There was a lot of joy when Jesus came to earth as a baby.
Of course, the long trip to Bethlehem right before the birth was difficult. And the birth happening in a barn was not as easy as it would have been inside on a nice bed.
But being visited by the shepherds, who said so many nice things about Jesus, was joyful.
When Jesus was 40 days old and was taken to Jerusalem to be presented to God, the family met Simeon and Anna, two very devout people of God. They both said some very positive things about Jesus. Simeon also had some words of warning about coming trouble, but mostly he had good things to say about Jesus. Meeting and hearing Simeon and Anna was a joyful time.
Then, about two years later, when Jesus and His family still lived in Bethlehem but by then in a house, they were visited by some Wise Men, who were educated, rich, important people from the Persian Empire a thousand miles away. They worshiped Jesus, including giving Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The visit from the Wise Men was another time of joy.
There was a lot of joy in the report of Jesus’ early life - His birth and the first two years of His life. However, it did not take long for things to change, which takes us first today to the second half of Matthew 2.
Things began to change shortly after the Wise Men’s visit. As recorded, following the visit, the Wise Men were supposed to return to Jerusalem, where they had earlier met with King Herod. They were supposed to meet with Herod again and report to him where they had found Jesus.
Herod had made that request - that demand - allegedly so he, too, could go to Jesus and worship Him. However, after leaving Jesus, each of the Wise Men had a dream in which they were told to not return to Jerusalem. To not report to Herod.
I am sure the Wise Men discussed their dreams with one another. I am sure they were amazed all the dreams were the same. I am sure they took that to mean the decision had been made for them. That they were to directly return to their homes in the Persian Empire, which they did.
We of course know Herod’s intent never was to worship Jesus. As will become evident in a moment, the reason he wanted to know where Jesus was living was because he wanted to kill Jesus, who had been identified by the Wise Men as the new king of the Jews. Herod was the king. He had no plans to stop being the king.
So it was, according to verse 16 of Matthew 2, that when Herod figured out he had been tricked by the Wise Men and they were not going to return to him - Herod no doubt figured out how long it should have taken for the Wise Men to get to Bethlehem, which would not have been a long time since the distance was only about five or six miles, and how long they might have spent searching for and visiting Jesus, and how long it should take for the Wise Men to return to Jerusalem - he went into a furious rage. He was angry because he had been disobeyed by the Wise Men. He was certainly not used to being disobeyed by anyone. And because he knew the threat to his authority was out there somewhere.
In his furious rage, Herod issued a military order. Interestingly, he did not send soldiers after the Wise Men. As angry as he was with them, they were not his main concern. Instead, he sent soldiers to Bethlehem. Herod knew that is where the new king was prophesied to be. Bethlehem is where he had sent the Wise Men.
The soldiers had orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem. All the boy two years of age and younger. Herod had figured out from the Wise Men how old the boy might have been. The soldiers might not be able to locate the one child of whom Herod was afraid, but by killing all the boys in Bethlehem, surely the one target would be included.
And just in case for some reason the target was not in Bethlehem when the soldiers arrived, the order to kill all the boys extended to the region around Bethlehem.
The number of boys killed by the soldiers in and around Bethlehem is not recorded. Remember Bethlehem was a small town, so the number might have been relatively low. However, what a horrible act of violence, even if the number killed was small. What great sadness. What wailing and lamenting went on as death - unwarranted death - occurred.
And how interesting that despite what Herod planned, his target was missed because Jesus had already left the area, that happening because of a dream Joseph had shortly after the Wise Men’s visit.
In the dream, an angel of the Lord gave Joseph an urgent message. He was right away to rise. As in that very night. He was to rise and gather Jesus and Mary. He was to pack whatever belongings they had and flee. That also indicates something that was supposed to happen quickly. This was not to be a vacation. The family was to flee. The destination was to be Egypt, where the family was to stay until Joseph was given further instructions by that same angel.
The angel added an explanation to make sure Joseph knew the need to be quick. The explanation was that King Herod was about to become angry and seek to destroy Jesus.
As soon as Joseph woke from his dream, he did what he was told. That very night, it seems, Mary and Joseph packed their belongings. They and Jesus fled to Egypt.
Egypt was and is a large country. Depending on where in Egypt they went, the miles covered would have been anywhere between 75 and 400 miles. But they went to Egypt.
Which interestingly made the visit from the Wise Men even more important.
You see, it of course takes money to travel, and it would have taken some time after arriving for Joseph to get some carpentry jobs.
Remember what the Wise Men had done when they had visited Jesus? Their worship of Him had included giving Him gifts of gold, a valuable metal, and frankincense and myrrh, which are valuable spices.
It can at least be assumed it was those gifts the family used during their time to and in Egypt. How wonderful how God worked out even the finances of the family.
Verse 19. Eventually King Herod died. At that time, the angel appeared to Joseph again, this time telling him he should take his family and return to Israel.
Joseph again obeyed the word of the angel - the word of God given by the angel.
His plan was to return his family to Bethlehem. However, along the way, Joseph learned who the new ruler was over that area. For that, a bit of history.
Before Herod had died, he had divided the area he ruled, which was all of Israel and a bit beyond, into three parts. He gave those parts to three of his sons, them assuming leadership upon Herod’s death.
The part that included Bethlehem was given to a son even more cruel than Herod had been. Very early, he started killing people. Eventually he had more people killed than his father had. If it got out that the earlier target of his father had escaped, the new danger would be even greater and more violent.
Joseph could not take that risk, so he avoided Bethlehem. That decision was confirmed in yet another dream. At the same time, Joseph learned the area that included Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph had started, was ruled by a king much kinder. It was there Joseph took Jesus and Mary. It was there Jesus was raised.
By the way, let’s pause for a moment to think how Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the very early life of Jesus. Prophecy about the Savior.
Old Testament prophecy predicted the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. That is where Jesus was born, that happening for two reasons. One was the fact Joseph had to go there about the time of Jesus’ birth because the Roman emperor had decreed every man in the empire had to travel to his ancestors’ home city. For Joseph, that was Bethlehem. The other reason was that Mary had been rejected by her family and friends in Nazareth and had little choice but to travel with Joseph, even though it was right before her baby was to be born.
I doubt either the emperor or Mary’s family and friends had any idea they were part of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, but they each were, making it possible for Jesus to be born where prophecy said the Savior would be born.
Another prophecy predicted the Savior would come out of Egypt. It was King Herod who made that possible. It was Herod’s murderous plan that caused Jesus to be taken by Joseph to Egypt. Herod was part of fulfilling prophecy about the Savior.
In fact, it was Herod who, in his division of his reign, yet again caused Old Testament prophecy to be fulfilled. That happened when he put his evil son in charge of the area that included Bethlehem, which caused Jesus to not return there, but rather go to the area of Nazareth. That fulfilled the prophecy that the Savior would be called a Nazarene - someone from Nazareth.
In all the cases mentioned, Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies about the Savior. In all the cases, we have proof Jesus is the Savior.
But what trouble there was for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in the years following the joyful parts of Jesus’ birth and early life. Trouble that was actually just beginning, including something that happened when Jesus was 12.
Actually, that time it was trouble just for Mary and Joseph.
The report of that is in Luke 2, starting with verse 41.
We know from verse 40 that as Jesus grew up in Nazareth, He did well, gaining both physical strength and wisdom.
But at age 12, it was time for Jesus to accompany Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem for the annual Passover feast. Mary and Joseph had gone each year, but this year, at age 12, it was time for Jesus to go with them.
The three of them went. When the feast was over and it was time to return home, an interesting thing happened. Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem, but Jesus did not. What adds intrigue to the report is that it was not until the evening of the first day on the journey home that Jesus’ absence was noticed.
There is an easy explanation. Women started early in the day because they usually walked slower than the men. In addition, the women had the children with them, which caused some stops along the way. The men, who were usually faster walkers, left later. The plan each day was that the men and women would meet at the same place in the evening.
Jesus was 12. At that age, there was the option of traveling with the women and the children, if that was the desire of the young boy, and the option of traveling with the men if the young boy felt too mature to be with the children.
Jesus was 12. When Mary did not see Jesus in the morning, she would have assumed He had chosen to walk with Joseph. Later, when Joseph did not see Jesus, he would have assumed Jesus had gone with Mary. At the very least, it was not unusual for people at age 12 to walk with relatives or friends.
Imagine the shock of Mary and Jospeh when, that evening, they discovered Jesus was with neither of them nor with anyone else in the group traveling home. ”I thought He was with you!” “I thought He was with you!” “We thought He was with them!”
Imagine the shock. Certainly the distress any parents would feel when a child was missing, but even greater for Mary and Joseph, them having been told over and over again that Jesus was destined to be the Savior of the world.
Can we imagine their thoughts? “We were given one thing to do and we have blown it. We are responsible for raising the Savior of the world and we have lost Him!”
In great panic, Mary and Joseph hurried back to Jerusalem. For three days they searched for Jesus, their anguish increasing by the minute.
Then they found Him. He was in the Jewish Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, also answering their questions, doing so with such understanding that all who heard Him, teachers and others alike, were amazed.
Mary and Joseph were astonished. I think Mary was also a bit perturbed, that indicated by her question. Yes, she was greatly relieved that Jesus was safe, but she asked Him, “Why have You treated us so? Your father and I have been looking for You anxiously.”
Jesus answered in a way that must have made Joseph sad. What Jesus said was true, but I think Joseph especially heard the words. Jesus said, “Why did you have to search to find Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” Not Joseph’s house, but God’s house.
Luke reports that Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus said, but Jesus’ words were an important statement that He knew who He was.
Right away, Jesus returned to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph. He was obedient as He continued to grow physically and in wisdom and in favor with God and people. But even at age 12, Jesus knew what His purpose was. He knew what His mission was. He knew He was to be the Savior of the world.
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What joy there was at the start. What troubles came, starting a couple years later. Troubles for Jesus and for Mary and Joseph.
For Jesus, troubles continued 18 years later when He began His earthly ministry. The chapters in the Bible that tell of Jesus’ ministry are filled with examples of troubled times He had.
For instance, at the very start of His ministry, Jesus was confronted by Satan, who tried to get Jesus to give up His purpose.
Later Jesus choose 12 disciples, but they were sometimes argumentative among themselves and almost always slow to learn what Jesus taught.
Jesus had many of His miracles criticized. The ones He did on sabbath days were met with disfavor by Jewish leaders. Sabbath days were for rest. How dare Jesus help people on those days.
And one time, when Jesus began to suggest that those following Him ought to actually do what He taught, many of them - most who had followed Him - turned away from Him. How sad that was.
Throughout His ministry, there were some good days for Jesus, but there were also days and times of trouble. How good that through it all, Jesus never turned away from His purpose. His mission. In fact, He kept going all the way to the cross. What horrible suffering Jesus endured there. Certainly physically, but also emotionally as people He had come to save were rejecting Him. Suffering also experienced by Mary. Emotional suffering for her as she witnessed the mistreatment of her son.
* * * * *
Are you having a good day? If so, know Jesus is available to help you celebrate.
Are you having a bad day? If so, today or any day coming up, know that Jesus is aware of what bad days are like. Rely on Him for the strength, help, guidance, and encouragement He knows you - we - need.
What a privilege to celebrate the fact Jesus is our Savior, now and always. Let’s sing about that. Rejoice, the Lord is King, verses 1, 2, and 4.
Rejoice, the Lord is King!
Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing,
And triumph evermore:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
The Lord, our Savior, reigns,
The God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains,
He took His seat above:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
Rejoice in glorious hope!
Our Lord, the Judge, shall come
And take His servants up
To their eternal home:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
Rejoice, for our Lord is King. Rejoice, for our Savior does reign. Rejoice, for we have hope.
As we go from here, let’s continue to lift our hearts and our voices, doing so with rejoicing. Yes, even in times of trouble. Amen.