Matthew 2:13-18

 The Second Sunday after Christmas, 3 January 2016

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center, Shorewood, WI
Rev. Jason D. Lane

 

GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST. The text is the Gospel Lesson, Mt 2:13-18, the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents, and I’ll quote it as we go.


If we follow Jesus, we can expect that our lives will conform to His image. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It was this little Baby moments old who told us, PICK UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME. Will we follow this heavenly Boy on the run?


At our confirmations, we swear that we’ll “suffer all things, even death rather than leave Him…” even if death is sure to come. That’s because the Church doesn’t sugarcoat the Christian life. The world doesn’t like the One we follow. And there’s a reason: those who belong to the world desire to sell their souls. The Lord Jesus desires to save their souls. The world hates Jesus because He gets in their way. And that means—as far as they’re concerned—He’s got to go. If you stand with Jesus, you’re standing with someone who was hunted from the time He was born.

Matthew 2:13-18

 The Second Sunday after Christmas, 3 January 2016

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center, Shorewood, WI
Rev. Jason D. Lane

GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST. The text is the Gospel Lesson, Mt 2:13-18, the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents, and I’ll quote it as we go.


If we follow Jesus, we can expect that our lives will conform to His image. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It was this little Baby moments old who told us, PICK UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME. Will we follow this heavenly Boy on the run?


At our confirmations, we swear that we’ll “suffer all things, even death rather than leave Him…” even if death is sure to come. That’s because the Church doesn’t sugarcoat the Christian life. The world doesn’t like the One we follow. And there’s a reason: those who belong to the world desire to sell their souls. The Lord Jesus desires to save their souls. The world hates Jesus because He gets in their way. And that means—as far as they’re concerned—He’s got to go. If you stand with Jesus, you’re standing with someone who was hunted from the time He was born.


Our Gospel Lesson begins with terror. In the middle of the night, when Joseph and Mary and her little boy were safe asleep in their own home, in their own little town, vv. 13-14, AN ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO JOSEPH IN A DREAM. “GET UP!” HE SAID, “TAKE THE CHILD AND HIS MOTHER AND ESCAPE TO EGYPT. … HEROD IS GOING TO SEARCH FOR THE CHILD TO KILL HIM.” … SO Joseph GOT UP, TOOK THE CHILD AND HIS MOTHER AND LEFT FOR EGYPT IN THE NIGHT. It was terrifying. And then it got worse. V. 16] WHEN HEROD REALIZED THAT THE WISE MEN HAD OUTWITTED HIM, HE WAS FURIOUS, AND HE GAVE ORDERS TO KILL ALL THE BOYS IN BETHLEHEM AND THE VICINITY WHO WERE TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER. Herod figured one of them had to be Jesus.

 

I imagine none of those soldiers who rode into that town actually wanted to kill babies. But I do imagine that they sold their souls long before they arrived in Bethlehem—maybe it was their pay or maybe their own safety. They should have suffered all things, even death, rather than do what they did, but I imagine that they told themselves that they had to; they were just following orders. So the babies had to go. In the same way, I’m sure that very few abortionists actually want to murder babies. Maybe it’s the thrill of political correctness or their fees for the procedure. Whatever it is, it’s really not a lot to get for your immortal soul, but it’s what they desire, so the babies have got to go. And for sure, no mother wants to kill her own child. What she desires is to please her husband or keep her boyfriend or satisfy her parents, or save her life plans, or spare herself from labor, or have more disposable income…so the baby’s got to go.


It seems clear that King Herod didn’t particularly want to kill babies, either. Don’t get me wrong, his conscience wasn’t burdened, but it’s not like he wanted to do what he did. You remember, he told the wise men, GO, SEARCH FOR THE CHILD AND WHEN YOU’VE FOUND HIM BRING ME WORD. So if the wise men had just done what he said, then Herod would have only had to kill one baby. As far as the other boys in Bethlehem were concerned, I’m sure Herod thought that the wise men made him do it. Herod didn’t even want to kill the baby who was Christ; it’s just that that Baby actually was Christ and Herod knew it. All Herod really desired, it seems, was to keep his job. It’s just that Jesus was in the way of what he desired. That’s why Jesus had to go. Like Caiaphas: all he wanted was to keep his job, that’s why Jesus had to go. Or Judas: He didn’t want Jesus dead. All he wanted was to make some money—that’s why Jesus had to go. You see, Herod heard the wise men saying, “WHERE’S THE ONE WHO IS BORN KING OF JEWS?” And Herod knew that he wasn’t BORN king of the Jews. Herod was appointed by the Romans. He campaigned for that job; he spent a lot of money for it; and he did a lot of really terrible things for it. And, for all that, he got to be their puppet.

 

And I guess that’s another way you could look at the things that the world desires and sells their souls for—money, pride, or pleasure, whatever. All those things are just puppet strings. Only it’s not the Romans who hold the strings. It’s Satan who holds the strings on this world of puppets, playing them, pulling at each of their shallow desires: lust, envy, greed, pride—the list goes on.


In the same way, it wasn’t really the Romans who held Herod’s strings. It was Satan who crouched before Mary to devour her Child—that dreadful scene from Revelation 12. Herod was his puppet. It was Satan who wanted to slay those babies of Bethlehem. The soldiers were his puppets. It’s Satan who wants millions of unborn babies dead. The abortionists are his puppets. Or don’t we see that it’s always been Satan, who seeks to destroy us all? it’s the ancient dragon who’s eager to devour us. It’s Satan who wanted to use Herod and leave him for dead, too.

 

But Herod loved his strings. There was a crown and a title and a throne, and he couldn’t give it up. Just imagine if Herod suffered all things, even death, rather than do what he did. But he did it. And what did he get? He got what he desired – for a few more months. He really did come cheap. I mean that Herod died that year, and the dragon devoured him. Finally, his strings pulled him down to Hell. They always do.


Beloved, this is a warning for all of us who, like Herod, know who Christ is. All of us desire things, some good, some evil. How do we know whether those desires have got us tied to Satan’s hands? Well, when it comes down to a choice between standing by Jesus or obeying that desire, which is it going to be? I know that we can tell ourselves that deep down inside we’re still on Christ’s side. I suppose some soldier in Bethlehem could have told himself that deep, down inside, he was on the side of those babies, and killing them was just what he had to do. But what that soldier actually did showed that he hung by strings with Herod, like a politician who supposedly is against abortion in his heart, but does what he’s got to do, to keep the career he desires.

 

It’s not a text to stand triumphant over Herod, as if we’d never do such things. Because we’re all still tempted to sell our souls for something: a job or for money or for playtime, or to keep a boyfriend or to keep peace—or for earthly pleasures or pride or whatever. It would be better to suffer all things, even death.

 

You might be thinking, though: But all of us sin. When does it turn into selling our souls? Plainly, it comes down to a choice between the thing we desire and Jesus, which one do we go with? You understand what I mean. It’s not as if we want Christ dead, just that we desire what we desire and He’s in the way. So He’s got to go. Maybe we say, “Not for good, just for now.” Any soldier in Bethlehem could have said that: “This is just for now.” And that’s why the Holy Spirit says that anyone who knows the truth about Christ and deliberately, consciously goes on with his sinning, is CRUCIFYING THE SON OF GOD ANEW. And whatever he gets for doing that, there’s strings attached that will pull him down into the Fire.

 

Herod received his reward. But what did the babies in Bethlehem get? They got Paradise. God promised their mothers in their agony: HOLD BACK YOUR VOICE FROM WEEPING. FOR THUS SAYS THE LORD: YOUR CHILDREN WILL RETURN. While Herod is in hell, those children have been in the presence of God, laughing with their mothers and their fathers, never tempted again, never to wear strings again, for these last two thousand years. Understand, the Slaughter of the Innocents—like the killing of the unborn, or the death on Calvary—it was an atrocity, with the babies bleeding and the mothers screaming and the fathers dying, trying to save their sons. I don’t know how to paint that picture pretty.


But this poignant text from Matthew confronts us with a serious question: What do you get from the world for standing with Jesus? When people are eager to sell their souls and you stand with Christ to save them, you’re going to be in their way. And if it’s obvious enough to the world that you’re standing with Christ, then one way or another, you’ll have to go: Maybe out of your office; maybe out of your family; maybe out of your circle of friends; or maybe right out of the world by martyrdom. Be sure, you’ll be called self-righteous; you’ll be called a fool and a hypocrite; you’ll get hurt; you’ll get tired, and Satan will try to devour you.


So what’s God offering you today? It’s a chance to be, in one way or another, like the holy innocents who died in Bethlehem. And He wants you to say yes. Say, “Thank God.” Say, “Please, Lord! Let it be me!” Why? Because they died for being too much like Jesus Christ. Oh, they weren’t God, born to save a lost world; they weren’t the All-Holy Innocent One. But they were from His town. They were the same sex. They were same age. And they, like Him, were in Herod’s way. They suffered even death, because they were so much like their Savior. And, of course, they would have had to die sooner or later, but by that death they saved Christ’s life. Herod didn’t look any further, once those children were dead. Such small soldiers to send into the battle: to fight in their weakness, like Him; their only weapons, their wounds, like Him. By their death they spared Jesus to die later for them. Not that those babies knew what they’d done for Him, not till the instant they flew up and out and knew it all. And neither will our sufferings look to us like some great service to Jesus.


When St. Peter was crucified, it didn’t feel like something glorious. And wasn’t there some other way that Peter could have stood by Christ? If he’d sold his soul, he could have lived a little longer. Instead, he went the way that was before him, to live a lot forever, as the Holy Innocents went the way that was before them, as we can go the way that is before us, that Christ may be honored in our bodies in this world.


Or is too late for that? Have I sold my soul already? Has Satan run me like a puppet? Have you chosen your desires instead of Jesus? Beloved, it wasn’t too late for Herod.

 

Herod never had to know that a Savior had been born for him. The shepherds sure didn’t tell him. But, somehow, the wise men didn’t head straight for Bethlehem. Somehow, with all they knew from Scripture, the wise men didn’t know the prophet Micah. So they took a detour to Jerusalem that they didn’t have to take. But according to God’s great mercy, it wasn’t a detour at all. God loved Herod and all Jerusalem. That’s why the wise men went to Jerusalem instead, so that all Jerusalem could hear that the Redeemer had come, so that Herod heard. Somehow, after all his crimes, King Herod was sitting there hearing the word of God: YOU, BETHLEHEM, OUT OF YOU SHALL HE COME WHO WILL SHEPHERD the lost sheep; OUT OF YOU SHALL HE COME, not for the righteous but for the ones who’ve sold their souls. He came to set the puppets free. Herod never had to know. Somehow he did. And “somehow” means “by grace.” By grace, he heard the word we’re hearing now.


And if he’d only meant it when he said, BRING ME WORD, SO THAT I, TOO, MAY COME AND WORSHIP HIM… It wasn’t too late for him to mean it then. And if it wasn’t too late for Herod then, it’s not too late for us to mean it now.

 

Thus says the Lord: “YOU HAVE SOLD YOURSELVES FOR NOTHING, BUT YOU WILL BE BOUGHT BACK, not with gold or silver, but with My holy precious blood and with My innocent suffering and death, that you may be My own.” He knew who He was here for; He knew what He was doing. As He might have told His disciples in the Upper Room on that last night, “Whatever you’ve desired, what I desire is you; that’s why I’ve got to go.” And as He could have told His own Mother from the cross: HOLD BACK YOUR EYES FROM TEARS, FOR YOUR Child SHALL RETURN. CHRIST IS RISEN and descended into Hell, with His foot on the dragon’s head and shouting, “LET MY PEOPLE GO!”


Now the strings are snapped! In this moment now, you are bought and paid for! Now the INNOCENCE of Christ the Lord rests on you + and what we see in this sanctuary are the Holy Innocents of this age. BELIEVE, ARISE, SHINE. WE ARE AMONG THOSE CALLED to stand by Christ in this world, to be like Him in this world, enough like Him to PICK UP a CROSS and FOLLOW, enough like Him so that what we say and do testifies to this, that “though I sin a hundred times, HE LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME. I don’t come cheap. And whatever strings the devil spins, THE SON SHALL SET ME FREE.”


In a world of souls on sale, we can be enough like Him to speak with our mouths against the lies of this world and to show them all with our lives that they’re not cheap. In a world of people on strings, we can be enough like Jesus Christ by our lives or by our deaths to show it means to be free, until we fly out to Paradise with no strings attached. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a