Sunday, December 30, 2007

Those Who Seek Life

First Sunday after Christmas
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Matthew 2:13-23

At Christmas we celebrate life. We celebrate the life of the Christ Child. We celebrate the life we receive through the Christ Child. One of the great blessings of the Church Year is that we get to celebrate life no matter where we’re at in the Church Year, no matter what festival we’re celebrating or season we’re in in the Church Year. That’s because the life we celebrate in the Christ Child is the life we celebrate in Christ the Man, Christ the Savior, Christ the Conqueror of the grave.

It’s in our nature to want life. Not only to want to be alive but to live life to the fullest. The question is how we seek that life and life in its fullness. It pains us to see our loved ones suffer in such a way that their quality of life is severely diminished. Our grief is intense when life ends prematurely.

No one should ever say that the Bible is removed from reality. Listen again to these words from the Old Testament in prophecy of those who lost their infants to the brutality of Herod: “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.” Those who have suffered such loss can certainly identify with such pain. And those of us who haven’t can certainly imagine this kind of grief.

There’s also the questions. Why do our loved ones have to suffer? Why do infants have to die? Why did God allow all those infants to die at the hands of Herod? These questions aren’t easy; no one should pretend that they are. But nor are they off limits. There aren’t 150 Psalms in the Bible for nothing. Many of those are prayers to God asking why. Prayers to God in the throes of grief and pain.

While the answers may not be as easy as the questions, the answers are something we can actually hang on to because they are from God. The questions arise from our hearts, which are not always reliable. But God’s Word is reliable. You see, the questions we ask, though reasonable-sounding to us, are actually quite limited in that the life we seek and its fullness is limited by our perception. When we see someone with a severe disability we think it’s a shame for them because they aren’t able to experience life in its fullness as we are. But who says that’s true? Our perception is that it is, but the reality could be very different. Perhaps they have a much fuller life than those who don’t have disability. Perhaps they have a greater awareness of the wonderful blessings God gives His people than those who have no disability.

In any case, no matter who we are our perception is distorted by our sinful nature. Who always trusts in God fully? Who every turn seeks life in its fullness in accordance with God’s will? Who never seeks fullness of life through their own sinful desires rather than the Ten Commandments? Yes, we all seek life but are so often misguided in our search.

Our distorted perception seeks life in its fullness in this life. God has so much better of a plan! But we’ll get to that in a moment. At the present we need to go back to addressing the matter of suffering and why God allows things like the sad and horrible event of the infants being murdered by Herod. In the Psalms and the rest of God’s Word the way God answers the cries and the pleas of His people is by pointing them to His salvation. Yeah, you may say, okay, that sounds like a standard doctrinal reply. But how is that practical? How does that really help the people of God in their suffering? How are the mothers of the lifeless infants comforted with that answer?

In this way: when God points you to His salvation, He doesn’t direct your attention to glory, or power, or wealth, or the removal of the horrible circumstances. No, He points you to something you would never expect. To something you would never even think would be helpful or comforting at all.

He points you to more suffering. But we have to be specific here. Not just more suffering. A certain suffering. Namely, His own. His own grieving of giving His only-begotten Son up to death. God doesn’t sit up in heaven with no earthly idea of what you’re going through when your pleas ascend to Him. He has every earthly idea. He knows what you’re going through even more than you do. You experience grief—He knows grief like you could never imagine. You endure suffering, your Lord understands suffering as you will never know.

What Christ Himself endured goes far beyond any physical or even mental or emotional disability any of us experience. It surpasses any suffering we would experience. Jesus endured humiliation and physical torture, but that was the tip of the iceberg. What He really came to do was to suffer in such a way that He bore our sin. He bore every evil thought, every sinful action, every selfish motive. He bore every ounce of our guilt for our sin. But if that alone were the extent of His suffering then it would have been all for naught. We are guilty for our sin, but we also receive the punishment for that except that Christ endured that also. He suffered in that He not only bore the burden of our sin and guilt but also the punishment for it.

None of this takes away the pain we feel. It doesn’t remove the hurt or the emotions. But it does put our suffering and pain in perspective. It is of course devastating that Herod murdered those poor children. But that God allows horrible things like that to happen really is not the question. The question really is, why did He allow us to remain on this earth after we fell into sin? It’s purely by His mercy. And we must remember that it was Herod who chose the horrible action of murdering those children, not God. And in this very act we see brought home the very real necessity of God’s action in coming to earth and placing Himself in the hands of murderous men. Sin is not just a theological topic. It’s real. And it damns. Even so, God doesn’t just love us, He does something about it. He comes and saves us. He comes and suffers and dies for us!

Jesus had just been born, and already His life was sought. At the beginning of His life and at the end of His ministry there were those who sought to murder Him. But while murder is solely the work of the murderer, Jesus’ death was actually on His terms. He chose to receive it. He chose to be born in the place where Herod would try to stamp Him out. He chose to go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas would know where He was. He chose to walk that path toward crucifixion. But though He chose to endure suffering even unto death He didn’t stay in the grave. He rose from the grave and lives forever.

What does the angel tell Joseph about Herod and his men who tried to kill Jesus? “Those who sought the child’s life are dead.” You see, they’re dead. Herod thought that by getting rid of Jesus he’d be okay. But he wasn’t. The religious leaders that sought to kill Jesus didn’t learn a thing from Herod. They thought exactly the same way and tried the same thing. Actually, they were successful in that they actually got Him killed. But the they’re dead now also, just like Herod. And Jesus remains alive.

It will be true of us one day, also. We will die. It’s true even now. We’re spiritually dead. We seek life, just like they all did. But in our seeking we gain death, not life. Jesus came to bring life by dying in our place. Only in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection do we gain life. So we really ought not to seek life so much as we ought to seek Christ. For in Him is life. Amen.


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