Lessons: Genesis 46:1-7, 1 Peter 4:12-19, Matthew 2:13-23
Hymns: 375, 372, 359, 621, 725
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus came into the world to redeem the world. He came to reconcile the world to the Father so that Heaven would be open to all who believe in Him. He came to release sinners from the prison of their own sin, turn captives of Satan into children of God, and replace our future of eternal death with eternal life. Jesus came to do wondrous things for us—things which we could not accomplish on our own. And He did so in love, keeping each one of you as the apple of His eye.
As we observe the final days of Christmas, we remember that the eternal Son of God came in human flesh. He lived among us in perfection to credit us with keeping the Law. He went to the cross to pay for our sins by the shedding of His innocent Blood. We celebrate with awe and wonder that God became Man, tabernacled among us, and redeemed the world so that we sinners can be declared saints and receive everlasting salvation. Such amazing things Jesus did for the world in which we dwell and for all people!
So what kind of world did Jesus enter? Is it a generally good place where most people quietly live their lives doing the right things? Is it a place where government regulation and law enforcement are not needed since people are generally honest and good? Is it a place where Jesus was welcomed by all, accepted by all, and loved by all?
That’s the type of world we keep imagining. As good Lutherans, we want to put the best construction on everything. So we are tempted to paint the world in a positive light. But as we examine the Christmas account, we learn that’s not the world Jesus entered.
Yes, some were excited to see Jesus. The shepherds hurried to see Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Simeon and Anna rejoiced to see Jesus in the Temple. The Maji worshipped Jesus and offered Him the royal gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. As Jesus conducted His ministry, crowds would follow Him. Yet, many would leave Him when His teachings were too difficult. Many were more interested in watching Jesus perform miracles than hearing His Word. They looked at Jesus’ loving miracles simply as a show.
You see, the world which Jesus entered was a world opposed to our
Lord Jesus, as we witness even in today’s Gospel. Satan wanted no part in Jesus’ incarnation, for it was the way in which God would defeat Satan. And so the Devil tried to stop Jesus at every turn, even when Jesus was still a tiny baby, who required His mother’s continual care. Jesus would later say, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). Already at His birth, there was no room for them in an inn, He was born in a place where livestock dwell, and He was first laid in an animal’s feeding trough. After Jesus began His ministry, He preached in His hometown and was dismissed as the carpenter’s son.
You would think the government would be there to protect Him. But when King Herod learned from the Magi that a King was born, Herod sought to kill Jesus. There was no room in his kingdom for another King, even if that King was a little baby. At first, Herod asked the Magi to let him know where Jesus was so he could worship the newborn King. At least that’s what he told the Magi. In reality, Herod wanted to put the Christ-child to death. When God instructed the Magi to return home without telling the king, Herod ordered all the boys in Bethlehem two or under to be murdered. The chilling prophesy of Jeremiah is fulfilled, “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” (Matt. 2:18, Jer. 31:15).
It might be easy to dismiss Herod as a ruthless tyrant. He did, after all, kill some of his own family members when he suspected that they might be revolting against him. Even though the Jews wanted independence from the Romans, many were quite content under Herod. His rule provided peace and stability in the region. He made many public enhancements to improve the quality of life among the people. He invested lots of money in making the Temple grander than ever, especially the courtyard and buildings surrounding the Temple. He knew what it took to keep the people pacified and under his tyrannical control.
It’s not just those in government who do this. It’s all around us. Even we Christians face temptation to do whatever appears to be in our own best interests at the expense of others.
Herod pretended to love God, yet he hated Him. He pretended to love Jewish children, yet he was willing to eliminate any that may affect his reign. He tried to use money and resources to manipulate the people.
We do not need to look back in history or look very far today to find modern Herods or modern people who are content under oppressive government control. Just give the impression that the government is making people’s lives better and throw a few bones and the masses can be manipulated or controlled. We must be on guard.
Governments ought to protect life, yet the government sought to kill Jesus. God establishes government. Yet Herod sought to eliminate the God who establishes government. Across the globe today, governments have been at work to eliminate Christianity. Even our government espouses ideals contrary to Christianity. Bibles are forbidden in many schools. Prayer is forbidden. The government insists that all religions are equally valid. The government teaches evolution, which is contrary to God’s teaching on the origins of life. And the government would have you believe that God has nothing to say about what constitutes marriage.
And just as in Herod’s day where children were not viewed as precious or whose lives were not worth defending, our government has allowed abortion to continue. Far more babies are being massacred each day in America than King Herod sought to kill when he vainly attempted to destroy Christ, the Lord of Life.
On Christmas Day, we heard of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospel of John (John 1:1-4). Concerning Jesus we heard, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him” (John 1:10). Did you hear that? The world was made through Jesus! We usually think of the Father alone as the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. Yet, as Genesis records, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). Jesus is the Word made flesh—the Word which spoke, “Let there be light.”
God loves life. That’s why He made the universe and all that is in it. He even loves this fallen, rebellious world. Jesus entered into a world that was certainly hostile to Him, yet He came not so that He could come to an understanding of the world’s ways, but He came to make peace between sinners and God, take the world’s sin away, and provide hope and comfort to all who would call upon Him.
This fallen world retains much beauty. This place is still God’s creation. God did not create the evil deeds of man. But there’s much beauty in the flowers and animals, rows of corn and beans, mountains and trees, frosted branches and snowy landscapes.
And even more beautiful is how God esteems us. He has declared us sinners that we are now children of God. This means Jesus is now our Brother. He has covered us in His very righteousness by virtue of our Baptism. He has announced that we Christian sinners are now holy ones. We are saints. God sees in us the perfection of our Lord Jesus.
So the world Jesus entered was certainly hostile to Him. Yet, Jesus came to redeem the world through His death on the cross and glorious resurrection. He uses all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). God had a plan in Herod’s tyranny. Those children were saved who were added to God’s family through the Old Covenant. The Holy Family fled to Egypt and returned, settling in Nazareth, fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called My Son” and the prophecy, “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23).
It should be comforting for us to know that even Jesus suffered in this life. We are not alone in our trials and crosses. In fact, Jesus invites us to place our burdens on Him when He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
God continues to use all things for those good of those who love Him. On this day 500 years ago (January 3, 1521), Martin Luther was formally excommunicated by the Pope but this resulted in a worldwide reformation of the Christian Church. Just three months later, Luther would then endure nearly a year of seclusion and hiding in the Wartburg Castle, but this resulted in the Bible being translated into Luther’s native language, German. This has led to the Bible being translated in most languages across the globe.
So this world has always been hostile. But Christ entered into it, loved it, redeemed it, and now shepherds you through it. Soon, God will call you to rest from your labors as you join our victorious Savior in Paradise. And Jesus will return, making all things new. No longer will there be any hardship or persecution. And the world will be that perfect place God intended for us to dwell. What wonderful things God has already done for us, what wonderful things God is doing for us now through His Word, and wonderful things await us! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen