This morning our text is taken from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Chapter Two, Verses eleven through twenty-three.
Matthew 2:13-23 English Standard Version (ESV)
13 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.”
14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt
15 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.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.
17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”
21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.
23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
“What does this mean, Lord?”
I can usually preach one or two sermons that are almost universally guaranteed to capture the interest of a congregation: the end of the world and finding God’s will for your life. Today I am going to speak on the latter. Or, I will, at least, address part of it, in a Christmas sort of way, mind you!
Let me begin by saying that as we approach the passage we must ask ourselves, “What issue might the Lord be addressing in our lives today with this passage?” This is what I ask as pastor. If I were merely teaching New Testament, my question would go as far as “What does the text mean?” But as pastoral preacher, I must inquire of the text, in prayer, “What does it mean for your People, Lord?” As I wrestled with this text I came away with a rather alarming spotlight on my own soul. I saw things that disturbed me. I began to write down what I saw.
“We can tarry in the blessings of today and miss the rewards of tomorrow.”
“We can get stuck in the unforgettable moments of our past and loose the invaluable days of our future.”
What I mean to say is that I was so impressed by the Holy Spirit as I marked the faithfulness of this man Joseph. He is one of the most underrated figures in the Bible. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ have a Saint Joseph’s Day to honor this father-figure in the Holy Family and it is usually quite a spread of food on the altar, with great amounts being gathered for the poor and the needy. Perhaps, they do a better job that we in remembering Joseph.
Joseph was a faithful man of God whose obedience to God in Matthew 2:13-23 provide guardianship for Mary and the Christ-child. Literally, Joseph preserves the salvation of the world by his faithfulness as he listens to God, takes Mary and the child, flees to Egypt, and then, an angel appears and guides him back to Israel, and circumstances lead the family to Nazareth. Joseph, the patriarch of this refugee family, the Holy Family, certainly has value for our lives on this Christmas Day. The value is multi-faceted, but I would point to how Joseph’s obedience provides instruction for our own. Moreover, I believe there is an amazing gift here for each of us. By following Joseph’s obedience, we learn more about God’s will for our lives.
Now there are numerous ways we could do this, but let us examine the traits of faith that lead to knowing God’s will that lead us on to the place where God wants us to be.
The first word is TRUST (verse 13).
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.”
Joseph had demonstrated his trust in God before. He trusted God when he learned that the child that Mary was carrying was God’s own Son, the Messiah promised in Scripture. He trusted God when they journey to Bethlehem. He will now trust God’s Word again.
I have often found that in praying for young men going into the ministry I must pray not for open doors, but that they may be given faith to walk through the open doors. There are many Macedonians crying, “Come here and help us!” But, to listen with faith, to know that your gifts and your passion meet at that one place, and then to walk through the door, is another thing all together.
Knowing God’s will for your life is not a matter of pinpointing a specific dot on a map in the universe. It is a matter of aligning gifts, passion, opportunity, and feasibility. But, it is also a matter of faith. Not just faith in your abilities, which is important, of course. But, firstly, you must pray for faith in God to walk through the Providential door that He has opened for you. This applies to your vocation, to your future spouse, and every area of life.
Yet, there can be no area of life more important than your own soul. God has provided a flight out of danger for you through His Son, Jesus Christ. As Joseph guarded the Holy Family and led them to safety, so, the Holy Spirit will come to you and guide you to the Ark of salvation in Jesus our Lord. Come to Him now. Receive Him by faith.
There is another facet of Joseph’s obedience that lends itself to knowing God’s will for our lives and that is our second word.
The second word is CLING (verse 14).
Now I use this word in the negative, as in, “Do not cling.” For we read, in verse 14, that Joseph, arose and went as the Lord told him to do. And I must tell you that I marvel at that sentence. There is so much behind that. It would have been easy for Joseph to cling. Rather, Joseph does not bargain with God or argue with God, as some in the Bible have done. He simply does what God tells him to do. And he leaves behind angels and wise men, gifts, and wonder. He trades it all in for yet another difficult journey, this time, into a foreign land. He did not cling to what he had been given. Joseph obviously received each moment as a gift, trusted in God, and attached himself to God not to God’s gifts.
When God called me to preach I made a vow to follow Him wherever He led. But what impressed me most of all was that my wife purchased a ring for herself. And she had inscribed the words of Ruth 1:16:
“. . . for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
The Lord has led us to seminary and pastoral internship in South Florida, to founding a new church and school in Overland Park, Kansas, to PhD studies in Wales, to founding a second church in Savannah, Georgia, to shepherding a historic, downtown congregation in Tennessee, to serving as the president and chancellor of a seminary system. Through it all I have served in theological education and as a U.S. Army Chaplain to do the work of an evangelist and to prepare others for ministry. And my wife has been there with me. Following God’s call can be very hard. Leaving behind friends and special places is difficult. As our son grew up he endured some of the hardship of ministry in following that call. But, I have always thought about the vow to follow the Lord wherever He led as not emptying, but filling. I think of it as a vase that is being filled with an increasing array of beautiful flowers. Serving you for these few months this year has added new flowers in the bouquet of saints. To cling to the blessings of yesterday is to miss the rewards of tomorrow.
Now. The point of application for you from Joseph’s obedience is not to cling to yesterday’s blessings. The point is to trust Him again for fresh manna. The point is to trust Him again for a new day. The point is not to try and remain in the place of the miracle because the place of the miracle can just as easily become hostile, even deadly to you. “Stay alert and stay alive,” as the old First Sergeant would say when I used to go with the Soldiers on patrol. This may not be applied to moving or even vocation. It might mean where you are spiritually. God wants you to grow. The place where you were yesterday, the spiritual place where you have been in 2016, or for the last ten years, has brought great blessings. But, now the Lord wants you to grow in new ways in your walk with Him. To remain where you are could cause a sort of calcification of your spirit. When we become spiritually stagnant that is when the Herod of Hell, the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Stay alert. Stay alive in Christ.
The third word is EMBRACE (19-23).
In verses 19-23 the text reveals both angelic announcement that guides the early father of Jesus, as well as human concern, and another dream. The angel of the Lord instructs Joseph to take Mary and the Child back into Israel for those who had sought the Child’s life were dead. Yet, when Joseph came to Judea, the area around Jerusalem, he faced Archelaus, the son of Herod. He was afraid. So, God answers his concern with another dream directing him to the district of Galilee. It was through these providential events that the family landed in their new home, an out of the way place with a bad reputation, Nazareth. Yet, in all of this, we are told by Matthew the writer that prophecy was being fulfilled. Joseph embraced the will of the Lord all the way to his new home.
I have a friend who lives in India. He lives in a very difficult area of India, where there are those who oppose Christ violently. There is unimaginable poverty there. The spiritual darkness is palpable. Yet, God led his father and mother there many years ago. He left and tried to escape the “family business” of ministry to the Indians (a church, a school for children of lepers, a college, and a seminary). But God’s Spirit spoke to him. God called him to return to the place where he wanted to leave. He assumed the responsibilities of his father in the ministry. Thirty years later, he has come to call the place his home. He speaks of it with such love, as if all of his heart is there in that place.
There may be some of you who need to embrace the will of the Lord, to listen to His voice, and to follow Him to an unlikely place, a place that will be your home. It may, indeed, be a location. But it could also be a new way of life. It could be to come to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, a “place” you could never imagine you would live. It could be to live a new life as His son or daughter. You have never lived like His child before. But now He calls you to this new home for your life. I can tell you this: following God’s voice, living in God’s will, is always the best place to call home.
Following Joseph’s lead can help us, in great part, to discover God’s will for our lives. There are no crystal balls. There is just faithfulness; faithfulness involving TRUSTING GOD, CLINGING TO HIM, and EMBRACING the place where God leads you as home.
Our home church pastor, Reverend Robert Baxter, would always tell his congregations, “If I would have known how beautiful this place was, I would have come sooner!” He said that in Iowa, Kansas, South Carolina, and in Alabama. Home for him is where the Lord’s call was. And because he lived that so joyfully, it became an infectious spirit that lifted everyone around him. When he took a call to a struggling church in South Carolina from his former home of Kansas City area, he began to brag to everyone about how the beautiful Kudzu was so green and lush. I had to pull him aside and let him know that we thought it was a blight on the landscape and the State was doing its best to kill the dadburn stuff. For him it was all lovely because he had followed the Lord’s leading. The unexpected journeys of his life became the road trips of faith with the Lord to new opportunities, new friends, new sights, and new experiences.
You don’t have to be as bouncy as Pastor Bob to fulfill this passage. You need only to trust in the Christ of Christmas, cling to Him alone, and embrace His call on your own life. For the One who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is the One who is with you on that journey all the way home.