with you and God is in control.  God led the Holy Family home another way to protect, help, and save them.  He did it so that his perfect plan of salvation would be accomplished and his name would be glorified.  May God’s guiding hand lead us home for the same reasons!  Amen.

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