There Is Hope In Your Future!
January 4, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Silence And Submission
1. With today's gospel reading, I read to you the sequel for last week's message about the scholars of astrology having come from the east and to the baby Jesus. By the way, in Christmas pageants these learned men visit the stable, and bump into the shepherds there, but the truth be told, in The Gospel According To Matthew the text does not say that these men of learning [ever] visited the stable. When we look at verse eleven, the text does not say a stable is there, but "a house." Also, it is believed that the time when these scholars had visited was not right after the infant was born, but about when the infant had already grown to nearly two years old. We see that from Herod's having caused the murders of boys two years old and under. The point to be made is that Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus were living in Bethlehem. This was the place of their daily lives.
2. But, at the beginning of today's passage of scripture, an announcement will be made resulting in the end of their calm day-to-day living. God commanded to Joseph, "Get up, bring the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I give the announcement." The reason is that "Herod is looking for this child and wants to kill him." But from Joseph's view of things, he was completely in the dark about why an attempt was being made on his son's life. The only way for them to put it was to call it big trouble from out of no where; it was like bad luck that just came up all of a sudden. They had to escape off to a foreign country and take up temporary residence there, where they didn't know this from that, or a single soul all because of some reason they didn't understand fully. He might have wondered how are we going to make it in such a place? But Joseph obeyed the word of God. Joseph's obedience is clearly expressed by the words, "Getting up, during the night."
3. Incidentally, the narrative on the birth of Christ has an item of great interest in it. In the story of Christ's birth, even though Joseph plays as great a role as in [today's story], he hasn't a single line or statement. The Gospel According To Matthew is not alone [in this regard]. It's the same way in Luke's Gospel as well. Joseph makes not one statement. [But] he obeys. Silence and submission. That's the impression we get from the figure of Joseph. He is that way also when Mary is pregnant. [The news of her pregnancy] really is a bolt out of the blue for Joseph. But he doesn't murmur. He doesn't complain. Following God's instructions, he takes Mary in [as his wife]. And the story I read to you today tells us it doesn't end there. Being afflicted with hard times again and not knowing why, his day-to-day life is thrown out of order. But he doesn't murmur. He obeys.
4. Are you getting the feeling here that the scripture was saying about Joseph that he "was a righteous man," (1:19)? As we read up to this text, it seems that it is quite different from "the righteous person" that we imagine. The righteous often murmur. They moan and complain. They even want to complain to God, "Even though I am living righteously, why must I go through such stuff as this!?" But, Joseph is silent before God. He seeks God's guidance amid the suffering and lives according to that guidance. The phrase that is repeated is "the angel of the Lord appeared [to him] in a dream." In short, that means that the big decisions came from God's guidance and did not come from humans. The fact that Joseph did not move by the mere word of human beings is being emphasized. If anything, while we are often times grumbling to God, we're seeking only for a word from persons and paying homage to [humankind]. At such times, after all, we are only looking for somebody to say something expedient and easy to us. It's saying that Joseph was the exact opposite of that.
5. There is another thing we should take note of. In verse fifteen the text goes as follows. "It was in order to fulfill that which the Lord had spoken through the prophet." Let's notice how this expression is repeatedly found in The Gospel According To Matthew. What does it mean? It means they are in God's plan. It means that fleeing to Egypt, or big troubles that pop up unexpectedly, are part of the plan to fulfill the will of God. That's what it means when it say the prophet had already declared it.
6. Please recall the obedience of Joseph, that we've seen already. On the one hand there is the humanly unfathomable plan of God. However, God's plan does not progress indifferent to humanity. On the other hand, there is the obedience of a human being following silently without murmuring. In the passage I read to you today these two vividly become one. In this way then, we are shown in this narrative that through God's will and human obedience becoming one, the will of the God who is willing to save human beings is fulfilled.
Jesus Was Left In A World Of Sin
7. Well, a disturbance occurs in Herod's palace. Herod blows up with anger because the scholars of astrology do not come back. Then he issues an awful command. Please look at verses sixteen and following.
8. "Well, upon discovering that he was deceived by the scholars of astrology, Herod became enraged. Then he sent men, and basing it upon the time period which had been determined by the scholars, he had the boys two years old and under who were in Bethlehem and that entire region killed, leaving no one. Thus, what was said through the prophet Jeremiah had been fulfilled.
'A voice was heard in Ramah.
It was a voice grieving severely.
Rachel was weeping for her children,
She refused to receive comforting,
Because her children were no more.'," (verses sixteen through eighteen).
9. "Thus, the burden that had been laid upon [them] through the prophet Jeremiah had come to pass." That's what the text says. Verse fifteen had a way of saying it that was different, "It was so that what had been said through the prophet had come to pass." The reason it says it in the way it says it, "Thus, (at that time), it came to pass," is so that this story cannot be read as if God had originally wanted this. Sadly, it did turn out as God had said it would. How did it do so? It was through human sin.
10. Herod was desperate to keep his throne. He wanted to keep being king. It is said that he even executed his own wife and children for that reason. Therefore, [Herod's other murderous] events just like what is written here in this text did quite possibly take place. He had heard that the messiah had been born in Bethlehem. But he was willing to wipe this messiah out in order for him to keep being the king. This is a battle between God's sovereignty and Herod's sovereignty. Herod did not accept the reign of God. The result of that is this bloody tragedy.
11. Of course, what is written here in this text is not unique at all. It has been repeated in history, and it still continues even today. It is the wretched reality of this world that refuses to accept God's reign, but doggedly attempts to seat a human being at its center. It is a world where the cries of sorrow are unceasing like this. However, God left baby Jesus behind into this kind of world. The reason he left baby Jesus behind was he had a plan to save us which he must fulfill at any cost. [His plan] was that he would crucify Jesus as the sacrifice for the atonement of sin. [His plan] was to open the way of salvation, the atonement of our sins. Thus, in order to bring our salvation to pass, he had left baby Jesus behind.
12. This scene seems to resemble very much the time when Moses was born. At that time as well the pharaoh had commanded all the peoples to "Throw into the Nile River every single boy that is born," which is how it is written in The Book Of Exodus at its beginning, (Exodus 1:22). But what does The Book Of Exodus report? It reports that even though the pharaoh had so much authority, he could not destroy the baby Moses. Israel would be delivered out of Egypt by that same Moses. Even though the pharaoh had so much authority, he could not prevent God's plan of salvation. Matthew was obviously writing with that event in mind. No matter what Herod did, he could not wipe out the Christ. Human beings cannot prevent God's plan of salvation, he said. As a result, human sorrow and grief are not the last stops.
13. In fact, there is more after Jeremiah chapter thirty-one and verse fifteen which Matthew quoted. Perhaps having known this he quoted it. It was read in today's first reading. The words of the prophet continue as follows. "Thus says the Lord. You should stop weeping. Wipe the tears from your eyes. Your suffering will be rewarded, says the Lord. Your sons will return from the country of the enemy. There is hope in your future, says the Lord. Your sons will return to your country," (Jeremiah 31:16-17). Thus, their grieving and groaning voices will end. The Lord says, "You should stop weeping." "There is hope in your future," says the Lord.
14. Human sin certainly does cause a miserable reality. It causes the cries of grief and sorrow. But I repeat, it is not the last stop. It is not human sin and its effects that will ultimately remain. The reality that we see is not the final reality. God will save. God's work of salvation is progressing. Therefore, it is God's salvation that will ultimately remain. God will leave Jesus to remain on this earth. God's plan of salvation could never be stopped by human sin! That's the gospel narrative that was read out loud today. Therefore, this narrative is also being addressed to us, "There is hope in your future."
15. However, while [the text] states that God's plan of salvation cannot ever be stopped by human sin, on the other hand as I mentioned earlier, God's plan of salvation does not progress by God alone indifferent to human beings. God is ever ready to use persons; as in the case of the obedience of Joseph, who was used for Jesus Christ to be left on earth. Until the completion of salvation the Lord is willing to use the church and us here in this place. The person whom the Lord seeks for the benefit of this world's salvation is neither the one who is wise nor the one who is powerful. It is the one who does not murmur. It is the one who does not complain. It is the person who lives trusting in the love of God everywhere and anywhere. And it is the person who is on a quest for God's will and silently submits in obedience.