True to form, the past holiday season again had various religious articles in the secular press, like one a week ago in the Sunday newspaper magazine about “How Americans Imagine God.” Interesting reading, beginning with the survey result that supposedly “about nine in 10 Americans believe in God or some higher power.”
A number of the responses describe a pantheistic and impersonal view of God, views which those who know the God of the Bible would reject outright.
A common thread, it is said, woven throughout people’s opinions of God is “quite simply, love…(God is) a pathway to goodness, peace, and brotherhood.” “My God is love!” says one individual. Indeed He is, but the fact that God is love needs to be reconciled with how a Texas pastor describes God, namely, “sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple with angels praising Him saying Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
As far as we are concerned, God’s love and holiness are best reconciled, aren’t they, by the Christmas miracle? God’s holiness demanded redemption of sinners and atonement for sin—which would take place in space-time history in the person and work of the heaven-sent Messiah, the incarnate Son of God who came to save His people from their sins.
“He that has seen Me,” Jesus would say one time, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9). One of the reasons God sent His Son to this planet is to give all the world a first-hand view of who and what God is—of His love, His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, His providential care for all who believe on Him.
We say, “God’s providential care.” A text such as the one before us, though, can cause many folks considerable consternation about God and His ways among men.
Yet, events happen in the lives of each of us which can cause us to wonder about the ways of our God. Specifically, if He is a God of love, why do some things happen as they do? We think of believers like Job and all the trials he had to endure; of Jacob’s son Joseph sold to slavery in Egypt; of a prophet like Jeremiah who was cast into a cistern; how others of the Old Testament prophets were treated; how John the Baptist fell victim to Herod’s murderous ways; of Daniel tossed into the lion’s den; of the Lord’s apostles, many of whom — like Stephen — died as martyrs for the Lord; and the list goes on, including the horrific event reported in this text of the slaughter of the innocents.
If there is a God who so loves us that He sent His Son to bear our infirmities and sicknesses, where is this God when His own are subjected to such danger, such evil?
“God on the run”
Our text says: “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….”
The people of that day and time perhaps took the holy family’s hasty flight to Egypt as a stroke of good luck, a chance happening.
Not so! God had so arranged things! The Lord knew Herod’s desperate plot, so He warned Joseph in a dream. And so they “departed for Egypt, and [were] 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.’” Centuries earlier the Lord had preserved Israel in Egypt and kept His covenant with Abraham in spite of the opposition of Pharaoh. So also at this time God preserved His Son in Egypt in the face of the plot of another wicked ruler.
It’s been said that we see “God on the run” here—Jesus, the Christ, fleeing for His life as a young Child in the care of His earthly parents! That may at first strike us as odd, but can’t we think of times when Jesus “ran away” even as an adult? During the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem one winter, some people wanted Jesus to tell them plainly if He was indeed the Christ. When He answered, “I and the Father are one,” they took up stones to stone Him. We read, “again they tried to arrest Him, but He escaped from their hands” (John 10:39).
So there were indeed other times when Jesus “ran away.” And may I suggest it was because of Christmas? I mean, when Jesus humbled Himself and chose to become flesh for us, He had to “run away” from people like Herod and the stone-throwers. Jesus had come to Earth on a saving mission, a mission which would result in His death. BUT it was not to be a death according to the timetable of any earthly ruler. No, when HIS time came, He would meet death on the accursed tree as a sin-payment for the sins of the whole world. Jesus DIDN’T run away from His betrayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, did He?
He did not, because His time had come!
May we as God’s believing children draw comfort and encouragement from these things; the difficult circumstances that occur also in our lives are carefully ordered by God’s providential care. Nothing happens purely by luck or chance; though often not clear to our sin-infected view of things, yet there are holy reasons behind the trials, the troubles, the cross-bearing which take place in the lives of God’s own.
Slaying of the Innocents
If that’s true, why this horrific slaughter of the innocents? How could a loving God who is at the same time a holy God allow this?
We have no answer to satisfy our inquisitive minds—no answer but this: God wants some martyrs. In the 6th chapter of Revelation we are told that the Lamb of God opened the fifth seal which revealed “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, How long, Lord God, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:9-10)
Over the centuries there have been—and will be until the end of time—those who must pay the ultimate price, their lives, for their faith and trust in the Lord. Scripture and subsequent church history tell of such martyrs. And may we not include these boy babies of Bethlehem as unconscious martyrs for the Lord’s sake—martyrs who are now singing the Savior’s praises before His righteous throne in
Briefly put, when the talk is about a loving and holy God’s providential care and plans for His own, we have no right to conclude that those plans will include His people being free from earthly woe, ill, and evil.
As the supreme example, we have that of the Savior Himself. Yes, He was saved from an untimely death during His infancy, but no providence saved Jesus when God’s hour came for Him to be delivered into the hands of His enemies! And then Jesus went through the torments of hell, being forsaken of God and dying on the cross—all for us! That too was part of God’s wondrous plan for our eternal salvation.
When you and I look at our lives and seem to see but the underside of a fine piece of embroidery (the loose ends and tangled threads), remember that in eternal glory the perfect pattern that a loving God has been weaving will be seen. It will be wondrous to our eyes, and we shall praise Him eternally for the masterpiece He has worked out in our lives here on Earth.