Starting Over
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 28, 2003

 

Main Passage: Matthew 2:13-23

 

This time of year is always the same. People make a big time over Christmas, and there are all kinds of services, newspaper articles, magazine articles, T.V. shows, and movies that relate to Christmas. Then, right on the heels of that, we hit all the "year end" festivities. Once again, there are all kinds of articles and shows that try to summarize everything that has happened over the past year. You'll see specials of "The Year In News", "The Year In Sports", "The Year In Politics", “The Year In Computers”, "The Year In Entertainment", "The Year In Business", and just about anything else you can think of.

It's nice to remember things that have happened. It’s important to learn from our past and appreciate where we’ve come from. But I think we need to be careful not to spend too much time looking backwards. I mean, 2003 has been an exciting year… a lot of great things have happened and we don’t want to forget that. But we also need to look ahead the coming year. So instead of thinking only about everything that happened in 2003, let’s spend some time looking ahead at what can happen in 2004. How are we going to grow? How are we going to build on our relationships? How are we going to strengthen our marriages and our families? How are we going to invest our lives? The year ahead still holds many secrets, but it can be a very significant year in each of our lives.

How significant is the year 2004 going to be to you? Is it going to be a year that you just try to get through? Or is it going to be a year when you make the best of your circumstances? Is it going to be a year when you are defeated by your failures? Or is it going to be a year when you learn from your failures and end up succeeding? Is it going to be a year when you trust yourself and are disappointed? Or is it going to be a year when you trust God and find Him to be faithful?

There's a phrase that we often hear people say:

"If only I could begin again."

“If only I could start again, things would be different. If only I could do things over, I’d do them right.”

I think most people—perhaps even you—find themselves saying things like this. They've failed at some point in their lives and are living with regret. Perhaps they've failed in their relationship with God. Perhaps they've failed at school, or at work. Perhaps they've really messed up in a relationship and have all kinds of regrets. Perhaps they just didn’t take advantage of opportunities. Whatever the cause, people want a fresh start. I know I have often been in that position myself at different times in my life. There have been times when I have failed, or have messed up, or have felt defeated, and I have thought, “If only I could begin again.” I’ve made bad choices and had wrong priorities, and if I could I’d go back to those times and make them right.

Well, there's good news for me and for everyone else who has ever had those thoughts:

 

God is the God of new beginnings.

  • He gives us a new heart. (Eze.11:19;18:31)

  • He has made us a new creation. (2 Cor.5:17)

  • He gives us new life. (Acts 5:20)

  • He puts a new song in our hearts. (Ps.40:3;Ps.98:1)

  • He's given us a new covenant in His Blood. (Lk.22:20)

  • He renews our spirit. (Eze.18:31)

  • He renews our passion. (Ps.103:5)

  • He renews our strength. (Isa.57:10)

  • His mercies are new every morning (La.3:23)

  • In His presence, all things are made new. (2 Cor.5:17)

 

There are certain principles in the Bible that can help us discover this renewal. There are certain principles that can help us make 2004 the best year that it possibly can be. This morning I want to look at three of those principles as we find them in the life of Joseph, Jesus' earthly father.

Let me give you a little bit of background on the passage we read earlier in the service. This passage takes place sometime after the birth of Christ. The wise men have just made their visit to see the Christ Child. We’re not exactly sure where they came from… could have been Persia/Iraq, Syria, or even as far away as India. We simply don’t know. But what we do know is that the wise men came from a distant country to the east of Israel and they came to see the newborn "King of the Jews."

These wise men were most likely astronomers who watched the sky diligently. They were also familiar with the prophesies of the coming of Jesus, and when they saw an unusual star one night that seemed to beckon them, they set off on their journey, following the star, to find this newborn King. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they started asking where they could find the Christ Child, not realizing that the advent of Jesus was not a public event.

When the king, King Herod, heard that they were looking for a newborn King, he was greatly worried. He thought this “King” may be a threat to his power. So he called the wise men to him. And with the aid of priests and scholars, they determined that prophecies foretold of a Ruler who would be born in Bethlehem. Herod secretly wanted to kill the Child, but instead of admitting that to the wise men, he told them to go and find the Child, and when they had found Him, let him know about it. Herod claimed that he wanted to worship the Child, too. Well, we know that the wise men were able to find the child. They presented gifts to Him and worshipped Him. But as they were resting before heading back to Herod and then home, they were warned by God not to return to Herod. So they headed home by another way. And that’s where the passage we read earlier began.

We read how God warned Joseph about Herod’s plot to killed Jesus, and directed Jeseph to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt. This resulted in the life of Jesus being saved when Herod ordered that all the boys two years of age and under be killed. After Herod himself died, God again provided instruction to Joseph and told him it was safe to move back to his homeland. So Joseph, Mary and Jesus headed back and settled in Nazareth. And from this story I want us to draw out three principles that can lead us into 2004.

 

Three Principles for the New Year:

 

1. Trust God's Prompting. (2:21,13; 1 Cor.3:19)

Matthew 2:13 (NLT)
After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up and flee to Egypt with the child and his mother," the angel said. "Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to try to kill the child."

That was the prompting that Joseph received. And Joseph trusted it, “so he loaded up the truck and moved to the Red Sea.”

God told Joseph to go to Egypt. Why Egypt? Why would God tell Joseph to take Jesus and flee to Egypt? Why not send him to the Roman rulers for protection? Or why not send him to the Jewish religious leaders? Wouldn't it make sense for them to appeal to the authorities, to the people who had power or the people who had influence in the society? To our line of thinking, that may have seemed like the right thing to do. But catch this:

1 Corinthians 3:19 (NLT)
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.

Perhaps no one would have listen to them. Perhaps whoever they would have gone to would have felt as threatened as Herod. Whatever the reason for this prompting to go to Egypt, Joseph trusted it and obeyed it. Because Joseph understood that God knows better than we do. He sees the whole picture. Instead of resorting to what we might have deemed best, He sent Joseph with his family out of the country into a foreign, pagan land. Why? Because God sees everything that is going on, is able to direct us in the best and most effective ways possible, and is working everything out for the best.

We may not be able to trace His hand, but we can always trust His heart.

Joseph was well aware of the direction God wanted to give to his life. In fact, 5 times in the first two chapters of Matthew Joseph responds to God's prompting.

  1. In Matthew 1:24, we see Joseph responding to the direction of God to take Mary as his wife, despite the fact that Mary was pregnant and he was not the father.

  2. In Matthew 1:25, Joseph gave the baby the name Jesus, just as he had been directed to do.

  3. In Matthew 2:14, Joseph responds to God's direction to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt in order to escape Herod.

  4. In Matthew 2:21, Joseph obeys God's direction to go back to Israel.

  5. And in Matthew 2:22-23, he was again sensitive to the prompting of God and was obedient by settling in the city of Nazareth in the district of Galilee.

 

We actually don’t know much about Joseph, but we do know that God was very active in his life. And we know that Joseph was sensitive to God’s leading. He trusted and responded to the promptings of God.

I believe God wants to give us the same prompting today. And the way we get sensitive to it is by developing a strong personal relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. And once we are experiencing God's prompting in our lives, we can trust it and obey it.

2 ½ years ago Shera and I trusted God’s prompting, and that led us to move here to Charlottetown and begin the process of beginning Sunrise. We left behind family and friends, Shera left a job she loved and I left a church I had invested myself in for five years. Why? Because we believe God was leading us here. And it’s been worth it. We’ve made new friends, we’ve seen God do great things, we’ve seen lives changed, our faith has been stretched and has grown, we absolutely love Sunrise, we love living in Charlottetown, Shera has found a job that she loves, and we now consider this home. But in order to experience all of this, we had to first of all step out in faith and trust God’s prompting.

Does anyone else want to share about a time you felt God’s prompting? What was it and what was the result?

PARTICIPATION

"God wants to guide you, and He will if you get in close contact with Him through Jesus Christ. He will make known His will to you and you can follow Him step by step."
~ Dr. Manford George Gutzke in Plain Talk On Matthew

 

2. Trust God's Providence. (2:11; Prov. 20:24)

Do you recall why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem in the first place? They were there to register during a census. As a part of the census, they would have had to pay their taxes. It may surprise you to know that taxes are not a new thing. Nor is complaining about them. Even in
Jesus' day people were complaining about the high taxes they had to pay.

Joseph had just paid his taxes. And now God tells him to move to Egypt and settle there for a while. He had to leave his home and his business, travel a fair distance, and get set up in a new land. Those things take money. What was God thinking of? Anyone?

PARTICIPATION

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. The three gifts of the wise men. God had already provided the finances that Joseph would need.

Providence: The care exercised by God; The exercise of foresight and care for the future.

Providence is defined as "the care exercised by God" and as "the exercise of foresight and care for the future." In God's Providence, He takes care of us and prepares us for events which haven't happened yet and we're not even aware that they're going to happen. We only become aware of it as events unfold. But whether we're aware of God’s providence or not, it's there. God is taking care of us and our future. We can trust His providence.

God's providence has been described as a mother hen gathering chicks under her wings. The chicks hatched from eggs that came from the hen's body. And she cared for them until they hatched. But the mother hen didn't stop there. She continues to care for the chicks, even after
they have hatched.

God cared for us even before we were created. He was already making provisions for us. And then He created us. And now He continues to care for us and watch out for us. In His power and Sovereignty, He has the ability to make the provisions, and in His immanent presence with us He has the desire and love to make those provisions and care for our needs.

Proverbs 20:24 (NLT)
How can we understand the road we travel? It is the LORD who directs our steps.

He is the one who directs the course of our lives. We’ve already talked about trusting in God’s prompting. You know what? God’s not going to prompt you to do something without providing the resources as well.

There are some words that Jesus shared in His Sermon On The Mount that tell us of God's providence:

Matthew 6:25-34 25:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Bottom Line: God loves you and will care for you. You can trust Him.

So we don't need to count on fate, or chance, or luck. We have God's providence. And it's God's providence that can be trusted, not those other things.

 

3. Trust God's Presence. (28:20)

Joseph followed God's direction in going to Egypt. But he didn't worry about God abandoning him and leaving him to fend for himself. He didn't need to worry about that because he knew God's character. He knew God wasn’t going to leave him hanging. So he went boldly because he knew he didn't go alone.

A few years ago, some enterprising manufacturer invented and sold something called "A Silent Partner." It was something designed for ladies driving alone in a car at night. This "Silent Partner" was a life-sized inflatable balloon that sat next to the girl in the front seat, so that she didn't appear to be alone. You know what I'm glad about? I'm glad that I don't need to worry about being alone. You see, I've got a God who will never leave me or forsake me. I don't have to wonder whether He's with me or not--I'm never without Him. How do I know that? Because Jesus Himself said…

Matthew 28:20 (NLT)
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

He said those words to His disciples, and I understand those words to be a promise to all the followers of Jesus throughout the ages.

Astronaut James A. McDivitt, who orbited the earth 62 times aboard Gemini 4, said:

"I did not see God looking into my space-cabin window, as I do not see God looking into my car's windshield on earth. But I could recognize His work in the stars as well as when walking among flowers in a garden. If you can be with God on earth, you can be with God in space as well."
~ Astronaut James A. McDivitt

There's a very familiar poem/story that talks about God's presence with us throughout our lives. Most, if not all, of us here this morning know this poem. You may even have it memorized. But I'm going to share it with you again this morning because of the assurance we can receive from it and the promise of God's presence that we see in it. It's called Footprints:

 

Footprints:

One night a man had a dream.
He dreamed he was walking along
the beach with the Lord.
Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:
One belonging to him, and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.
He noticed that many times along the path of his life
there was only one set of footprints.
He also noticed that it happened at the very
lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it.
"Lord, You said that once I decided to follow You,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times of my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You most, You would leave me.

The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child,
I love you and I would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering,
when you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.

 

There you go again. God's presence. It's trustworthy. Even in the midst of the hardest times in our lives, God is right there with us to strengthen us, console us, guide us, carry us, and love us.

 

A lot of people make New Year's Resolutions. Let me encourage you to make this one of yours:

“I will trust God's Prompting, God's Providence, and God's Presence in my life throughout 2004.”

If you will make that resolution and be true to it, I promise you that 2004 will be more significant to your life than you ever dreamed possible as He helps you to grow and make an impact on your world.
 


 

 

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