November 19, 2018- Beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Psalm 23, Job 19:25-27

valley of shadow

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (ESV)

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another. Job 19:25-27 (ESV)

The valley of the shadow of death is not a popular destination, but mortality is a reality.  No one gets out of this life alive…except…those who believe by the grace of God in Christ will share in His resurrection.  In spite of the really bad pop theology that is rampant in American Christianity, Jesus never was about “your best life now.”   Even though televangelists and “Christian” authors may try to sell us a Cross-less Christianity, Jesus teaches us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

True Christianity holds to a theology of the Cross, one in which we die to our own selfishness and sins- not to earn points, but in response to the extravagant grace and the undeserved favor God has already given us.

Psalm 23 has been beloved among believers for millennia, precisely because God’s inspired words from David’s pen underscore God’s promise that death and the curse is not the end. We who are baptized into Christ are not alone.  This world and its valleys of shadow are not the end.

God with us, Emmanuel, does not shield us from suffering, but He is in it with us, ever present with his comfort, walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death, (Psalm 23:4) and leading us away from evil.

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus, His only Son to be a man- fully God and fully man- and live in this world with us. (John 3:16) When the time came for Jesus to give His life for us, He struggled with the cup He was given to drink, but the only way for Him to accomplish our salvation was through His suffering and death. Jesus was not spared the bitter path of the Cross.  The sin of the Garden of Eden could only be overcome on by Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately His sacrifice on Calvary.

God does give us challenges that are way over our heads and way over and above our capacity to overcome.  We do not have life in our own strength. On our own we have no strength.  Apart from Jesus we have nothing to look forward to but despair, hopelessness and death in our trespasses and sins.  Yet in losing ourselves and relying on Jesus we can endure anything.  He has already overcome death and the grave.

As the church year is drawing to a close, we become aware of the groaning of all creation, awaiting the restoration of all things that the apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 8:18-25.

Those who are familiar with the musical work The Messiah, by George Fredric Handel, will recognize the verses from Job 19 above.  I know that my Redeemer liveth / and that he shall stand /at the latter day upon the earth./ And though worms destroy this body/ yet in my flesh shall I see God.

As we are very quickly coming upon the season of Advent and celebrating the arrival of the promised One, we put our focus on Jesus, the living Redeemer, the conquering King.

We can trust that we will endure the suffering that is simply a part of this life here in the now, but not yet. We will stand with Jesus, in our own bodies, on that great and glorious day when all tears are wiped away and there is no more suffering or mourning.

January 21, 2020 The Danger of Frenemies, and the Future- Isaiah 39

Hezekiah and Babylonian king

At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.  Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.”  He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”
 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts:  Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”  Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” Isaiah 39 (ESV)

Many of us have people we know as “frenemies-” the coworker who has no problem being cordial on the surface, but who will quietly run people under the bus if it benefits him or her, or the neighbor who is so engaging and polite out in the open, but who won’t hesitate to call the police on your back yard party or bonfire if it disturbs them.

These are people whose alliances aren’t trustworthy.  These are people who will be kind when it serves their purpose, but will also sell people out when it serves their purpose.

In the previous chapter of Isaiah we learned that Hezekiah was desperately ill and thought that he was about to die.  He prayed to God and God gave him an extra fifteen years.  Unfortunately after his miraculous restoration to health, Hezekiah seemed to forget that all of his good things came from God, and he got a little too friendly with his frenemies, the Babylonians.

Sometimes we wonder why governments make unholy alliances with frenemies. Sometimes alliances are made in an effort to keep the peace, such as the failed tactic played by Neville Chamberlain, where he negotiated with the Nazis with the erroneous thinking that appeasing the Nazis would lead to “peace in our time.”

Or is it, as it seems in the example of Hezekiah, that he was making a display of his own strength and hegemony- a sort of bragging, almost.  Instead of keeping his trust in the Lord and his treasures close to his chest, Hezekiah believed that an alliance with Babylon would help keep Judah safe from the Assyrians.  Sadly, Hezekiah’s trust in the leaders of Babylon would eventually lead to the nation being taken over by Babylon.

Showing the wolves the goodies and giving them the keys to the gate is no way to protect the sheep inside.

Hezekiah was glad when Isaiah told him that “there would be peace and security in my days,” but what of the generations to come, the ones who would be carried off to Babylon and made to be eunuchs and slaves of the Babylonians?

We also have to ask the same questions about frenemies in the society we live in today.  The influence of the church in our society is declining.  Do we dialogue with and trust in the ways and tactics of the world, which can be a frenemy, or do we trust God for what we need to reach out to the world?

We can’t be satisfied with “peace and security in my days.”  As good stewards of God’s creation and in service to our neighbors, people for whom Jesus died to save, it is our duty and joy to pass on the faith.  We need to trust God and faithfully teach our children and grandchildren the faith, and to care about the generations to come.

Lord, we pray that we would trust in You alone and not in our wisdom, wealth or anything that isn’t You. Keep us from making unholy alliances that would compromise our witness or our faith in You.  Give us the words and Your wisdom and passion for spreading the Gospel and reaching out to a world that is hungry for You.

 

 

 

 

January 20, 2020 – Does God Change His Mind? Hezekiah’s Extra Fifteen Years- Isaiah 38:1-8

MSKG - De kruisiging (links), De voorspelling van Hizkia’s genezing (midden), Abt Jacobus Delrio met beschermheilige (rechts) - Jacob de Backer

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.”  Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.  I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.
 “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised:  Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.  Isaiah 38:1-8 (ESV)

If God can change His mind, is He really omniscient?

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV)

Was God testing Hezekiah?  Did God know Hezekiah’s prayer before he prayed it?

The threat of imminent death has a profound effect on our perspective.  When all is going well and we are young and in good health it’s easy for us to think that the status quo will always stay the status quo.  We grow complacent in our abilities and in our circumstances…and that may not necessarily be where God wants us to be. When we trust in ourselves instead of having faith in God and trusting Him, we are setting ourselves up as our own gods, which never ends well.

Hezekiah was one of the few “good kings” of Israel.  But even as a “good king,” Hezekiah was not a perfect man.

Perhaps Hezekiah’s “illness unto death” was God’s way of making Hezekiah come to terms with his mortality and to become aware of Who was the source of his power.  None of us gets out of this life alive, but how would our perspectives and action plans change if we knew exactly how much time we had left?  Would we sink into crass hedonism and go for the bucket list with gusto, or would we choose our activities and bequests carefully to leave a legacy for future generations? Maybe it is better not to know the hour of one’s death, and to live as if today is the last day?  Maybe it is better to plan thoroughly and live as if life is going to go on forever?

Many of us have been in a similar place as Hezekiah- pleading and bargaining with God for one’s life, or the life of a loved one, or even for a major life event, only to be answered back with, “No, you are not getting more time,” or, “My plans are not your plans.”

Perhaps the purpose of prayer is not so much for us to get our way as it is to understand why Jesus taught us to pray, “thy will be done.”  God had things planned for Hezekiah to do, and God’s will was done through him.  For Hezekiah, God did see fit to say “yes” to his request, not because Hezekiah was so great, but because the God he trusted is so great.

Often we wonder where God’s will is being done when we look all over this groaning, broken creation. It’s not a satisfying answer to know that we inherited a broken creation, that some things will not be mended this side of eternity, and that God re-creates and redeems and heals in His own time and in His own way.  We question God’s  omnipotence and His control of all things when we think that our problems, our sins, our situations are beyond His power.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV)

God wants us to pray, whether His answer is, “yes,” “no,” or  “some other way.”

The single most difficult task of fallen humanity is for us to realize we are creatures, not the Creator.

The lesson of Hezekiah’s “extra” fifteen years is that it is God Who numbers our days. God works in and through us according to His will as we live according to the vocations He has given us.

Hezekiah trusted God and made his desires known to God.  Yes, God knows our hearts and minds better than we do, and His will is done regardless of our opinions on it, but He still commands us to pray.

Lord we pray for the faith You gave to Hezekiah, to be fervent and honest in our prayers regardless of what Your answers may be.  We trust that even when we don’t get the answer we want, (and even when we do) that Your will is always best for us in the long run, whether we see it or not.

 

 

 

January 15, 2020 – The Desert Blooms, the Fearful Are Comforted, and the Way of Holiness- Isaiah 35:1-10

desert bloom

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:1-10 (ESV)

The Gospel is found all through out Scripture. Both Old and New Testaments direct us to Jesus and His love for us and His redemptive work for us.

Isaiah brings us beautiful news. Jesus succeeds in turning everything upside down for the people of Israel after many years of occupation, defeat and suffering.  The barren desert comes to life with color and flowers.

Those of us who belong to Christ who are living in fear and darkness can rest. We can put aside our fear.  Jesus is with us.  Jesus champions our cause and protects us- not because we are “good” or “deserve it,” but because we belong to Him.  He has made us His own.

We learn in the Gospels that Jesus did fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of opening the eyes of the blind, restoring hearing to the deaf, healing the lame, and giving the mute a voice again.

The most important emphasis of this chapter is that God acts upon His people. We cannot choose God. God chooses for us and draws us to Him:

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

How many times do we do foolish things? In spite of ourselves we are simul Justus et peccator. (saints and sinners at the same time.) We try to do the right things but fail.  We give in to temptation.  We make poor choices. We do things that hurt ourselves and others.  Even so, Jesus walks with us and gives us what we need to keep walking with Him.

Isaiah foresees the same vision for us as the apostle John did- “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

Faith is a gift of God.  We have every confidence that in all things Jesus is with us and He will not abandon us.

Thank you, Lord for Your gift of faith.  Draw us closer to You.  Comfort us, restore us, equip us to serve you as you keep our way straight on Your highway.  In the holy Name of Jesus we pray.

 

 

January 13, 2020- To Fulfill all Righteousness- Jesus is Baptized- Matthew 3:13-17

jesus-baptism

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)

Why did Jesus, our sinless Savior, need baptism?

Jesus did not need baptism, because He had no sins. We needed Jesus to be baptized. He was baptized into our humanity and He was drenched in the cesspool of human sins. The reason why He came to earth was to take on the sins of the world- a burden that only He could choose or walk away from.

Yet His choice to take on the burden of human sin and follow through with the task of winning our redemption was well pleasing to God the Father, even though the cup He had to drink- the pain, the scorn, the shame, and ultimately being forsaken by the Father would be nearly impossible to bear.

One of the ways to look at Jesus’ baptism is that it was at that moment He took on the sins of humanity- all of them- past, present, future, so that along with His body all of those sins would be nailed to the cross. The sins that are washed from us in the waters of baptism are put on to Jesus in His baptism.

We see a foreshadowing of Jesus’ blood atonement to wash away our sins in Leviticus 16, in the Law’s requirement for the Israelites to sacrifice animals:

“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” – Leviticus 16:15-26 (ESV)

In His baptism, Jesus became the sacrifice that the blood sacrifices and the scapegoat of Leviticus 16 foreshadowed.

The problem with the sacrifices and scapegoats called for in Leviticus was that they never really absolved the people of their sins. The Law (of which the sacrificial system was a part) could only show us our sins and point us to the Savior- the one Who is the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:1-4 (ESV)

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it was only because Jesus took our sins on Him and became our sacrifice that we are justified in the eyes of God and our sins are paid for- nailed to the cross and washed away in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 6:1-12 that as we are baptized, we are joined with Jesus in His baptism as well as in His death and resurrection.

Jesus took on our sins for us, to defeat the curse of the Fall, so that we may have life and salvation in Him.

Our salvation is a free gift, beyond anything we can earn or deserve. Baptized, we live, because Jesus lives. He gives us the gift of faith. He gives us grace to keep putting on our baptism every day so we continue to live in Him. He has fulfilled the Law for us because we cannot. He is indeed the Good News.

We pray that Jesus would constantly keep us in His care and that He would continue to keep us strong in faith and trust in Him.

January 7, 2020 Comfort and Joy- 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

mary-and-baby-jesus-ray-downing

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (ESV)

Tidings of comfort and joy,” goes the refrain of the old Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” In this Epiphany (an epiphany is an experience of enlightening or expanding one’s understanding) season we go from discovering that Jesus has come in human flesh to live among us, to a deeper understanding of what Jesus stepping into the mess of humanity means for us.

For many of us, especially during this season of the dark winter funk between Christmas and spring, it’s hard to see beyond our day to day struggles. The weight of our health issues, and our financial issues, and the trauma of our conflicts in our dealings with others, simply seems heavier at this time of year. Comfort and joy seem pretty far away, as if they were packed away with the decorations, and we are just left to go back to our every day drudgery.

The apostle Paul was writing to the church in Corinth at a time in which being a believer in Jesus could get you killed. The Corinthian church had good reasons to be apprehensive and afraid, but still Paul writes to them: Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

When Jesus came to this earth He did not just come to experience the pain and struggle of fallen human life. He came to give His life as a ransom for ours, to put death to death. He came bringing many things, including, suffering, distress, a sword- and for some, even temporal death and martyrdom. Yet for those who He chooses to carry His cross in this life, those of us who die with Him in the waters of baptism, He also chooses to join in His resurrection. We will be comforted beyond all comfort. We will be made new and to live with Him forever.

The idea of tidings – news of- suggests anticipation. It underscores that yes, the King is here- but the King is still arriving. We are comforted not in the promise that our suffering will be lifted from us in this life, but that Jesus walks with us in and through that suffering and gives us the strength to endure it.

We have been given tidings of great comfort and joy- tidings that go beyond the wonderful miracle of a little boy born in a tiny town in first century Palestine, that reach beyond the scope of this world and the burdens we carry.

Because Jesus came to earth to suffer and die and take the punishment each of us earn and deserve, we thank Him. We look to Him for our comfort, our joy, and our peace, even with and through our suffering.

January 2, 2020- Numbering our Days, A Heart of Wisdom- Psalm 90:12, John 1:14-18

jesuswisdom

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 (ESV)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:14-18 (ESV)

Every January rolls around and it seems we want to take up New Year’s resolutions.  “This is the year we stick to a budget or to a diet or to an exercise program!”  Until the first of February or so, when we realize that the budget, diet or fitness regimen isn’t happening the way we wanted it to.  Even if we are disciplined enough to do things right most of the time, as we learn in Psalm 90:10- The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Fallible human beings are not the greatest at keeping resolutions.  Life happens.  Discipline and order are good things, but so are forgiveness and flexibility when situations call for those.  We need discernment, the wisdom that can only come from the power of the Holy Spirit, far more than we need one time resolutions that most often fail.

Solomon, the son of David prayed for wisdom- not for riches or conquests or power and land, even though God added those to him. (2 Chronicles 1:7-13)  Yet even a person with the wisdom of Solomon was not able to live according to the Law.  As Solomon got older he got enamored of foreign women and took wives who worshiped idols, and even he was not completely faithful to God.

The apostle John leads us to the answer to the wisdom question: The Word. We do not have wisdom on our own apart from God.  Wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh, bringing the fulfillment of Moses’ law, and providing the grace and truth that we do not have.

Our life on this earth is both joy and sorrow, paved with good decisions and not so good decisions.  We live with one foot in God’s kingdom, but the other foot still mired in this world of “not yet.” We journey through our seventy or eighty years knowing that our time here moves faster than we ever thought it would.

A new year is going to bring us all some blessings, some burdens, some joy, and some heartbreak. But only Jesus Christ brings us the forgiveness of our sins. Only Jesus Christ makes us worthy to be called children of God.  Only Jesus Christ makes the number of our days worthwhile, as well as the innumerable days we will spend with Him in the age to come.

 

 

 

December 26, 2019 No Peace, but a Sword- the Holy Innocents – Matthew 10:34, Matthew 2:1-18

church_mosaic_194351-780x520

“Do not think that I (Jesus) have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, 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.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:1-18 (ESV)

As much as we are enraptured by the Christmas story, the very next chapter is tragic. Herod sends the wise men (or more accurately “magi” or astronomers) to find this king of the Jews, not because Herod had any plans of worshiping the infant Jesus, but because Herod wanted to take out the threat.

What Herod didn’t realize is that God has ways around the sinister designs of man.

What the people of Israel didn’t realize was that Messiah wasn’t coming as a bread king or as a military conqueror. He was coming to heal the sick and raise the dead, but also to turn over the moneylenders’ and temple vendors’ tables. He was coming to tear the temple curtain in two, to judge the living and the dead, and to defeat sin, death, Satan and the hordes of hell.

The fallout from the Incarnation of the Holy One of God- destruction by the sword -would begin with the male children of Bethlehem, and it continues to this day.

The Child in the manger would be the cause of the deaths of countless other children- slaughtered simply because of Herod’s desire to keep himself in power.

The Child in the manger- Christ, the Lord, calls us to die as well. Life in Christ is death to everything the world holds dear. We willingly forfeit power, influence, and comfort and in certain circumstances, our own lives, to follow Him. In some places in the world today to proclaim Christ is literally asking to lose one’s head. Martyrdom is still happening in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Do we really understand the purpose behind what appears to be the senseless destruction and waste and death and sorrow in this world?

Rachel weeping for her children, because they are no more.

The church has historically called the little boys killed by Herod’s mobs, “the Holy Innocents,” yet there are no humans on this earth untouched by the corruption of original sin. Those little boys were innocent of temporal crimes, but were still under the curse of the Fall. The truly Innocent One was also put to death, thirty years or so later, but His death was the end of death.

Jesus brought- and still brings- a sword. The sword that split the temple curtain so that we could be in the presence of God is the same sword that divides families and nations.

Today’s rude awakening right on the heels of the amazing blessing and wonder of Christmas seems a bit harsh, but in the middle of the valley of the shadow, He is with us.

Emmanuel, God with us does not abandon us, even in those times and places when our pain and mourning is beyond words.

Emmanuel, God Who took on human flesh, knows the agony of sorrow and of physical torment.

Emmanuel, God does bring a peace beyond all understanding- peace that can override the chaos, peace that knows that God is in control even when we cannot see how.

Jesus isn’t done yet. He is returning- returning for those who believe and trust in Him. He is coming back to remake the heavens and the earth. He will wipe away every tear and sorrow will be no more.