Wednesday, April 18, 2012

We Know What We're Doing...Or Do We? - Matthew 2:13-23

More than Review

13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up!  Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”

14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.

15 He remained there until the death of Herod.  This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the Prophet: “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.”

With a merely cursory glance, it may appear that whatever we can learn from this passage, we learned from the Scripture included in last week’s study – Joseph stepping out in faith and obeying the dream, and Herod believing that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, being so arrogant as to think he could kill God and thus keep his throne…but there’s actually a lot more here!

Let’s analyze Joseph’s dream a bit:
-          He was willing to pack up and move in the middle of the night!  That is a shocking amount of faith.  I mean, can you honestly say that you would immediately throw your stuff in a suitcase and move to another country in the middle of the night just because you thought God appeared to you in a dream?  I can’t.
-          This is the second (recorded) time that God has given Joseph a command that doesn’t make sense in a dream – and He demands more of him the second time around.  I think it’s so cool to watch people in the Bible grow in their walks, just as we do!  This is another beautiful example of how God never asks too much of you – He will only ask what you can reasonably handle, and if you’re not ready for that yet, He will build you up like a muscle by asking you to give in to smaller acts of faith first.
-          God sent Joseph and his family to Egypt.  This was not only a likely terrifying place for Jews to move to (since their nation had a history of being enslaved there, and had been warned against returning), but because of its pagan culture, it was spiritually dangerous as well.  This is a lovely example of how God will sometimes call us to do things that seem threatening physically or even spiritually, but we can be 100% confident that if He asks us to do it, He will give us the strength and protection to carry out His will.

And FYI, the Old Testament reference in verse 15 is Hosea 11:1 (a similar prophecy is found in Numbers 24:8, and a comparable analogy in Exodus 4:22-23a).

Something to be Afraid of

16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.

17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:






19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said,

20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.”

21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into 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.  Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee,

23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth.  This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Stories like this make many people wonder how a loving God can allow such evil in this world – I mean, the slaughtering of babies!  I like to explain it two ways: (1) we live in a fallen world, and (2) this world is also a spiritual battle zone.
-          Fallen World:  When God created the Garden of Eden, His intention was for mankind to spend eternity in that state – that paradise-on-earth (and most everyone who studies the End Times agrees that at the end of everything, a complete restoration will occur – we will spend eternity with God in a paradise on a new earth, just like He originally intended).  But God allows everyone free will because if we had no choice but to love Him, then He wouldn’t be the Romancer of our Souls, but a rapist god.  Unfortunately, we all know what happens when humans have free will.  So, when Adam and Eve sinned, this world (both physically and spiritually) became a non-paradise.  And when each one of us have sinned, it’s essentially like we’re casting our votes for Satan, not God, to be ruler of the world.  So, we learn two things: (1) Asking how God can allow it is blaming Him for something that we, ourselves have brought about, and (2) God allowing evil to persist shows His extreme mercy that He does not just smite us immediately when we sin.
-          Battle Zone:  If you come from a “charismatic” church background, you realize this, but in my experience, many Christians like to pretend it’s not real: We live in the midst of a war for the eternal souls for men.  There are demons running around every inch of soil, enticing people to sin and reject God every minute of every day.  War is ugly – so of course this world is ugly, too!  So instead of getting mad that there is a war, let’s pick up our spiritual armor (Galatians 6:11-17) so that there’s a huge victory for the right side and so this war can be over all the sooner!

Switching gears and returning more directly to our passage, let’s look at the concept of fear.  In verse 22, Joseph “was afraid to go,” and his concern is confirmed as legitimate in the same verse when God tells him to follow that specific fear and head for Galilee.  Yet, throughout the Bible, faith and fear are often painted as opposites.  So…what gives?  I propose that the answer lies in the existence of three categories of fear.
-          The sinful kind of fear – the kind of fear that is the opposite of faith – stems from the fact that we believe God either is not powerful enough to protect us, or does not love us enough to protect us.  Both are insults to Him.  This kind of fear keeps us from accomplishing anything.
-          There’s also another kind of fear most of us are familiar with (that has nothing to do with this situation) – the “fear of the Lord.”  This has long been an issue because it doesn’t translate well – basically, it means respecting someone and their power, like you would/should a parent.  It means finding a happy balance between the equally-wrong extremes of {living in a constant state of fear that God is going to smite you at any moment, even though you have accepted Christ’s death as substitution for your own} and {thinking you can do anything you want because saying the sinner’s prayer is some magic spell and now God can’t do anything to do – treating His power and His justice flippantly}.
-          Finally, there’s a third kind of fear I believe is at play in today’s passage: a healthy, human fear that God has given us for a reason.  Consider when you walk by a dark alley and you suddenly feel a chill go up your spine and become very alert, or when you lose sight of your young child for a moment and worry they have run off, or when a car cuts you off and you brace for collision while slamming on the brakes.  Intuition and fear are gifts from God!  Just like adrenaline and reflexes, they are designed to protect us, and cannot be “deprogrammed,” so we should not feel guilty for experiencing them.  That is, so long as this fear does not progress into being category-one fear.  For example, being afraid of something God has asked you to do but doing it anyway because, deep-down, you know that you’re safe in God’s will, is perfectly fine; but being afraid of something God has asked you to do and not doing it is a very, very bad kind of fear.  In Joseph’s case, he did not sin by being concerned for the safety of his wife and son – his fear was founded, evidencing to us that fear-in-check is a tool God has given us.

The Old Testament reference in verse 18 is Isaiah 31:15 (read through verse 17 to get context).  The prophecy mentioned in verse 23 is apparently one that the Jews were well aware of at the time, but that is not recorded for us in Old Testament Scripture.

Discussion Starters

Did you glean any other insights from today’s passage that I didn’t address?  Can you think of other examples where fear is a good thing (or where something often perceived as negative is actually a gift from God)?  Anything else you’d like to ask or comment on?

No comments: