The Mystery of Egypt
December 27, 2009
So here we are at the end of the first chapter in the Story of Jesus. If you have been with us since the beginning of the advent season then you know that we have been looking at some of the mysteries of Christmas. We started with the mystery of the Virgin Birth and how it had been prophesied hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah and we looked at various reasons of why we should believe that Mary was a virgin. The bible foretold it and she affirmed it when the angel Gabriel told her that she would become pregnant she replied by saying Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” In the original language she doesn’t actually use the word Virgin she says “I have never been with a man”
But the ultimate reason is that Jesus could only have one father and you will either believe that Joseph the Carpenter was Jesus’ father or you will believe that God the creator of the Universe was Jesus’ father, but they can’t both be Jesus’ father.
Then we looked at the trip that Joseph made with the very pregnant Mary, a trip that took them from Nazareth, up here just 24 Kms southwest of the Sea of Galilee to Bethlehem which was 120 kms away over rugged terrain. A trip that probably would have taken them the best part of a week and in the very best of situations they would have ridden donkeys. Donkeys! You ever ride on a donkey? You ever ride on a donkey 9 months pregnant?
You would have to wonder what would ever possess a man to take his very pregnant wife on that type of journey. Madness or perhaps there was another explanation or two. Within the scriptures we discovered the answers. The first part of the answer lies in the Old Testament, it was prophesied by the Prophet Micah. You will remember that King David was considered the greatest king that Israel ever had, and he was born in Bethlehem and throughout the Old Testament it was declared that the coming Messiah would be a descendent of David and Micah wrote this hundreds of years before the birth of Christ: Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
But the second part of the answer is not found hundreds of years before Christ’s birth but at the very time of Christ’s birth. Luke 2:1-4 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home.
Not sure that Mary and Joseph would have seen it as a fortuitous situation but it certainly meant that they were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there.
And when they arrived in Bethlehem, they discovered either that they should have made reservations or they had made them and they were lost because we are told that Luke 2:6-7 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
If I was planning the birth of the Son of God I think I would have taken care of that detail, the angel Gabriel is all over this story and he either forgets to find them a place to stay or books them into a stable.
There have been times that we have arrived at a place where we had made reservations and probably should have stayed in a barn. But as with the rest of the story there was a reason, it was not simply by happenstance or by error that the son of God would be born in a stable.
From his very conception we see the hand of God; it would be naive to think that the birth place of Jesus was accidental. And so because of the humble birth place of Christ it was accessible on that first morning even to those who proper folks wouldn’t have invited into their homes . . . shepherds. And two thousand years later Jesus remains accessible to each of us, regardless of our place on the social registry or the fortune 500.
And just two days ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus, sang of Virgins and Bethlehem, of mangers and shepherds and for most of us the Christmas story finished as the shepherds returned to their fields and the Wise Men silently headed east returning to their mysterious home.
But while most of us would end this part of the story with a period the bible uses a comma, because it is here we discover “The Mystery of Egypt.”
Let’s go back to the story. You will recall how on their way to Bethlehem the Wise Men stopped into Jerusalem where they paid their respects to King Herod who wasn’t really a King but was kind of a puppet Governor whom the Romans let rule over a small portion of Palestine. But it was his portion of Palestine and he was insanely suspicious, with the emphasis on the insane part of that statement, suspicious of those he thought were a threat to his rule. We mentioned a couple of weeks ago that he had murdered his wife, mother in law and two sons because he thought they were trying to oust him, and maybe they were but it was Caesar himself who commented “It is safer to be Herod’s pig then his son.”
When Herod heard there was a child born who was to be the King of the Jews he was furious and began planning bad things for the baby Jesus. Gabriel shows up again warns the Wise Men to skip the Jerusalem part of their trip on the way home and that’s where we pick up in our story.
Matthew 2:13-15 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
And that is really all we know. The Holy family fled to Egypt, stayed for an indeterminable period of time and then returned to Palestine. The bible doesn’t elaborate on where they lived, although if you travel to Egypt today traditions of the Coptic Church will direct you to any number of spots that they claim were notable spots in Jesus’ childhood.
A little aside here, for many of us the church is cleanly divided into two sections: Catholic and Protestant. And yet around the world there are parts of our family that have a long history. The Coptic Church, or Egyptian Orthodox Church is said to have been started in AD 42, by Saint Mark, that’s only ten years after the death and resurrection of Christ.
While we are giving a time in history that Mary and Joseph returned to Palestine, the bible tells us they stayed there until Herod’s death which history tells us happened in AD we don’t have a definitive birth date for the birth of Christ. Many scholars have estimated
Back to the story; We kind of see Egypt as a strange place for Joseph to take his family but that is because we see it from our time and perspective. Two thousand years ago it was a Roman Province where Greek was spoken, it wasn’t that far away from Jerusalem only 100 miles or so, but still outside the reach of Herod and there was a certain familiarity about it, not to mention the symbolism wrapped up in Jesus making the same trip the people of Israel had made when Joseph’s family had fled there to escape a famine in Palestine 1700 years before.
And while we don’t know a lot of the details concerning their stay in Egypt there is a great story that is told in tradition. When Joseph and Mary were on their way to Egypt, they were waylaid by a group of highway men. One of the outlaws wanted to murder them and steal their belongings.
But another of the group stepped in and protected the family, tradition tells us that he looked at the Christ child and said, “O most blessed of children, if ever there comes a time for having mercy on me, then remember me, and forget not this hour”. So, the legend says that the next time Jesus and the thief met was at Calvary where Dismas hung on the cross next to Jesus and there he found forgiveness and grace. Great story isn’t it? Is it true? I have no idea but it is a great story.
But what do we learn from this brief interlude in this young families’ Life?
We Discover It Was a Story of Trust Mary and Joseph must have been overwhelmed with all that was going on. They get to the end of this gruelling journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem only to discover that for whatever reason the village inn had no room for them. Some kind soul allows them the use of a stable where their first child is born. Do you remember the birth of your first child? You can’t really believe it’s happened, even though you had nine months to prepare. You have to count all the little fingers and toes and then you count them again, hardly able to comprehend how tiny and perfect they are. Almost like baby toes and fingers. Then there are endless discussions of who the baby looks like until you final settle on Uncle Moe, the one with no hair and no teeth.
And then a flock of shepherds show up, do shepherds come in flocks? Babbling about angels and wanting to see the baby. And then it was the Magi with their gifts and talk about how they had travelled hundreds of miles across the desert in search of this child who would become a king. A little overwhelming for a Nazarene carpenter and his young bride.
And just when Joe thinks that maybe things have settle down and he can finally get some sleep his dreams are interrupted by an angel, again. Matthew 2:13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Joseph must have been thinking every time an angel shows up he got some strange story and request. First it was when he was still reeling from the bombshell that Mary had dropped, that she was going to have a baby and that the father was the Holy Spirit. He was already to break off the engagement when an Angel showed up letting Joseph know that everything Mary said was true and commanded him to marry her and call the child Jesus. And he did.
Now this, he was to believe that not only did King Herod know that Jesus was born, I’m sure he was thinking “Like what’s with that? I’m just a carpenter and he’s a king, how’d he find out we haven’t even put the announcement in the newspaper yet. And besides why should a grumpy old man care enough about our child to want to kill him?”
It’s surprising how often God reveals extraordinary plans to ordinary people. Noah, I want you to build me an ark. Sarah and Abraham you are going to have a baby in your old age. David I want you to take on the giant Goliath with just five stones and sling shot, and on and on it goes.
Mary you are going to have a baby, even though you are a virgin. Joseph, Mary is going to have a baby even though she’s still a virgin.
And now this. It’s not for the ordinary that we have to trust, those are just things we do. And that’s probably why we have verses in the scriptures like Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
And why the prophet tells us in Isaiah 12:2 See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid.
And why Jesus assured his apostles and us: John 14:1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.
And so there will be times that we don’t understand, and those are the times we have to trust that God knows what he’s doing.
I love the response of Joseph throughout the Christmas story. He finds out Mary is pregnant and decides to call off the wedding, that night he is visited by an angel who tells him that it’s going to be all right and that he needs to marry his Fiancé. His response is found in Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
After Jesus is born an angel visits and tells Joseph that Jesus’ life is in danger and they need to leave the country , we read about his response in Matthew 2:14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother,
When Herod dies Joseph is visited once again by the angel, one would think that they should be on first name basis by now, and he is commanded to return to Israel, his response? Matthew 2:21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother.
So more than anything we discover It Was a Story of Obedience
Is trust trust if we don’t act on it? Do you trust that the ice is thick enough to walk on? Will you walk on it? I love the story of the man falling over the bank. As he’s falling to a certain death he manages to grab hold of a branch and as he dangles he yells, “Help, help!” From above he hears a voice call out, “this is God, I’m here to help you.” “Thank you” He hollers back. The voice responds you need to trust me. Do you trust me?”
“Yes, he responds, I have trust you” “Then let go of the branch!” There’s a pause and the man calls out again, “Is there anyone else up there?”
We talk about trusting God but until we act upon that trust then trust is just a word.
We see how the bible is full of examples of trust, even when it didn’t seem to make sense, but the reason they are there is because the trust was acted on.
There are probably other instances were God called upon people and they said they trusted him, but when He asked them to do whatever it was to demonstrate that trust they hedged. And that’s why we don’t read about Harold in the lion’s den, or Bob killing the giant, or Fred building an ark.
Jesus offers us grace and forgiveness and in return he asks for our love and obedience. And sometimes we bristle at the thought of having to obey, but the commands of Christ aren’t set there to ruin our fun, they are set there for a purpose. Do you remember in the book of Matthew one of the religious leaders asked Jesus what the most important commandment was? In reply Jesus reached back into the Old Testament and answers Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied, ” ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Love God and love others. And when you get right down to it that is the sum of Jesus teachings.
Love God and love people. And so when he tells us not to murder or steal or commit adultery he is simply telling us to treat other people right. Was the command to not cheat on our spouse put there to ruin our fun or to protect our families? When we are commanded to not take the Lords name in vain, not to have other gods and to take time out to worship him they are part of the Love the Lord your God.
And finally It Was A Story Of Faith Joseph had no guarantees, God didn’t hand him the plan written down so he could show Mary or that he could take out once in awhile to look at to reassure himself.
The directions were a little vague, “Go to Egypt” there was no address, not contact person for when he got there, no promise of a job. In the book of Hebrews Paul defines what faith is Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
That could have been written about Joseph, time and time again. He had an assurance about things he could not see.
But what does this mean for today, December 27th 2009? Well first of all it reminds us that we need to trust God. We need to trust him with our career, we need to trust his with our family, we need to trust that he loves us and has the very best at heart for us, but being in the centre of God’s will doesn’t mean it will be easy or that there will be no problems. But it does mean that he will be with us through the times of trouble and problems.
And it means that we need to obey him, to do as he commands and put our trust into action.
And that will only happen when we believe what we cannot see.