13 After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son. — Matthew 2:13-15
by Diane Woerner
Station Hill Campus
Sometimes the Christmas story becomes all too familiar. Of course there needed to be wise men—they’re an indispensable part of our carols and our crèches. And wasn’t it wonderful that Jesus was worshiped by these important men! Those gifts were certainly deserved by the amazing Child-King.
But if we look from another angle, it was these same wise men who put Jesus in a place of real danger. After all, if they hadn’t gone to Herod, he never would have known about the threat to his rule.
Then there’s the third angle, which is the one we need most to consider. As so often is the case in the Bible, this brief story demonstrates God’s deliberate and detailed sovereignty in all of human history.
We might think God should have done things differently. It says in verse 9, “After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was—the star they had seen at its rising. It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was.” Surely that star could have led them there in the first place, without disturbing Herod “and all Jerusalem with him” (v. 3).
Why did God choose to have this young family flee to a foreign land so many difficult miles from home? Why did He permit the deaths of the other infant boys in Bethlehem? Why, we would ask, was it so necessary for “that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” to be fulfilled in this way?
The “why” question we find in this chapter is one that throbs throughout the entire Scriptures. There is so much hardship and suffering, so much violence and killing, in the pages of God’s holy Book, that most of our modern crises pale in comparison. No wonder we might be tempted to skip through the Bible like a rock across a pond, only giving our attention to the gentler and happier parts.
There is profound mystery in God’s ways, and He intends us to trust Him in the face of that mystery. But we actually find a clue in “what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet.” We read in Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
How do we best know love? Is love easier to discern when there is no pain, or when it lifts us out of pain?
The central truth of human history, and of the Bible that chronicles a vital part of that history, is that the highest revelation of God’s unfathomable capacity to love required a context of the most intense darkness possible—a darkness that eventually came later in the life of this same Child.
But here in the early years of Jesus’ life, God gives us a preview, not only of the darkness, but also of His power to overcome it. And one day, when we step out of the shadows of history into the glory of eternity, our questions will be over. In that day, our glad response will be worship, as we gaze with unclouded vision at the wisdom and goodness of God’s perfect plan.
- We understandably view history with ourselves at the center, not realizing that this is a primary reason for our perplexity. The Bible calls us to put God and His self-revelation at the center, and when we do, things can more easily be arranged in their right order. How do we see this principle applied in the life of Mary and Joseph?
- In Ephesians 3:10, Paul says God’s “multi-faceted wisdom” was being revealed “through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.” The Christmas story speaks more frequently of angels than any other story in Scripture. Does it help us answer the “why” question when we realize God intends the revelation of His glory through human history to be known by more than just humanity?
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.