Archive for the ‘Matthew 2:13-23’ Category

Take the Child!

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Christmas 1A, December 29th, 2013

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This morning, two parts of our readings take precedent over all others; they demand our attention and even our obedience.  The first is  the theme of our message.  It is repeated four times in our gospel reading (Matthew 2:13-23), and it is this: “Rise, take the child and His  mother.”  The second portion of God’s Word that demands recognition comes from our Epistle reading (Galatians 4:4-7): “But when the  fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so  that we might receive adoption as sons.”

If we put these two portions of scripture together we seem to get a clear message, a theme if you will to apply to our worship this  morning: God helps us in times of uncertainty because we take hold of the mystery that is Jesus, the eternal Son of God who is also man;  born of a woman at just the right time.  In other words, we can not and must not separate Jesus humanity from His divinity.  If we will  take this God-child as He is given to us, we will also receive redemption, that is we will be not only saved from our sin, but we will also  become God’s own child!

In the little Child Jesus, we see God’s care for His Son wrapped in swaddling clothes, but we are also given assurance that He will care for  us also, His adopted children of faith.  So…

We are called to take the Child in times of danger.  Unlike Joseph, most of us will not have an angel appear to us in order to warn us about  impending danger or threats to our Christian of faith.  But we know by experience that there are many frightening things that wait for us  in the coming year, even physical dangers.  But rest assured, God knows about each of them; He is already there in that moment of time preparing a way for you.  He has already planed the way of escape for you.  As Joseph was directed to run to Egypt for his escape, God as well has a way out for you.  Now, while it may not be as drastic as running to another country, it is a way out that God has planned.

What will the danger for you look like?  Only God knows, but think about this: Not all dangers are physical.  In fact most of them are spiritual.  For the young people, God wants you to know that He has watched over you this last year, and He is still protecting you.  To you, through the Apostle Paul, God says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” [1 Corinthians 6:18]  And for all of us who are prone to trust in things created over the Creator, God tells us, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” [1 Corinthians 10:14]

How we flee from these temptations in the year to come is the way Joseph was to flee to Egypt; we take the Child and His mother and we run away from temptation.  Please hear me; if anyone comes to you preaching and teaching a different Jesus, or a different kind of gospel, you must flee.  Take this Jesus, this Child and His mother and run!  You dear Christians are adopted children of God and you have been given the ability to flee from these things.  So pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of faith and take hold of the gift of faith and live out the eternal life you were called to live.  Let your Christian walk be a confession about God’s faithfulness to those who do not yet know Him as their Heavenly Father. [1 Timothy 6:11, 12]

We are also called to take the young child in times of catastrophe.  When I say catastrophe, what comes to mind… terrorist attack, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake?  Ok, but what about cancer or some other life threatening disease?  It’s during times like these that the inevitable question arises: “Why me?”  Well why not you?  You have the assurance that you are eternally saved, so what is one fleeting physical attack in comparison to the faithful promise of God, which assures you that because you have taken the Child to be your Savior and God, you will live with Him forever in paradise?  Maybe the best witness we will ever give to our God is the way we grab onto His Son in times of tragedy and trust in His promise of eternal life no matter what our life circumstances may say.

Friends if we try to find answers to life’s catastrophes where God does not speak, all we will do is watch the joy of knowing we are His children slip away from us.  In our gospel reading we are shown an example of this.  The Magi escaped and Jesus and the Holy Family successfully fled to Egypt, but left behind were the young children who were slaughtered.  The church now calls them the Holy Innocents.  If you were to tell those mothers as their children lay dead that they were blessed, do you think they would hear you?  There is no point in telling those young mothers to “Take the young children and flee… for they are no more.”

In the middle of catastrophe, when we want to call out to God, “Why me?” He points to the Child, His Son and answers, “Because, even He!”  In His flight to Egypt God the Son was already redeeming the world from their sins.  God was in Christ reconciling the world, that is bringing us back to Himself.  Did the world understand at the time?  No, they did not, and neither do we most of the time.  Would the world have been better served if Jesus remained in Bethlehem and died with the other children?  Is it favoritism on the part of God the Father to provide for His Son’s escape while the others died?  No, because we know that ultimately God did not allow His Son to escape.  We know why this God-child had to become the God-man.  He was born so that He could die upon the cross, and not at the edge of a government sword.  God did not spare His only Son but delivered Him up as a ransom for us all.  For “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” [Isaiah 53:6]

So take the Child, and trust that God the Father through the Son, has given you all things!

Take the child in times of prosperity as well.  Joseph did that very thing when the angel reported that “those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” [Vs. 20]  He returned and made a life for His family in Nazareth.  Yes, we too need to take the Child even when things are going well, because you will need Him.

One sad truth that I have discovered in my time as your pastor, is that there is a certain group that comes to God’s house to receive His Divine Service only during the hard times.  They will gladly hear our message this morning and shout a hearty “AMEN, brother!” to the first two points I’ve made.  They know that when times are tough and catastrophe strikes, Christ and His church are right there waiting.  But when things are going well, not only are they not in church, but neither is their time, talent, and treasure.  The church as a whole suffers because of this, but they suffer more.  Their faith is not being strengthened by God’s means of grace and they begin to falter and fall.  “But” they may counter, “I have fallen before, but God rescued me.  So I am sure when I need my faith it will be given again.”

O foolish Christians, who has tricked you with that lie from hell.  It can only be the devil himself and this sinful generation that has enslaved you.  Have you not read the story about the five foolish virgins?  They too saw no need to keep their supply of faith full.  And when their Lord came their lamps were not lit.  They begged the others to share or sell their faith, but they could not.  And when their Lord arrived for judgment He proclaimed to them, “I DO NOT KNOW YOU!  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” [Matthew 25:1-13]

Take the Child dear friends and take Him as often as you can.  As His mother and Joseph took Him and protected Him, so each of us must take Him not only as our Savior and God, but also as a dear family member.  Do you remember the Bible story about the time Jesus was teaching a large crowd and someone told Him that His mother and brothers were waiting to speak to Him?  If so, then you also remember what He said in answer to that news.  With His arm outstretched, He waved at the great crowd of people and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)

And what is the will of our Father in Heaven?  That we would take His Son.  Together we take the child as we run from temptation and stand up with courage, so that equipped by God we may face the catastrophes of life and celebrate with joy, the truth that gladly proclaims, “God has and always will deliver us.”

And together, we now move as one body to take the Child in the bread and the wine.  The mystery that somehow God was born a child is enough to comfort our fearful hearts, but just as incredible is the truth that the body and blood of Jesus now comes to us in simple bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins past, and the assurance of faith in the future, all so that we may keep taking the child in the years to come for the assurance of eternal life and salvation.  Dear friends, take the child … AMEN!

Violent Night, Holy Night!

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

1st Sunday after Christmas A, December 26, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Picture shows a woman holding her child hiding from Herod's soldiers.

INRODUCTION:

I found our gospel lesson this morning a hard message to preach.  It’s hard to hear a message that included the slaughter of “innocent” babies; that’s not the message that most of us want to hear the first Sunday after Christmas message, right?  Haven’t we all been taught that Christmas is a time of happiness?  So why would I want to preach about violence and death?  Well, because it is in the Bible!  And God’s Word is always relevant and timely.  In this reading from Matthew, we are shown sin at its ugliest, but it is also shows us an important piece of prophecy that was fulfilled.  In our gospel lesson God wants us to learn about His special providence or care, which accomplishes His will, even when bad, violent and evil things happen.  In short, God wants us to know that even when bad things happen, He is still in control!

 As a way of introduction, please allow me a few words about the history behind how the church has dealt with this text.  Somewhere around the middle of the 4th century, the church observed this Sunday and this text as “The Feast of the Innocents.”  It was a big deal for the early church because they felt that it was the very first evidence of martyrdom for Christ.  During this time period, the church was soaked with the blood of Christians who died to proclaim the truth of the gospel, and they used this day to honor those who had given so much.  The liturgical setting was often the color purple, which was usually reserved for the season of Lent.  In the worship service it was a day to emphasize repentance and personal examination.  Let me share with you a sample prayer that I found that I feel best describes the over all mindset of the early church: “O God, whose praise the martyred innocents did this day proclaim, not by speaking but by dying: Destroy in us all the malice of sinfulness, that our lives may also proclaim thy faith, which our tongues profess.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Let me give you a few questions to consider before I address our text:  Did people die yesterday on Christmas?  Were there homeless people Christmas Eve?  Do you think that every Christian experienced a problem free Christmas?  Do you think that there might even be some of your brothers and sisters in the Lord here today that did not have a MERRY and WONDERFUL Christmas?  If you answered yes to anyone of these questions then you’ve discovered like me that God’s Word for us today is very timely and appropriate for us to consider, but in order for us to hear God speak, we must understand HOW He spoke in the past.  So let’s examine the world as it was in today’s Gospel.

I. From Joseph and Mary’s perspective the last 9 months had been hectic, confusing, joyful, exciting, and worrisome!  Angels, relatives, strangers, farm animals and innkeepers had all been a crazy part of God’s prophecy that they saw fulfilled right before their eyes.  But there still remained many unanswered questions about this miraculous baby boy that God had placed in their care.  To put it simply, Joseph and Mary were going full speed ahead into a mystery that somehow declared that this baby is God in human flesh, Immanuel!  What before seemed like a dream had now become very real as the angel instructed Joseph to “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until (God told them to leave, because) Herod (was) about to search for the child, to destroy him.” [Matt. 2:13] Talk about a stressful way to cap off the first Christmas!

 Now let’s look at the first Christmas from King Herod’s perspective.  From Herod’s point of view, God’s Word about the Messiah presented a direct challenge to his pride and to his precarious reign as the King of Palestine.  Throughout His reign as king he ruthlessly destroyed anyone he thought was a direct threat to his throne, including dozens of his blood relatives and even his own children.  History records that Herod, while on his death bed, even had his son Antipater decapitated as a final act of revenge. 

Now back to our Gospel lesson which is about one of Herod’s many diabolical plots that was carried through, well …sort of.  You see, when Herod learned that the Magi (The Wise Men) were somehow warned of his plot to kill the Messiah, and had refused to return to him and reveal the location of the baby that would be “King of the Jews,” true to form, he became furious, and ordered that all the baby boys two years old and younger must be slaughtered, thus ensuring that the Messiah would be killed as well.  What a pathetic person Herod was to think that He could thwart the will of God and prevent the prophecies from being fulfilled!  Think of the horrible sounds that came from Bethlehem that day when Herod’s soldiers carried out his hideous plan. I shudder to think of the painful screams of the infants and the horror-filled cries of their parents.  As a Father I cannot bear to think about this any further and neither could St. Matthew, so we will just leave it as he does.  But what is amazing is that Herod’s evil plan somehow became the fulfillment of prophecy, as St. Matthew tells us: “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.”

Now, since we’re speaking about background, let me provide just a little more insight into this quote that actually comes from Jeremiah 31:15.  The prophet Jeremiah was speaking about the Exile of the Jews from Judah to Babylon after they were conquered.  Ramah was a staging point about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem, which the Babylonians used as a sort of Internment camp.  It was here where the strongest, fairest and brightest like Daniel the prophet, were singled out, marked, separated from their families and sent to Babylon.  Rachel who weeps for her children, was the sister of Leah and she was Jacob’s favorite wife.  She represents all of the Jewish mothers who wept for their children when they were deported to Babylon, but she also represents all those who would weep when the prophecy of the “slaughter of the innocents” is fulfilled.

 Do you find this depressing?  I did too, until I realized that this incident would cause yet another prophecy about Jesus to be fulfilled.  You see, when the angel warned Joseph in his dream to flee Herod’s evil plan and run to Egypt, one of God’s final prophecies about the God-child, Jesus the Messiah would be fulfilled.  It was an obscure Messianic prophecy that is found in the book of Hosea that speaks of the Messiah like this: “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Well, let’s close our background study and take this sacred recording of history and let God speak to us this morning. 

II. Within our Gospel lesson, God’s Word provides us with three things: FAITH, OBEDIENCE, and the gift of ETERNAL LIFE.

Now, in regards to faith, God’s Word is always His chief means of Grace.  A means of grace is simply the way in which God chooses to give us saving faith, that is the ability to believe that He has forgiven all of our sin. Mary received this gift through God’s Word when the angel came and spoke to her regarding the child that she was to give birth to.  Listen: “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” [Luke 1]  And Joseph was visited too and given God’s Word of faith when the angel said to him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” [Matt. 1]. 

Friends, that same Living Word of God that Joseph and Mary heard is Who speaks to us today.  It is the Word that assures you that, “(Jesus) The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (even you).”  This little baby who was born to die for the sins of the world, surely died also for those little ones that Herod slaughtered.  We can rest knowing that God had preordained from the beginning that these little ones that died in Christ’s place, would foreshadow the mission of our baby Savior who would latter do an even greater thing by dying for them and us, and giving us eternal life.  Know this for certain, all little children are precious to our Savior.  Do you recall that  later as an adult, Jesus would gather the little children to Himself; He laid hands on them, and blessed them.  He told His apostles that unless they entered the kingdom of God as like a little child they could not get in!   

Even today, Jesus is still gathering little children to Himself in Holy Baptism.  It is through His Word which comes with water that the sins of our little ones are washed away.  Through His Word, faith is given and that faith clings to the promise of Christ; the promise which states that they are the redeemed possession of the Triune God.  That is why we bring our little ones to Baptism and faithfully teach them the mysteries and the truths of the holy Christian Faith.  It is faith that knows that Jesus shed his blood for the infant boys of Bethlehem just as He did it for you!

Through this faith God grants us strength to follow where he leads, and to endure all of the hardships that life brings.  We call this strength to follow God “obedience”.  Those little babies were privileged to never know the life- long pain or suffering and violence, disappointment, sickness or death.  But Joseph knew what it meant to sacrifice.   Joseph was obedient to the call of God to flee Bethlehem.  In the middle of the night, he obediently gathered Marry and child and fled to a foreign land.  But faith, given through the promises of God’s Word provided him with the strength to obediently follow where ever God would lead.  Mary also knew how to be obedient.  She also followed God’s will in raising her son, even though she knew that Jesus, her child was born to suffer and die for her sins and the sins of the world.  Joseph and Mary knew what hardship was and so did our dear Savior.  Scripture tells us that Jesus was a man acquainted with sorrow.  Jesus Himself spoke of this truth in the garden of Gethsemane, before His death, when He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  But faith provides obedience to follow where God leads and believe that all things will work together for good, no matter what the cost.  How can we remain obedient even in the middle of suffering and death?  Well if it were up to us we couldn’t, but through the on-going work of God’s Holy Spirit, we can look to His Word and follow Jesus journey along the road of life that led to the cross.  We can obediently come to this communion rail and receive the bread and wine and not question how it could possibly be His body and blood; it is simply enough that our Lord said that it is, and that through this eating and drinking He gives us forgiveness of sins and the strength to follow Him!  We can remember that as he suffered and died, so must we, but as He rose again from the dead so shall we also!   

Yes friends, life is a struggle, but scripture promises that those who finish their course, who run the race to its end will be rewarded with an eternal life that will never again know pain, fear, sickness or death again.  The short race of those babies in Bethlehem ended when God called them home and rewarded them with eternal life.  When the time comes for God to call us as well, we will say, along with all of the other saints who have gone before us “Where O death is your sting, where of grave is your victory.”   

 Dear friends, God had a plan for Joseph and Mary.  He had a plan for the innocents, and he has a plan for you too.  I can’t tell you exactly what His plan for you is, but I can tell you this much, where ever He leads you and where ever you go, even if in the past you have sinfully walked away from where He was leading you, “He will never leave or forsake you,” because He is Emmanuel, God with Us, even unto the very end.

 Well before we close our message this morning, there is one final prophecy that I need to remind you of that was also fulfilled.  Now, it’s a small one, but without it coming true, Jesus could not have been declared the Messiah.  What is that last prophecy?  It’s this:  “(The Messiah) will be called a Nazarene.”  How was it fulfilled?  Well, Joseph was also warned by God in another dream  “(That another evil ruler named) Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod,” so to protect God’s Son, Joseph was told to take up residence in “the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.” So the final piece of prophecy is fulfilled! 

CONCLUSION: Listen friends, isn’t it a comfort to know that God is always in control of things that are happening in our lives?  Isn’t it encouraging to know that the very same voice that spoke through the prophets is STILL calling out to you as well!  He is calling you to remember when your love for him was new and fresh; when you would gladly follow where ever He would lead.  Follow Him now; pick up His Word and learn from Him who is gentle and meek.  Remember His promises of old that were given to you at your Baptism.  Remember that what God’s Word declared was done for you at your Baptism can never be undone.  God has saved you for Christ sake.  I pray that you will continue to claim His promise of salvation and not doubt, but only believe that he who was faithful to begin a good work in you will complete it! [Philp. 1]  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!