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If you live in the Waterville area and have cable TV, then you know that channel 48 is the Travel channel. Each episode features places of natural beauty or interesting food or dangerous creatures or exciting things to do. They can be fun to watch. Even some pastors have been known to go to far away places in Southeast Asia, and when they return, show pictures and tell the story of their adventure to their congregation.
The bible is full of these travelogues as well. For example, Abraham traveled to a faraway destination and the Scriptures trace his journey, and we follow his travels with fascination all the way to the land of Canaan. Abraham's grandson Jacob traveled from Canaan to Egypt with his family and through their experience we learn a lot about life in Egypt.
And then we come to one of the greatest travelogues, certainly in biblical history but maybe also in human history, the journey of Jacob's family, the nation of Israel, from Egypt back to Canaan. Of all of the fantastic journeys in the bible, it is this one, the trip that the nation of Israel took from Egypt to Canaan that is on the schedule for our viewing pleasure on this first Sunday after Christmas.
Of course, these travel stories are not like those we see on TV or interesting trips that we take and share with friends. These trips are of people who are moving from one location to another location. And when the bible presents a travel story, it's not really interested in the scenery or food or interesting creatures along the way. Its primary interest is to show us how God travels with His people and even leads them from here to there, taking care of them along the way.
It's like that in our life's journey as well. Sometimes we pay way too much attention to the scenery or the food or the souvenirs we collect along the way, and we fail to see how God is at work on our behalf, leading us from here to the paradise that we're headed to.
In the case of Israel of old, it wasn't that they the travel bug and were anxious to move. Israel had become very comfortable in Egypt, even though there were technically 'foreigners' there. But when the political situation in Egypt changed and became more and more oppressive for them, they were ready to pack up and move when the opportunity came.
Problems began when, 'there arose a Pharaoh in Egypt who did not know Joseph." (Ex.1:8). Pharaoh issued a decree that all of the male babies born to Israelite women be killed. One Israelite boy baby however escaped the infanticide. His name was Moses. Baby Moses grew up and became a man and, at just the right time, God sent this Moses to Egypt with instructions to say to Pharaoh, "thus says the Lord, let my people go."
Now, there's one particular part of God's instructions to Moses that is important to our topic for today that I want to be sure that you hear. Would you take your bible and turn with me to Exodus chapter 4, verses 22-23. Page 47 in your pew bible. "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, 'Let my son go that he may serve me.' If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'"
The thing that is important to see here is how God refers to Israel. He calls them, "My firstborn son," or "My son." This is the first time in the bible that we hear God referring to His people as His son. Notice, God is referring to a whole nation of people, as though they were one person – "My son." All of the people of Israel, which is a plural noun, is collected together into one, singular noun, "My son."
Now as this journey progresses, we want to watch how God works on behalf of His son in incredible ways. He divides the Red Sea so that His son can go threw it safely and then He drowns Pharaoh's army in the same sea. Along their journey through the desert, He feeds His son with manna and quail and makes water come from a rock to drink. As they pass through one nation after another on their way to Canaan, some nations react with hostility to God's son. And God defends His son from their enemies.
In summary, He brings His son out of a life of bondage and slavery and into a life of freedom by His loving and almighty power. This is what God does for His son, because like any good father, He loves His son and He wants what is best for him.
So, how does Israel react to this loving care from God? How does this son of God respond to his Father's protection and guidance? This may not be at all shocking to many parents, but God's son is totally unappreciative. He complains about the food and water. He accuses his heavenly Father of not caring. And then, worse of all, instead of worshipping God their Father, they worship a false god named Baal. They literally prostitute themselves to Baal by giving it their thanks and making offerings to it so that it will deliver and protect them.
God's goal was to deliver Israel from their bondage and slavery to Pharaoh's deadly rule over them so that they might live under the grace of His love and care for them. But Israel has failed Him. They are a total disappointment to Him. They rejected their Savior and fell right back into slavery and bondage to that which will be the death of them.
Rather than enjoying a new life together with His son where "They will be my people and I will be their God," God is denied this good pleasure and instead, He must discipline His son with judgment and punishment.
Let us understand this story well, and apply this to our own life. Because this is not just a story about some ancient people who had a particular problem with a stiff-neck. It is our story too and we, who call God 'our Father,' find ourselves in this story as we examine our own lives and the way that we complain and grumble about God's care for us on our journey through life. And the way that we, after being delivered from our bondage to sin and death as we have been, through the Red Sea of Holy Baptism, fail to thank God and serve Him, and we worship the things that He gives to us instead of the Creator and giver of all that we have.
If this were the end of the story, it would surely be the saddest tragedy of in the bible and in human history. But because God loves His son, and God's love never fails, this story is not yet finished.
It continues like this, "An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and in a dream and said, 'Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.' And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod."
So what's going on here? What is this New Testament travel story about? Is this about how history tends to repeat itself? Here is another king who is killing the male babies of Israelite women just like Pharaoh had centuries earlier. And God is taking care of His Son, singular, just as He did with His son, plural. Certainly we are to see this in this account. But, there's something much more going on here, something much bigger than the deliverance of one baby boy of an Israelite woman.
St. Matthew is our tour guide on this journey. And Matthew wants to be sure that we understand the deep significance of what's going on here. In fact, this is not primarily about Jesus' journey INTO Egypt. It's about Jesus journey OUT of Egypt. Matthew sees that this travel account is the fulfillment of the prophesy of Hosea, the 11th chapter, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and OUT of Egypt I called my son." (Hos.11:1). Hosea is pointing to a journey OUT of Egypt.
Because God's son Israel, thwarted God's plan for them to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex.19:6) in the first exodus from Egypt, a new exodus from Egypt would be necessary. Jesus would be the people of Israel reduced to One. In the first exodus, the many were referred to as God's son, now the only begotten Son of God would come OUT of Egypt, as One on behalf of the many.
From Matthew's inspired perspective, what we see is that the first exodus of Israel out of Egypt was a preview of the final exodus of Israel out of Egypt. Because God loves His child Israel, and God's love never fails, the whole world was waiting for the new Israel to come out of Egypt and fulfill God's perfect and wonderful plan for His son. The many, longed for the day when they would be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" before God. Now, by Jesus' going to Egypt, Matthew is declaring that the time has fully come for the end-times to begin. Now, this greater exodus will take place. And this time, God's greater Son will come OUT of Egypt on behalf of God's sinful and disobedient son.
JESUS IS ALL OF ISRAEL REDUCED TO ONE, PERFECT SON. He will redo history on behalf of all of Israel. But where Israel failed, Jesus will succeed. Where Israel, which includes you and me, was unfaithful and ungrateful, Jesus will be perfectly faithful and obedient because He desires to please His Father in all things.
We can look at the entire ministry of Jesus as the retracing of ancient Israel's journey out of Egypt.
Like Israel of old, before Jesus can enter into the desert, He must first pass through water. And as He passes through the Red Sea of His baptism, the Father in heaven declares of this Son what He has longed to declare of that son but never could. "This is my Son with whom I am well-pleased."
Then, as this Son enters the desert in the place of all of Israel and He was hungry as they hungered and thirsty as they thirsted, and tempted as they were tempted. But in complete faithfulness and devotion, He never doubts His heavenly Father's perfect love and completely trusts Him to provide for Him.
Where Israel of old fought and lost their battles with the Tempter, Jesus wins every spiritual and physical battle against the same Tempter.
Finally, as He arrives at the end of His journey, this true Son of God announces the total fulfillment of God's perfect plan for His people. What was left unfinished because of Israel's disobedience, Jesus, by His obedience declares, "It is finished."
Ever since the first exodus failed to set us free from our bondage and slavery under sin and death, the people of God have eagerly yearned for a new exodus, a greater exodus that would truly set us free and make us the sons and daughters of God that we long to be. In Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, the time has fully come.
"And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our heart, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son then an heir of God." (Gal.4:6-7).