1st Sunday after Christmas
Matthew 2:13-15; 19-23
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests! In the name of Jesus, who was born to save us, dear friends in Christ, one of the fun elements of giving or receiving gifts at Christmas is the element of surprise, isn’t it? Isn’t that the whole purpose of wrapping paper? So you can conceal the gift and watch the reaction as the person discovers what it is? Half the fun of gift giving is the surprise. And since you typically get gifts from friends and family whatever the gift is underneath all the wrapping paper you know is going to be good because it comes from someone who cares about you.
Well, our text for this morning also gives us a bit of a surprise. We have heard the glorious Christmas account. We have heard how Jesus was born humbly and weakly in a stable, we have heard how angels announced the news of the birth of the Savior to shepherds, how choirs of angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests,” we’ve heard how the shepherds see this thing that had happened, and how they left rejoicing and sharing the news, and then how God placed a special star in the sky that led Magi from the east to worship at Jesus’ cradle and presented him with rich and expensive gifts. But then, right after they left, everything seems to change! Seems to turn into a nightmare!
As soon as they left an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, “Get up! 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.” All of a sudden the child’s infant life is in danger! The ruler, Herod, wants to kill him! So, in the middle of the night Joseph is up gathering the child and his mother and they’re off on the, at least, 75 mile journey to the border of Egypt! If going from Nazareth to Bethlehem was difficult enough, now they have to travel to a different country with a small infant! What’s going on? What a reversal! What a change of events! What a surprise!
So, what was Herod’s problem? Why did he want to kill baby Jesus? Somewhat ironically within it seems a matter of a few months, maybe more, Herod himself would be dead, really, what possible harm could a little baby do to a sick old man? Well, historical sources seem to indicate that in the latter part of his rule Herod became severely paranoid about someone trying to take his ruling away from him. By rights, he was really an illegitimate king in Judah. He wasn’t a descendant of Jacob or Israel, but was descended from Esau – so he shouldn’t have been king in Judah anyway, but the Romans allowed him to be. And in his ruthless cruelty he apparently slaughtered the entire family who had ruled in Judea before him, at one point he executed over half of the Sanhedrin, at another time on a whim he executed 300 court officials, he executed his own wife, and then 3 of his own sons, and even on his death bed because he was afraid everyone would be rejoicing at his death he arranged for all the notable men of Jerusalem to be assembled and gave orders that when he died they were all to be killed so that on the day of his death there would still be mourning. Wow!
So what was Herod’s problem? He misunderstood who the Christ was going to be, he thought Jesus was a threat to his rule, he didn’t understand that Jesus came for a much higher purpose. But, even deeper than that, his problem was that he wanted to be king, he didn’t want God or Christ to be king. He wanted to be his own god, master of his own life. And finally that’s the essence of all sin, isn’t it? Not wanting God to be God, but wanting me to be god, putting what I want above what God wants. And that sin that was left unchecked in Herod’s heart that moved him to do atrocious things and awful things, the root of that sin also lives in our sinful hearts too. And that sin shows itself in our lives. When we think we know better than God. When we hold a grudge instead of forgiving, when we covet what God hasn’t allowed us to have instead of being content, when we fail to take someone else’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.
You see, Jesus was born in Bethlehem not just so that we can celebrate Christmas every year, but in order to wash us clean from our sins, and not only that either, but also to take over our lives, in order to transform us into His likeness, the likeness of God’s Son, in order to make us God’s own sons, that He so rules in our hearts that we actually become like Christ. What does that mean? That means that I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. That means it’s not, “What do I want?” “What is best for me?” “How can I make sure things work out for MY benefit?” Rather, “How does God’s love for me in Christ move me to act?” “How can I use this situation to show that Christ is my king, not Herod, and not me either?” “How can I submit my will, my wants, my desires, my ambitions in life to Christ my King?”
Well, Herod who refused to have Christ as king died. And so an angel appeared to Joseph in Egypt again in a dream that they should return to Israel, which just so happened to fulfill the prophesy that Jesus would be brought out of Egypt. So the family returned to Israel and Joseph seemed to be ready to settle in Judah, perhaps Bethlehem or Jerusalem, where if Jesus would become anyone it would be more likely for Him to come from. But then he found out that Archelaus, one of Herod’s sons, who was just like his father was ruling there he became afraid to settle there so the family moved to Galilee and lived in Nazareth. And this too fulfilled the prophecies about Jesus being a Nazarene in other words that Jesus would be rejected and despised by most because Nazareth was known as the hillbilly country where no one of any renown came from there!
But what does this show us about God? Well, first it shows us that nothing is a surprise to God. Herod in his hate for Christ didn’t surprise God or catch God off His guard. God already foreknew what was going to take place and even guided things so that everything would take place just as He had prophesied concerning Jesus: that he would come up out of Egypt, that he would be a Nazarene. In other words, all of human history is on a steady progression to fulfill God’s purposes and God makes sure it will.
And so even today nothing catches God off guard, nothing is a surprise to Him. In His foreknowledge God knows all things – even the evil purposes and wicked designs of people who rebel against Him – and so He is perfectly capable of guiding all things to fulfill His purposes no matter how much His enemies will try to push God out of their lives or no matter how much people will try to bring God’s Church down.
And even in our lives. God continues to guide and direct and care for us. Are there times in our lives when we are surprised by the way things turn out or how things happen? Are there times when we’re left scratching our heads? Sure. But our surprises are not surprises to God. He’ll continue to remain in control and continue to work things out for our good and the furthering of His gospel.
How do we know? All we have to do is look at this account. Here God demonstrated His watchful care. Hypothetically speaking if Herod had been successful and managed to kill baby Jesus, then baby Jesus, the sinless Son of God would have gone to heaven. He wasn’t guilty of any sin. But, then we wouldn’t have had a perfect substitute, then we would be lost forever, then Herod would have foiled God’s entire plan of saving the human race.
So, God’s watchful care here wasn’t just to keep baby Jesus safe, it was to keep you and I safe! To keep you safe from judgment, safe from slavery to sin, safe from hell, safe from Satan. And that same God who kept our salvation safe will continue to watch over you and me and keep us safe until He brings us to our eternal home because in Jesus God has made us His sons.
So what surprises have come into your life? What surprises are waiting for you this week? What surprises will you face 2014? Remember, to God nothing is a surprise because He knows all things and therefore He remains in control and in a perfect position to guide things for His purposes and for your good! Amen.