Matthew2v13to23: THE ESCAPE TO EGYPT


Last Christmas I played a silly game with my nephews and nieces who are all in their twenties and thirties. A topic was chosen such as, for example, vegetables. Then you had to give the name of a vegetable one after the other without showing your teeth. You were eliminated if you couldn't think of a new vegetable or repeated one that someone had named earlier or showed your teeth. My brother proposed a new topic - Christmas. So off went my nephews and nieces: tinsel, paper chains, mistletoe, Santa, Rudolph, jingle bells ..... . Eventually it was my turn: "Joseph," I said. Up piped Beccy, "What's Joseph got to do with Christmas Uncle Johnny?" I laughed at the time but it makes me sad in retrospect.

I want to look at Joseph's role in the aftermath to the Christmas story.

(1) Joseph was protective.

Joseph undoubtedly cared about Jesus although he wasn't his natural son. When the angel of the Lord told him that Herod was going to search for the child Jesus to kill him, Joseph got up in the middle of the night and left with his family before dawn. In doing this:

(a) Joseph set aside his own convenience. He did so because he loved the little boy in his care. Jesus was approaching two years old and we can imagine what a darling little chap he was. Joseph was determined to fulfil his sacred trust and protect Jesus from all harm.

People who really care about you put themselves out for you. One of the elderly members of our congregation fell and broke her hip before Christmas. I was amazed at the number of hospital visitors she had - not only nieces and nephews but great nieces and nephews. There was a queue of well-wishers waiting their turn to see her. Hazel had a large number of people who cared about her. I doubt very much whether any of my nephews and nieces would visit me in hospital!

(b) Joseph followed instructions to the letter. It must have been a very unwelcome surprise to be aroused in the dead of night. He had no prior warning that anything was wrong. Yet he got up at once, roused Mary and young Jesus, then, set off while it was still dark without telling anyone.

We should not underestimate the difficulties involved. Jesus would need carrying for at least part of the way to Egypt. Joseph and Mary would not be able to take much with them. They certainly did not spend long packing! As someone who has to force himself to go on holiday and who hates any change to his routine, I am full of admiration for Joseph. He sets a good example:

  • We should obey God - even when it is inconvenient. It is not always convenient to love our neighbour. Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates this only too well. The Samaritan stopped for the Jew who fell foul of thieves. He tended his wounds - gave him something to wear - put him on his own ass - took him to an inn - stopped the night with the wounded man - paid for additional day's rest.

  • We should be protective of Jesus. Joseph was protective of Jesus physically. Christians are called to be protective of his reputation. We should aim to live in such a way that we are a credit to Jesus. Disciples of Jesus should honour their parents, work hard, love one another and watch their tongues. Tyson Fury, newly crowned heavyweight boxing champion of the world, did his profession as a born again Christian no favours when he said a woman's place was in the kitchen or on her back. I have often got carried away and entertained my non-Christian friends with conversation not really becoming a Christian. So I realise how easy it is to do a 'Tyson Fury'.

(2) Joseph was provisioned.

It would have been very risky for Joseph and his little family to have left their home in Bethlehem with nothing but a change of clothes and some food. I have already pointed out that they could not take much with them to Egypt. However they were not without portable resources. The gifts of the Magi - gold, frankincense and myrrh - were very valuable. They could be cashed in on reaching Egypt for food, rent and tools. Once Joseph had tools he could make furniture for the house and begin to earn a living.

When God wants us to do an important task for him he provides us with the resources.

When Nehemiah needed wood to restore the gates of Jerusalem God put it into the heart of Artaxerxes to give him permission to take timber from the king's forest.

Elizabeth Fry was able help women in prison and those deported to Australia because she was a member of a banking family and had well to do contacts. While William Booth was preaching the gospel in the East End of London his wife Catherine was raising money for the work from rich ladies in the West End.

I was well equipped for my work as a sports organiser at a Christian camp for boys and girls. My map reading skills helped me to organise wide games and my love of sports came in useful too. God also blessed me with certain skills that greatly assisted me in the care of my father as he declined with Parkinson's disease. My years as a teacher meant I was well organised and self-disciplined.

(3) Joseph was prepared for life as a refugee.

Joseph found safe refuge for Mary, himself and the child Jesus in Egypt. It was a safe refuge because Egypt was part of the Roman Empire. The great benefit Rome brought to its provinces was law and order. There were several Jewish settlements in Egypt. There had been at least three waves of Jewish refugees to Egypt: at the time of the Babylonian conquest, the Greek conquest and latterly during the reign of Herod the Great.

When we are tempted to be critical of the modern day refugee we should remember that it is what Jesus, of necessity, also was once.

Joseph was well prepared for life as a refugee. He had skill as a carpenter that was useful anywhere. Joseph may not have been very articulate - not a single word of his is recorded in Scripture - but he did possess practical ability.

The apostle Paul found during his missionary travels that his needle, wax and thread allowed him to be self-supporting.

There is a lot to be said for being a skilled tradesman - an electrician, plumber, carpenter, IT engineer and the like. I know that there are a lot of old ladies and a few old men, too, who rely on Mel to sort out any problems they have with their TVs. They give Mel a ring and he turns up the same day - does a good job, sorts the problem, gives peace of mind and does not make an exorbitant call out charge; added to which he is cheerful and friendly.


If you have a practical skill - use it for Jesus. It is futile aiming to be a preacher, musician or soloist when you are more practically inclined. We should use what ability we have for Jesus. There are lots of practical jobs that need doing to maintain our chapel and its graveyard. Or, perhaps, we can be like my Christian brother, Denis, and bake for Jesus. Some men are able to help old folk in their homes by changing a light bulb, fixing a dripping tap, replacing the fuse in a plug, cleaning the windows and so on.

I wonder if you have heard of the Kohathites, Gershonites and Merarites? You can read about them in Numbers 4. Whenever the Tabernacle was moved in the wilderness the Kohathites were in charge of portable items like the altar, the Gershonites transported the canvas and curtains and the Merarites carried the poles, frames, pegs and guy ropes. These were pretty menial tasks but they had to be done by someone!

I believe that it was a good thing that so many were involved dismantling, transporting, erecting and maintaining the Tabernacle. Hundreds of people made a contribution and felt involved in safeguarding the Holy Tent.

It is often very beneficial when a church has a special event. It allows people to pull together and feel that they have a part to play in church life. My own fellowship provides tea after our special Good Friday service. Some people really come into their own - making cakes, serving the congregation, clearing up, washing up and drying up. It is a time when everyone happily co-operates and serves together. It is good for us!

(4) Joseph was prudent.

Joseph only returned to the land of Israel after receiving instructions to do so from an angel following the death of Herod the Great. Even then he was reluctant to return to Bethlehem because Archelaus, Herod's son, ruled Judea. He didn't want to expose Jesus to any risk whatsoever. So, to put his mind at rest, Joseph was advised in a dream to settle in Galilee. Not surprisingly Joseph opted to return to Nazareth.

Some Christians behave very imprudently. They can be very aggressive and confrontational forgetting Jesus' advice to be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove. When I was a very youthful and a popular preacher my father would frequently remind me of these words of Jesus. I took no notice and now I am an old and redundant preacher. I cannot honestly say I have any regrets! However, I do regret not being invited back to my last school to give the occasional assembly. The children always listened intently to my assemblies and gained from them. Sadly, I was probably a bit too self-indulgent as I approached retirement and made the headmaster squirm once too often. I forfeited my chance of serving Jesus by ignoring his cautionary words on the serpent and the dove.

There are confrontational Christians who have no intention of following Paul's example of being all things to all men to win some for Christ. Hudson Taylor, a pioneering missionary to China, received a lot of criticism from his fellow missionaries for dressing, eating and speaking like a Chinese. I think it is entirely appropriate for Christian women in predominantly Islamic countries to dress modestly and wear a headscarf.


Joseph sets a fine example. He was protective of his loved one, obedient to God and sensible in his conduct. The carpenter of Nazareth, a simple, practical man, was highly honoured to be chosen as the earthly father of God's one and only Son. God made no mistake in choosing Joseph for this role!

Christians are highly honoured to be brothers and sisters of Jesus. We, like Joseph, should have it as our main aim to protect Jesus, not physically as Joseph did, but to protect his reputation by the way we speak, act and serve.