Matthew 2:13-15 – Familiarity breeds indifference

Matthew 2:13-15 – Familiarity breeds indifference

“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.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'” – Matthew 2:13-15NIV

There is a saying “Familiarity breeds contempt.” I have heard it used most often to supposedly explain why marriages go sour. I don’t know if that adage is necessarily true in most circumstances, but I have found familiarity tends to breed indifference. The more we are exposed to ideas or experiences, the less they seem to impact us. It’s why ski jumpers progressively have to hit higher jumps. It’s why travelers always want to see new places. It’s part of why kindergarten is fantastic and junior year is terrible. It’s part of why people cheat in relationships or people get new jobs. Once the newness wears off, the ordinary no longer holds our attention.

It’s true with travesty, too. In our post 9/11, post Columbine, post Black Lives Matter, post #MeToo world, we hardly go a day without news of a new war, a new terrorist attack, a new shooting, a new politician spouting hatred, a new beloved icon turned out to be a monster. It’s so expected it rarely excites us. Rarely holds our attention. The movements which spawned in response to these atrocities and abuses slowly lose momentum as we become used to them being part of the news and our lives.

So it is with the story of Jesus’ birth. Every year, we read about Mary’s and Joseph’s dreams, Elizabeth’s testimony, the journey to Bethlehem, the angels singing, the shepherds rushing, the Magi journeying, the star shining, Herod’s slaughter, and the escape to Egypt. Memorialized in ornaments and cute manger scenes and Christmas lights…there’s a blurry, soft edge to the account. Something familiar and comfortable. We focus on the fluffy lambs, the excitement, the cooing baby, the adoring family, the hope of nations… and forget the nightmare. Forget the courage and desperation and fear.

Mary was probably thirteen or fourteen years old when Jesus was born. Shockingly early for our world, but the age of many new brides in first century Israel. Joseph…no more than a teen himself. He was probably between seventeen and nineteen, as Jewish men often married shortly after completing their apprenticeship in their family trade. No more than children themselves, they’d also probably rarely been far from home and family. First century people did not travel the world as we do today.

Yet now, a new husband, a new father, a new wife, a new mother…the angel appears to them to proclaim, “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” (Matthew 2:13b NIV). They are being hunted by the ruler of their land. Personally. For death. So, in a world where being an unprotected stranger often left you killed or enslaved, these teenagers had to flee to the very country from which God had liberated the Jews hundreds of years before. A land with no family or connections with whom to claim refuge. It was roughly a 200 mile journey just to the border of Egypt, into a life they had never planned for.

It was a call to extraordinary courage from a young, inexperienced, unprepared couple from rural Israel.

As we begin a new year, hoping it will be better than the last, getting wrapped up in the new demands and expectations of our lives… Don’t forget the courage of two ordinary believers caught up in the work of the extraordinary. Don’t set aside the account of Jesus’ birth with your ornaments and trees and lights until next December. Don’t forget what God achieves through the most unexpected means.

Remember…remember the courage of Christmas. Remember what God’s strength made Joseph and Mary capable of. Holding the Savior in their arms, they journeyed in fear and doubt, yet with the God of the universe right there in their midst.

And as with them, so with you. The God of the Universe is with you as you face the unknown, perhaps with your own fears and doubts. He does not abandon you to the evil intentions of others or the uncertainty of the path. He gives you strength to face the day. To face your times: through the Bible, through worship, through fellow believers, through the miraculous in every day that we so easily overlook.

Have courage, my friends. The Author of Life is with you.

  1. How does your life feel overwhelming right now?
  2. If you’ve never considered the courage of Mary and Joseph before, how does it impact you to think on it, now?
  3. How is it different to try to be courageous versus trusting God to provide you with the strength you need for your challenges?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Courage happens through small instances of acting in trust in God’s promises. Pray for an opportunity to practice courage this week. When it comes, take steps into it.
Matthew 26:36-42 – Jesus gets you

Matthew 26:36-42 – Jesus gets you

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'”
– Matthew 26:36-42NIV

One of the things that perplexed me as a child was that Jesus went through the big deal of living a life on earth, going through all the betrayal and pain of the cross, rising from the dead…just to save us. Not that I thought saving us wasn’t a big deal, but why did God do it that way? He’s the All-Powerful One, right? Couldn’t he just wave His God-hand and obliterate our sin, then make sure someone told us we were forgiven? It would still have been a free gift to which we could respond in faith. He’d still get to bring us healing and the opportunity to be with Him always. Win-win, right?

As an adult…I get it. It’s not for any profound theologically-discerned reason based on an understanding of God’s adherence to justice because of His wholly-just nature. This reason is certainly true…but there’s a reason that hits right into my heart far more than a highly rational explanation like that.

Jesus’ life proves He gets me.

Jesus’ suffering proves He knows me.

You see…as an adult, I have come to understand Jesus’ words in the depths of my soul:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”
(Matthew 26:38NIV)

Have you ever cried until your were screaming? Have you ever felt like the world was spiraling into an inescapable dark hole beneath your feet? Have you ever looked at your future and saw…nothing? Have you ever faced a moment where you knew the next moment would determine whether you’d ever be able to truly live again? Have you ever roamed the darkness of night in silent desperation and found no hope or comfort at all?

The worst night of my life was the first night in the hospital after my husband unexpectedly collapsed at work and nearly died in the ER. We didn’t know what was wrong with him, yet. We didn’t know if we had a future together. We didn’t know what the next day would be like. We just knew other people’s blood was keeping him alive. We would find out three days later he had leukemia…that we were in a fight for his life.

He was asleep in his hospital bed. I couldn’t hold him…I couldn’t sleep. Everyone I knew was asleep. I was alone.

And that’s why Jesus took the path to the cross.

Because when I read His words in Gethsemane on the eve of His death…I know He understands what it’s like to be me. My God knows me. He has lived through what I am living through. So when the author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 4:15, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses”… I know it’s true. I know Jesus’ heart is with me on this road we’re walking.

And if it’s true for us…it’s true for you.

  • “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Describe a time when that was true for you.
  • How did you endure through that experience?
  • How does it impact you to realize Jesus has felt the same as you?
  • Challenge for the week: We all know someone whose soul is in the same situation as Jesus described. Do something small to let them know they are not forgotten.

Revelation 1:8 – Almighty God

“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'” – Revelation 1:8

My husband and I used to play ultimate frisbee…a lot. In college, it was two hours a day Monday through Friday, plus the occasional Saturday. It didn’t matter if it was raining or snowing, we were out on one of the fields, huffing and puffing. Needless to say, we got pretty good at it.

Even when we graduated, we still threw frisbee all the time together to keep up our skills. On one such occasion, we came across a group of high school club players playing ultimate frisbee in a park. Eager to play again, asked if we could join them. They were gracious enough to let us play with them, but I could tell right away they were feeling confident and self-assured I would be a non-factor in the game. Proudly certain of their skills, they completely ignored me. Their pride made it all-the-more satisfying when my husband and I outran, out-threw, and out-caught them the whole game.

Isn’t that how we react to pride all the time? We see someone boldly confident and proud and we just love to watch them fall. We resist siding with them on any occasion because we don’t want to puff them up even more. Pride rubs against our nerves like sandpaper.

In Revelation 1:8, it seems like God is puffing Himself right up. The very first words John writes about God saying are, “I am the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” The rebel in you just wants to say sarcastically, “Well good for you!” After all, while He’s being “Almighty,” things seem pretty rough down here.

But this isn’t God bragging Himself up, wanting us to feel how puny we are and how much bigger and better He is. This is not God lording over us (though He certainly has every right to.) Revelation was written in a time when Rome was actively murdering Christians. All of the Apostles, except John, had already been murdered for their faith, and John was in exile on a prison island, where he would ultimately die. This is after Rome had taken up the practice of sewing Christians into animal skins to be mauled to death by wild dogs in the arena, tying them up to huge stakes and setting them on fire as “Roman candles”, and crucifying them by their hundreds.

In that light, God’s bold statement of His power and authority is actually God reassuring and comforting His people. The most powerful Empire on earth is hunting down and murdering God’s people. It seems like dark, hopeless days facing a power they cannot possibly overcome. But God reminds His people HE is the one with the first say (Alpha) and the last say (Omega). The one who has existed before time, throughout all time, beyond the end of time (who was, and is, and is to come), the one who has ALL power and ALL authority to govern the universe (the Almighty). Evil may come, but it will not overcome Him…nor those who belong to Him… no matter what source it comes from.

And that same promise holds true now. In a world that seems to be spinning out of control, where Christians are more-and-more ignored and sidelined for speaking the Truth, where fact and fiction are intertwined so tightly it’s hard to know what’s really going on in the world, when everything seems to be a physical or verbal conflict…when violence is a norm…when it seems like nothing can ever get any better… God says to us, even today, “I am the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” He has the power and always will have the power to overcome the evil in our world. No matter how dark things become, He is reigning – He is winning – and where He reigns and wins…so do we. There is real hope in Him.

No matter what.

  1. Do you ever feel like God isn’t interested in what you’re going through? Why?
  2. What do you think it felt like to live through what the Christians were living through when John wrote Revelation?
  3. How can you see God winning over evil in your day-to-day life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Go to Voice of the Martyrs and look into how Christians are being persecuted around the world. Commit to praying for a specific persecuted Christian group or Christian for the week.