1-1-17 Even Jesus Was In Exile

“Even Jesus Was in Exile”  Matthew 2:13-23  1-1- 17  Lake Murray Presbyterian Dr. J. Ben Sloan  Ordination and Installation of Elders

For a video of the sermon and offertory (“All Earth is Hopeful”) click here

To see the Ordination and Installation of Elders, click here

     The new year reminds me and perhaps all of us that time moves on and we all get a little older, and we forget a bit more.  So I make lists.  The only problem is that we can forget the lists.  I can remember making a long list for the hardware store- I needed a certain size bolt, nuts, filters and about 25 different things. I got to the store- looked in my pocket- no list!  So I got out of the car and said, “I am here- but I don’t know why I am here.”  There are many people who know they are here but have no idea why they are here.  They are without purpose, direction, and hope.  Christ is someone who shows us how to live on purpose, and to live in the light of hope- even in the shadow of suffering.   
    When you read the first couple of chapters of Matthew, you distinctly get the impression that Jesus was pushed around.  Mary and Joseph had to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem pregnant.  Then they had to leave Bethlehem- leave their own country, through the desert, to go to a place where they didn’t even speak Hebrew- Egypt-they were refugees.  Then they moved back- wanting to go back to Bethlehem but ending up in Nazareth because of a king who would be against them.  Yet, scripture very clearly speaks of a purpose in all these moves.  It goes out of its way to say there was a purpose in these hard times and moves. He was born in David’s home town not just because of an emperor’s fiat a thousand miles away but in order to fulfill a prophecy made some 300 years before that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  He went down to Egypt to escape Herod- but it also enabled Jesus to understand the plight of the refugees, oppressed, and left out and fulfilled a prophecy. He was in Nazareth as a fulfillment in a weird way about the Messiah being a Nazarene.  God was able to take human oppression and hard times even a king trying to kill His Son and weave it into a sense of call and purpose.      
   I have heard many things said in God’s name.  Sadly false prophets have always been around.  Wherever there is truth there are people who mimic the truth and then add some terribly false things.  For example, in my research about prosperity preachers one preacher said, “If you donate $1,000 by credit card, God will erase your credit card debt.”  One famous  preacher said, “There is something wrong if you are a Christian and don’t become rich.”  There are people who say that if you believe in God your problems will disappear and that you will have more money, more blessings than you can possibly imagine.   But that is only a half truth.  With all my heart I am convinced that scripture teaches that God blesses.  He does lift people up out of their bad circumstances, heals those who are sick and forgives our sin.  But that does not mean that Christians- even good Christians don’t get in bad circumstances, or that Christians don’t get sick and die, or that Christians don’t need forgiveness once you are truly a believer.  How do I know this?  Look at our Lord.  He was born in a forgotten small town in a manger with animals; he was made a refugee- exiled from his own people by the king of that day, Herod.  Most of the Pharisees were against him every step of the way.  He died on a cross.  Now, I know for a fact that Jesus trusted in His Father, believed in Him with great faith, and lived not only a good but a perfect life.  Even Jesus went into exile.  Even Jesus was sent into the wilderness to be tempted.  If you are having a hard time in this life- remember your Lord, and remember this world is not heaven- it is not your home.  Work for it to be a better place- but all the while realize that Jesus himself said, “In this world you will have trouble- but be of good cheer I have overcome the world.” 
      Even from the very beginning of his life on earth the powers of this world tried to kill Jesus.  Let me tell you newly installed officers- if you think that leading a church should only be filled with all people tithing so the church has no need; no one complaining or fussing; everybody loving each other and putting up with varying opinions with a ton of grace; if you think the gospel will be perfectly preached and the choir will sing in perfect harmony- you have a great vision- but it is a vision of the church triumphant- we are not there yet.  Here we are a great illustration of that verse in Proverbs- “As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.”   When people are learning to love each other it can get messy- sparks may fly.  One of the reasons marriages fall apart is the expectations are too unrealistic.  We expect the husband to come in every day full of energy bringing flowers to the wife, and the wife likewise to come into the home- meeting him- the kids don’t cry and diapers don’t have to be changed, and there is never a problem getting food on the table.  Some believe that their spouse should sacrifice for them while they get to take it easy on the couch watching TV, surfing the internet, or checking their likes on social media.  Truth is, some of the best marriages have gone through really tough times and each one knows they can rely on the other.  The best churches- and I think ours is one- have been through tough times and have decided to stay together valuing love as well as holding onto the truth of the faith.  There have been and there will be wilderness times- remnant times- refugee times for the church.  There will be trials and problems- some would stop me right there and say, “Well what’s the point?  I come to church because I want God to help me and bless me.”  God will bless and does bless, but sometimes the blessing comes through the trials and problems we face.  God has a purpose for you- even in the sufferings and trials you face.  He takes and uses these things for His glory if you will let Him. 
      A little boy saw a chrysalis with a butterfly inside.  He saw that it was alive and moving and he got so excited.  He wanted to help the butterfly get out so he cut the chrysalis.  When he did, the butterfly came out but it couldn’t fly.  It needed to struggle against the walls of the chrysalis in order to develop its wings.    That’s an old story, but so many times we want to cut the chrysalis open for our children so that they don’t have to struggle- and they don’t learn to handle adversity or be strong or trust in the Lord. We also want God to cut our chrysalis open- not allow us in the wilderness. 
     It is an interesting verse in Matthew when it quotes Hosea 11- “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”  Of course Hosea was speaking closely of Israel.  The people of Israel had been in the promised land and was a refugee in Egypt that became enslavement for 400 years.  God called them out of Egypt back to his promised land.  Jesus mimicked the life of Israel in that he was exiled and then came back to the land.  He was fleeing for his life but then came back to make a difference.  God allows us to have tribulation- but He calls us out of it.  He has a purpose. The pope said that there are too many young people today living their lives without purpose, meaning or focus.  Suicide rates are climbing- the devaluing of life comes when we feel we have no reason to live.
     God calls us.  He calls us to Himself and He calls us to live in certain places and do certain things.  I remember when my parents moved to the Presbyterian Home it was very, very hard for them to give up their home in Columbia.  One of the things  that gave my mother assurance was the verse in Acts 17:26- “God determined the exact times and places where they lived.”  This is not true of just Jesus or Israel.  God has a purpose for you- a reason why you are here.  Make the most of where you are.  Live where you are- pray for the peace of the place where you are.  Sometimes God calls us to be in exile.  Some times God calls us to be productive.  There are times of barrenness and times of fruitfulness if we trust in God and persevere.  There are times when you may wonder how you are going to make it- and you may just feel like giving up.  But there are times when God calls us out of Egypt- out of our desert or wilderness time.  If you are an officer of the church- you are called to bear fruit.  You are called to lead us in the desert of life- lead us toward the promised land of heaven, making the desert blossom as we go.  Our church is called to make a difference- pointing people to God and heaven.  We are called to ring out honor to our Lord.  Our theme for this year is just that “Ring out honor to God.”  We do that by glorifying and enjoying Him.  We glorify God in the great times- but we also glorify God in how we handle the tough times.  Joni Erikson has written a devotional book that I bought for my wife and that I wrote about called, “Spectacle of Glory.”  It is the idea that when Moses saw the burning bush it was being burned but was not being consumed.  It just was in a state of perpetual burning.  It was because of this that his attention was drawn to it and that he was able to listen and hear God speak through that burning bush.  Sometimes when we are hurting- burning up with pain or in exile that the attention of others is drawn to us and that God can speak to their hearts.  We become a “spectacle of glory.”  God has a purpose for you in 2017.  He has a purpose for us- a calling for us to make a difference for Him.  We can glorify God not just in the blessings of the good times- but also in the way we endure the tough times.