The slaughter of the innocents continues to this day. We are called to bring the good news of life in Christ.
The Gospel of Life
Our gospel passage this week picks up where we left it last week. The Wise Men returned to their home country by another route having been warned in a dream not to report back to Herod as instructed by him when passing though Jerusalem seeking the new born King. Dreams pervade in the opening chapters of Matthew as Joseph receives one as well warning him to take his family and flee to Egypt for safety as the usurper Herod is on the move. He rules as most usurpers and earthly kings, by fear and death. So his attempt to destroy the Christ is completely in keeping with his character. It is interesting that history remembers him as “Herod the Great”, rather than “Herod the murderer”. In paying tribute to men, histories are more concerned with edifices left behind, and powerful conquest made rather than loving-kindness, humble service, and self-sacrifice as Jesus will teach in Chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel account. In chapter 5, his Beatitudes will set a course for his followers in stark contrast to the world’s measure of a life well lived. What we do in love, here and now with the time our Lord gives us, is of far greater value in our Lord’s eyes than what or how much we leave behind.
In our Lord’s eyes, life is celebrated, and so every moment of it, and every single life is precious. From the world’s point of view, life and lives are expendable, especially if they get in the way of what the world calls progress, or personal ambition. Herod’s ambition was to hold on to the power he usurped from the rightful line of kings of Israel from the tribe of Judah. This was supported and enforced by Rome, the earthly power of the first century in that part of the world. So Herod, leaving nothing to chance, orders the murder of all male children two years and younger. He’d prefer to kill too many, rather than too few and miss killing the true King of Israel. Anthropology studying the time of Bethlehem and the surrounding countryside, tells us this likely totaled perhaps two-dozen baby boys based on the population at the time. While we might think that a relatively small number but we can’t imagine the horror for the families and community it affected. As Matthew notes, Jeremiah prophetically foretold:
18 “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.”
Despite our inability to fully comprehend the pain suffered by that community, we none-the-less feel revulsion at the very thought. Even people who perhaps don’t follow Christ as their Savior and Lord, and read the Bible will find this act of Herod disgusting.
Yet, to this day, we as a nation (and even far beyond our borders), are invested in the world’s fallen culture of death, and embrace death when we perceive it’s to our personal advantage, national interest, and sadly, our mere convenience.
I’m afraid the Twentieth Century, for all its technological gains, to some extent, social-justice gains, and gains for this very nation (some call it the American Century), may be known as the Century of Death. At no other time in history were more acts of genocide committed (Aramean Holocaust, European Holocaust, Soviet Holocaust, Bosnian Holocaust, Central and South American Holocausts, Multiple African Holocausts in Central and East Africa, and the Holocaust committed against the world’s most vulnerable, our unborn children, as begun in the United States and is now extended in many parts of the world and continues to this day.
Our most accurate account in this country tells us some Sixty-Million unborn children have been murdered since we legalized abortion in 1973. That means, over-all, about twenty percent, or one-fifth of our children were wiped out, mostly because they were inconvenient. That’s our overall percentage in this country. In some demographics, like our African-American community, best estimates are that roughly half of the children conceived since the mid-1970s, were aborted. How does that make you feel?
We can go on at great length on all the gloomy statistics and their causes. Paul’s admonition in Romans 1, quoted above gives ample explanation. We’re fallen creatures given to worship of ourselves and the things we make, rather than the God of life who loves us. And so, he allows us to go wayward, even to our own destruction. Yes, that is very sad, but Paul will go on in this letter to give us hope. That hope is in choosing life. Life lived in God, for God in generous self-sacrificing love as God shows us in the person of Jesus Christ.
This life flows from: forgiveness, repentance, self-sacrifice and radical generosity. Let’s briefly look at these four characteristics.
1. Forgiveness:Know you are forgiven by the atoning sacrifice of Christ for you, and go and do likewise. You may be one of the 1 in 4 women in this country who has had one or more abortions. You are forgiven by God, so forgive yourself. You may be one of the many men who, because of inconvenience pressured a woman, or consented to her having an abortion. You are forgiven by God so forgive yourself. You may know someone who’s had an abortion or committed some other sin (including doctors and care givers who participate in abortions). You have a need to forgive them. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:14-15: “ For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Our ability to receive forgiveness is dependent upon us forgiving others, including our own, sin. This is difficult to impossible on human terms. Our broken humanity often demands vindication, punishment and justice before forgiveness can be given. Romans 5:8 tells us: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. As the Body of Christ, His followers, we are called to do the same. “freely, you have received, freely give!” (Matthew 10:8, Proverb 11:24, Romans 2:1-5). Our forgiveness is thanks to the blood of Christ. He did it not depending on us repenting or even seeking forgiveness. Neither should we when it comes to forgiving others. We can only do this with God’s grace and strength given by His Holy Spirit. Pray for the Holy Spirit to move your heart and will to forgive. It will be liberating for you.
2. Repentance. Repentance is simply turning from our sin, from the fallen world and toward God and His way of life. While that may sound simple, it is not always easy because God’s way of life often means a change of life for us, either in certain matters or behaviors, or a complete change in direction, from facing the world and its culture of death to walking with God in his promise of life. Moses put it this way for Israel as he readied them for the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 30:19-20“ I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."
For us today, the Promised Land is the Body of Christ, and our home is eternity with Him and our sisters and brothers in Him. It is clear from here, and Romans 1-4, that we need to change, but that change is difficult to impossible from just our humanity. We cannot, by shear will, repent and live like Jesus. It is only possible in and through the power of the Holy Spirit residing in us that this kind of change is possible. So once again we find ourselves on our knees before God praying for the Holy Spirit’s conviction, refreshment and strength. As part of this, we will receive the gift of surrender. This white flag is the signet of Christendom.
3. Self-sacrifice:Surrender means laying down our crowns, our arms and everything we are on human terms. As sinners, we are enemies of God. On the battlefield when one surrenders to one’s enemy, he places himself at the mercy and protection of his up-until-that point enemy, and relinquishes his will and plan to the stronger. Thanks be to God, we can trust that He is for us and not against us when we surrender to him. He truly knows and wants what is best for us and provides a better plan for us than we could have imagined on our own. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) This is the better future that Jesus has for us, but it does come at a price. Our giving up our plan, our way, our willfulness, all we have, even our very lives. As Jesus tells us in John 12:24-26:” Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
We are called to give our all to our Master, in service to others, Paul tells us this represents a heart that truly worships God in Romans 12:1-2
I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Living sacrifice! If we take that too lightly we’ll miss the point. Sacrifice hurts. It can on multiple levels. Physically, emotionally even spiritually, but if we’re truly going to be Christ-like, it needs to become part of who we are if we are intentionally living for God and into his full-life intent for us. This spring-boards us into…
4. Radical Generosity: Do you believe that God hears us and answers our prayers? I do. And I’ve experienced him do that very thing through the radical generosity of people whose hearts he has moved. I’ve seen that in a variety of ways. Through monetary generosity, generosity of time, generosity of talent, and generosity of grace and forgiveness. At its best it flows from self-sacrifice and is given as God bestows it; without judgment, in mercy and full of love. We are called to show the face of Christ to the world. That means being true to His character, who so loved the world, that he gave of his very life for you. Are we willing to do that for others? Are we willing to see others as God sees them, through the cross in the light of the empty tomb?
If the world is going to change, if the Twenty First century is to be known as the Century of Abundant Life, we as the Body of Christ must answer the call of our master Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit to live a life of radical generosity. We will not change the world, our nation, or even our neighborhoods by wagging our fingers and condemning them, but by showing God’s radical generosity that flows from love, the love that He is, the love he calls us to share. My friends, we are called to forgive, repent, sacrifice, and offer radical generosity. This is God’s way in Christ. If we are truly his we will go and do likewise.