TEXT: MATT. 2:13-23; 1 PETER 4:12-19; GEN. 46:1-7
ULTIMATE SAFETY IS IN CHRIST
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  Concerning our Gospel from Matthew, the church fathers asked straight away if Christ abandoned these little soldiers, this small army the same age as Himself.  How do you hear these words?


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.  Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob died in childbirth and was buried in Ramah along the road running down to Bethlehem (Gen. 35:16-20).  Jeremiah pictured her weeping for the Israelites who were exiled to Babylon centuries later.  In our text the sound of weeping was heard again when Herod slaughtered the infant boys of Bethlehem. 

 

 

TEXT: MATT. 2:13-23; 1 PETER 4:12-19; GEN. 46:1-7
ULTIMATE SAFETY IS IN CHRIST
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  Concerning our Gospel from Matthew, the church fathers asked straight away if Christ abandoned these little soldiers, this small army the same age as Himself.  How do you hear these words?


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.  Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob died in childbirth and was buried in Ramah along the road running down to Bethlehem (Gen. 35:16-20).  Jeremiah pictured her weeping for the Israelites who were exiled to Babylon centuries later.  In our text the sound of weeping was heard again when Herod slaughtered the infant boys of Bethlehem. 


We should not be at peace with this!  We should not get over such tragic brutality and just move on!  Nor should we try to explain such tragic loss and justify or defend God as if there is a simple explanation to it.  It has become known as “the slaughter of the innocents” (not innocent of all sin – but guilty of nothing deserving capital punishment). Matthew consistently calls this unstable, conspiracy-fearing, man “King” Herod until the magi worship Christ – until the Christmas of the Gentiles that we celebrate here tomorrow evening.  Immediately after they worship Him, this Herod is symbolically dethroned and is never again called king in Scripture.  His evil reputation of using people and eliminating suspected competition was well deserved.  In kingly rule he is reported to have killed a wife, a mother-in-law, a high priest and three of his sons – all the while – blaming them.  He was into deceit and trickery – not accustomed to being tricked.  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.


It is difficult to contemplate this text.  It is more easily approached with detached intellectual appraisal than with fellow-feeling for the little boys and their parents.  In truth, we should object!  We should object with every fiber of our being! “No!”  No, these little toddlers fashioned in their mother’s wombs should not have been slaughtered by Herod.  No, these unsuspecting parents should not have had their little ones ripped from their arms and their homes through death.  Parents would do anything to spare their children suffering – to protect them.  These parents could not!  When Herod’s murdering crew pulled out – these parents were left behind grieving over the corpses of their precious sons.  This brutal event cannot be tidied up.  Their small voices, their tender touch, their fun curiosity was suddenly ripped away from this earth never to be seen here by their loved ones again.  There was a dark emptiness – a crushing, unbearable absence for their parents.  No wispy talk about the little ones living on in their hearts and memory would relieve.  Parents don’t want virtual reality or avatars – they want their children.  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. 


Our cries of protest 2000 years later do not change the terror or the tragedy of Herod’s murderous act.  Nor can our cries of protest stop the brutal injustices, the profound suffering, and the ugly cruelty at work in today’s world.  Yet along with Job and the Psalms and the prophets and Rachel weeping for her children - we are not wrong to cry out “no” in lamentation!  What would you say to God for all ten children killed in one day?  Job said “no” this way.  “I loathe my life – why have you made me your mark?” (Job 7:16, 20). 


The Bible is not escapist about our lot in this dying world.  The little flowers cut down in Bethlehem are not those alone who will be cut down.  Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…(Romans 5:12).  There is only one man who can change the outcome of sin and death for us all.  That man is the little King fleeing for His life to Egypt.  For the moment the young boys of Bethlehem die but Jesus escapes!  He escapes not for Himself but for us and for them.  He escapes from death at Herod’s hand that later He might die for all sinners at God’s hand – even sinners so cruel as Herod – even sinners so young as these infants and toddlers. 


As He escapes – Matthew portrays from the Old Testament the wonder of what this one man will do for all.  Warned in a dream Joseph – 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.”  The prophet Hosea is here quoted from the center of an oracle concerning Israel’s sinful rebellion.  It is the nation of Israel that is God’s son in his prophecy.  It is also the nation of Israel that is the subject of Rachel’s weeping in Jeremiah. 


Beloved, the child Jesus is hereby proclaimed not as a new leader (a new Moses) but as the very people of God – as Israel itself!  Jesus is presented as the people of Israel reduced to one!  “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  You see, Hosea described a past history that was incomplete!  Israel failed the purpose for which God called them out of Egypt.  They rebelled and chased after idols and contended for their own thrones – in like manner as the sinful acts of Herod. 


But God is again acting to make Himself a people!  Under Pharaoh Egypt stood stubbornly against Yahweh and His people.  God brought them out with a mighty, outstretched arm as Pharaoh and his army sank under the waves of death.  Here Jesus is named as God’s one and only Son whom God would also call out of Egypt.  He was called to redeem His people from captivity and slavery far deeper than that of Pharaoh.  


He is the only answer to life’s fiery trials.  He is the only answer to unanswerable suffering.  Even in infancy the devil pursues Him.  He escapes here in order to give us eternal escape.  As He does so, it was Herod – not Christ who killed the children.  Their death causes us to cry “no,” to lament their cruel slaughter!  At the same time, Christ’s escape causes us to cry “yes” because we know that the King of Kings is on the run in the fullness of time for only one reason – to deliver His kingdom to us sinners through His sacrificial death.


Did Christ abandon these little soldiers the same age as Himself?  The Church fathers noted somberly their moment of pain and gave thanks that they would have had no mature fear of death.  But they answered their own question by saying that Christ promoted them and granted that they might walk in victory before they lived – to share in the divine life immediately.  Luther said that Herod actually served them as they were taken out of the devil’s kingdom into heaven. 


Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test  you, as though something strange were happening to you.  The fiery trials are as diverse as are the dangers and the disappointments of life and the ugliness of death itself.  There is no hiding place is this valley of suffering except God Himself.  The difference is not Christianity is some generic, philosophic sense.  The difference is Christ in the flesh!  You were not baptized into Christianity as some free standing form of religion – You are baptized into the death of Christ in the flesh – now clothed with Him – now born again to a living hope through His resurrection!  The living Christ comes among you today not to offer you semi-communion – but full communion with Him and with all the company of heaven.  The unseen reality is full circle at His altar. 


Who can measure the suffering of the parents of Bethlehem?  Who can measure the suffering of Jacob – who for years was stabbed with grief over Joseph’s many colored robe dipped with blood.  When it was brought to him he had said, “It is my son’s robe.  A fierce animal has devoured him.  Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.”  He refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.”  (Genesis 37).   What a joyful “yes” God spoke to him when, The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him…and he was reunited with Joseph once again.  This “yes” was only temporary as the need for the Exodus would later show.  All earthly “yes’s” are only temporary. 


But no matter how many promises God has made they all find their “yes” in Christ Jesus and through Him the “amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God (2 Cor. 1:20).   We shout “no” for many reasons in this troubled world.  We shout “yes” for one reason – God’s love for us in His beloved Son who comforts us with peace the world cannot give.


But when Herod died…he (Joseph) rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.  And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” 


Israel reduced to one – is here seen nestled in Nazareth – a town not even mentioned in the Old Testament.  He is there for you.  At the proper time He will step forth as the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief not to flee death but to taste it for us.  He will fulfill the law – actively and passively – and by His grace bring eternal rescue – not temporary relief.  Risen from death, victor over Satan, He is present now to deliver you from evil.


In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
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