Saturday, January 30, 2016

International Geographic

(by Pastor Joe)
the Word for Today: Matthew 2
Geography isn't everything- but it almost is. In other words, you are not defined by where you were born or live, but those places have a huge role in your life. Think, for example the difference of being born in Medina, NY versus Medina, Saudi Arabia. Or ponder the difference between growing up in Calexico, California versus its sister city, Mexicali, Mexico. (Just two miles and two worlds apart). Even within the same country or region, you can see tremendous diversity in locations and the impact that has on a life.
This Christmas I received a year subscription to National Geographic magazine. (Now I've got that theme song stuck in my head!) And since I love history and cultures and maps, it is a very much appreciated gift. Since we are not too far removed from Christmas, I thought I would focus instead on the actual geographical places in this passage. I've had enough of King Herod, and even the Wise Guys seem a bit out of season- so let's try looking at the map to teach us more about the Messiah.
Matthew chapter 2 mentions several countries/regions/cities/towns by name:
Bethlehem, Judea, Jerusalem, Egypt, Galilee, and Nazareth. These are all important places in the Bible for various reasons, but I wanted to focus in on three in particular that tell us so much about the person of Jesus Christ.
1. Bethlehem- (Christ's Birth & Infancy)
This sleep little town, about 6 miles southwest of Jerusalem, has some deep Biblical history.
It is where Jacob's wife, Rachel, was buried (Ge. 35:19).
It's where Naomi was originally from, and where she and her daughter-in-law Ruth settled.
It is the city of David- where he was born, where he was a shepherd, where he was anointed king (1 Sam. 17).
Neat info, but what does this tell us about Jesus?
First of all, in Micah 5:2, the prophet tells us exactly where Messiah must be born. Some 800 years later, this very prophecy is fulfilled in today's reading- thanks, in part, to a pagan emperor who had no idea of any such promise.
Second of all, the connection to David is essential. Jesus Christ is referred to as the "Son of David" ten times in Matthew's gospel alone. Israel's greatest king and the King of Kings are from the same town.
The third has to do with the very name of the city of Bethlehem. This town, and surrounding region, were among the most productive and fertile in all of Judea- it was the bread basket of the region. And so how cool is it that the Bread of Life was born in the city that translates to "House of Bread."
Bethlehem means we have been given a ruler and provider- found in Jesus Christ.
2. Egypt (Christ as a toddler)
Egypt is perhaps the definitive worldly, opposed to God, geography in the Bible. Sure there was Babylon, Assyria, Medo/Persia, Greece, and Rome. But Egypt is mentioned more than all of them combined. (It is referenced in 27 of 39 Old Testament books).
Egypt, in many ways, best represents the secular world- the good, bad & ugly:
It was a place where God's people went to when they ran out of food (see Abraham or Jacob & sons).
It was a place where God's people ended up as slaves (see Joseph or Exodus 1-2).
It was a place where God freed his people from bondage (Exodus 11-14).
Yet it was a place to which God's people wanted to return (Numbers 11, 14).
It was a place that, later on, provided false hope of security for God's people (Isaiah 30, 31 & 36).
Neat info, but what does this tell us about Jesus?
Matthew alone, of the Gospel writers, mentions this account of Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. He does so, not only to tie the prophecy of verse 16, but to also show that God's own Son has also been a refugee. He identifies not only with His ancestors who experienced the Exodus, he identifies with everyone who has ever been a stranger, a foreigner, an outcast.
Egypt means that we have been liberated and redeemed by One who knows what it means to be in exile.
3. Nazareth (Christ's Boyhood Home)
The obscure hamlet is so small that for many years many secular historians doubted its existence. (They were consequently proven wrong.) After all, it has no mention in the Old Testament or in any ancient historical records. Even Christ's own disciple, Nathanael, laughs at the village, wondering if "anything good" could come from such an insignificant place. (John 1:46)
It was big enough to have a synagogue, (which required a minimum of 10 men), but that was about it (Luke 4:16). Nonetheless, this is the location where Joseph and Mary lived, and the place where Jesus spent the large majority of His earthly life.
Neat info, but what does this tell us about Jesus?
Nazareth reminds me of some of the tiny, obscure places around us, such as Burt or Barker. It's not the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from there. I am so thankful that Jesus Christ chose to come to and grow up not in some metropolis or religious capital, but in the least likely place. He was given no advantage in geography. No cushy life in Rome or Jerusalem.
Nazareth means that the Son of God came as a humble servant, a root out of dry ground. (Isaiah 53:2)

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