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A reading from Matthew 2:13-23:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph 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. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
As we begin a new year, I wonder how many of you have already made some resolutions for 2014. I wish you the best — smile.
As a pastor, I often hear well-intended resolutions from people. “Pastor, I’m going to start doing this more. I’m going to stop doing this so much. I’m going to really turn my life around now. Unfortunately, many of these resolutions end up being broken.
We are never perfect Christians, no matter how hard we try. We can fool others into believing that we are. God knows many of us try. We may even fool ourselves into believing it, but we are not perfect. Why? Because we’re sinful human beings with a sinful nature who live in a fallen and sinful world. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul: The good I want to do, I don’t do. The bad I don’t want to do, I keep doing. (Romans 7).
As Christians, we often try in our own strength and power, to do the good God wants us to do and we often fail. When we allow the word of God and the spirit of God to have their way in our lives, they empower us to do good works flowing out of our faith in God. I would like to use Joseph as an example of this.
In looking at Matthew Chapter 2, we come face to face with the faithfulness and good works of Joseph. God sends an angel to Joseph and tells him to pick up everything (wife, baby Jesus, etc.) and flee to Egypt. Joseph obeys the direct command of God without question. He doesn’t complain or try to work out a compromise (“Egypt is so far away and we don’t know anyone there. How about some place a little closer to home?”). Joseph simply does what God asks him to do. He responds immediately and faithfully. He goes to Egypt until King Herod dies and the danger is past. Then a similar thing happens when God sends an angel to Joseph, telling him to leave Egypt and return to a new home up in the region of Nazareth. Joseph obeys, immediately and faithfully.
Some people are of the opinion that shear will power is the key to toughing it out when they want to give up. I do not think that Joseph’s faithfulness and resulting good works had anything to do with his will power, at least not in the sense that some people typically understand. Joseph simply responded to God in faithful obedience. He didn’t resolve to be a better person by choosing to become obedient. His obedience was a response to the word of God spoken to him and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Joseph didn’t have to first sit down and do a cost-benefit analysis or pro-con list before he did what God told him to do. He heard and he obeyed — period.
This is where that scriptural understanding of “sanctification” comes into play. As I said earlier, when Joseph heard the word of God, particularly that word commanding him to arise, he simply responded — immediately and faithfully. That’s what true saving faith does. The good fruit of true, saving faith is fruit that it is produced as naturally as an apple that is produced by an apple tree. It doesn’t have to think about it. It doesn’t have to decide whether or not it will bear good apples. Good apple trees naturally bear good apples. That’s just what they do. True, saving faith is the same way. It naturally bears good, faithful fruit. That is just what saving faith does.
No plan. No will power. No resolutions.
So, what does all this have to do with us today, especially as we face a new year?
Feel free to make your resolutions. Try your very best to lose weight, to give up smoking, to eat healthier, or whatever it is you resolve to do or not do in this New Year.
However, as we enter into this New Year as Christians, may we remember that there is a difference between worldly resolve and godly faithfulness.
My prayer for you is that when God calls you to arise and serve him, however and wherever he has need, that you will respond in loving faithfulness and obedience. That is the fruit of saving faith and what saving faith does.
May God grant you the grace, perseverance and patience to endure on the narrow road of faith until you reach your home in heaven above.