Redemption Road - Persia, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth
January 06, 2022
A New Day
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. - Matthew 2:1-2
When Jesus was born …
How common the words, how incidental they sound. Yet, they introduce an event of such significance that all of time is measured as before and after the coming of this one child into the world and the drama of His life, death, and resurrection.
When Jesus comes, it is a new day. Governments are in place imagining themselves all powerful and enduring and suddenly they sense that they are temporal and vulnerable. The truly wise recognize the waves of change in the cosmos and once again become seekers moving in the direction of the source of that change. They that move with the currents of change come to worship. New days and new years are best observed by recognizing God and worshiping Him.
We measure small blocks of time in seconds and move up the continuum, pausing to recognize the passing of years. In a year we circle the sun and pass through all of the seasons. We count them off and, as they pass, we find ourselves counting faster and faster.
We mark off the old and look with anticipation upon the new.
And while all of that is going on, something is being born, a new life, a novel opportunity, a fresh idea, a renewed hope, and occasionally, a burst of light. We follow that light and it leads us to a manger where, in unassuming splendor and simple elegance, we encounter the Son of God.
There we worship.
Because of that ever present possibility of meeting God in the passages of time, we peek around the corner of every new day and every new year with anticipatory wonder.
We know, as did the wise men, why we have come to this time. We have come to worship Him.
When Herod heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with Him. - Matthew 2:3
Herod was troubled. We might say he was scared to death. You know that sinking feeling when the free ride is about to come to a screeching halt, when your charade is about to be revealed, and your scam is about to be uncovered.
Herod was a pretender. He knew he was a pretender. The notion that the authentic king might have been born was more of a threat than he could bear.
We are most threatened when we are least honest with God, with ourselves, and with others. We are terrified when we try to maintain our deception against all odds. We flail about, plot, and scheme when our straw houses begin to crumble around us – and we trouble all of those around us who have bought into our lies.
Are you like Herod, thoroughly invested in a false sense of who you are without which you would not know your own identity? Are you like those in Jerusalem who rode his coattails, riding the wave of someone else’s “power grab”? Or are you like the Magi, with no vested interest in protecting their positions or status, merely eager to embrace the reality of God’s presence in the world, anxious to find the King that they might worship Him?
Jesus invades our spheres of influence and our little kingdoms to establish His own rightful rule. There is no need to be troubled. The greatest honor and freedom in life is found when we step down from our thrones and let Him take His place of Lordship.
We are threatened when we compulsively protect what is not really ours. We are troubled when we see Him coming and convince ourselves that He is coming to rob us of our lives. We are terrified at the prospect of having to forge a new identity from the self we have deluded ourselves into believing was real.
In fact, He comes to reclaim what is His – the throne, our lives, and even our identities. We have been living in a delusion and only realizing the tiniest fraction of our potential. It is only through surrender that we gain victory. It is only by relinquishing the throne do we become truly great. It is only in denying ourselves do we find our true selves and begin to live.
What Herod rejected out of fear, we must embrace by faith.
Why Religious Knowledge Is Not Enough
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. - Matthew 2:4
You can’t accuse Herod of not being religiously curious and hungry for religious knowledge. He was desperate for information, but he had no intention of using that information for good. He had every intention of misappropriating it for his own evil ends.
Some of us, at times in our lives, are curious for information about God – for no particular reason other than to satisfy our curiosity. Such knowledge is benign. It does us no harm. It does us no good. You can go to Sunday School all of your life and come out no better or worse for it if what you learn never goes from your head to your heart.
Herod may not have attended Synagogue, but he was surrounded by scholars who did. When he needed factual knowledge, he drew upon their education, but Herod was not seeking out the scholars in a game of religious trivial pursuit. He had a sinister purpose for what he wanted to know.
Some of us, at least at points in our lives, gather religious information for malicious ends. We have no intention of being transformed by that knowledge. In fact, we collect it to use as a weapon against other people – friends, enemies, spouses, children, parents, and entire groups of people with whom we disagree and with whom we spar for power.
We want to learn enough to give us an edge. We are filling our arsenals with biblical darts so that we might pierce the armored resistance of our opponents. There is no holiness in such pursuits. There is no honor. There is no edification.
God provides us with truth that it might change us from within. He is fashioning us according to His image and forming us for time and for eternity. Don’t be like Herod in your pursuit of spiritual truth. Come to the Word of God prayerfully and openly.
Lord, speak to me and transform me as I receive what You wish to say to me. Amen.
Not the Least
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. - Matthew 2:5-6
Like young David, tending the fields of his father, Jesse, the City of David was often thought of as the least among the princes of Judah.
Greatness often takes us by surprise.
It took David by surprise. It certainly so took Jesse and his brothers.
Who me? We surmise by our surprise that our eyes have been playing games with our minds and our ears have distorted the garbled sound of, “Yes, you.”
It took a miracle of the manipulation of history for a Nazarene couple to fulfill prophecy and experience the birth of this son in Bethlehem. It took the hand of God guiding events that would seem much larger and more significant than this to bring it all to pass.
The Son of David would be born in David’s city. The unlikely King would provide a line of succession for an unlikely Savior born in an unlikely place.
Never underestimate the greatness of God’s plan for your life, your place, and your time. He is still guiding the course of events to His own ends.
Bethlehem, the House of Bread, figured into the redemption story in a way that might have seen disproportionate to its civic significance. God, on the other hand, measures importance by what He brings forth from our lives, places, times, and events.
Who me? Yes, you.
The Launch and the Landing
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. - Matthew 2:7-11
Isn’t it wonderful that the Magi observed Herod’s words and not his intentions?
Once launched in the direction of Bethlehem by the deceptive words and commands of an evil king, they were again at the mercy and beckon call of the King of Kings. They followed His star to the destination where they would meet Him. When they found Him, they worshipped.
In the middle of their diligent search for truth, they were sidetracked by a liar, but not for long. God will not allow those whose hearts are intent upon finding Him to be lost in the search without hope. He will again intervene and guide them to Himself.
“Seek and ye shall find,” the Master promised.
From Jerusalem, there was a false launch, but God intervened and provided a sure landing in Bethlehem.
There will be circumstances in your life that are not of God. There will be people of malicious intend who will try and launch you in directions that approximate truth, but miss the mark entirely. Be cautious, but not fearful. God is greater than our circumstances and the schemes of evil entities. His light is more powerful than darkness. Follow the star and bring what is in your hands to Jesus, worshipping Him with all of your heart and soul.
You may have any number of dubious launches in this life, but if you seek Him with all your heart, you will always land surely.
After Christmas Special
“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:11
The Magi seem to have come much later to Bethlehem, but they came joyfully and prepared to worship the Lord. The afterglow of Christmas had not worn off for them because they were seeing Jesus for the very first time. Every time we see Jesus is like the first time, so sweet is His countenance, so enveloping His presence.
As we prepare to put away the decorations and presents, finish off the leftovers, and throw out the tree, many of us experience a letdown. The celebration of the New Year seems anti-climactic. Friends we have not acknowledged during the preceding year will recede into the background of our lives for yet another year. There is no one to wish merry Christmas and no one to wish us happy holidays. The greenery and colors are gone and we recess into the bleak midwinter of January.
It was not so for the Magi. Their joy was not with a season or a holiday. No such attachments and traditions existed for them. Theirs was the joy of the discovery of a Savior-King. Take a page from their notebooks. Our joy is in Jesus! He is our cause for celebration every day. He is our hope for every New Year and every new day. He is reason for singing and our cause for living. For Him we would traverse the farthest desert or face the most difficult circumstances.
Post-Christmas blahs are a normal emotion phenomenon, but Christmas joy is for every day of the year. After Christmas can be as special as Christmas itself!
Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice.
Now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this.
He hath opened heaven’s door,
And man is blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this, Christ was born for this.
(Medieval Latin Carol, Translated by John Mason Neale, 1853)
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. - Matthew 2:12
If you have lived long enough and well enough, you’ve had some course corrections along the way. That is normal and good. It demonstrates an ability to be decisive in taking action while remaining sensitive to the still small voice of God.
The Magi had a set of directions in place that they meant to follow. As they laid their heads on their pillows that night, they fully believed that their course was set and that they would be heading back to Jerusalem to report their findings to Herod.
They just “knew” he would be as excited about the new King as they were. Not so.
If one man has a dream, he might discount it as indigestion or uncertainty. If several have the same dream, as implied here it is impossible to deny the confirmation. The next morning they all awoke and compared notes. It was time for a course correction.
Being willing and able to hear voice of God in the midst of our determined movement is a necessary component of a God-directed life. The humility to admit that we have been misinformed, misdirected, or mistaken is a strength that can only be birthed by weakness. It is that same weakness through which God’s strength is made manifest as we learn to trust and obey.
Sometimes we just need to go home a different way than the one we planned. When that time comes, may we not be found stubborn and prideful, but steadfast yet pliable. We may have to eat our words and swallow some tears, but we will avoid some major pitfalls.
Let us be ready for the course corrections of life.
God’s Postal System
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee 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 into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. - Matthew 2:13-15
God’s Valentine has come to us through a circuitous route. It typically does. Such a route Joseph would take to protect his family. Such a journey would bring Jesus into Egypt along the paths of His ancestors. Such a path would bring Him out of the land of captivity into the land of the promise. Such would be the highway of love whereby God would deliver His greatest love letter to us, written upon the life of His Son, proclaimed by His death, and sounded forth with fury by the power of His resurrection.
God’s love letter, entrusted to the familial affection of a surrogate father’s devotion to his family traveled around the world to come home to those to whom it was addressed.
How far has His Valentine to you traveled to arrive at your doorstep?
What was the chain of custody that the Word of God traversed before it came to rest upon your heart. Who told whom and who did they tell and on and on before you heard the Word and responded to the compelling love of Jesus?
God’s postal system never fails. Whatever route His message of love must take, it will arrive at its destination. So often, the first word of His love comes to us in the context of family. Sometimes it is a sure and certain word of clarity. Sometimes it is only a hint and foreshadowing of the message to come.
When our Jesus card first came to humanity, it was through a family comprised of two people who loved each other, one a mother, the other a stand-in dad. Before it could arrive, it would travel far out of its way, but it came to us in time. When we opened the card it said, “I love you” and it was signed, “Your Father.”
The Limits of Evil
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. - Matthew 2:16-18
How far will evil go to carry out its evil ends?
Moved by humiliation and anger, Herod’s insult was matched only by his wicked lust for power. Lashing out against the threat to his illegitimate monarchy, he flung his nation into a time of evil that was inconceivable in its sheer horror. Sanity questioned lunacy with the haunting cry, “Is there no limit to such evil?”
There is none.
Evil will not stop itself. It perpetuates its terrors. It knows no boundaries. It will progress and regress beyond any hint of decency as it grows immune to conscience and compassion.
That is the bad news. The good news is that there is, in fact a limit, but it is not pretty. Not until the death of Herod did the madness cease.
The good news is, furthermore, that God’s good is greater than man’s evil. He is monitoring the progress of wickedness and restraining its instinctive intrusion into the affairs of human history. A loving God allows us free will and its consequences because He does indeed love us, but He will only allow it to go on for so long. The length of its duration is a mystery to us. He will allow suffering to accomplish His purposes and, when they are complete, He will stop it.
When evil, which is not of God, ceases to work toward God’s redemptive purposes, it reaches its limit. We don’t understand it, nor can we predict its course, but we can trust in a God who is working all things out for our good and His glory.
When evil prevails, God weeps along with Rachel, but in the end, righteousness prevails and God says, “Enough!” Evil will not stop on its own. It is always brought to a stop by the intervention of God in history in one way or another.
That is the only limit that evil knows.
But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. - Matthew 2: 19-21
Herod did not understand this principle at all: Don’t entertain evil for a minute. It doesn’t want to visit. It wants to move in and take over.
So, the only cure for the evil in Herod’s life was the death of Herod. No one was safe until Herod was dead. It is a sad commentary, but true. As long as Herod lived and carried out his rain of pain and reign of terror, the true King of Israel remained in Egypt. Good news was stifled by sound of hoof beats as soldiers scoured the land to snuff out the life of any baby that just might be the Messiah.
Something had to give; something had to die. Only when Herod was dead was it safe for Joseph to bring his family out of Egypt and into the land of Israel.
It was not time for Jesus to die. He still had to grow up and live a redemptive life before He died a redemptive death It was time for evil to die and Herod had so immersed himself in evil that he had begun to personify it within himself.
Yet, there remained a window of opportunity for Herod as there remains such an opportunity for each of us. We also must die. Evil knows no limits. It will not restrain itself. Therefore we must die to evil thoughts, evil deeds, and evil intentions. Furthermore, we must deem every action that restricts the reign of Jesus, every thought that keeps Him in Egypt, and every intention that wars against Him as evil that must die inside of us.
Because of the cross, we can choose to die that we might live. We can reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ. We will die to sin or we will die in sin. Either way, The Son of God will not remain in Egypt. He shall reign.
“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. “ - Matthew 2:23
Some would be happier with a Jesus with no context, culture, or humanity. But that would not be the true Jesus. Incarnation means that He came at a specific time, place, and crossroads of historical events. He lived as a man and faced the time-space limitations of any person on this earth. He had gender, nationality, a native language, talents, physical strengths and weaknesses, most likely sickness, certainly the capacity to grow weary, and a family.
He was the descendant of David with all the nobility that was due to such a line, but He was fully identified culturally with the least noble region for any Jew in the minds of other Jews. Born in Bethlehem, He was raised in Nazareth. Jews spoke of Nazarenes with a sneer in their voices. And He was one of them and never wore the label with shame.
He identifies with us as well, whatever our histories, cultures, or backgrounds. He refuses to acknowledge the shame that the world associates with people based upon human prejudices, but elevates people of every race and nationality to a place of dignity. As a Nazarene, raised near a great road traveled by numerous peoples, He must have encountered great cultural diversity.
Out of that context, God gave us His Son to create a new race of mankind.