Sermons, Uncategorized

Out of Egypt

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“Flight into Egypt” by Jean-Francois Millet

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Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him.” And he rose and took the Child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and 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.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and 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:

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 3:13-18).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Joseph. It’s a good old-fashioned name. “Yahweh has added.” It’s the name that Rachel gave to her son when, finally after so many years of waiting, she gave birth to a child. Joseph, son of his famous father Jacob, was now in the world. And Joseph would act with such trust and valor throughout his life that he would be well remembered, and his name would be often given to little baby boys.

You know the story of Joseph, son of Jacob. Jacob loved his boy and gave him a coat of many colors. His older brothers hated him so much that they faked his death and sold him into slavery. Carted off to Egypt, Joseph became a slave in Potiphar’s household. In fact, he became master of the house until Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him because he refused to share in her sin. Though innocent, Joseph was sent to jail, and he languished in that Egyptian prison for years.

Eventually, his ability to interpret dreams came to the attention of Pharaoh. And because Joseph was able to interpret Pharaoh’s troubling dreams, Pharaoh released him from prison and made him second-in-command of all of Egypt. In that post, Joseph saved the Egyptians from famine. He saved many others, too.

For instance, his brothers. The same brothers, who had so cruelly sold him into slavery years before, now came to Egypt looking for food. Joseph toyed with them for a while, but only to test the sincerity of their repentance. And when he was assured of their change of heart, he revealed who he was.

His brothers feared for the worst—that it was now payback time. But Joseph spoke words that have echoed through the centuries:  “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20). Rather than seek revenge, Joseph provided for his brothers and his families. This was all part of God’s plan to save—to deliver Israel, His chosen people. In fact, this was even a part of God’s plan to save the world from their sins.

His providence would not always be that apparent. After Joseph died, they would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years. But then the Lord would send Moses and lead them back out of Egypt.

Back out of Egypt—you know the story of the Exodus well, too. After ten plagues, the Lord finally convinced Pharaoh to let His people go. The Israelites were delighted to leave Egypt and slavery, they were ready to trust in the Lord’s promises and to let Him lead them to the Promised Land.

At least, until they got to the Red Sea (not very far), at which time they said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11). So much for delight and trust!

And of course, there was that little incident out at Mt. Sinai on the way to the Promised Land. The same people who had seen the Red Sea part, lasted just about two seconds at the foot of the mountain as they waited for Moses to speak with the Lord, and then they asked Aaron to make a golden calf to worship instead. It’s a testament to God’s patience that He didn’t wipe them out then.

We could speak of their grumblings about the food in the wilderness as they resented the manna that God gave them each morning. We could spend some time repeating their statements of how they’d like to go back to Egypt and slavery just for a few cucumbers, leeks, and melons. We could mention that the Lord led them right up to the Promised Land, but that they had to spend an extra forty years in the wilderness because they didn’t believe that God was a match for tall people.

But rather than dwell on their disobedience in the desert, let’s fast-forward to their life after conquering the Promised Land by the Lord’s strength and power. Let’s see how carefully they kept God’s Word and lived according to His commands.

Take, for instance, the time of the Judges, when…well, when every man went and did what was right in his own eyes, when time and time again the people had to be punished for their disobedience, and God had to raise up a judge to deliver them. Okay. Never mind. Perhaps we’d better move on. Take the reign of Rehoboam, when…well, when the country divided and the ten tribes began to worship golden calves. Or later on, when the people are either killed or taken into captivity because of their persistent rejection of God’s Law and Gospel.

In such a sordid history, a stand-up guy like Joseph really stands out. Although he suffers dearly, he brings his family down to Egypt to save them from certain death. Because he saves them, they can later return from Egypt and go back to the Promised Land—and be disobedient some more.

One wonders what Joseph would think of all that happened after his death, for the nation whom he saved from starvation by God’s grace certainly rejected the faith that sustained him.

At any rate, “Joseph, son of Jacob” was a well-known hero. And so it was a popular name. In fact, centuries later, there was another Jacob who had a son. And this Jacob named his son Joseph. And this Joseph was betrothed to a virgin named Mary, who was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.

After the Child was born, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, “Get up,” he said, “Take the Child and His mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.”

Here we go again. Another Joseph-son-of-Jacob heading down to Egypt. This time, the purpose is far more specific than the salvation of God’s chosen people, Israel. This Joseph is going to Egypt to save God’s chosen Savior, Jesus.

Like his namesake of old, this Joseph is also obedient and faithful. When he got up, he took the Child and His mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord has said through the prophet:  “Out of Egypt I called My Son” (Matthew 2:14-15).

Joseph takes Mary and her Baby to Egypt, and there they stay until Herod dies.  Then, when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Get up, take the Child and His mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the Child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the Child and His mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, “He will be called a Nazarene.”

So Joseph-son-of-Jacob, having taken Mary and Jesus to Egypt, now brings them back to the Promised Land, and they find a home in Nazareth, just like the prophets said it would be. That’s what our text tells us today.

But the big question is this: So what? Why does it matter to me that the family went to Egypt and back? The story seems to have little significance. Ah, but there is much Good News here for us in the stories of Josephs, sons of Jacobs.

For one thing, Matthew insistently points out that this trip takes place to fulfill what the prophets had said about the Messiah. Even as a toddler, Jesus is proving Himself to be the Savior—even as He will by fulfilling prophecies about healings and other miracles. The trip to Egypt adds to His credentials as the Christ. But there is more for us to rejoice in here.

Remember the story of the original Joseph. And especially remember the original Israelites’ trip to Egypt. The Israelites who go down to Egypt and Joseph’s care are his brothers—the brothers who gave into jealousy, faked his death, deceived his father, stole his coat, sold him into slavery, and dismissed him as gone. This is hardly a righteous group of characters, these Israelites who make their way to Egypt and Joseph’s care.

Furthermore, consider the Israelites who leave Egypt 400 years later, who survived because of Joseph’s invitation. They constantly doubt God’s promises, bow down to false gods, challenge Moses, and complain about the Lord’s deliverance, and gripe about the Lord’s provision. They do so all the way to the Promised Land. And after that, they get even worse about it.

The point is this. All the way down to Egypt and all the way back to the Promised Land, the Israelites are a bunch of thankless and unrighteous sinners.

Now, remember the story of Joseph, husband of Mary. More specifically, look at the Child whom he delivers to Egypt and back. This Toddler—likely about 2 years old—makes the arduous journey to Egypt without a single sin. He arrives at His exile completely righteous and holy. Later on, He makes the journey back from Egypt to Nazareth in the Promised Land. And as He does so, He is still wholly righteous and without sin.

The point of this remembrance is this. The Toddler Jesus makes the same trip that Old Testament Israel did. And He makes it while perfectly trusting God and perfectly obeying His parents. He makes the trip without a single sin.

If this seems like nothing worth remarking on, then you’ve never gone on a long car ride with a two-year-old.

The Son of God makes this rough journey in part because He has taken on human flesh to be the Savior. And since life is rough for man, man’s Savior gets no special favors. But more importantly, the Son of God makes the trip because He is the Savior of all who believe in Him, even those Israelites of the Exodus. And in His trip to Egypt, He is hard at work to save.

You see, in preparation for Judgment Day, the Savior Jesus now makes this declaration to those long-gone Israelites of the Old Testament. He says, “When you went down to Egypt, you were full of all sorts of sin—just from the way you treated your brother Joseph. And when you left Egypt for the Promised Land, you were an unrighteous lot of grumbling, unfaithful idolaters. These sins merit the punishment of eternal death. That is what you deserve.

“But I am your Savior, and I save you from death. Therefore, I went to Egypt, too. I made the trip down to Pharaoh’s land, but I did it perfectly, without sin. I stayed in exile there for a while, and I stayed perfectly righteous in doing so. Then I made the trip out of Egypt—and I did so without a single sin. And, back in the Promised Land, I didn’t turn to false gods and idols. I stayed obedient to My Father’s will, even went to the cross at His bidding.

“I did this for you, so that you might be forgiven. I’ve lived to give you credit for my righteousness. And I’ve died to take away your sin. You see, when My Father looks upon you, He says, ‘When I look upon you, I don’t see your sins, your shabby treatment of Joseph, or your grumblings in the wilderness and idolatry in Canaan. My Son has taken all of that away. Instead, when I look at you, I see My Son’s perfect sinlessness as He travels down to Egypt. I see His perfect holiness as He lives there. I see His righteousness and obedience as He travels back to Nazareth and submits to His parents. I see these things because Jesus did them for you and gives you the credit for them. That’s why you’re saved from your sin. That’s why heaven is yours.’”

Therefore, this Gospel lesson does much to teach us of the Gospel itself. Jesus has lived and died for you. He has lived a perfect life so that He can give you credit for His perfect life. He has died the sinner’s death so that you don’t have to die for your sin.

Therefore, consider some of those sins that may well be prevalent as the holiday season begins to fade. It may be the anger of toddlers who are screaming because of a broken toy or just because they want to assert their will.

It may be the covetousness of children who wish they had the toys that a friend received. It may be the contempt of teenagers, who doesn’t want to listen to the parents and may grow angry at them for a bad day at school. It may be the sins that afflict adults, that rush into the vacuum left by the disappearing holiday cheer: lust, anxiety, selfishness, abrasiveness, a whole host of sins. Sins that don’t really shock us anymore because they’re just a part of who we are. And frankly, these are the dangerous sins. When sins trouble us, we repent of them. When they don’t trouble us, we dismiss them and do not seek forgiveness. But the Lord still calls them sin and calls us to repentance. For the wages of these sins, too, is death.

And the Lord also bids you to remember His trip to Egypt; because, you see, He is not just living a perfect and sinless life for the Israelites of old. He is doing that for you, too.

So that toddlers may be forgiven of their angry power-plays, Jesus perfectly and serenely submits to His parents. He then takes the punishment for angry power plays by submitting Himself to death on the cross. So that children can be forgiven for their covetousness, Jesus lives a perfect life of contentment. He then takes the judgment for their sin by giving up even His life at Calvary. So that teenagers can be forgiven for contempt and disrespect, He remains perfectly subservient to His parents through His adolescent years. Then He goes to the cross and accepts the blame for all the sins of the world.

For all of those grown-up sins that are so commonplace, He lives an adult life of perfect purity, trust, service, kindness, and holiness. Then He accepts the wrath of God and pays the price for all vice, wretchedness, unholiness, and iniquity. He doesn’t do this to set an example—we already have God’s Law to tell us what to do, and we cannot do it. He does not do this to set you up, to say, “Ha! It can be done, so you’d better get on the ball!” He lives that perfect life for you!

And He declares to you today, “Repent and remember my perfect life and my terrible death. I’ve lived that perfect life to give you the credit for it. I’ve died that death to save you the punishment. Therefore, I do not see your sin and shame —I’ve taken it away! Instead I see only perfect holiness, because I lived and died to give it to you.”

So hear the story of the Toddler Jesus, on His way to Egypt and back. Hear and marvel, because that 2-year-old is doing what you cannot do, and He’s doing it for your salvation. He fulfills prophecies at that young age, proving even then that He is the Savior that the prophets foretold.

And as He does so, He is living for you. So that He might die for you … And rise for you … And live for you once more, so He can declare that you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Holding on for the Blessing

“Jacob Wrestles with an Angel” by James Tissot

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Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” (Genesis 32:26).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Jacob and his caravan reach the Jabbok, a stream that flows into the Jordan from the east just about midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. After leading family and flocks south across the Jabbok under cover of darkness, Jacob himself goes back across the stream, apparently to spend some time alone with the Lord in prayer. As he begins once again to pour out his heart to God, he suddenly becomes aware that out of the darkness someone has grabbed hold of him and is wrestling him to the ground. The mysterious struggle continues—for hours—until the first streaks of dawn appear in the eastern sky.

In commenting on this passage, Martin Luther said, “This text is one of the most obscure in the Old Testament.” Although there are elements of this wrestling match that are difficult to understand and to explain, there are some basic truths that are immediately clear.

Jacob is struggling with God in earnest prayer. This struggle involves a spiritual striving with God for His blessing, but it involves a physical struggle as well. Jacob’s opponent, at first referred to “a man,” later identifies Himself as God.

But why should God appear to one of His children as an opponent, as an enemy fighting against Him? Surely not to crush the life out of him. If God so wanted, the wrestling match would be over in half a second. In the heat of the struggle, Jacob may be tempted to think of God as his enemy; in that case God would not want to bless Jacob. But God has promised to bless, and Jacob knows that God cannot lie. Yes, God is an opponent, but He is not the enemy.

The struggle continues until Jacob’s divine opponent, by merely touching Jacob’s hip, throws the entire hip socket out of joint. Now Jacob can’t continue the painful struggle any longer, so he throws his arms around his opponent and holds onto him. His opponent says, “Let Me go, for the day has broken.” He is delighted to hear Jacob answer, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” God doesn’t want Jacob (and He doesn’t want us) to be timid with Him. He delights to let us win victories over Him on the basis of humble believing prayer. Jacob clings in faith to God and to God’s promise, and he receives the blessing he desires.

“What is your name?” the Lord asks him, not because He has forgotten but because He wants to remind Jacob that he has been born a “heel-grabber,” one who takes unfair advantage of a rival. But that old name no longer fits this man, and so God gives him a new one. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Bible names often serve as more than convenient labels for people. Here Jacob’s new name describes the new nature and character the Spirit of God has patiently and painstakingly created in him. No longer will he rely on his own cleverness to overcome anyone who opposes him. The heel-grabber has become the persistent fighter who clings to God’s promise and wins God’s blessing legitimately. He has learned to lean on God.

God apparently feels that Jacob needs a memento of his victory, as a warning against relapsing into his old nature. So, as Jacob leaves the scene of the wrestling match, he is limping. All of God’s children need to learn that in and of ourselves we have no strength, no power with God or man. Our only strength, like Jacob’s, lies in holding on for the blessing, on holding firmly to God’s promises.

For Jacob another blessed fruit of this mysterious struggle is that he is freed from the terror that has gripped his heart since he learned Esau was coming for him with four hundred men. With the Savior’s promise ringing in his ears, he is now ready to meet Esau, ready for whatever surprises the new day might bring.

God still appears to His people on occasion as though He is an opponent. Each of us has known dark hours when we were unable to see God’s blessing and have seen only a face that looks angry. Jacob holds on to God even when He appears as his opponent, and he wins a blessing. We will have that same experience when we learn how to say, “My Savior, I will not let you go unless You bless me. Keep holding on for the blessing!

Jacob learned the hard way a lesson we all need to learn—in and of ourselves we have no power with God or man. We are much like helpless babies. Our only strength lies in holding firmly to what God has promised and crying out to Him for help. Apart from Jesus, we can accomplish nothing spiritually. Without the Holy Spirit, we do not know how to pray or for what to pray.

Unlike babies, we do not outgrow this helplessness. We never become spiritually self-sufficient but grow in our dependence. If there is one thing we discover as we mature spiritually, it is that before God we are nothing but beggars. In the face of death and God’s judgment, we can only cry out to Jesus as beggars did in the ancient world: “Lord have mercy!” Or as Jacob did in our Old Testament lesson: “I will not let You go until You bless me!”

Yet that experience of helplessness is the best thing for our spiritual growth. As long as we can manage quite well by ourselves, we have no need to pray and never learn to praise God. But when we have come to the end of our own rope, our only hope lies in prayer. Only those who are helpless can truly pray. Only those who have been helped by God in answer to their prayers can really praise God.

You are on a journey through this fallen world to the Paradise of God. You live in a land where there are temptations, and in which you have fallen often. Perhaps it is pride that keeps you awake in the darkness before the coming dawn. Maybe it is slavish fear in the middle of the night. You are alone as you wrestle with your past, with your conscience, and with that ever-increasing load of guilt.

Then the Lord permits you to wrestle with Him throughout the darkness of this world’s night. He may reach out His finger and touch your heart or your home or a loved one. There is instant pain and it continues. You hobble around and, in spite of the hurt and suffering, with strength and determination that can only be from above, you hold on until you have God’s intended blessing.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Striving with God and men… and prevailing. Suffering. Enduring hardship. Hearing the accusations of the Law. All the time, holding God to His gracious promises in prayer. Holding on for the blessing.

“The wages of sin is death…”

Yes, Lord, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“The soul that sins shall die…”

Yes, my Lord, but He was wounded for our transgressions.

“There is none that does good; no not one…”

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.

Why does the Lord engage in such a wrestling match with you? Why does He inflict or permit a variety of painful injuries, horrid diseases, and awful injustices that might dog you the rest of your earthly life? In order that you might hold on for the blessing. In order that you might turn from your prideful independence to humble dependence upon Him. And in Christ you are! In order that He might bring you forgiveness. And in Christ you are forgiven! In order that your slavish fear might be replaced by godly fear. And in Christ you are! In short: In order that He might bless you! And in Christ you are blessed!

The Lord provides you with His Word and Sacraments, not only to bring you into the Israel of God, but to sustain you in His Church. Recall your Baptism daily by drowning the Old Adam through contrition and repentance. Declare to Satan: “I am baptized. And if I am baptized then I belong to Christ.”

Know yourself… both the sinner and the saint. Know God’s Word… both the Law that accuses and the Gospel that forgives. Listen as the absolution is announced and take it to heart. Receive the true body and blood of the Incarnate Son of God, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin and the strengthening of your faith. Through these means of grace, the Holy Spirit gives you the strength to endure whatever the Lord God may permit to come your way and to remain faithful unto death and be given the crown of life.

This literal encounter between Jacob and God provides an object lesson for our prayer life. We wrestle with God in prayer. It isn’t always easy. Eager as He is to hear us and help us, God is no pushover. He is no magic genie at our beck and call. Often He must oppose us when our sinful will is out of sync with His perfect will. He challenges, convicts, judges, evaluates us and our requests. But when our will is in accord with His, God graciously lets us prevail. Graciously, He gives us the blessing we ask for.

Like Jacob, may you continue to hold onto the Lord even in those dark hours when you are unable to see God’s mercy and see only a face that looks angry. May you learn to say in prayer, “My Savior, I will not let You go unless You bless me.” Indeed He does bless you. He soothes your suffering spirit. He calms all your fears. And He gives you peace and comfort even in the midst of strife.

In Christ, you are blessed. That is to say: You are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.