May the Father’s love for you rest on your hearts. And may the undeserved mercy of His Son fill you with peace. Amen.
John 3:16 is probably the most widely known Bible passage. I’d bet that most of us could say it by heart. In fact, let’s try that right now. It doesn’t matter if your translation is slightly different, try to say it out-loud with me now.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).
In that verse Jesus is called the “only begotten Son” of God. The Bible refers to angels as “sons of God” because they are His mighty servants. The Bible calls God’s followers “sons and daughters of God” because they have become part of His family through faith in Jesus. But Jesus is the Son of God in a way that no one else is. He alone is the “only begotten Son” of the Father.
God the Father loves God the Son with the same love that a human father has for his children. Only God the Father’s love is perfect, completely pure, intense and never wavering.
In today’s reading we’ll see God the Father caring for the Christ Child. We’ll see Him leading, protecting and providing for His little Boy.
Matthew 2 (NIV)
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “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.”
14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
If there’s any idea that stands out in this part of Matthew, it’s the idea of “LEADING”. God is leading all sorts of people in this chapter.
Even before this chapter God led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. On the surface the trip seemed like one more annoyance imposed by the Roman government. Caesar calls a census and so we’ve got to walk 75 miles to Bethlehem. But in reality, it was God who was leading Mary and Joseph to that city. Because God’s prophet had foretold that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem.
Last Sunday we heard how Mary and Joseph didn’t leave Bethlehem right away after Jesus’ birth. They remained for a month or so. Luke’s Gospel tells us they had to present Jesus to the LORD at the Temple because He was Mary’s first-born. And Mary herself had to wait a month before she could offer certain sacrifices of cleansing.
The next big event Luke reports in the life of Jesus’ family is their return to Nazareth. But Matthew tells us the rest of the story. Matthew fills in the gap and informs us what happened BEFORE they returned to Nazareth.
Apparently, Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem for longer than a month. It appears that they stayed in Bethlehem for a year, maybe as long as two.
Verse 16 tells us that when Herod got angry with the Magi, he…
“…gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi” (Matthew 2:16 NIV).
We assume Herod padded the age of the child to make sure he got Him, putting the age of the Christ Child between 1-2 years.
Now we might ask, Why did Mary and Joseph remain in Bethlehem that long? Who knows. Perhaps Mary needed more time to recover from her labor before making the 75 mile hike back to Nazareth. Maybe Joseph found a good job in Bethlehem or nearby Jerusalem.
We don’t know ALL the details that kept them in Bethlehem for months after Jesus’ birth. But we do know this: the Magi were coming.
When Jesus was born a special star had appeared. And these mysterious people, these Magi from the east somehow knew that this new star meant that the King of the Jews had been born.
This King of the Jews was significant to them because He was the Savior. That the Magi understood this is shown by their actions. They came to King Herod looking for “King of the Jews”. They knew Herod was the reigning king in Judea. They knew Caesar was the greater king ruling over much of the world. But they weren’t looking for these rulers. They were searching for a Ruler of much greater significance. They had put their lives on hold, and had started off on the long journey to Bethlehem to see this King.
Now, they didn’t know they were headed for Bethlehem at the start. At first they just headed to Israel. Perhaps the star which had appeared was already leading them. But either the star wasn’t leading them at first, or it disappeared for a time, because when they got to Jerusalem they had to ask for directions.
And because they had to ask for directions, more people turned their eyes to the Christ. Herod was concerned, and all of Jerusalem was also. What was going on here? Had the Christ really been born?!
Since God the Father was purposefully drawing all this attention to His Son, He also made sure to protect Him. Do doubt Satan did not want this Child to live long. And any who Satan could use to murder the Christ, he would use.
One candidate for this job was Herod the Great. He was a crazy man and a murderer. He murdered family members that he considered threats to his throne. Brother in law. Uncle. Wife. He even gave orders to his henchmen to execute important Jewish leaders and their families upon his own death. Why? So that there would be true mourning in Jerusalem on the day of his death. Herod was nuts.
We might think, God why would you have the Magi go anywhere near Herod? I can think of two reasons. First of all, the Savior has been born to save ALL PEOPLE. God even offered salvation to a bloodthirsty and paranoid man like Herod. Secondly, the Father was demonstrating His ability to protect. Though often in the spotlight and hated by many, God’s Son would remain safe until the right time came for His perfect sacrifice to be offered to wipe our record of sin off the board forever.
After the Magi saw the Christ Child and offered their gifts, the Father sent His angel to tell them not to go back to Herod. He was protecting His faithful followers.
God then also dispatched an angel to tell Joseph, to get his family out of town. Obviously God was protecting His Son. But here we also see God PROVIDING for His Son, for the Magi brought gifts.
What we know about the Magi is pretty much from this chapter. We don’t actually know how many there were. We guess three because there were three kinds of gifts. We don’t actually know if they were kings or not. They must have had some money to be able to put their lives on pause to take this trip, and to offer expensive gifts like they did.
We guess they had come to know about the Savior from faithful Jews who had been captive in Babylon. The ancient sage-priests who were called the Magi were known to have existed in Babylon. But we don’t know for sure where they came from, except that they were from the east.
Their gifts to Baby Jesus were Gold, incense and myrrh. Some have suggested that they gave the Christ Child gold because He was king, incense because He was God (incense was commonly offered to gods), and myrrh because He was truly man (myrrh was used in burial practices).
While it is true that the Christ Child was king, God and man, it is more likely that these gifts were simply the best they had to offer. And that’s where we see the hand of the Father providing for His Son. Pretty quick Jesus’ guardians were going to have to make a trip to Egypt, and with no time to save up the money needed to do so.
Right on cue come the Magi, bearing gifts that could be sold to pave the way to Egypt. The Father leads, protects and He provides.
Now, the Father did all these things for His Son Jesus, but He also did these things for you and me. The whole reason that God’s Son was born into the human race was to save sinful people from hell. To do this He had to live a sinless human life so that He could die a pure and sacrificial death. In this way He traded His perfect life for our life of sin and failure.
Every time that God protects His Son in this account, He’s also protecting our salvation.
Having just started a new year, this is a perfect time to be reminded how God the Father leads, protects and provides. He does this for His sons and daughters, and also for those who do not yet know Him.
Turn to Acts 17, verse 24. Here Paul is sharing the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus with the philosophers of Athens. He says to them…
“24“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:24-27 NIV).
God has lead people into our lives so that we can tell them about Jesus. He had lead us here to listen to His Word grow in faith. God will continue to lead, protect and provide for us in this coming year.
We have an amazing promise from God. The promise of forgiveness through His Only-Begotten Son. So, let’s do what Joseph did. Each time God’s messenger appears to Joseph in a dream he doesn’t question it, he just does it. When we hear God’s voice, let’s not question Him, let’s just do it.
Let’s also be like the Magi, frequently putting our day to day lives on hold so that we can go to Jesus, presenting Him with our greatest gifts: our hearts, our lives, our dedication, our thoughts, our dependence, our trust.
We can do all these things with confidence and a feeling of peace. Because, at the end of the day, whether we’ve failed or succeeded in what we’ve laid our hand to, we have Christ. At the end of every day we can look to Jesus and know: He was born, to die, and to rise, so that I might be forgiven and live forever with His Father.
Happy New Year, Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.