I rejoice and thank my God and my Lord for blessing His believing and beloved people with another wonderful opportunity of celebrating the Birth of His Blessed, Beloved and only Begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I consider it a glorious honor and truly humbling to be chosen, called, converted, commissioned, consecrated, and cherished by God to belong to His eternal family and fellowship and bear witness to His great and glorious name in such a time as this.
For this year's celebration of GOD'S INDESCRIBABLE and INDISPENSABLE GIFT to mankind, that is, God, actually becoming Man in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit led me to ponder His inspired words in Matthew 2:19-23. Oh how relevant and refreshing this passage is! It is a passage of faithfulness and fulfillment. It is a passage of faithfulness because it graphically reveals God’s faithfulness in directing the steps of Joseph and his family into His path and purpose. It is a passage of fulfillment because it gloriously records the fulfillment of what the prophets had spoken: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
As I meditated on this passage, the Holy Spirit freshly and faithfully reminded me of this timeless spiritual truth: God guides and guards His obedient child in order to accomplish His good purpose in his life for the praise of His glory. What an abiding and assuring truth to hold unto in these times of trouble and turmoil! As Joseph willingly and wholeheartedly surrendered his life to God, He took full responsibility for directing him into His path and purpose and as well as delivering him from his enemies.
The account of the Christmas story that vividly portrays the truth that God guides and guards His obedient child, begins with the PASSING OF HEROD THE GREAT. "But when Herod was dead..." (Matthew 2:19a). Herod the Great had tightly and tenaciously held on to power. But he could not hold on to life. Please notice that this verse begins with an important conjunction, “but” [Greek: “de”]. This indicates that the story that is being told is now about to take a decisive and dramatic turn. In fact, it took a one hundred and eighty degree turn! You see, after committing heinous and horrific crimes, including the slaughtering of all the innocent male infants in the Bethlehem region (see Matthew 2:16-18), Herod thought his throne was at last safe and secure and that he would have many more years to rule and reign as king over his realm. But Herod was not the king of life. The time has now come for Almighty God, the author of life, the giver of life, the Lord of life, and the king of life to require Herod’s life from him for Herod to face His righteous judgment. We read in Hebrews 9:27 these dreadful and disturbing words: “…it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” What an unnerving and unsettling day it was for Herod as he came face to face with the Righteous Judge of the living and the dead!
J.C. Ryle eloquently writes: “Death can remove the kings of this world like other people. The rulers of millions have no power to hold on to life when their hour of departure comes. The murderer of helpless infants must himself die.” Herod would die a torment to himself and a terror to all who attended him during his incurable disease that took his life. True born again believers need not fear those who persecute them. Why? Our God is in control. His word declares: “the triumphing of the wicked is short and the joy of the godless momentary” (Job 20:5). How comforting!
Nothing delights the heart of God than guiding His own into His path and purpose for their lives. He promises to guide His believing children. In Isaiah 58:11, the Bible records one of the greatest promises of God’s personal guidance of the believer: “And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”
This brings our story to the PERSONAL GUIDANCE OF GOD. God personally guided Joseph into His path, plan, and purpose for his life at the First Christmas. The Bible says: “behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise and take the Child and His mother and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead’” (Matthew 2:19b-20). Joseph experienced God’s personal guidance continually in his life, before and after the birth of the Christ-Child (Matthew 1:18; 2:13-15). In the latter case, God had specifically directed Joseph to take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until He tells him what to do next. Joseph waited patiently and was not disappointed. God kept His word to him. The time has now come for God to fulfill His promise of continually guiding His child. Please notice the dramatic manner in which Joseph receives God’s personal guidance. The Bible says, “behold,” [Greek: “idou”]. It is used to indicate that something new or dramatic is about to happen. What is that? It’s Almighty God’s personal guidance of Joseph, a human being. The divine person of God willingly directs the steps of a human being like you and me through an unnamed angel of the Lord. For the third time in Matthew (Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19), God’s personal guidance of Joseph came through an appearance of an angel of the Lord, who was simply doing God’s bidding (see Psalm 103:20-21). Notice also that the details of God’s personal guidance of Joseph are clearly and concisely stated. Joseph was instructed to “arise” [Greek: “egertheis”- literally “rising”]. Whenever God commands His child to “arise,” it means He is expecting an “act now” response. It means “start now.” It means “get going now.” This is exactly what Joseph will do. Joseph was ordered to “take the Child and His mother.” In this order, and earlier ones given to Joseph (see, Matthew 2:11, 13, 14, 19, 21), we see that preeminence is given to the Child, not His mother. The Christmas story is not about Mary, but about Christ. He is God come in human flesh. He is the Savior of the world. It is His death on the cross that paid for our sin debt in full. As part of God’s personal guidance of Joseph, he was commanded to “go into the land of Israel.” Please take note of this! Although the Romans were occupying and ruling over Israel at this time in human history, yet, as far as God is concerned, it is “the land of Israel.” And may I say to us, it is still “the land of Israel” today despite the Palestinians’ demand for statehood in Israel’s land. The point of spelling out the details of how Joseph was guided on that memorable day in Egypt is this: God’s personal guidance of His believing child is always clear and concise. It’s never confusing. It never leads to chaos in the believer’s life. But the question is: Are you positioning yourself to be guided by God? Are you watching and waiting daily at His feet to direct your steps into His path and purpose for your life?
Also, the Bible reveals the divine reason for God’s commands to Joseph to arise and take the Child and His mother and go into the land of Israel. Those who dug a pit for the Christ-Child fell into it themselves. Herod and his henchmen lost their lives while seeking to destroy Christ’s life. They died.
Joseph positioned himself to be guided by God. But more importantly, Joseph responded to God after receiving clear instructions from Him. This is why the Bible now emphasizes the PERFECT AND PROMPT OBEDIENT RESPONSE OF JOSEPH. “And he arose and took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel” (Matthew 2:21). God had spoken clearly to Joseph. Joseph believed Him and promptly responded. You see, if we truly believe God’s word to us, perfect, prompt, precise, and complete obedience will follow. One of Joseph’s legacies for the Church is his life of obedient response to God (Matthew 1:24; 2:14-15, 21). His life of obedience can be described as perfect, not partial! Prompt, not one that was characterized by procrastination! Precise, not pitiable! Complete, not casual! After Joseph received God’s personal guidance, he did not drag his feet. He did not dilly-dally. He did not delay in responding to God. He did not debate or discuss the issue with God for further clarification. He did not complain about the inconveniences of transporting his family from Egypt to the land of Israel. Rather, he promptly complied. In fact, Joseph did everything exactly as he had been commanded – teaching us a simple but significant lesson about obedience. Obedience that honors God is doing exactly as He has commanded us. The Lord Jesus Himself is the supreme example of this kind of obedience (see John14:30-31).
What best describes your obedience? Perfect or partial? Prompt or marked by procrastination? Once God has given us clear directions, our response should be unwavering obedience. We must follow His directions wherever He leads us. This is the example Joseph left for us.
As Joseph willingly and wholeheartedly yielded himself in complete obedience to God, He took full responsibility for preserving him and his family from the dangers that were lurking in the land of Israel. As such, the Christmas story now focuses on the PRESERVATION OF GOD. God not only guides His obedient child, but He also guards him. “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 by God in a dream, he departed for the regions of Galilee” (Matthew 2:22). God could have given Joseph this warning while in Egypt, where He first directed him to return to the land of Israel. But He didn’t. Why? It’s because God reveals His mind to His believing people step by step, to keep us waiting on Him, and expecting to hear further from Him. How wonderful! What we learn here is that Joseph was reluctant to venture into Judea and settle there. Remember, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. It therefore makes perfect sense for Joseph to go there and make the ancestral city of David their permanent residence - the proper place to bring up the Christ-Child. But the Bible tells us that he was afraid to go there because he heard that “Archelaus” - meaning “people’s chief,” was reigning there in place of his father Herod. History tells us that Archelaus was as brutal and blood-thirsty as his father. He was a ruthless and repressive ruler, who began his reign by slaughtering 3,000 influential people. To preserve and protect Joseph and the Christ-Child and His mother, God personally warned Joseph in a dream. You see, God didn’t want Joseph’s family to go into the region of this evil ruler. As a result of the preservative warning from God, Joseph departed for the regions of “Galilee” – meaning “circle or circuit.” Archelaus’s reign over Judea was brief. In A.D. 6, the 9th year of his reign, Augustus Caesar deposed and banished him to France. This was also part of God’s preservation of Joseph and Christ, the God of Man, and Mary. Count on it, God preserves and protects His own. It is important to note here that God knows the fears in our hearts and works with us to calm our fearful hearts. How precious! No matter what fear you are facing today, you can trust God to graciously work with you to calm your fearful heart. He did it for Joseph. And He is willing to do it for you and me who believe in Him.
Matthew ends this part of the Christmas story with a blessed teaching on the fulfillment of the PROPHECY OF GOD. The Bible speaks of this teaching in these words: “and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matthew 2:23). Matthew declares that Jesus’ residence in Nazareth which means “watch tower” as prophetically significant. As such, he confidently affirms in the Holy Spirit that what the prophets had spoken is now being fulfilled. According Luke, Nazareth was the former home of Joseph and that of Mary (Luke 1:26-27; 2:39). It was a place of lowly reputation and nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament. It was situated in the territory of Zebulun. It was an obscure town 70 miles north of Jerusalem. It was an insignificant and despised place. Nathaniel’s proverbial question sums up the Jews’ perception of the place and people of Nazareth: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). It was in this despised and insignificant town that Christ lived for most of His earthly. For nearly thirty years, our Lord lived in obscurity in despised Nazareth, a testament to His humility. It is important to understand that no Old Testament verse directly says, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” In other words, the Old Testament does not record the specific statement that the Messiah would be a Nazarene. So what are we to make of this prophecy? The first century Jewish people to whom Matthew was written, who had tasted their share of scorn, would have quickly caught Matthew’s point. You see, they understood that “Nazarene” is used to describe anyone who lived in Nazareth, a town viewed with contempt and scorn. That is to say, Matthew used “Nazarene” as a synonym for someone who is despised or detestable. So Matthew is not saying that a particular Old Testament prophet foretold that the Messiah would live in Nazareth. He is saying that the Old Testaments foretold that the Messiah would be despised and treated with contempt (Isaiah 49:7; 53:2-3, 8; Psalm 22:6-8; 69:8). Matthew simply gives us the substance of several Old Testament passages, not a direct quotation. It is amazing that when the mighty God came to earth, He was given a nickname of reproach and ridicule.
So how does this Christmas story apply to believers today? Contemplate this question: Am I using my life in serving God’s purpose in my generation? Count on God to guide you into His path and purpose for your life all your days here on earth. Commit yourself afresh to following Jesus Christ wherever He leads you. In other words, choose willing and wholehearted obedience to God. Continue to trust the Lord your God that wherever He guides you, He will also assuredly guard you. Consider it a privilege when you are scorned and ridiculed for your faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, let no name of reproach for Christ’s sake seem hard to you when your Lord and Master was called a “Nazarene!”
Have Blessed and Merry Christmas and a Fruitful and Fulfilling New Year!
In Christ’s unchanging and unconditional love,