Fruitful Life @ Trinity
Dream Interpretation God’s Way, Matthew 2:13-23, First Sunday After Christmas A
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- Last Friday, I had a dream. Bruce Lee and his family were in town, and I met him at the library of our church. I was thinking about inviting him to give a testimony at our Sunday service. We talked briefly when he entered the room with his little kids. I said, “You did a great job.” He said, “Yeah, but it was hard.”As you know, it was a dream, so everything was vague and amorphous. I woke up and realized that I couldn’t invite him to the service this Sunday because he was already dead 47 years ago. However, there’s one scene of that dream that stuck in my mind. That’s when he said, “It was hard,” when I commended him, “You did a great job.”My interpretation of that dream is that it is a reminder of the cost of discipleship.Everyone dream several dreams every night, but most of the time, we don’t remember any of them. Occasionally, we have dreams that seem to deliver a divine message, but we are not sure how to interpret it.Christians are reluctant to talk about dreams because we want to stay away from superstition. Would it be nice if we can interpret our dreams sans superstition since the Bible repeatedly says that God speaks to us in our dreams? Job said,“For God speaks in one way, and in two, though people do not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on mortals, while they slumber on their beds.” (Job 33:14-15).In today’s scripture lesson from Matthew 2:13-23, dream was mentioned three times. If we include verse 12, there would be four mentioning of dreams.First, the magi were warned in a dream not to go back to King Herod to report that they had seen the Christ child, so they went a different way home. It made Herod really mad.Now, Joseph was warned in a dream to escape the region:“Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’” (Mt 2:13).So, as you all know the story very well, Joseph took Mary and child and fled to Egypt. At that time, Jesus was less than two years old since Herod ordered to kill all children under two to eliminate Jesus.Then there is another dream:“When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’” (Mat 2:19-20).According to some historians, Jesus might have been in Egypt for about a year or two because Herod died within a short time after they escaped. So, we can safely assume that Jesus was about four years old when they returned from Egypt to reestablish their lives in Israel.Now there comes another dream to warn Joseph:“And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.” (Mat 2:22).You can see that within this chapter, there are four times a dream is mentioned as a method of God talking to people. If you include chapter one, then you would remember that the angel came to tell Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.This makes me consider delivering a sermon on dreams. So, I put together this message based on the knowledge from my research and experience.You know, I became a pastor because of a dream. I was studying in San Francisco at that time and attending the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown. I was approached by several pastors asking me to consider offering myself as a living sacrifice and serve the Lord as a minster.I ignored their invitation because I felt it was an awkward moment—I was just a student and had not yet established my life here, but I noticed that the calling became stronger and stronger. One day, I was asked again to submit my application to the seminary. I was startled by that request. So, I went home and prayed about it. Within a week, I had a dream. The dream was very abstract.I entered a park with many people, and each of them holding a cross with many small things dangling on the cross. I was wondering what those small dangling things meant, but they couldn’t tell me. Suddenly, an elderly man showed up and explained to me what each element was about. After that, he disappeared. Then I started explaining to others what I learned from him.I didn’t fully understand the dream at that time, but I took it as a sign for me to respond to God’s calling to serve Him as a minister of the Word.Over the years, I learned some key principles of interpreting dreams biblical way, as opposed to superstitious pagan way.Here are a few guidelines about interpreting your dreams.1. Discern God’s WillDream interpretation starts from a discerning spirit. As Christians, we need to live a life always discerning God’s will. We often say, “God willing, I’ll see you tomorrow!” What we usually mean is that if God permits, I will see you tomorrow. However, how do you know if it is God’s will that you don’t show up? We need to be serious when we say “God willing.”The reason God’s people in the Bible are getting dreams is that they expect those dreams. They lived a discerning life. So, when we say, “God willing,” we must be at the same time praying, “God, please show me your will” and keep our antennas way up to detect God’s wavelength.The reason the magi saw the star was because they paid attention. They were discerning every night looking at the stars. Those who didn’t see the star were mainly because they were not searching for it and they were not expecting it.The reason I had that dream was that I was discerning God’s calling in those days. I was expecting it.Discernment also includes differentiating which dream is really from God.Not every dream is God talking to you. Some dreams are just human reactions to the environment. It could be because of a horror movie you watched or the anchovy pizza you ate last night. They are just human biological reaction to what you see, what you touch, what you hear, or what you eat.Some dreams could be from the unclean spirit or the devil. This is when you are trying to do God’s work, the devil will attack you or lure you away from doing the right things. You know it is from the devil because it feels dark. God is light, and the dream from God is light.Other dreams are from God. How do you know? The Bible says that we must discern the spirit. How do you do that? It’s simple since our church focuses on it. It’s called the fruit of the Spirit. If it does not bear the fruit of the spirit, it’s not from God at all.2. Do God’s WillWe must not only discern but also do God’s will. The more we do God’s will, the more we become sensitive to God’s nudges, and become fluent in God’s language. The reason Joseph got those dreams and knew that it was from God was that he was already a good person, doing God’s will. The Bible says:“Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” (Mat 1:19).It says Joseph was a “righteous man,” meaning he has already been doing God’s will. That’s why he was sensitive to signs and dreams from God. The more righteous you are, the more God is likely to talk to you, or the more you are likely to sense God’s nudges.You would remember another Joseph in the Old Testament that was able to interpret dreams. If you read about his life, you know he was dedicated to doing God’s will.Therefore, instead of asking God to bless what I am doing, I need to ask to do what God is already blessing. Such an attitude will please God. Surely, the Bible does promise that we can ask God for anything, but if we ask it with “thy will be done” attitude rather than “my will be done” attitude, the outcome is different.In fact, that’s how Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane:“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mt 26:39).Jesus wanted something—to avoid going to the cross, but he pray with the attitude of “they will be done” rather than “my will be done.” That why he was the beloved Son.3. Deflect Idolatry of DreamsOne of the reasons God does not let every dream to be easily interpreted was because of the human tendency to idolatry. The human being will worship anything if they think that thing speaks for God.If we keep getting God’s message from our dreams, we might end up idolizing dreams and forget about God. Some religions worship trees, animals, and mountains because they saw signs of divinity from them, and they end up worshiping the creation rather than the Creator.The Apostle Paul had hit some snags on discerning God’s will. At one point, he felt he was called to preach in Asia, but halfway he found it was not what God wanted. Then he went the opposite way, and the Spirit of Jesus did not allow him. The Bible says,“They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” (Acts 16:6-7).The point is even a saint like Paul encountered incertitude of discernment. This uncertainty will keep us avoid the idolatry of the messenger, may it be a dream, a sign, or an image. The way to deflect idolatry of dreams is not to insist on my way but submit to God’s way, realizing that my previous sense of God’s will could be wrong.Joseph of the Old Testament whom we know as an expert dream interpreter said that dream interpretation belongs to God (Gen 40:8). I know it sounds convoluted just like quantum physics. God gives you a dream and you have to ask God to interpret it. It’s his way of telling me that I can become an idol if I don’t give credit to God to be both the alpha and omega of the dream—both the source and the interpreter of the dream.So, Joseph was saying, “If I am able to interpret any dreams, it’s God who enable me to do it. It’s not me doing it.”That’s why this message is named Dream Interpretation God’s Way. Here’s the summary:1. Discern God’s Will2. Do God’s Will3. Deflect Idolatry of DreamsAt this last week of the year, may we receive dreams from God for God’s guidance into the New Year, as individuals, as families, and as a church!May God bless you all, and Happy New Year! Amen!
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