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Better Than an Educated Guess

December 26th 2010 by Joshua Simons

Through the prophets, God has made His promises clear. For those in the faith there is no guessing about forgiveness, salvation or eternal life.

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Christmas 1A – “BETTER THAN AN EDUCATED GUESS” – Matthew 2:13-23 – December 26, 2010

If you are anything like me, you have spent the last 3-4 weeks investigating the gifts under the tree – checking the dimensions and weight of each box, perhaps even a gentle shake – all in order to take an educated guess as to what each gift is. Naturally, on the day after Christmas, it begs the question . . . were we right about what’s in the box? I know, I know, some of you are appalled right now because “you’re supposed to let it be a surprise, that’s the fun of it.” And you’re right; I’m just kidding, I don’t do that anymore.

But, in life, almost every decision we make is an educated guess. Investments, new homes, jobs, schools, family decisions. We gather the evidence and decide, based on what we know from experience or what we have learned through research, what the best course of action is. But we never really know what’s going to happen. If only we were more certain in life. If only the answers to the questions were obvious. Well with God, they are. That’s what we’re going to talk about today, how God, through his Word, gives us assurance of faith so we can take a better than educated guess in matters of our salvation and eternity.

Our text today is the Gospel lesson from St. Matthew and we’re going to pull three ideas out of it. First . . . God saves! Second . . . he does this through Jesus. And third . . . that there’s no doubt about it.

So God saves! This narrative of the Holy family’s flight to Egypt and return appears only in Matthew’s gospel and, at first read, God’s saving guidance jumps off the page. Three times Joseph was visited by an angel proclaiming God’s Word, guiding the family to safety. But think of the emotions that Joseph and Mary must’ve felt. Surely joy abounded having received the gift of their first child, especially having been told by God through an angel that this Jesus was the Christ child, the promised Messiah. But then, an angel was telling them that Herod would be seeking to kill the child and that they must flee to Egypt to be safe. And not only to go, but also to wait until told to return. Joy must have given way to some fear and uncertainty . . . yet ultimately trust. As head of his family Joseph trusted God’s Word and followed his direction, and the Lord saved.

Stories like this and the plethora of other stories from scripture illustrating God’s redemption – e.g. the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea and the Exodus, David and Goliath, Jonah and the great fish, Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, Peter’s miraculous rescue from prison, just to name a few – these stories of God’s redemption provide encouragement for us. God’s people, facing adversity, perhaps even danger, rescued by their Lord. God saves!

Now this doesn’t mean that everything will always be hunky-dory. In fact, Jesus made clear that the opposite is true. The consequence of our sin is a life of UN-ease. Daily we face challenges, some small, some great. From car trouble to kid trouble, from stress tests to the death of loved ones, Satan via the world beats us down. But God’s Word is clear on this matter. We see how he has saved others because of his great love and we can trust that his love for us is no different. Jesus words from John 16, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” We need not fret.
From Psalm 62, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.”

God alone saves! When we face troubles, we trust in him. We come to him in prayer asking his help. And the promise we have received by his Word is that he will hear our prayers and help us. We can fully trust that. Though we may not know exactly how he will answer our prayer, we know he has a plan for us and will answer according to his love and grace in our lives. The evidence is clear so we know, better than an educated guess, that God saves.

And why is that we can approach God with such confidence? That is our second point in this text, God saves through Jesus. Through Christ, we have gained access to God so we can take our troubles to him, but God’s salvation through Jesus is even more than that.

Though in this narrative we prevalently hear of Joseph following the angel’s directions to be kept safe from jealous, wicked Herod, the main character is still Jesus. In fact, the entire Bible is about Jesus – something we’ll talk more about later. Jesus’ entire purpose for coming to earth was to die on the cross and rise from the dead three days later, yet it would be according to the Father’s plan, not by circumstances of the world. The threat of King Herod was one example among many that Jesus faced deadly circumstances prior to his crucifixion, yet he always survived. And sometimes it was by seemingly miraculous escapes. The point is this. No earthly circumstances or wicked men had any power over the life of Jesus. Nothing was any true threat to him. It wasn’t until he willingly offered himself unto death that any harm befell him. And all according to God’s plan. Jesus suffered and died to pay the price for our sins and his power over death was demonstrated by his glorious resurrection. And we are saved.

St. Paul explains in our Epistle lesson, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. . . . and if a son, then an heir through God.” We were slaves to sin, slaves under a Law that we could not follow, yet through Christ’s saving work on the cross, we have become sons, heirs to the Kingdom of God. God saves through Jesus. And we have gained access to God not only by being able to come to him in prayer in times of trouble, but also access to his righteousness. For he makes us righteous by Jesus’ blood spilt on the cross. We are no longer under the Law; we no longer have to guess whether we have done enough or whether we are good enough. We are under grace and God’s Word takes all the guess-work out of it. Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” And so that no one need question . . . the evidence is clear so we know, better than an educated guess, that God saves through Jesus.

And our third point, there’s no doubt about it. Ok, here’s a question, multiple choice even, I invite you to take an educated guess:

What happens when we die? A. Nothing? B. We come back as someone, or something, else? C. Heaven? . . . If it exists. D. Hell? . . . We hope not. E. Any of the above? I don’t know.

Without faith, without the assurance of God’s Word, answer choices like these are the only ones available, where the answers are more like questions. It’s difficult to be certain of the afterlife for those who are unsure if God even exists. And many other religions offer multiple possibilities all based on what they claim to be their own divinely inspired scripture. But in all other religions, salvation is based on works, so there is no blessed assurance of a good afterlife. What happens when we die? Well without faith in Jesus, “your guess is as good as mine.”

I said before that the entire Bible is about Jesus. Really, this is the fundamental truth that allows us to trust God’s Word. It is what Jesus opened the minds of the Apostles to so that they could build his Church on the Word of God. In our text, Matthew says on three occasions – and more throughout his Gospel account – this phrase or one similar, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled. In doing this, Matthew shows his readers that the words of the prophets, even though when spoken were sometimes referencing current events, pointed to Christ. All the events of the Old Testament pointed to Christ. From Genesis to Revelation, all scripture is about Jesus. And knowing this, we are sure that the Bible is the only divinely inspired scripture, because it is a testament to Christ. God revealed himself to us through Jesus – “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” (Colossians 2:9) – so that his disciples could see him, touch him, speak with him, before and after his resurrection, . . . and then tell the world about him. Only scripture that testifies to Jesus Christ is the true Word of God. The evidence is clear so we know, better than an educated guess, that God saves through Jesus and there is no doubt about it.

One of our Christmas traditions with my parents is to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special. It is about Charlie Brown’s frustration with commercialism; it is about the true meaning of Christmas; it is about a little, lonely tree. This tree that Charlie Brown picks for the Christmas play is small, thin, and can’t even hold up the weight of a single glass ornament. But Linus says it just needs a little love. And so the children all work to decorate it and the result is a beautiful, perfect Christmas Tree. I believe the show is ultimately about the tree and I believe the tree represents us. This is what we have no doubt about, that we will be made new. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” And this will be fully realized when Christ comes again and we are resurrected on that Last Day. Because of God’s love, because we can all sing with certainty, Jesus Loves Me, we can revisit the question . . . again it is multiple choice . . . but this time you can take a better than educated guess:

What happens when we die? A. New, eternal life in heaven with God. B. New, eternal life in heaven with God. C. New, eternal life in heaven with God. or . . . D. All of the above. Amen.

And now may the peace of God, that which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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