So today, we’ve come to the part in the narrative where Joseph is told in a dream, by an angel, to escape to Egypt. As I was going through this, it struck me just how weird that is. In fact it struck me just how crazy the previous few years of Mary and Joseph’s life had been. And then to be faced with the reality of raising the son of God. Wow, how do you begin to process that!? And just to add to it, angelic encounters were becoming a reoccurring thing, they had strangers showing up wanting to meet there baby, others wanted him dead. And now an angel tells them they’ve got to move. It’s a lot right!?
But through all of it, Mary and Joseph listened and obeyed, no matter how impossible it may have seemed. They got up and they chose to trust God into the unknown.
How does that sound to you? A bit scary? Yeah, same. But hearing God’s voice and obeying his voice, is a huge part of what it means to be a Christian. To live in relationship with God and to know His will for our lives. Jesus modelled that for us, he says “The son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing”, Jesus listened and obeyed. Jesus to only do what he sees the Father doing, there has got to be some line of communication, right? And that is what all of humanity is called into and offered, relationship with the Father through Jesus. Now, you don’t get a lot out of relationships when you don’t talk to each other, although me and Sam have got scolding looks & eye rolls down to a T. There is more for us, in communicating with God.
So how do we go about having a conversation with God? With an invisible God who if we saw with our human eyes we would combust? Just in this passage alone we have three ways of communicating. There’s dreams, Angels and prophecy. But that seems like a big place to dive into so I thought we’d take it back to basics and start with one we’re a bit more familiar with.
But the main one, how Jesus taught us, is literally talking to God, prayer. And the prayer Jesus taught us starts in a very significant way and completely shapes how and why we talk to God. He says, start with ‘Our Father’, or ‘Abba’. And Abba means Dad, Father, Papa. You should call the maker of the Universe Dad. And this is incredibly important when we begin to think how and why we are talking to God, because he’s calling you into the familiarity of family. Now when I talk to my Dad, most of the time its very informal. He doesn’t expect me to treat him like some distant super star or nervously run about completing tasks for him. He’s my Dad, he loves me and he cares about me. That is what Jesus is comparing our relationship with the Father too, but this parenthood is better, its perfect parenthood (no offense Dad, your great). It’s so important that we know who we are as children of God, because that means we can live in super close relationship with God and we can freely talk to our Dad.
And prayer is just that, having a chat. Talking to your Dad. So that is the foundation that we build our relationship from and the context of communication.
So, dreams and angels… I find it really interesting that God communicates with Joseph in dreams where angels would deliver a message, and yet Mary and the Shepherds had angelic encounters whilst they were awake and then again, the Magi, they followed a star. God communicates with us all so differently. And, I believe again that is it about relationship. God knows the best way to get through to us. So far, I’ve never had a dream from God or an angelic encounter, but God does communicate with me mainly through visions, scripture or words of knowledge. But I know plenty of people God speaks to through dreams or angels too. He also communicates through the beauty of creation, in family and friendships or speaking in tongues. There are endless ways God can communicate. It could be watching paint dry that you have a profound encounter. The point is, he wants to and will talk to you, if you give Him the opportunity. Which again, was something that Jesus modelled in Matthew 26 he says to the disciples “sit here, while I go over there and pray”. Jesus intentionally made space to hear the Fathers voice. To be in his presence and wait on him.
As I’ve said an will keep on saying, it’s a relationship. It’s a two way thing. God isn’t going to force us to talk to Him. He’s your Dad, He wants you to choose Him. He wants you to get to know Him. To prioritise Him and build your relationship.
Other ways God talks to us is through prophecy. Which is a prediction of something happening before it happens and a major part of this passage. God has been teaching me a little bit about prophecy over the last few years. So usually around the start of the year, he will give me a word or sentence that will be for that year. So 2018, the words were ‘deeper and more’ I found myself constantly asking for more of God for Him to show me more visions, healing and miracles. And to really dives into the depths of who He is. For 2019, the words were ‘community, stability and friendship’ and I believe over 2020 God is saying to lay foundations. But it also becomes clearer for me over the year. So yeah, I encourage you to ask God what your year is going to look like, what does He want to speak over you for the year ahead.
This passage is especially rich in prophecy. The first prophecy is the escape to Egypt where Matthew refers to a verse in Hosea. Matthew says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod.” Josephs radical obedience here, is so impressive. To have heard the Lord, and acted during the same night that he was told, that’s incredible. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet (which was Hosea 11.1): “Out of Egypt I called my son.” And what is really cool about this passage is that Matthew isn’t just pointing out that Jesus’ detour to Egypt was predicted, but that ‘Jesus in some significant sense embodies the people of Israel. He is the recipient, bearer, and fulfillment of the promises made to Israel by God.’
The next prophecy in verses 16-17 says:
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Matthew points to the specific verse for us in Jeremiah where he predicts the pain of those loosing children after Herod’s horrifying genocide and we can also see parallels with Pharaoh in Exodus as both Moses and Jesus are born under the threat of death; both are guided by God’s protective hand.
The last prophecy fulfilled was that Jesus would be ‘called a Nazarene’. “19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel. So they took the child to Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, in Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.”
Jesus fulfilled over three hundred prophecies, just like these. Isn’t our God astounding. This whole passage in the natural seems impossible. But God is saying, look at who I am, look at what I can do. I can tell you what is going to happen thousands of years prior, I can give you dreams, I can call my angels to deliver messages to you, I am I am, I am the God of the impossible and I’m your Dad.
So after Mary and Joseph had had encounters with angels with life changing requests. God didn’t just tell them what to do and let them get on with it. He walked with them, because he is in relationship with them. He gave them signs and he guided them. After Mary’s first faith jump of saying yes to God, God’s faithfulness to them was shown time and time again. This built up trust in them to keep on saying Yes. Mary and Joseph had become familiar with the God who can speak into and transform their circumstances. So they listened and obeyed. Isn’t that the place we want to be living from? This entire book is full of what God has done. I really believe this calls us to raise our expectations because it shows us who our God, our Dad is, it calls us to kick off that box that we are insistent of shoving him in and dig into the relationship that’s on offer. To trust and obey with everything that’s within us.
Now I am the first to admit, this is not always easy and I can often forget who God is and who I am. I give into lies and let the world take over. Sometimes when I really really would like God’s input in something, he seems to be so quiet and other times when I’d rather not have His input he seems to be louder.
But I thought I’d share with you my very simple way of practically what I do to speak to God. I have done this here once before so sorry if you’ve done this already and what I find helpful, you might not. Because there isn’t some kind of magic formula, its your relationship and you are responsible for that. There also isn’t holiness level or a faith level you’ve got to have to hear God at all. There’s a lie that says ‘God won’t speak to me because I’m not this or I’m not that’. The truth is, IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU! I know it hurt my pride to realise that its nothing to do with me. All we can do is say “Yes God”. Nobody is good enough or anything enough to deserve to speak to God, but Jesus gave EVERYTHING so we could be in relationship with God again. It’s the purpose of this entire story, the angels, the dreams, the prophecies, the star! This is not something to waste believing that God doesn’t want to talk to you because he gave it all just to be with you. So that lie is gone. The next disclaimer I’m going to give is ‘I didn’t feel anything he doesn’t love me’ another HUGE lie. If you don’t feel, hear, or get anything that is okay. It can be disappointing but as I’d mentioned before, God speaks to us all differently. I’ve heard a few times people say “I don’t get those visions or dreams all I have is words for people or sometimes God will point out a person that I needs me to talk to but that all..” Most of the time, God communicates it’ll feel normal and natural because it is. He made natural and normal. So make sure you’re paying attention to the still small voice. And my final disclaimer, if you think it might be God, but you’re not sure, ask yourself, does it sound like God? Is it in line with his nature? Is it scriptural? Or ask Ben and he’ll help you discern.