1st Sunday after Christmas – A LSB #’s 342, 716, 666
Text – Matthew 2:13-15
ACCORDING TO PLAN
It all happened so quickly! The trip to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, the angels, the shepherds & the star; then after a time, the Wise Men. Like the shepherds before them, they fell on their faces to worship the baby Jesus, the Lord of all creation, the promised King. But as they say, all good things must come to an end.
The angel of the Lord appeared in a dream & this time warned the Wise Men to return to their homes without going back to king Herod.
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream & said, ‘Rise, take the child & His mother, & flee to Egypt, & remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him.’ And he rose & took the child & His mother by night & departed to Egypt & remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:13-15 ESV)
Any Jew hearing Matthew’s account of Jesus’ flight into Egypt would instantly have thought of the Book of Exodus & an earlier flight out of Egypt. It wasn’t so long ago that the Lord came to a different Joseph in his dreams; it wasn’t so long ago that a powerful king Pharaoh sought to kill all the baby boys of a nation because he feared they would challenge him someday.
It wasn’t so long ago that the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses & sent him to lead a nation out of their slavery in Egypt toward the Promised Land. This time, the Joseph receiving dreams in the night was a righteous man wed to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The powerful king who sent an edict to kill all the baby boys who might later threaten his reign was the violent & insecure king Herod, who reigned in name only as the King of the Jews. And now, the Angel of the Lord – Christ Jesus Himself – had come to lead His people out of their slavery to sin, death & the Devil. It’s no wonder that Jesus is often called the new Moses. Just as Moses’ life was threatened at a tender age & he had to be hidden in a reed basket to be protected, so, too, Jesus’ life was in danger before he was two years old. He also had to be hidden away so His life would be spared until His time had come. Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt; now Jesus had come to lead all people out of spiritual slavery to sin.
There was about to be another exodus, but this time only one firstborn Son would die. Instead of plagues, there would be a cross & thorns & nails. This time it was not going to be one nation freed from slavery, but every nation, every tribe & all people.
The exodus from Egypt prefigured for us the coming of our Savior & freedom from sin, death & the Devil. With an outstretched arm & a mighty hand, God had delivered His people out of slavery & in to the Promised Land. With an outstretched arm & a mighty hand, God is still bringing salvation to His people through the 2nd person of the Trinity in the flesh.
No one can alter God’s plan of salvation, but many fight against it. They end up rejecting His plan for themselves. The Israelites of old did just that. They did not want to leave Egypt, especially with Moses. They preferred to remain in bondage, where at least they had food & shelter, rather than trust what their Lord was providing through the man He had sent.
After they had left, after God had worked amazing miracles to make it happen, time & again they wanted to go back – back into slavery! The Jews of Jesus’ day also rejected God’s plan of salvation. They didn’t want to leave their comfortable traditions or man-made laws, especially by following the man Jesus.
They preferred to remain in bondage to the Law, where they were comfortable in their sin, rather than trust that God had sent Messiah to free & deliver them. They didn’t trust that what Jesus was offering was far greater than anything they could earn or provide for themselves. Today, people are still rejecting God’s plan of salvation & the means by which He accomplishes that. Many Christian denominations no longer believe that Baptism is a means by which God creates faith & gives eternal life. Many Christian denominations no longer believe that Christ’s body & blood are present in the Supper He instituted before His death for the forgiveness of sins.
Having set themselves free of these blessed means of grace, they want to go back to a system that requires something more of us. Many don’t believe that a man whom God has called & ordained to be a pastor in His church can say, “In the stead & by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.” (LSB p. 293)
But those are the means by which God creates faith in Jesus Christ, forgives sins, strengthens faith & accomplishes His salvation in us. Rejection of these means given by God is no different from the Israelites’ rejection of Moses or the Jews’ rejection of Jesus Himself!
It is easy for sinners to doubt God’s plan of salvation & to question why God allows things that are unpleasant or evil to happen in our world. We never have to look far to find an example of something unpleasant or evil, & the world is always quick to ask, “Where was God in all this?” The text before us is an example of an event that is difficult to take in.
Only one week after celebrating Christmas, we hear about all these boys whom king Herod murdered for no reason at all:
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, & he sent & killed all the male children in Bethlehem & in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.” (Matthew 2:16-17)
In the midst of the commercialization of Christmas, it is easy to forget that the child Jesus came to establish peace between God & man, but He also said that His Word & Sacraments would create divisions among people; that many would stumble because of Him. In the very region where OT Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin, other children of the promise lost their lives to wicked king Herod. Their mothers wept & could not be consoled. But we cannot blame God for the death of these “innocents”; it was the wicked king who caused the anguish & death.
God was there, saw what happened, & even in the midst of Herod’s wickedness, Yahweh was working to bring about His plan of salvation for the world. God is not the author of evil – mankind is – but the Creator is always working to turn what is meant for evil into good.
Once Herod heard the words “King of the Jews” from the lips of the Wise Men, he realized that his reign might be threatened & knew that this baby Jesus had to die. The irony is - Herod was right. Jesus did have to die, but not because Herod willed it. Jesus had to die, yet not on Herod’s schedule, not until the fullness of God’s time had come.
Messiah had to die for Herod’s sins. He had to die because of our sins. He had to die because of our doubt & our fear & our unbelief. Jesus had to die because God knew we could never turn back to Him, keep His commands, or love Him on our own. St. Paul explained, we “were dead in our trespasses & sins” (Ephesians 2:1), enemies of God by our very nature!
Since it was not yet His time, the baby Jesus was protected from Herod by God’s divine intervention. Following the angel’s word, Joseph led his family to Egypt for safety. God was accomplishing His plan of salvation in Christ Jesus in spite of king Herod’s wickedness, & in so doing Jesus paid the price for Herod’s sins, our sins, the sins of the whole world.
Of course, that isn’t where God exits the picture. He’s still active in human history – still in control. He continues to lead little children & adults into the safety of His Church through the waters of Holy Baptism. God continues to feed & nourish His Church with His Holy Word & the precious body & blood of His Son.
Our Lord continues to announce & grant His forgiveness to all who confess their sins &
seek His mercy. His plan began when He created the heavens & the earth. At the perfect time, He entered His creation as flesh & blood to redeem & save His creation with His blood.
Paul wrote in the Epistle lesson, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5)
That salvation has been accomplished. As Jesus said, “It is finished!” One day soon He will come again, calling all believers to Himself, to be with Him in paradise forever! God has promised it, & like all His other promises, such as the birth of Jesus, He will do it! Amen.
I pass through trials all the way, with sin & ills contending; in patience I must bear each day the cross of God’s own sending. When in adversity I know not where to flee, when storms of woe my soul dismay, I pass through trials all the way. I walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails me; within His wounds I find a stay when Satan’s power assails me; & by His footsteps led, my path I safely tread. No evil leads my soul astray; I walk with Jesus all the way. My walk is heavenward all the way; await, my soul, the morrow, when God’s good healing shall allay all suff’ring, sin & sorrow. Then, worldly pomp, begone! To heaven I now press on. For all the world I would not stay; my walk is heavenward all the way. Amen. LSB 716:2, 5-6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet