Mary and Joseph’s road trip to Bethlehem appeared to go all wrong. And yet, it was God’s plan all along!
Title: “A Road Trip Gone Wrong?”
Merry Christmas. My name is David Sorn. I’m the Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church. Merry Christmas to you!
Have you ever had a road trip go completely wrong?
This happened to my family in 1990.
We had just taken our first trip to Disney World…and I was 8 years old.
Here I am with Mickey Mouse
(Show DavidMickeyMouse photo)
On the way home from Orlando, my family had planned to take two days to drive to Michigan to see some relatives.
We were supposed to drive to Tennessee the first night, find a hotel, and then drive to Michigan the next day.
(back to “Christmas Eve Message Title Slide”)
Along the way, we stopped at Cape Canaveral to see the space shuttle, and shortly thereafter, my sister started to feel the effects of food poisoning…WHILE RIDING IN THE CAR
I’m 8 years old…rolling the window down, trying to breathe in fresh air…already thinking this is the worst road trip ever!
A number of painful hours later, we got to Tennessee, and my dad got out at the first hotel to get a room.
They were full.
We went down the road…to the next city, and the next hotel.
No room at the inn.
Turns out it was SEC football season, and we were near the University of Tennessee.
One hotel said to us, “You’re never going to find an opening.”
We kept looking and looking…my sister kept vomiting and vomiting …meanwhile it’s past midnight now.
We stopped at another hotel.
My mom begged the staff to let my sister just use the bathroom there…they said no.
But my mom is persuasive…so they eventually said, “yes”
Then, we were out in that hotel parking lot, trying to figure out what to do…when the hotel staff came out and said, “You know you can’t sleep in our parking lot, right?”
Yes, we know. Leave us alone!
We then stopped a rest area in the middle of the night…and debated sleeping there in the parking lot….because my mom had dreamed of seeing the Great Smokey mountains in the DAYLIGHT…
but she felt like it wouldn’t be safe to sleep there…so we just kept on driving.
I eventually fell asleep.
My dad told me that he eventually did find a hotel at 4am, and they said, “You can have our Jacuzzi sweet for $200 (this was in 1990!), but you’ll have to be out right away in the morning.
So, he got back in the car, and drove us through the night, and I just remember waking up in Cincinnati, Ohio
Worst road trip ever.
Funny now…not then.
A BIBLICAL ROAD TRIP GONE WRONG??
Well, two thousand years earlier, there was another road trip that appeared to go very, very wrong.
We need to first rewind in history, about 9 months before this Biblical road trip.
A teenager named Mary…from a little town, in the middle of nowhere…gets a surprise visit from an angel.
And the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she is going to have a baby…even though she’s a virgin.
In fact, she’s going to have God’s Son!
You can find this story in the Bible…I’d love for you to follow along
Put yourself in Mary’s (sandals).
You just found out your pregnant…with God’s baby.
That’s challenging enough, right.
Well, it’s only going to get harder.
Fast forward about 8, 8.5 months
Luke, chapter 2.
(Luke 2:1-7) – NIV
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Now, maybe you’re hearing this read out of the Bible for the first time.
But if you’re familiar with the story, I think we sometimes don’t think about just how difficult this would have been for Mary.
Some historical context here.
The Jewish people (Mary’s people) had been conquered by the Romans…
And the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, had decided that he wanted to count all of his people across the entire Roman Empire.
So he could better tax them of course!
And Mary & Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because all of the Jews were asked to register in the town of their ancestry.
Joseph, was from the family line of the famous King David from the OT (think David & Goliath)…and David…about 1,000 years earlier, was born in the town of…Bethlehem.
So, now, you’re Mary, and you’re probably 8.5 months pregnant and you need to travel almost 100 miles south from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
By the way, that’s basically the identical distance for what it would take from you to walk from right here to Rochester, MN.
How many of you think you would enjoy walking to Rochester??
How many of you think you would enjoy walking to Rochester 8.5 months pregnant?
Even if Mary was maybe on a donkey…there’s no way that’s comfortable.
Now, as you might have guessed, I’ve never been pregnant, but I have a pretty good feeling I’m right…
So already, from the beginning of that journey, Mary had to have been thinking, “What are you up to God?!?”
Now, the trip to Bethlehem was about 70 miles as the crow flies, but more like 100 in actual travel miles…
…because they would have had to travel east to the Jordan River first.
Then south along the forested, Jordan River valley
Where bears and lions were common.
Along with robbers who loved to prey on travelers
Then at Jericho, travelers would head back West to Jerusalem, as you’d be traveling up and down mountains.
Granted, not the Rocky Mountains…but it wasn’t like strolling through flat and boring Anoka County either.
And then from Jerusalem, it wasn’t far south to Bethlehem.
Scholars think it took them anywhere from 3-6 days to get there.
(back to “A Road Trip Gone Wrong” Title screen)
All depending on how fast they went and for how long each day.
So, say you’re Mary, you know it’s not going to be that much longer until you have the baby.
Before you start the journey, Joseph says, “Baby, we gotta go Bethlehem. It’s the law. Just 3 days there…we’ll register. 3 days back. I promise we’ll make it back…and you can have the baby in the nice new maternity ward they just built at Nazareth Hospital.”
Men are really good at this.
“It’ll be no big deal…we’ll make it fast…we’ll get there!”
But seriously, Mary had to have been thinking, “ 4-5 days there. Register. 4-5 days back. I just gotta make it back.”
There’s no way I can have this baby in the forest somewhere!
Plus, Mary is young. Probably even a teenager. Probably wants to be home to have her own mother there to help at the birth.
And Mary’s most likely thinking about all of those things…as they finally reach Bethlehem
And they’re exhausted…You just want a place to lie down and sleep for the night.
But there’s no room…anywhere… because everybody and their mother is ALSO in town for the Census.
And it’s probably about that time…as they’re looking around for a place to stay…that Mary’s labor begins.
Finally, joseph is able to secure you a spot to have the baby…in a stable…w/ the animals.
Again, we’re so familiar with this story that I think we sometimes forget just how challenging this would have been for a woman who was probably 8 or 9 months pregnant…and for her husband too.
You wonder if Mary started to think, “God…I thought you were in control?”
“You sent me an angel…and told me I would have your son…so why is all of this happening?”
“If You’re in control, couldn’t you have made this census happen 3 months earlier!”
“If you’re in control… couldn’t you find us one lousy room to stay in for your own Son to be born in?”
It would have been easy for Mary to come up with a long list of how God could have done things better.
Just like it’s really easy for US to come up w/ a long list for how God could be doing things better in our lives.
IT WAS ALL PART OF HIS PLAN
And yet, this was not a road trip gone wrong…but a road trip gone right (excuse my grammar).
This all went according to God’s plan.
The Messiah was always meant to be born in Bethlehem.
In fact, there was a prophecy, 700 or so years earlier, that said this:
(Micah 5:2) – NIV
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
God had to get Mary & Joseph to Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy.
Plus, God was making a point when there was “no room’ for Jesus to be born into the world.
Because soon enough, the world would once again tell him they had “no room for him”…as they would murder God’s own son.
And as difficult as this might have been for Mary & Joseph to understand at the time, God wanted his Son to be born in humility…in the stable.
The manger shows that God welcomes and understands the poor, the homeless, the downtrodden.
He’s not some far off king that we can’t approach
The great Charles Spurgeon once said:
“We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger” – Charles Spurgeon
The whole trip was a part of God’s brilliant plan for humanity.
YOUR OWN ROAD TRIP
Now, you may feel the same way about your life that Mary & Joseph felt about theirs during those days before the first Christmas.
Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a very spiritual person (or someone who normally goes to church)…you might be looking up to God thinking, “What are you doing with my life?”
Maybe the last few months (or even few years) have felt like “a road trip gone wrong” for you.
Maybe you lost your job
Maybe you lost a baby to a miscarriage
Or a relationship in your life is falling apart.
Could be anything.
And you find yourself looking up at God sometimes…thinking, “This is all wrong! What are you doing?!”
But trust me…God is in control.
He has a plan for your life.
He always has.
The existence of suffering in your life doesn’t mean God is absent or that His plan for you has gone awry.
We see that in Mary & Joseph’s life
And we even see it in Jesus’ life.
33 years after that first Christmas in Bethlehem, Jesus is arrested in Jerusalem.
He endures a mockery of a trial…and the next day…they’re pounding the nails into his body on the cross.
And you better believe that His followers thought:
“This has all gone wrong!”
“This is not what we were expecting”
“And where are you God? What are you doing?!?”
But the existence of suffering doesn’t mean God is absent.
It just means God is up to something.
And God was up to something.
And 3 days later…Jesus rises from the dead.
And listen, I believe that God is up to something in your life right now.
Maybe that’s why He has you here.
In fact, I believe that God has always been planning this stop on your road trip.
Maybe He has you here to hear the most important story.
The story of WHY Christmas happened in the first place.
So WHY did God send His son to earth at Christmas?
He sent Him at Christmas because of what needed to happen on Easter Weekend.
Jesus needed to die on the cross…and raise from the dead.
The Bible describes the reason this way:
(Romans 3:23) – NIV
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
In other words…none of us are perfect.
We’ve all made some bad and ungodly choices.
Meaning, we’ve sinned and fallen short of God’s holy standard.
Which is perfection.
You might think you’re a good person…but listen, no one in here is perfect.
If you were perfect, you could waltz right into heaven because you’d have no sin to pay for.
But since that’s not my life…and not yours…what do we do?
Because all of us are going to die someday, and we WILL meet God face to face…and the Bible says we’ll have to make an account of our lives.
And what will we do about all of our sin…all of our wrongdoing??
The Bible says…that God’s justice for our sin is separation from Him…
It’s that we would not be allowed into heaven, but have to go to hell.
God is just…justice must be done for our sin.
It’s not like He can just look at sinners and say, “Nah, no big deal I don’t care about sin.
Then he wouldn’t be just!
So what will He do???
See, THIS…is why Christmas happened.
It’s why Jesus came.
This is the greatest story of all.
That Jesus…came…to rescue you.
To die in your place.
This is the central message of Christianity
(John 3:16) – NIV
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
God LOVES YOU so much that the Bible teaches that if you believe that Jesus Christ came to earth on Christmas…
And died on the cross for your sins…
God will take the punishment off of you…and onto Jesus
He can forgive everything you’ve ever done.
You can start a relationship with Him
And you can go to heaven for all of eternity.
But this is the only way to heaven. The only way to forgiveness is FAITH IN CHRIST.
To not believe…to say to God…I don’t want your Son’s forgiveness…I don’t want to give my life to Him…
Is to say, “I’ll deal with my sin on my own.”
But there is no way you will ever pay for it…except in Hell.
I know those are strong words…but that is the truth of the Bible.
Jesus…because He loves you so much…came to rescue you…
Not from nothing, but from hell.
That’s why He was born on Christmas!
Will you let Him rescue you today?
Will you say… “God you’ve had me on this crazy road trip the past few years…but you brought me here today, and I want to follow you now.”
I believe…that for many of you…this is where your road trip has been leading.
In fact, I want to give you an opportunity to start that relationship with Him right now.
Let’s just have everyone bow their heads and close their eyes as I want this to be a special moment between you and God.
If that’s you…and you do want to tell God for the first time today that you believe God sent his son for you, and that you want to start a relationship and follow Him…in a minute…I’m actually going to ask you to respond by quietly standing up right where you are.
It’s a symbolic way to say to God, “God, today, Christmas Eve, I want to start following you. I believe you died for me.
This is how you can be forgiven, go to heaven, and have a relationship with God…it’s by making this decision.
NO ONE will be looking at you…no one (don’t even think about that!). This is about you and God.
So wherever you are, if I’m talking to you.. and you’d like to become a follower of Jesus Christ, to enter into a relationship with Him, and accept his gift of forgiveness, I want you to stand up wherever you are. (you can stay standing for a minute as others join you)
If God is nudging your heart in this…that means He’s talking to you. That means…it’s TIME. If you feel it in your pulse…in your heart…that’s God. Accept His forgiveness. Start a new life with Him. It’s amazing!
If you’re standing up, would you pray this prayer with me?
I’m going to call our band back on stage as we pray….
This is not a magic prayer…but just a prayer to tell God where you’re at… the Bible says, we 1) believe in our hearts and 2) confess with our mouths.
So I want you to say it out loud with me. Repeat after me
IN fact, there are a lot of other believers already in the room, and this is what we believe.
So, let’s all say it together with these new believers.
Repeat after me
I confess to you, that I have sinned against you.
But God I believe, that you sent your Son Jesus, to take my place
And God I thank you, for forgiving my sins.
And now I commit, to following you, with my life.
As everyone else still has their eyes closed, I want to talk to those of you who are standing for just a moment
I need you to do one more thing for me.
It will only take a few small minutes, but I believe these are a few of the most important minutes of your life.
You’ve just made the most important decision of your life, and I believe in any scenario, that requires some more information…a road map for this next stage of your life
So here’s what we’re going to do…In just a second, Zach is going to pray, but right before he does that, I need you to quietly sneak out of your row, and head towards the hallway where it will be quiet.
I’m going to go out there with you…(w/ some members of our follow-up team), and we want to give you some extremely important resources & next steps to get you started on the most important journey of your life.
I promise you’ll be able to sneak right back into the service & back into your seats in just a few moments.
All right, Zach is going to pray,
But for now, would you please had out there with me.
Go ahead. We can all go together.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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