Good morning! I want to begin with a strange question for you. Raise your hand if you’ve been on a red-eye flight. What that means is an overnight flight where you sleep on the plane. For most people, not a pleasant experience, but it happens.
Today I want to finish the Christmas story. It includes the wise men, Herod’s murder of the babies, and the family’s red eye flight to Egypt. There are some important lessons here so let’s get started. We left the story last week with Mary and Joseph taking 8 day old baby Jesus the 7 miles to Jerusalem to be circumcised and dedicated to the Lord.
We pick up the story in Mt 2 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Mt 2:1-2
The story behind these Magi is very interesting. They were astrologers, but not Satan worshippers. They were Gentiles who believed in the God of the Jews. They came to worship this new born king! But where did they come from?
Many scholars believe they were disciples of the prophet Daniel who lived 500 years earlier when Israel was in exile in Babylon. They studied Daniel’s writings and looked forward to the coming of the King who would be the Savior of the whole world.
There were probably more that 3 of them. We get the number 3 from the gifts they brought – gold, myrrh, and frankincense. They were probably part of an impressive caravan. They came to Herod’s palace to ask where the new king was born. That got Herod’s attention!
These wise men were no dummies; they knew the politics of the region. And they were no friend of Rome, neither were they afraid of Rome. They knew Herod was a fake king, a puppet put in place by the Romans. They also knew he was a tyrant bully. They came to ask him and his scholars where the new king was to be born.
Herod had no interest in the Bible. But when he heard their story, he gathered his Bible scholars together and put them to work. They found the answer in the prophet Micah - Bethlehem, birth place of David, little two bit town 7 miles south of Jerusalem.
“When you find him”, King Herod told the Magi, “Come back and tell me so I can worship him, too.” Now Herod may have been a psychopath, but he was no fool. He found out from the wise men when Jesus’ star first appeared. It was a 4 month journey from Babylon to Bethlehem so Jesus is at least 6 months old when the Magi arrived.
When they came to the house where Jesus and the family were living, they bowed down and worshipped him and gave him their gifts. A reminder to Mary, Joseph, and us to be patient and never doubt the Lord’s provision! Then the angel warned them not to return to Herod, so they left for home by a different road.
Let’s jump down to vs 13 “When they had gone, 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.” Mt 2:13
Egypt is 400 miles away – a month of walking with a 6 month old baby. Not only that, but the angel’s warning is imperative. Middle of the night, “Go!” I don’t know about you, but I would have whined. “Come on, Lord! Couldn’t you have given us a little more warning? Maybe book a ride? Isn’t there some place closer and more convenient to hide than Egypt? This is a real pain!”
So what do we learn from this? First, Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus aren’t given any special treatment or entitlement when it comes to dealing with the evil and injustice in this world. Joseph and Mary are doing their best, so why does God allow this?
The first reason is to build and strengthen us, spiritually, physically, emotionally. The Lord loves his kids too much to coddle us. We are in a real battle against an incredibly powerful and wicked enemy. The Lord’s purpose is to build our faith and increase our grit. He wants to make us strong, and that only happens as we battle against real adversity.
Peter writes at the end of his life, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12
James, the younger brother of Jesus wrote before he was martyred, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2
The second reason the Lord allows these red eye specials is to help us identify with the broken and suffering around us. If Jesus went through these things, it shouldn’t surprise us that God would allow us to go through the same things so that we can empathize and stand with others. In Hebrews it says, “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” Heb 2:17
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Heb 4:15
A third reason is that we never learn that God alone can fill our deepest needs by choice. It’s not until we run out of our own resources that we begin to rely on the Lord and discover that the strength, courage, wisdom, supply we need really does come from him.
Satan does everything he can to trick us into believing that God isn’t really here and that God doesn’t really care or God is powerless to help us.
I’m sure Mary and Joseph cried out to the Lord more than once on that tough trip to Egypt, “Where are you God?” – then came that “sqick” sound that every parent knows so well. God is right here and it’s time to change his diaper! When they thought about it, Jesus was their security against the bullies of the world. As long as they were with Jesus, they would be safe. God would never allow his Son to be hurt. So why Egypt? To fulfill Scripture!
So how do these events fit into a timeline of Jesus’ life? We know for sure that Herod died in 4 BC, shortly after his command to kill the baby boys around Bethlehem. We also know that Jesus, because of a mistake in our modern calendar, was probably born in 6 BC.
That makes Jesus about 6 months old when the family fled to Egypt so they lived in Egypt maybe a year, year and a half when they received news that Herod was dead, it was safe to go home.
During their stay in Egypt, tradition tells us Jesus and his parents were on the move, maybe in fear of Herod’s spies who were searching for them. How did they survive? Remember the Lord’s provision through the gifts of the Magi? It would be fun to know how those funds lasted. Maybe the Lord made the money last just long enough to get back to Nazareth!
So what about bullies? How do we deal with the evil in the world around us, especially the bullies like Herod? How do we keep up our courage? What about those red eye specials that come our way? How do we keep going when our own faith and strength fail? How do we keep trusting, obeying, moving ahead when the power of evil seems so overwhelming?
I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for that except this. The Lord must fight for us. Satan is an enemy far beyond our ability to defeat or even understand. Mary and Joseph had no power to defeat a monster Herod.
At the same time, Herod was once baby just like Jesus. What turned him into the evil monster he became? Psychologists wrack their brains trying to solve the problem and prevent it from happening again. Sometimes we feel we are making headway, only to have it slip through our fingers like a handful of sand.
When we run up against evil, do we stand and fight or do we flee? The Bible gives us both pictures. It seems only the Lord can give us the wisdom we need. One thing is for sure, in either case, what the Bible says is true. The battle belongs to the Lord and he will deliver us, heal us, save us if we will seek him rather than trying to do it in our own strength.
We live in a broken sin soaked world and that means the Lord is going to call us to some difficult tasks. Some red-eye, middle of the night flights as it were. We will be tested beyond our own endurance. We will be tempted to give up. Don’t, stand firm in the strength of the Lord. Be obedient, refuse to be intimidated. Resist the devil and he will flee.
The Bible gives example after example. The Lord will fight for us, provide for us, protect and guide us as we will seek him, stay close to him. Where is Jesus? Remember that red-eye flight to Egypt. God himself is right here, in fact, its time to feed him and change his diaper.