Trust and Obey

“(13) Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’
(14) When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, (15) and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’
(16) Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. (17) Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
(18)’A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’
(19) Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, (20) saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.’
(21) Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. (22) But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. (23) 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 2:13-23)
                I tried to write about this yesterday but I found myself merely telling the story again only I was adding in the details of the hardships this new, small family had to go through. The Bible is full of accounts of people who heard God speak to them—whether through a dream, a burning bush, or by means of an angel—and they are told to leave everything they know, everyone they love, behind. Just get up, go to this strange and foreign land I am sending you right now. Don’t wait a week. Don’t make travel plans. Don’t figure out a new job before getting there. Just go. Right now. And amazingly enough each one of them did. Granted Jonah got up and went the exact opposite way than God had told him, but in the end Jonah ended up in Nineveh. Back then there was no Google, no MapQuest, no GPS, no cell phones, and not even a mail system for them to ‘keep in touch’. They just got up and went.
                To be honest I don’t know if I am capable of that kind of obedience. I console myself by saying it would be different once God Himself was actually speaking to me. But then I wonder if I would think myself a little loopy to even entertain the idea of God speaking directly to me. Which really just makes me sad. I know God still speaks to us. He speaks to us—the believer and non-believer—through other people, through dreams, through music, and through our own souls. The problem is we don’t listen, we don’t see, we don’t pay attention, we get distracted, we have to answer this text message, we have to take this other call, we need to get coffee first, and we believe we have to be crazy to actually think God has spoken to us. I know I have personally used all of those excuses and some of them more than once.   The hard truth is I don’t know if I could have been obedient enough to God’s will to keep Jesus safe. And having typed out that shameful confession I feel extremely uncomfortable. The truth hurts, and the only way to change that truth is to admit it and figure out why.
                What Joseph and Mary did in the first few years of Jesus’ life is amazing. I read those ten verses and I am in awe of their trust in God. God says to jump and they ask how high. God told me to write a book, and I said, “Sorry, Jesus and I are not on speaking terms right now. So I am going to go do massage.”   Right out of massage school I get diagnosed with cancer and that consumes my life for about 8 months. During that time I meet this great Christian guy and become saved.
                So God comes back and says, “I want you to write this book. Jesus and you are on speaking terms again.”
                My reply? “Sorry, God, that story is too personal and uncomfortable. It is too revealing. Besides, I really want to do this massage thing. I am good at it and it could give me a more comfortable life.”
                A month and a half after I start working as a massage therapist I fall and basically destroy my ankle. I spend the next 20 months unable to walk. I now have severe nerve damage in my left leg. I have a noticeable limp. I had to have major reconstructive surgery on my ankle. All in all, being a massage therapist is out of the question for me. And in these last two years of recovering God has really leaned on my heart and told me He really wants me to write this book. So now I am writing this book.
                It wasn’t three days in the belly of a great fish, but I unfortunately took after Jonah rather than Joseph. I don’t think God gave me cancer. I don’t believe God caused my ankle injury. Had I listened to God and wrote the book the first time I still would have gotten cancer. The difference is I probably would have handled it better emotionally because I would have already had Jesus at my side and had the Holy Spirit as my strength. I would have done things during that time much differently. If I had written the book after the second prodding I might not have gotten hurt. I might not have been at work that day to live up to my klutzy ways.  Then again, because I am most skilled, I might have found another way in another place to have the exact same injury. But the book would have been done by this time, and probably published. And that could mean I would have had added money where I have currently been struggling with what little Workmen’s Comp has been paying me.
                So here I am, writing the book I should have written two years ago. At the end of the day God’s will is being done. If Joseph had woken up from that first dream and said, “Sorry God, I need to finish working on that bench for the Smith’s. It will give me the money I need to make the trip to Egypt for you. Let me get that out of the way first.” I don’t think it would have changed things. I don’t think if Joseph delayed his leaving for Egypt would have enabled Herod’s men to find Jesus and kill Him. God had a plan. I do think that the delay would have cost Joseph in some other way. Why do I think that? Because when we give up God’s perfect, good plans to follow our own design…it can never end as good. We aren’t perfect. We don’t know everything. We don’t see everything. My design will always fall short of God’s design. So why, then, do I always think I know better? Why do we always have excuses wrapped up in the pretty packages of ‘valid reasons’?
                Pride. For me it usually boils down to pride. I was too proud of myself, and all I have done, to think I needed Jesus. I was good enough, despite my pervasive sinful ways, it was more than enough. Jesus dying on the cross to atone for me is redundant and obsolete. The problem is God is never obsolete. He wouldn’t have humbled himself by becoming a human child, dependent on sinful people (because we are all sinners, even Joseph and Mary) to keep Him alive through Herod’s rage, and submit Himself to the degrading, spiteful, hateful ways of man when He could easily wipe any one of us out for all time…..if we could do it on our own. And it took one man (my Raggedy Andy) and cancer to entertain the idea I am not almighty…to open a Bible and read what God actually has to say.
                So I read the four Gospels. I met Jesus. I admitted I am not good enough on my own because I am a sinner. I became saved. But I still held on to my pride. I, after all, had paid a lot of money to go to this school. I really loved giving massage. I was good at it. I could make myself a comfortable life doing massage that didn’t involve me opening my life up to the public scrutiny that would come with the writing of the book. My way was clearly better. My way was clearly less painful. And in my way I still loved Jesus, so everything was good.
                I wonder what would have happened if Joseph took that road. If he obeyed the first dream by taking Jesus and His mother away, but instead of going to Egypt he went to north into Syria, or maybe wanted to spend some time on the Island of Cyprus. I bet that choice would have required several more verses having been written and maybe required another chapter to write about how that had gone. Because I honestly don’t think it would have gone well for Joseph. But Joseph headed the wisdom of the Proverbs. God is good. And true wisdom is found in aligning ourselves to the will of the Lord. He heard and he obeyed. Mary listened to her husband, submitted to his wisdom in obey God, and followed. How many women, today, would make those same choices?
                So as I sit here and read that passage again I want to shine the light on how incredible Joseph and Mary are. I want to hold them up high so that way I can look at how good they are without ever addressing what their light shines back at me. Which is a mistake I think a lot of us make when we read the Bible. God gives me the example of this small family not just so I can admire them…but so I can strive to be like them. See and obey. Hear and obey. Know and obey. Trust and obey. The trusting part is as hard as the obedient part. The world we live in today doesn’t nurture the concept of trust. It feeds us ways to bend trust, sneak around trust, or tell little white lies to trust for its own good.
                Jesus told us, however, that the moment we believe in Him we are not of this world. We should not strive for worldly things. We can either hunger after Jesus and follow His ways; or we can hunger after man and follow in worldly ways. I can honestly say I hunger after Jesus and attempt to follow His ways…while I stumble along the ways of the world. I am getting better at distinguishing between the two paths. I know I will never be able to perfectly follow the footsteps Christ has left for me. But I also know that when I come before the Father…I won’t have to the tolls for all the detours I took. Jesus already bought my ticket, He took over my debt. I don’t have a bill to atone for. So I need to be better at trusting and obeying. For anyone who can pay off my debts to God…is better, more good, more trustworthy, and more deserving of obedience than any other man on earth can ever hope to be.
                So I need to be more like Joseph and Mary. Not because without them Jesus wouldn’t have made it. Jesus would have made it by the God’s grace and through His will. I need to be more like Joseph and Mary for they obeyed God because they knew they needed Jesus. I shouldn’t do God’s will, and write this book, because God needs me to. God will get it done one way or the other. I should be doing God’s will because I need God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in my life. And the only way to have Them in my life…is to walk with Them. Not against Them or away from Them.
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More like the wise men

“(9) When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. (10) When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (11) And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (12) Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.” (Matthew 2:9-12)
                I have grown up watching the short cartoon versions of this, as well as one or two Claymation’s of how this event might have occurred. It is always depicted as a very solemn event with the three wise men being purely, wholeheartedly devoted to the task of finding baby Jesus to give him these gifts. As I read this passage as an adult I wonder what it was really like for these three men. First off to be considered a “wise” man back then one of the first things you needed to be was older. These were not young men in their teens or twenties. These three men were older men and they had to walk a very long way to reach the manger where Jesus was. The Bible does not indicate how far away “east” is, but I can guarantee you it was more than a few days walk. It probably took them months to complete the journey to Bethlehem. I am trying to keep that in mind as I visualize these three older men trekking along the hot desert sands.
                So in my head I am picturing these three wise men spot this star in the heavens. They somehow interpret this to mean the Messiah, the King of the Jews, has been born. Their first thought is to go pay the King of the Jews homage. They want to be a part of this enormous event going on in Judea. I imagine them making the arrangements to go. I am sure they might have even been excited at this final arrival of prophecy. I can imagine this hum of anticipation is carried with them as they make their way on camel and foot through the desert. I mean, heck, I get excited when a movie I want to see comes out. The five minute car ride to the theater is giddy for me and we all talk about how awesome we hope this movie will be. And that’s just for a movie. These three men were devoting months to uncomfortable and possible dangerous travel to meet baby Jesus. They had to be excited. There had to be this giddy rush of anticipation that grew on them every day for months. This is a huge amount of build up that would drive me crazy.
                I can imagine them one day out from Judea. There they all are, sitting around a camp fire, talking about what they will find the next day. I wonder if they talked about the various celebrations that were going on. I wouldn’t be surprised if they thought of magnificent feasts being held as they dined on bare minimums of caravan food life. Did they try to guess how big of a crowd would be gathered? Did they wonder how long they would have to wait in line to see baby Jesus? I wonder if any of them pondered on how good it was to be a Jew that day as they celebrated the birth of their King, their Messiah. Or did they wonder how strange it was to not meet any other travelers along this road coming to do the very same thing they were there to do? Did doubt nibble at all in their hearts, or did any of them explain it away by saying the gathering people must have taken another road? I wonder, as they went to bed that night, if these types of questions stole away some of the giddy anticipation the three wise men had when they first started out.
                No matter their state of minds that night the next day would dawn. In the light I am sure their spirits were lifted as they headed into Judea. I wonder at what point their smiles began to fade. How long did it take them to realize something was terribly wrong? Instead of finding celebrations and feasts as they walked into Jerusalem they found people going about their everyday lives as though nothing miraculous had happened. Did their hearts doubt in that moment? Did they question themselves, their sanity, or the months’ worth of toil it took to walk up to the heart of Jerusalem to seek out the King of the Jews? Nothing was going on in Jerusalem. No one seemed to notice the star. The priests of Israel were not out heralding the arrival of the Messiah. Songs of praise were not bouncing off the walls. The three wise men were walking toward King Herod as Jerusalem was settled in just another day. I wonder if they made excuses for the lack of joy and jubilation going on around them.
                Then these three men meet Herod the King. Herod’s reply to their inquiry of where the King of the Jews was born can be summed up in one word: “Huh?” I wonder how deeply that response burst their bubbles. Chief priests and scholars were summoned to figure out the truth of these three wise men. These Chief priests of the Jews and Jewish scholars all came back with the same response. What the three wise men had said to be true was true. The Messiah was to be born at this time. There was a star in the night sky. And again I wonder if the three wise men, upon hearing this, expected to see the celebrations begin that night. I wonder if their giddy anticipation lit again in their hearts as they imagined being in the beginning thick of it all. Did any of them hold their breath in wait of the heralding call of the priests or scholars? But nothing came.
                No word spread through Jerusalem. The synagogues didn’t explode with the news, teachings, and fulfilled prophecy.   How disheartening was it for those three wise men when they realized that the very people who should have known this day were completely oblivious and content to remain so? I wonder if any of them felt the nibbling nagging of doubt as they left Herod the King. Was there an argument around the campfire that night about whose bright idea it was to come all this way for nothing? If the Messiah had been born, after all, wouldn’t the Jews be the first people to know it? If I were one of those men I am afraid I would have been confused and completely disappointed. There were no celebrations. There were no feasts. No one was singing and there was no dancing in the streets. I might have even been a little frustrated and mad at having traveled for so long, for so far, and gone through so much simply to get here. And for what? For nothing. No one noticed. No one seemed to care. I can’t even begin to imagine the level of disappointment that could have gone on.
                But the three wise men didn’t pick up their ball and go home. Instead they found the star and followed it on to Bethlehem. I wonder if this confused them. Or maybe they knew of the prophecy of Him being born in this tiny town? I wonder if they consoled themselves with the possibility of celebrating occurring in Bethlehem due to the birth of the Savior there. But then again they were the only caravan on the road heading toward this small town. There wasn’t a line of people, nor were their growing crowds. As they entered this tiny place the three men were probably struck dumb by the lack of notice. The King of the Jews had just been born amongst them and no one noticed. They didn’t even find the Messiah in the best room of the finest motel. They found Him alone with His mother. Joseph was the only other man there. This King of the Jews was born into poverty.
                I don’t know how I would have responded at this sight. I don’t know what I would have done. I try to picture it in my head but I know I won’t ever get it right. I don’t know if I would have recognized my Savior when I saw Him as a baby. I don’t know if my first response would be to fall to my knees at the feet of this Child. But the three wise men did just that. They saw baby Jesus and fell down to worship Him. For a moment try to picture this instant from Mary’s perspective. I wonder how shocked and speechless she was. The three men then took out their kingly gifts and presented them to baby Jesus. They didn’t doubt or hesitate in that moment. They knew Him, even as a baby. I envy them that. I don’t know if I would have given the emotional rollercoaster I would have been on between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
                I am again struck profoundly by the cameo of these three men in the Bible. They aren’t major persons in any of the Books. They are only briefly mentioned. Not a whole lot is really even written about them. But they knew. They knew when an entire nation who should have known was completely clueless. And a lot of the times that is me. I am a new Christian so when I hear people talk about the Bible with such a thorough knowledge I feel uncomfortable. I should know those things. I need to know those things. I need to spend more time in the Holy Bible so I will know those same things. But I am pretty sure, back then, I wouldn’t have known.
                It is very strange for me to think of the three wise men as anything more than what those childhood cartoons showed me. They were smart, obviously wise, but hardly the big part in their own story. The focus is always on Jesus. As it should be. The birth of Jesus is so much more than anything else, but God mentions the three wise men in the Bible for a reason. The three wise men are a lesson I never really considered before because it comes to close to the main event so to speak. The three wise men aren’t only a hiccup of fact or a brief mention of detail. These three men present me with a choice of who I want to be. Will I be a wise man, a chief priest and scribe, or one of the masses?
                The Chief priests and scribes confirmed what the three wise men said. So they knew about the birth of Jesus but chose to do nothing with that information. How many people do you know today who know who Jesus is but choose not to do anything with that knowledge? The numbers of people I alone know who know about Jesus but choose to do nothing with that information is staggering. And I am ashamed to admit it sometimes in my life I act like one of those people. I know who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He is about, but I chose to do nothing with that information. I chose something else. Something a little shinier, a little flashier, and a little more selfish. I chose to ignore Jesus so I can continue doing what I am doing.
                Then there are those who are completely oblivious to Jesus. Today these are not just the people in the most remote places in the most third world countries who have never seen anyone outside of their village nor heard of the Bible before. Today these people are everyone who has heard of the Bible, who have heard the name Jesus, and chose not to know more. The commoners in Judea, people of the nation of Israel, had heard the stories and the prophecies since they were little. If any of them sought to devote time to Scripture they would have known what the three wise men knew. But they didn’t. These people didn’t investigate. They went about their lives to get through their lives. People today hear about God, hear the name Jesus, and turn their backs without investigating further. They are turned off before anything even starts. Right now I am not one of those people. I don’t say this with pride, but with fear. I can easily become like one of those people if I let sin take over my life. If I venture along my life too long in the role of a Chief priest or a Scribe…I will eventually become one of the masses.
                What I want to be is one of the wise men. Being one of the wise men isn’t about not having doubts. I am sure all of them had some doubts. They are human after all. But they continued on in the journey anyways. I wonder how many of us, upon arriving in Jerusalem, would have simply turned around and gone home. I don’t know if I would have gone the distance to Bethlehem. I would like to think I would have. I would like to think I could have that level of devotion. Every time I try to talk myself into saying I would have made it to Bethlehem I remind myself of Church. How many Sunday services have I missed for whatever reason? And it only takes me 20 minutes to drive to Church. I don’t have to walk for months on end. I don’t have to sweat and toil to get there. If I can sometimes talk myself out of a twenty minute drive, how easy would it be for me to talk myself out of days’ worth of walking? And I am a believer. I am saved.
                I need to be more like the three wise men. They walked for months to see baby Jesus. I will walk the rest of my life before I see Jesus. Our walk today is longer than theirs, but we have an advantage. My walk takes place in my home. I have food, water, and shelter. I have hot showers and comforters. Most importantly I have a complete Holy Bible in my hand. I know what Jesus came here to do, and I can read about what He did. I have countless things those three wise men didn’t have. So why then do I stray so easily from my walk? My reasons are really just excuses. None of those excuses are right or worthy. Jesus deserves better.
                The last thing I need to learn from the wise men is the lesson of gifts. What am I bringing to Jesus’ feet? He doesn’t need gold, frankincense, or myrrh. When I see my Lord and Savior the sort of gifts I can bring Him can’t be materials. The gifts I need to bring are faithfulness, servitude, love, and obedience. God has blessed me with various gifts. The Holy Spirit stirs up those gifts with divine intent. What I need to be doing is traveling toward my own meeting with my Savior carrying those gifts. I need to be developing them so that way He can see them along my way.
                It is a shame we can’t somehow put all of this meaning into those cartoons. Jesus is the point. He is always the point. But God never gives us useless information. We shouldn’t skip over the point and the lesson of the three wise men. They will help us better understand, and more approach the point of Jesus more profitably.

Herod in my life

“(1)Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, (2) saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’
(3) When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (4) And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. (5) So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
(6) “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”’
(7) Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. (8) And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.’” (Matthew 2: 1-8)
               What strikes me (like a hard slap in the face) about the first two verses in this chapter is that God’s chosen people, Israel, hadn’t picked up on this. Jesus was born among them and they didn’t even notice the star that three men noticed from countless miles away. It took these three men, these three unbelievers, these three non-Jewish men to make it known to believers that the Messiah had been born. It is a slap in the face to me because I see the truth of my own ‘Herod the king’ syndrome alive in my own life. A lot of the time, sadly, it is my non-Christian family/friends who make my non-Christian behaviors glaringly obvious. Which is a huge blessing to me, in all its humbling glory. But what never ceases to amaze me is that sometimes nonbelievers can spot Christ more easily than those who believe.
                I am sure most, if not all, will not see it this way. I have often been told when I point this out to them that they were merely trying to prove the point of my own hypocrisy. Which is very true, I am a hypocrite. I am a broken, fallen, sinner and I strive to get near the vicinity of perfection that is Jesus Christ. He is my example to follow. He is my standard. I will never reach His perfection, and as I try and fail I become a hypocrite. Everyone is when held up to the standard of Christ. My life here on earth will never reach God’s law written in my heart and on my soul. But I will never stop trying either, which means that yes you will witness me in all my fumbling hypocrisy. Just know that every time you witness the sin of a Christian you are witnessing Christ. Because in recognizing that sin, that hypocrisy, you are acknowledging the standard Jesus Christ the Lord has put upon us.
                And of course every time this happens to me I find my reactions are, again, in line with Herod. I become very troubled and I seek the council of fellow Christians (chief priests) and the Bible (scribes).   Low and behold 99% of the time the nonbeliever is correct. I am in the wrong. Unlike Herod, however (and thankfully), my mishaps aren’t about key, vital prophecy that had been taught to Herod since he was a child. Like Herod, however (and shamefully), my mishaps are about key, vital truths we all have in our heart. Love one another. Treat someone as you want to be treated. Humility before pride. And other things like that.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)
                This is the prophecy Matthew referred to. This is where the scribes found it. This is where the chief priests pointed out to Herod the truth that these three non-Jewish, nonbelievers already knew. Can you imagine how embarrassing that had to be for Herod? Here he is, king of Judea, and the ruler of God’s chosen people …and in walk these three strangers who nothing (in comparison to the ego of a King) about God and they proceed to school Herod in his own religion. Talk about
a huge ouch. In my mind I can picture him sitting on his throne, “It’s good to be the King”, and he has just carelessly waved in these three men from afar. He was probably expecting the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that they would give to Jesus. And these three men look at the current ‘King of the Jews’ and have the mindboggling guts, and bravery, to ask Herod the King, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
                Can you picture that moment of confused disbelief? The ‘wait, what?’ look that must have been on Herod’s face. I have experienced my fair share of awkward silences in my life, but this was probably one of the top 10 awkwardly silent moments in the history of man. Wait, what? There is another king besides me? There is another king greater than me? You would rather worship a baby than me? Did I have a child and not even know it? I am sure these could possibly be only a scant few of the questions that fired off in Herod’s brain in that moment.
                Then Herod does his research. He calls on his people. He finds out that it had been written about hundreds of years ago. That they actually had prophecy roughly indicating the year and time it would happen for those who studied thoroughly. So what is his response? Depending on my convicted sin I normally deviate from Herod’s chosen path. I apologize. I repent. I try to change my way or behavior or whatever aspect of my life that this sin was glaring so brightly from that even non-Christians recognized it. There are, however, a few sins I shamefully have a very hard time letting go of. Sins that run deep, ones I try to justify or talk my way out of. I try to make the conviction, the truth of that sin, disappear. I essentially try to kill it. Which is exactly the response that Herod had. Kill this King. Kill Jesus Christ when He is still just a helpless child.
                Now I am not sure if I have ever done some version of sending my nonbelieving friends off to find the truth in the Bible rather than looking myself. I don’t know though. I think if Herod truly loved God he would have been first in line to go find Jesus to worship Him. If Herod had been Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ruth, or Joshua I am sure any of them would have dropped what they were doing to lead the three wise men to this God-Child and that their offering would have put all others to shame. But Herod can’t bring himself to do that sort of work. It was work to travel any sort of distance back then. Herod had a comfortable life with slaves and luxury in his home. Let lesser men do the grunt work of actually finding this supposed King of the Jews. I am pretty sure I am guilty of that more often than I really care to admit.
                When I talk to my family or friends about Jesus Christ I tell them to read the Bible to find out the truth. I have only gone out once to actually buy a Bible and give it to someone. I gave a Bible to my mom and I told her to read it. Then when she is struggling I talk to her about Jesus, and I tell her to read the Bible I gave her. I don’t sit down, research verses that can help her, and then go to her with the Bible I bought her in hand to show her the verses. Isn’t that the same thing? Here let me tell you where to go and I will trust you to navigate through unknown territory to find the truth. Then come back to me only after you have done all this work. Should I be helping with that work? I think I should. Or maybe even a more nonchalant example is saying “Bless you” after someone sneezes rather than “God bless you.” The God part is assumed. I wouldn’t want to offend. Let their mind add it if they want to. Let them seek out my meaning with their own energy rather than put myself out there. Isn’t it the same thing?
                I think it is. It is so easy for me to point at Herod and say “bad, bad man.” It is so much easier, and a lot less shamefully painful, to put myself above Herod. I could try to convince myself I would have done better. Which is laughable when I have so much less to lose than Herod and I am guilty of similar things in my everyday life. It is harsh, but that doesn’t make it any less true. So pray for me. Jesus Christ work in my life and on my heart so that I am more like the three wise men who sought You without knowing, and less like the knowing religious king who pushed You aside for his own vain pursuits. Amen.

Meaning and Comfort where I didn’t expect it.

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: (2) Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers.  (3) Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. (4) Ram begot  Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshaon begot Salmon. (5) Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, (6) and Jesse begot David the king.

David the King begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. (7) Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. (8) Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehosaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. (9) Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. (10) Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. (11) Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.

(12) And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel.  (13) Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor.  (14)Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. (15) Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. (16) And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.

(17) So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generals, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.” (Matthew 1:1-17)

 

The genealogy of Jesus Christ is the first thing written about in the New Testament.  This is how the first Gospel according to Matthew, who was a disciple of Christ and was once a Tax Collector, started out his account of Jesus with this long list of names.  So who cares, right?  The first time I read a genealogy in the Bible I got confused and lost in all the “begots” and strange names I had no hope of pronouncing correctly.  Besides, why should I care?  What does it matter?  What could I possibly get from God by reading through this not so easy list of son of sons? I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the people reading this just skipped over this first passage in the Bible to get to what I have to say about it, or think about it.  Once upon a time I would have done the same.  So I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to read through all of it.

But, I was wrong.  There is a reason for this list.  Genealogy is important to us, even if we don’t admit it.  If it wasn’t important to us web sites like Ancestry.com wouldn’t be in business.  People want to know where they come from, and how far back we can trace our family tree. We like to know what happened. Clicking on those little green leafs to find out some interesting tidbit about an ancestor we didn’t even know we had is always fun and exciting.  I understand, trust me, that this may seem completely irrelevant considering your family tree is very personal to you while the list of names above mean nothing to you.  Those names, however, should mean something to you.

More importantly these names meant something to the nation of Israel during the time this book was written.  Israel had prophecy hundreds of years earlier about the Messiah who would be born of the line of King David.  Matthew is simply trying to lay out his leaf littered parchment on how Jesus is of that line.  This traces the bloodline of Joseph, who is Christ’s adoptive father, all the way back to Abraham who is the father of the nation of Israel.  And I know a bunch of you are probably going ‘whoa, hold on here!’  Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus so why should his heritage matter?  I once, in my ignorance, tried to tote this off as proof that the Bible isn’t always true.  Yeah, I was that person.

Matthew is writing this book with Israel in mind.  According to the Jewish legal system then the bloodline of someone is always traced through the father, even if the child is adopted.  Matthew makes it clear in the next few verses
of who the true Father of Jesus Christ is.  But to help the first generations of Christians talk to Israel about who Jesus is, they needed to know his bloodline.  The bloodline of Israel was extremely important in their history and culture in that time.  The tribes of Israel were split in two.  Each tribe had a prophecy spoken about them in Genesis 49. Each tribe was given a specific place to camp around the tabernacle in their 40 years of wandering in the desert.  Each tribe had a certain order and place when they went to war.  These names meant something to Israel.  A lot of these names play roles in the history of Israel.  So it was important to show the connection Jesus had to the history of Israel, as well as the fulfillment of prophecy in the Old Testament of the Messiah coming from the line of David.

I know this still may seem silly considering this is all about Joseph, and Joseph wasn’t the biological father of Jesus.  Don’t worry, however, as you can find the genealogy of Mary in chapter 3 of Luke.  That genealogy is traced all the way back to Adam.  So why didn’t Matthew do that?  Because Matthew was a tax collector.  He concerned himself with the laws of Judaism which clearly traced heritage through the father, adoptive or not.  Luke was a physician, who concerned himself with the biological bloodline, so he researched Mary’s lineage.  And yes, both come from the bloodline of King David.

Which brings me back to an earlier statement I made, these names should mean something to you too.  A lot of these names have biblical stories behind them.  Their names and stories litter the Old Testament, which was taught every Saturday in the temples during the time of Jesus, and before the time of Jesus.  Those are the names of real people who did real things who affected history.  Jesus isn’t just some made up man who appeared out of nowhere.  He came from real people who lived real lives.  God became a man through Jesus.  A flesh and blood man who had grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.  These names are a promise and comfort God has given to me.  He understands.

Jesus just didn’t appear as a full grown adult.  He started off as a baby.  He had relatives who probably weren’t so nice.  He played as a toddler.  He probably did dishes or helped with the laundry.  Jesus might have even had pimples, or went through the awkward growth spurts where His limbs probably weren’t all symmetrical nor did they grow at the same rate.  Jesus had his voice crack and change in puberty.  Jesus was teased as a child, as a pre-teen, as a teenager, and certainly as an adult.  He grew up as we all have.  Jesus knows, and understands, this process because he has gone through it.  He was a real man born out of real people.

That comforts me.  Heck, I can’t trace my family line back farther than my grandparents without the tools found on a website.  Here in Matthew, at the very start of the Gospel, God said ‘This is how My Son came to be.’  That list of names isn’t just a list of who begot who, it is a litany of history.  It is a name by name version of how Israel went from one man, Abraham, to what it was when Jesus was born.  Each name is a generations worth of reasons why Jesus was, and is, needed. There are 42 generations of fallen, broken people who committed sins just as I have.  42 generations of people who have committed sins beyond my own.  42 generations of reasons why God could have turned His back on all of us.  And 42 generations of the miraculous mercy, patience, and love God has for all of us. God is saying here is a long list of a family who has done almost everything they possibly could to me to make me turn away from them.  And God loves us all enough to then give us the very last thing we could take away from Him.  We murder His only begotten Son, Jesus.

“(18) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  (19) Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19)

Wow.  Just so we are all on the same page back then being betrothed was just as binding as being married.  Two people couldn’t simply break up after they were betrothed.  They actually had to get a certificate of divorce to end a betrothal.  So this was a pretty big deal.  Joseph, who hasn’t even touched Mary and probably didn’t know her very well, just learned that she is pregnant.  Women back then were put to death if they were not virgins on their wedding nights.  Joseph has every right, as well as the legal backing, to make a public spectacle out of Mary.  He has the right to drag her through the streets, heralding her pregnancy in front of everyone.  He has the right to demand a divorce from her.  He had the right to do all of this, and more.

So what does he have the mind to do?  He considers taking her away from the two in secret so no one will know of her pregnancy.  His first thought is to spare her life, and her soul by not damaging it with publicly humiliating her in front of everyone she has known her entire life.  He doesn’t take her onto various ‘day time talk shows’ to reveal the truth to an audience.  He doesn’t explode in a volatile rage at her.  He doesn’t act in any of the selfish, prideful ways our culture is not only known for but often thrives on as entertainment.  Just consider that.  This is before Joseph knew who exactly the father of Jesus was.

I can only pray for that level of compassion.  I know I often fall short of it.  I let my injured pride, or my own disappointment and pain rule my first reactions to situations.  And to be perfectly honest that isn’t very Christian of me.  For all Joseph knew Mary not only betrayed him, but she publicly shamed and humiliated him by not saving herself for their wedding night.  This was huge.  I can’t even imagine how Joseph actually felt when he found out; but, I can imagine pretty well based on some of my own life experiences.  And I can promise you I didn’t handle any of those experiences with the compassion, love, calm, and care about the other party as Joseph did for Mary.  It really just boggles my mind.  In one verse Joseph puts me to great shame for a lot of my choices in life.  I can only hope, pray, and try so hard to be the same sort of God-loving soul that he was.

“(20) But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (21) And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’

(22) So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: (23) ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’

(24) Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, (25) and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.  And he called His name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:20-25)

Now just try to imagine one of those nights when you’ve gone to bed with some heavy weight on your mind.  That night you had a very hard time getting to sleep because your heart and soul were just sick with something.  Then, finally, you fall to sleep.  Woot!  Right?  As you are sleeping try to picture the awesomeness of an angel of the Lord appearing to you and solving your problem.  That angel simply laying out how to deal with whatever is troubling you.  How would you wake up from that?  Would you have the guts to believe what just happened?  Would you follow the instruction or advice the angel had given you?  Or would you dismiss it as just an overactive imagination or too much coffee, or maybe even a bit of undigested food?

I can speculate that I would listen, believe, and obey.  But to be honest I might not.  I have had many dreams in my life that lean me one way on a problem I was having.  I have casually dismissed those dreams as nonsense and went in the exact opposite direction.  These situations have rarely ended remotely pretty.  I have learned, thankfully, to start listening to my dreams when God talks to me through them about things.  I, granted, haven’t ever had an angel of the Lord appear to me in all their glory in one of my dreams.  I like to console myself with the thought if I had this happen I would have  listened on all those other occasions.  Which probably isn’t true.  Most Christians these days, sadly, no longer believe that God still talks to us through dreams.

Joseph, however, saw and believed immediately.  I know the Bible doesn’t go into the depths of Joseph’s mindset on this entire thing.  He could have had doubts.  He could have been freaked out of his mind.  He could have had an entire morning devoted to trying to talk himself out of the truth of what he saw.  I won’t know any of the things Joseph thought or did until I am in heaven with him.  The truth is all those reactions aren’t what matters.  Those reactions mark him human, but only one action marks him as extraordinary.  He believed and obeyed.  It doesn’t matter if he struggled with it, doubted it, was angry about it, or freaked out about it.  He still believed the Lord and obeyed.  Despite all his humanness that more than plagues me…he trusted God and obeyed.

If only I could be so devoted.  Joseph was devoted to God.  He was devoted to Mary.  And he was devoted to a son that wasn’t even his.  Joseph had to put himself off of his list of most important people and things.  He had to completely put all his emotions and his wants as a newly married man, aside.  He took care of Mary.  He helped Mary give birth.  I doubt Joseph had medical training in prenatal care or understood the importance of good hygiene.  Joseph was there for Mary, her strong rock, as she went through something no other woman on earth will ever understand.  Joseph had to love Mary for those nine months knowing he could get nothing physical in return.  Which is a pretty big deal back then, and is a huge deal now.  In our society it is a common belief that a mere dinner and movie should earn a romp in the sack with whatever woman they happened to pay for.  Joseph devoted his entire life at that moment to help Mary carry Jesus to term and  deliver Jesus into this world.  It boggles my mind.

In just the first chapter of the first book of the New Testament I am comforted, humbled, shamed, and inspired.   That is a lot of emotions to have balled up into just 25 verses.  But God is good like that.  We just have to look for Him to find these things. He shows us what matters, what is important, and how we should live.  Joseph isn’t mentioned a lot in the Bible.  He isn’t a prophet.  He didn’t write any part of Scripture.  But Joseph, in just a few sentences, sums up what a husband and man should be.  He is a brilliant light of how a Christian should behave.  When I read these few verses about Joseph it warms a seed in my heart about how I hope my husband will be.  I want a man like Joseph.  A man who will believe and obey and trust in God even when all his humanness tells him not to.  I want a man who will show me compassion when the laws and customs of the world tell him not to.

And I pray to the Lord for the love, heart, and strength to do the same for my husband.  I pray to the Lord for the guidance to be all this and more to my Raggedy Andy.  I never really saw Joseph as an example of love or devotion until today.  I am thankful that God, again, has shown me the error in my way of thinking.