CHRISTMAS IN A TIME OF TRAGEDY by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson
Until Friday afternoon I had a different message in mind for this morning. Little did I or any of us realize what that day would bring. More than likely none of us had heard of Newtown, Connecticut until last Friday. But I am very sure that every heart in this place is broken for those people. This morning I want to talk to you about “CHRISTMAS IN A TIME OF TRAGEDY.”
Matthew 2:16-18 16Then 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. 17Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”
Overall Background: The story we just read is a very important chapter of the Christmas history. Sadly, if we were really honest, most of us don’t know it. It happens after Jesus was born and the wise men from the east came to see Him. Thinking that the King of the Jews would be in Jerusalem – they arrived with an entourage of camels and servants and gifts. We can only imagine what that caravan looked like. Scholars have argued that there were probably much more than just three wise men on three camels. More than likely it looked like a small army had arrived at Jerusalem. Needless to say – Herod the King was not too happy. Matthew 2:3-5 tells us that3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.5So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: So Herod secretly tells the wise men to go find this Child and when they do, come and tell him so he too could go and worship Him. Obviously, Herod had no plans to worship baby Jesus. He wanted to kill Him. The wise men find the baby Jesus and they worship Him but they were warned in a dream of Herod’s plan and they went home a different way.
Herod was not happy. Literally – “he was exceedingly angry.” Now Herod was not a man that you wanted to make angry. He was a ruthless man. He would spare no efforts to extract taxes from the people. He did everything he could to please Rome. He had no qualms about killing people:
– He was afraid of the Hasmoneans so he had them all killed.
– He was afraid of one of his brother-in-laws—Aristobulus , the High Priest. So he had him killed. This man was only 18 years old at the time.
– He was afraid of his military leaders so he had 300 of them killed.
– He was afraid that his two eldest sons were after his throne. So, he had them both killed. Five days before his death, he had another of his eldest son killed.
– The list goes on and on.
– He was even afraid that no one would cry for him when he died so he had all the prominent citizens to come to him Jericho under penalty of death. He kept them at the Hippodrome in Jericho and gave orders to his soldiers to kill them right after he died so someone would mourn for him. Thankfully his sister Salome stepped in and released them after his death.
Since the wise men had deceived him, he was exceedingly angry. How did he retaliate? Listen to verse 16 – 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.
Hundreds of little innocent baby boys were killed by the sword. Early historians don’t mention. Why? This is not 2012. Who cares about a bunch of kids in some sleepy little town called Bethlehem. But they mattered to God. He tells his recording angel to write about the massacre of the innocents.
Can you just imagine the slaughter as from home to home male children under two years of age being murdered in cold blood? Can you imagine the shrieks and cries of the mothers and fathers? It fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 31 – 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”
Can you imagine the funeral services that followed?
How could someone do that? It is one thing to kill your enemies. It is even one thing to kill your family that you think are a threat. But how could you kill innocent little kids.
That is the same question everyone has been asking for the past two days – how can someone kill innocent little kids in cold blood. And that too right before Christmas…
- Some people are in extreme shock and sorrow. “Evil has come to our town.”
- Some have even used this tragedy to bring up the issue of gun control. Let me remind all of us – “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” If tomorrow you order all guns to be turned in, good people will turn theirs in and the criminals will keep theirs. The problem is not the weapon but the heart.
- Some people have called for a time of prayer and unity. This is very important. Again, a sign that we are still one nation under God.
- There has been one more response that I want to address in the next few minutes. Some have brought up the age-old question—where is God when tragedy strikes? Or why does God allow suffering?
That is probably one of the oldest questions.
For e.g. About 4 years ago, a UNC professor by the name of Bart Ehrman wrote a book titled, “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer?” Listen to how he opens his first chapter:
“If there is an all-powerful and loving God in this world, why is there so much excruciating pain and unspeakable suffering? The problem of suffering has haunted me for a very long time. It was what made me begin to think about religion when I was young, and it was what led me to question my faith when I was older. Ultimately, it was the reason I lost my faith.” (p. 1)
“…I came to a point where I could no longer believe…I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things….The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith….I finally admitted defeat, came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic: I don’t “know” if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn’t the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world. And so I stopped going to church.” (p. 3-4)
In the rest of the book he systematically tears down every attempt made by Christian apologists to explain how there can be a good and loving God and still be evil and suffering in this world. He doesn’t buy into any of the explanations:
– We live in a sinful world.
– We have freewill.
– God sent Jesus to handle all our problems.
– In Christ, God understands our suffering.
– God works all things together for good.
None of these satisfy Ehrman.
– How do you answer someone like Bart Ehrman?
– What do you tell those parents and loved ones who lost their children last Friday?
– How do you celebrate Christmas in a time of tragedy?
– Jesus came then why is there still evil and suffering in this world?
The only answer is a five letter word – “faith.” The only way you and I can live in this world is by faith in the facts of this book. Listen to Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith. That verse is quoted three times in three key books in the Bible – Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews.
Now don’t think for a moment that faith is make-belief or wishful thinking or fairy tales because –
– Wise men do not travel hundreds of miles risking their lives for a fairy tale.
– A young girl named Mary did not surrender herself to God for a bed-time story.
– Joseph did not put his reputation on the line for a myth.
– The NT writers and the disciples did not willingly die for a legend.
Faith in the rock solid evidence that God’s Son—Jesus Christ—entered the human world to save us. Faith in Matthew 1:23—“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
I can give you all the reasons in the world. I can argue every point but it will not convince you unless you are willingly to allow the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and receive by faith the truth about Jesus Christ. Once you decide to live by faith in Jesus Christ then come any fiery dart of the Evil One – any trial, any suffering, any tragedy – you will stand strong. Your faith in the person of Christ will neutralize every doubt and discouragement that will come your way.
Listen to the simple message of Phillips Brooks (1835-93) “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Invitation: Receive Christ by faith this morning as your Savior. Walk by Faith in Christ and you will stand against fiery dart of the Evil One.