[12/14/2012] At Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty children arrived at school this morning who would never leave alive. Eager for Christmas to come, their hopes and dreams were snuffed out by a shooter in a few minutes of indescribable tragedy. Adults died too. And hundreds of lives were shattered along with the bodies of the victims. Tears flowed freely across the land… including my own.
O dear Lord, You arrived here two millennia ago in the midst of this same kind of evil. In You alone, we find comfort in the present and hope for the future. Please capture the hearts that are broken. Don’t permit evil to beget evil. Please draw Your people into these scorched fields of human pain and agony to serve and heal through Your Presence.
Jesus was born for this battle… for days like today. From infancy, He encountered enemies that sought to eradicate His mission by destroying Him! The fight rages on and He calls His followers to join Him. How?
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” – Matthew 2:13-15
In the middle of the night, Joseph received a message from God: Herod is coming to “destroy the child.” Narrowly escaping to Egypt, the baby Jesus escaped the mass murder of all male infants and toddlers in Bethlehem.
Are you shocked? Or is this story a horrific reminder that the world we live in is at war? Evil is not simply an idea or an act. Evil is fueled by an individual consciousness nearly as old as creation itself. Millennia ago, the Bible explains that some of God’s creatures rebelled. The angels sinned. Man sinned. The world as God intended devolved into moral and spiritual chaos. Trapped in a very real spiritual war, we have enemies, and we need a Savior!
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. – Matthew 2:16
After a lifetime of hatred and power-mongering, Herod is now determined to stamp out a divinely prophesied rival for his throne! Angered when the wise men failed to lead him to the child, he sent his troops to massacre the little ones of Bethlehem. Like so many senseless acts of violence and cruelty in the modern world, Herod raises the question: why would God allow such pain?
Preoccupation with this question can derail individual faith. A better question might be “who is responsible for the pain?” Jesus calls the devil the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), a liar, and a murderer (John 8:44), who steals truth from the hearts of people who do not know God (Matthew 13:19), and is keeping them blind to the reality of a living God (2 Corinthians 4:4). He animates evil in the world, influencing and empowering those who do not know God to reject God and do everything that is offensive to God (1 John 5:19). According to the Scriptures, human suffering is a consequence of a very deadly warfare raging around every human soul.
The issue is not a question for the head. We need to check our heart.
How does God react to widespread suffering and pain? In Matthew 9:35-36, the Bible says Jesus was “moved with compassion.” He cares and so should we. We should not waste time on philosophical queries in the face of human suffering, but we should care deeply enough to be motivated to action.
But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” – Matthew 2:19-20
In this story we observe evil in motion, making repeated attempts to snuff out the life of the young Jesus. We also see almighty God anticipating and thwarting the enemy. Through the wise men, He provided financial support for a move to and from Egypt. In his sleep, Joseph received clear direction about when to move, when to stay, when to return, and where to settle—each decision countering the destructive forces in the unseen world.
However, we should never allow ourselves to slip into a cheap form of triumphalism, believing God is going to rescue all Christians from the deadly conflicts in this world. That would be an affront to the martyrs through the ages and an insult to the little ones who did not escape Herod’s soldiers then… or the gunman’s bullets this morning. Nevertheless, in every war there are casualties and atrocities.
But for those who know Him, our losses are real, but only temporal, and not eternal! God has a plan for His people. He is accomplishing His purpose, no matter what our seen and unseen enemies may do. Every action of our enemies will always play into His plan for our lives. Jesus came to rescue us from the enemies of our soul, both in this world and the world we cannot see.
Is this your God? Do you reject the notion that God is the author of evil? Do you embrace the truth that God will ultimately triumph over all? He truly is the Lord of Lords. He is the King.
Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” – Matthew 2:21-23
Joseph’s obedience was instrumental at every step in this story, wasn’t it? With every direction, he responds with obedience. Apart from his sensitive, passionate pursuit of God’s purpose for his life, Joseph could have been a casualty in the conflict surrounding the birth of Jesus. He had a very significant role to play.
And so do you, especially on a day like today. So listen carefully and obey immediately!
We will shed tears along the way, commingled with His own, but the time for weeping will fade as the Victor puts down every evil and every darkness in the universe… and in our hearts. We will dance in eternity before the One born in Bethlehem—the One who was born for battle and ushered in the Christmas Revolution!