Publication:Pastoral Letter, December 2015
We thank God for you and pray that you are having a blessed season of Thanksgiving and preparing for Christmas. This month, I want to share how the birth of Jesus gives us hope and courage for the times in which we live.
Matthew 2:3 tells us that Herod was troubled. Herod was king of Judea during the days of Jesus’ birth and was supported by Rome, the world’s most powerful military force. Herod was called, “Herod the Great,” married to the High Priest’s granddaughter, and supposedly a convert to Judaism. As ruler, he had put down rebellions, but now, the news he received was strange and disconcerting to him … something was different.
What troubles those who seek total control is what they cannot control, and that is Herod’s story. Herod was an Edomite, descendant of bitter Esau. He was not a descendant of Jacob, and he never rested easy on his throne. In fact, he was paranoid, eventually killing his wife in a fit of jealousy and also killing two of his sons. Yet he was troubled; he was willing to say or do anything in order to achieve or maintain power.
Centuries before Nietzsche wrote his book, The Will to Power, Herod was a living symbol of Nietzsche’s erroneous thesis. In the end, after inflicting great sorrow upon many, Herod died of what many scholars believe was a horrific death; gangrene in his kidneys and genitals. Sadly, Herod passed on his trouble to his son, Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist and killed James, the brother of Jesus, as well as other church leaders. The worms ate him (Acts 12:23).
(see Daniel 4:17).
It was into this paranoia that news came to Herod that wise men from the East were searching for a baby “born to be King of the Jews” (see Matthew 2:2). Yes, Herod had put down other rebellions and executed leaders, but this one was different; it had prophetic backing and anticipation.
So, Herod assembled religious leaders who told him that Bethlehem would be the place. In his trouble, he decreed that all male children of that region 2 years old and under would be put to death. The pain of mothers, fathers and entire communities was inconsolable as babies were forcibly pried from their mothers arms and slaughtered (see Matthew 2:16-18; Jeremiah 31:15). Herod was a monster!
Herod was not alone in his trouble. Matthew tells us that “all Jerusalem” was troubled with him. Jerusalem was both the political and religious capital of Judea. Hardly anyone in Jerusalem was disconnected from either the political or religious class. Many were connected to both in that incestuous relationship. Everyone was upset that a new king was possible. So from birth until crucifixion, Jesus was trouble to the established hierarchies; those whose aim is power over all.
It is too bad that some leaders, if not most, do not know the lessons of history. More than 500 years before Herod, another king, Nebuchadnezzar, ruled in Babylon, then the world’s greatest power. He, too, was an arrogant and dangerous man who actually commanded worship of himself. Fortunately for him, he had a friend who warned him about his pride.
Daniel chapter 4 records the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had that troubled him. Daniel interpreted that dream as he had on a previous occasion, warning Nebuchadnezzar that he would be cut down. Nebuchadnezzar listened respectfully, but soon returned to his arrogance. Then his sanity was taken from him for seven years and he lived as a wild beast. When he became sane again, he declared that the Most High God ruled in the affairs of men.
Herod never learned that lesson, and until death, continued in his troubles.
Jesus was delivered from Herod’s wrath because Joseph was warned in a dream to flee Bethlehem and go to Egypt. After Herod died, that holy family returned to Nazareth near Galilee. Nazareth was an obscure place of poor reputation (see John 1:46). We know very little of Jesus’ childhood, except His visit to the temple and that “He increased in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
It seems that the Lord often hides what He is doing; he hid it in Egypt and in Nazareth The apostle Paul says that not many wise or noble are called (see 1 Corinthians 1:26). John the Baptist ministered in the wilderness; Jesus’ disciples were an odd collection of fishermen and other outsiders. Joseph was an unknown carpenter prior to becoming husband of the Virgin Mary. King David was a shepherd boy prior to his anointing. The list goes on and on.
The Lord takes pleasure in confounding the wise and powerful of the world by using the weak and humble (see 1 Corinthians 1:27). He takes pleasure in visiting the Bethlehems, Egypts, Nazareths or lowly Azusa Streets of the world. Why? It is because He wants to remind us that we are not in control; He is. To some people that is troubling; to others, it is great news! And Christmas reminds us of all of that; it happened in spite of politics, religion, and Hell itself. Even in obscurity, God watches over His Word to perform it!
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Peace on earth and good will toward men!” The angels’ song is still being sung by greater and greater numbers. The big picture is this: what once was celebrated by a few shepherds is now celebrated by billions! The gates of Hell did not, have not, and will not prevail against it.
Gamaliel was a ruler of the Jews who was spiritual enough to warn the religious leaders of his day to abstain from persecuting the disciples. He said that if they were not of God, they would come to nothing. But if they were of God, persecution would be fighting against God (see Acts 5:38-39).
Yet there remains many who fight against God. Some are fiercely militant to the point of beheadings and killing children as Herod did. Others are merely demanding that we stop celebrating the birth of Jesus in public places or saying, “Merry Christmas”. It might offend someone. It certainly offended Herod, Joseph Stalin, and others who desired power. The claims of Christ and the Bible are offensive to those who would have humanity rule or rule out God. But, folks, Christians happened!
Now what do we do? Do we fight? Remember the words of Jesus to Peter, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). To put it another way, by whatever means we gain or maintain power, we will be destroyed the same way. If we received power or authority by the grace of God, then God will defend it. If we gain it by our own might, then in our weakness we will lose it.
It is easy to be angered by the blatant attacks against God, against our Lord, His Church or the more personal attacks. It is easy to be angry about school children who are not allowed to celebrate Christmas, sing carols, bring a Bible, or wear a t-shirt that suggests faith. In the United States, “Multicultural” has come to mean a ban on the very principles that the Founders of the United States embraced.
Let us be reminded that our faith no more rests upon public approval than the birth of Jesus rested upon Herod’s approval. We can love our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us because they are of no consequence to the Sovereign God. We can ignore offense and pray for offenders because we know that He reigns. That does not get voted on. We must not respond to the secular culture as though God’s purpose is in doubt. Let Herod be troubled, but as Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled.”
The apostles and martyrs understood this even more clearly. They were not shaken by the adverse culture. They continued to testify even in death; some shouted their testimony from the flames. It is my belief that the Church will awaken only when the enemy is so troubled that his real purpose becomes clear. And that should be just any day now. Some watchful saints have long since understood it. They are not surprised when some deranged or evil person asks, “Are you a Christian?” If the answer is, “Yes”, the Christian is killed. But let the evil forces beware: persecution and bans on believers have never darkened the light. Adversity only intensifies and multiplies it.
Let’s face it, Christians are a lot less danger to the Herods of this world when they are smug, comfortable, and seem to need nothing (see Revelation 3:17). When they keep their religion safely inside walls and doors, they are not a real threat. Leave them alone. Keep the agencies away. They are not troubling. Don’t let academia focus on discounting their God and their faith; it might disturb them. Let them rest and even congratulate them on the nice things that they do; it will keep them content and self congratulating.
But if pushed into a corner with the drip, drip, drip of criticism and even penalizing them, they could awaken; that would be troubling. Stop asking them to not say, “Merry Christmas,” that might bother them. Stop complaining about their values, opposition to abortion, gay marriage and other moral issues. They might sense that they are being persecuted and start crying out to God. For the enemies of God and His Church, that would not be good.
Of course, those troubled by the entrance of Jesus into their world will likely not listen to my advice. They are probably troubled too much to pay attention to history and will likely continue to raise their volume. I don’t know how I feel about that; I have mixed feelings. I do not like discomfort, persecution, or the enemy’s attacks either. On the other hand, look what happened in previous attempts to stamp out or rid the world of the Gospel. His Truth kept marching on! The Word of God grew and multiplied (see Acts 12:24).
Don’t worry about which way it will go; it is not our choice. Our choice is to celebrate Jesus, His birth, His life, His Cross, and Resurrection. Others will have to make their choice. In every circumstance, God reigns, and His purpose is good. May His joy fill your home in this season and always. Merry Christmas!
P.S. Please remember CSM in your prayers and in your budget this month. This has been a very trying year financially, even though opportunities and needs for ministry continue to grow. Year-end contributions are tax-deductible, and deeply appreciated! And, visit our store for excellent audio Bible teaching resources to encourage you and yours in these days.
Scripture reference: Acts 12:23; Daniel 4:17; Matthew 2:2; Matthew 2:16-18; Jeremiah 31:15; Luke 2:52; 1 Corinthians 1:27; Acts 5:38-39; Matthew 26:52; Acts 12:24