The First Sunday After Christmas December 28, 2014
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
94, 646, Away in a Manger, 78
Now when [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
In Christ, our newborn Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
Before an airline pilot pushes the throttle to full and hurtles down the runway for takeoff, a flight plan is filed. The flight plan tells the plane’s starting point and destination, what route it will take to get to that destination, how high it will being flying, how long it will be in the air, how much fuel and how many passengers it will be carrying, and other data like that. It is a detailed travel plan.
In the days after Christmas, many people are planning trips. Some are planning to go away for a visit, others are planning to return home after being gone for the holiday. They all have their “flight plans” so to speak—even if those plans may not call for air travel.
Today, we turn our attention toward a journey taken by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph several months after Christ’s birth. This journey teaches us something about God’s care and guidance and reminds us that wherever we go in life, He is right beside us playing the most important role in our journey. Proverbs says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9 NIV).
Today we consider GOD’S POST-CHRISTMAS “FLIGHT PLAN” It is I. Prepared in advance, II. Executed under His guidance, and III. Centered on our salvation.
Jesus’ trip into Egypt took place immediately after the visit of the wise men. Their effort in crossing such a distance to see the One called “King of the Jews” had really stirred up things in Jerusalem. King Herod, especially, was determined to exterminate any potential rivals to his throne. Herod the Great, known even today for his wicked leadership, went about putting to death all the male children in Bethlehem who were under two years old. Would Jesus survive? Or would He die a premature death never to achieve His goal of saving His people from their sins? For some, Herod’s decree may have felt like God’s promise to send a Messiah had been broken.
But the Heavenly Father had a “flight plan” in place for His Son. Jesus, along with His mother and stepfather, would go to Egypt to avoid Herod’s soldiers. Using the gifts given to them by the magi to finance their travels, they went where Jews had often gone in times of trouble. Like the Israelites in the days of Joseph had gone to Egypt when famine threatened their lives, so Jesus was taken to Egypt when His life was in danger.
This flight into Egypt may have seemed sudden to Mary and Joseph, but it was not sudden to God. Matthew references two prophecies: “out of Egypt I called My son,” [v.15] and “He shall be called a Nazarene.” [v.23] These prophecies which show that the Father anticipated the need for this journey and was preparing for it long before it happened. He foretold that Jesus would go to Egypt, and He planned that Jesus would return safely from there to Nazareth. This “post-Christmas flight plan” was prepared in advance.
It is not our Father’s way to be unprepared for the threats and challenges that come up in our lives—although sometimes we think that He is unprepared.
If a sudden or catastrophic event affects our lives like Herod’s intent to slaughter the children of Bethlehem affected the lives of Mary and Joseph, it is easy to think: “God, were you ready for this? I say you were not!” All too often we carry-on doubting our God, wondering if He is really ready to meet the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Seeing that God was already prepared when Jesus’ family was threatened reminds us that He is just as prepared for the crises that come upon us. Do not doubt that your God is ready and able to lead you through difficult days. Be confident that when they come to you He has already thought about them and prepared for them. Do not think that He has not thought of how to help you and guide you and what He can do when your future is made suddenly uncertain in your mind. This is, after all, the same God who wrote to the people of Judah during their exile in Babylon saying, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
Once planned, the escape into Egypt was then executed under the guiding hand of God—every step of the way. Joseph did not just pick up the family and strike out for Egypt on his own. We see that three times God spoke to Joseph in a dream. Every time a critical point was reached in the flight plan, God was there directing the way. First saying, “Go to Egypt,” [v.13] then “Go back to Israel,” [v.19] then “Go to Nazareth.” [v.22]
God guided Joseph, telling him just what to do and where to go, and Joseph listened. He did exactly what he was told, setting a good example for us all. For when God directs us, we should not say, “I have a better idea.” When He has something in mind for us to do and communicates that to us, He expects us to follow His guidance and we should do so. When we do not, we create even more trouble for ourselves.
How does God guide us today? He could appear in dreams like He did for Joseph, but He has given us a more lasting way to hear and study His Word. A dream comes and goes, but the Bible which God has written for us communicates with us constantly and accurately. We have “the word of the prophets made more certain” as Peter says (2 Peter 1:19 NIV).
When you are faced with decisions in your lives, when you are looking to follow your own “flight plans” to decide whether to go in this direction or that direction, the first thing to do is to look to the Scriptures and see what God is telling you there. Check to see if your plans are in line with the way God wants His believing children to live. If they are, then carry on and pray for Him to open ways to accomplish your goals.
If the direction you want to go is not in line with God’s clearly revealed Word, then change your plans to bring them in line with what the Bible says. So many people these days blunder on ahead without even looking to see if the Lord has any guidance for them, or they openly go against God’s direction just like the prophet Jonah once did. You can usually tell who those people are. They are the ones whose lives are very unstable.
An especially interesting aspect of God’s guidance is found in the third of Joseph’s dreams. After Joseph had followed God’s direction and started back for Israel, he learned that Archelaus, Herod’s evil son, was now reigning there. Joseph became afraid. God was sympathetic to Joseph’s fears and instructed him then to go to Nazareth.
God had planned from the beginning that Nazareth would be the family’s final destination and said so in prophecy, but in a way that is hard for us to wrap our heads around, that plan was interactive. That is, God had taken into account Joseph’s fears in advance, reacted to them, and worked them into His own “flight plan.”
The point is that when we talk about God’s guidance and how He executes His plans in our lives, it is not as if God is just up in Heaven pressing buttons that force us to move. It is not as if He just turns this switch or that one and we go around like an electric train on a track while He watches. His “flight plan” for us is actually interwoven with our prayers and requests, our decisions, His guiding Word, and our specific needs. Isn’t that amazing! God’s guidance in your life is suited to you. He knows your needs and weaknesses. He takes you into account at every turn, so great is His loving care for you. He does this for all of His children at the same time! One of the proverbs states it so simply saying, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21 NIV); but when we think about how deeply complex that process actually is, we stand in awe and wonder at our God’s knowledge and abilities!
Jesus had been sent to earth to be offered up as a sacrifice for our sins. The cross, as we all know, was His ultimate destination. He had to go there because there He would pay the debt that we owed. God the Father sent Him to Egypt early in His human life so that He would be protected, so that He would be able to finish the task He had been sent to perform. Jesus would die only when the time was right, only when He fully done what was acceptable and necessary with respect to living under the law. He would only die at the time when His death could atone for our sins.
Jesus was “called out of Egypt” just like the Old Testament people of Israel were called out of their captivity and brought into the land of Canaan. The Israelites were called out to enjoy the freedom of the land God had promised to them. Jesus was called out from Egypt so that He could continue His journey to death, a death that would make us free from our bondage to sin and its punishment.
The Nicene Creed says this about Jesus: “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” From this text today we might also add, “Who for us and for our salvation was sent into Egypt to avoid a premature death, and who was called back from Egypt to continue upon His way of sorrows, His road to the cross upon which He would bear all our guilt.” For us and for our salvation all these things happened. For us and for our salvation … that is always what God has in mind as He guides and directs us, as He makes plans for us. That is His goal.
Whatever your post-Christmas “flight plan” might be. Wherever you are heading as you enter the new year, whatever may come to you in the future, be aware that God is with you and is working too, and pay attention to Him. Know that He is interested in you, listen to His guidance, and walk confidently, trusting that His plan is to bring you to eternal life. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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