Sunday, December 16, 2012

Matt. 2:7-23   Sermon preached Dec. 16, 2012                                                                          

Intro -The tragic events of Friday in Connecticut have caused me to change what I had planned to preach. I was going to preach from Luke 1 and the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary...but from talking with some of you and knowing my own thoughts and feelings of the past 3 days...I decided to deal with another passage pertaining to the birth of Christ.  It is one we usually gloss over.
Matthew 2:7-20. READ.      Herod had summoned the wise men and asked them to search for this Christ child in Bethlehem. He lied to them in order to do him harm, not to worship as he had said. They go to Bethlehem and see the child and worship him and present their unique gifts. God warns them in a dream and they depart for their own country via another way.  The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells them to rise and take the child and flee to Egypt since Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus do as the angel instructs and flee to Egypt.  Herod realizes he has been tricked. In his anger he sends soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the male children who were 2 years old and younger. Matthew notes this is a fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by Jeremiah: “ V. 19 tells us that Herod died.

To understand this quotation from Jeremiah you must know that in the OT times Ramah was located on the border between 2 kingdoms, Israel and Judah. It was 5 miles north of Jerusalem. It was the place where foreign conquerors ordered the defeated multitude to be assembled before being deported to far away places.  That was Ramah. What about Rachel? Who was she? She was Jacob’s most cherished wife. She gave birth to Joseph. Here, figuratively, Rachel is pictured as being still alive. She is watching the multitudes gathered in Ramah. She listens to their weeping until she herself begins to weep. She grieves and mourns because she will be deprived of her children: Israel and Judah.   The parallel drawn by Matthew is because of the slaughter of Bethlehem’s infants he pictures Rachel as weeping once more, and for essentially the same reason. These children, too, are no more. This time the worldly power that destroyed them was not Assyrian and Babylon, but Edom as represented by the cruel King Herod.
And Herod was cruel. History tells us that Herod was a man who was characterized by murder, even of his own family members. 
So we see in Matthew that the birth of Christ was accompanied by the murder of many male children, age 2 and younger.  
Pastor Doug Wilson - I have often said that nativity sets should include a set of Herod’s soldiers— They are as much a part of the Christmas story as the shepherds, or the star, or the wise men. These traditional figures all glorified Christ in His coming, but the reality of such bloody soldiers was the reason He came. Nothing illustrates the need for His mission to us better than that appalling loss to Ramah.
A crime of what took place Friday in Newtown, Conn., hits many of us as almost beyond belief and leaves us speechless. The grief of parents and loved ones in Newtown is beyond words.  
This is my pastoral counsel from the scriptures to you.  If you were to ask me for some pastoral counsel for your own soul, if we had the time, this message is what I would say to you. How should Christians think and pray in the aftermath of such a horrendous crime?
I.                    We Affirm the Sinfulness of Sin, and the Full Reality of Human Evil
First, we must recognize that this tragedy is just as evil, horrible, and ugly as it appears.    When I was young, many portrayed Christians and church people in general as having our heads in the sand as to the real sufferings in the world. But now, I think the world has its head in the sand.  Christianity does not deny the reality and power of evil, but instead calls evil by its true names — murder, killing, homicide, slaughter.
These murders were a great evil, and God's wrath is greatly kindled by the wanton destruction of human life created in his image.    Exodus 20:13. "Thou shalt not murder."   Genesis 9:5-6. "Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man."
Christians know that ultimately this is the result of sin and the terrible effects of The Fall.  We know the message of Scripture which says there is a God who created everything that is. He created men and women. He said his creation was good. That man and woman literally walked and talked with God. They enjoyed perfect communication and relationship with God. But they chose to disobey God. That disobedience resulted in spiritual death. Their perfect relationship with God and each other was now wrecked. It was broken. We refer to their disobedience and their spiritual dying as The Fall. The Fall of Mankind into sin and misery. Within just a short time after the Fall, we have the first murder with Cain killing his brother Abel. And things just got worse and worse as far as specifics but the root was this spiritual death which had been brought on at the fall. That is why centuries later, King David would refer to himself in Ps. 51 “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  Later the prophet Isaiah described our sin this way: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”
We need to understand that this evil which exists is nothing of what God’s intent for the world was and is. Death and the destruction of human life made in the image and likeness of God Almighty can only come from the result of sin and the work of Satan and his demons.
II.                 We Affirm the Cross of Christ as the Only Adequate Remedy for Evil
There is only one reason that evil does not have the last word, and that is the fact that evil, sin, death, and the devil were defeated at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. There they were defeated conclusively, comprehensively, and publicly.
After the Fall, God promised a redeemer who would come to save us from sin and death. This redeemer would be perfect. He would be called the lamb of God for he would be a substitute for the punishment for our sin. That redeemer was named Jesus. 700 before Jesus was born, Isaiah the prophet said he would be called wonderful counselor, mighty God. It had been prophesied that he would be born of a virgin in a little non descript village called Bethlehem. That is precisely what happened.
Jesus lived a perfect life. He never sinned in thought, word, or deed. The words he spoke and the miracles he performed attested to the fact that He was God. Then he allowed himself to be arrested and put on a Roman cross where he suffered and died. While on that cross, he took the sins of people like you and me and paid for them.   He died, offering himself freely as the perfect sacrifice for sin. The devil delighted in Christ’s agony and death on the cross, realizing too late that Christ’s substitutionary atonement spelled the devil’s own defeat and utter destruction.
Christ’s victory over sin, evil, and death was declared by the Father in raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the ground of our hope and the assurance of the final and total victory of Christ over all powers, principalities, and perpetrators.
In the face of such horror as happened on Friday, we are driven again and again to the cross and resurrection of Christ, knowing that the reconciling power of God in Christ is the only adequate answer to such a depraved and diabolical power.
III.            We Acknowledge the Necessity of Justice, Knowing that Perfect Justice will not occur until the Day of the Lord
Although he committed multiple murders decades ago, Charles Manson sits in a California prison.  Ted Bundy was executed by the State of Florida for multiple murders, but escaped both conviction and punishment for others he is suspected of having committed. Anders  Brevik shot and killed scores of young people in Norway, but he was sentenced to less than thirty years in prison. Adolf Hitler took his own life, robbing human courts of their justice, and Vladimir Lenin died of natural causes.
The young murderer in Connecticut took his own life after murdering almost thirty people, most of them children. He will never face a human court, never have to face a human accuser, never stand convicted of his crimes, and never know the justice of a human sentence.
Even if executed for his crimes, he could die only once.
Human justice is necessary, but it is very incomplete. No human court can hand down an adequate sentence for such a crime, and no human judge can restore the lives of those who were murdered.
Crimes such as these remind us that we just yearn for the total satisfaction of justice that will come only on the Day of the Lord, when all people will be judged by the only true Judge who will rule with perfect righteousness and justice. On that day, the only escape will be refuge in Christ, for those who knew and confessed him as Savior and Lord. On that day, those who are in Christ will know the promise that full justice and restoration will mean that every eye is dry and tears are nevermore.
IV.              We Grieve with Those Who Grieve
Ecclesiastes 3:1. "There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven . . . A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. . . . A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing."    Romans 12:15. "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep."
For now, even as we yearn for the Day of the Lord, we grieve with those who grieve. We pray and look for openings for grace and the hope of the gospel. We do our best to speak words of truth, love, grace, and comfort.
What of the eternal destiny of these young children? There is no specific text of Scripture that gives us a clear and direct answer. We must affirm with the Bible that we are conceived in sin and, as sons and daughters of Adam, will face eternal damnation unless we are found in Christ.
Westminster Confession of Faith  Chapter 10 - Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
So many of these young victims died before reaching any real knowledge of their own sinfulness and need for Christ. They, like those who die in infancy and those who suffer severe mental disabilities, never really have the opportunity to know their need as sinners and the provision of Christ as Savior.
They are in a different position than that of the person of adult consciousness who never responds in faith to the message of the Gospel. Why do I say that?   In the book of Deuteronomy, God tells the adults among the Children of Israel that, due to their sin and rebellion, they would not enter the land of promise. But the Lord then said this: “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” [Deuteronomy 1:39]
Many, if not all, of the little children who died in Newtown were so young (most were age 6)  that they certainly would be included among those who, like the little Israelites, “have no knowledge of good or evil.” There is biblical precedent for believing that the Lord made provision for them in the atonement accomplished by Christ, and that they are with the Lord.
V.                Rachel Weeping for Her Children
This tragedy is compounded in emotional force by the fact that it comes in such close proximity to Christmas, but we should remember that there was the mass murder of children in the Christmas story as well. King Herod’s murderous decree that all baby boys under two years of age should be killed prompted Matthew to cite this very verse from Jeremiah.
But this is not where either Jeremiah or Matthew leaves us. By God’s mercy, there is hope and the promise of full restoration in Christ.
The Lord continued to speak through Jeremiah:  Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.”  [Jeremiah 31:16-17]
God, not the murderer, has the last word. For those in Christ, there is the promise of full restoration. Even in the face of such unmitigated horror, there is hope. “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to your own country.”
Lord, may we feel the absolute brokenness and evil of this tragedy deep in our souls. May we as God’s people cry out to you in prayer, knowing that this is not the way the world meant to be. We ask that you might comfort those who have lost children and family members and with those who grieve, and that we would  find our hope in Jesus, who came to save the world and not condemn it. Would our final cry be, “Come again, Lord Jesus, make all things right once again.”


The basic structure of this sermon was drawn heavily from Albert Mohler’s blog written on Friday:
Mohler’s  article on Where Do Babies Go When They Die? was also very helpful despite his jabs at infant baptism.
Numerous blogs were written this weekend which ministered to me and I recommend: