Christmas and Infanticide

Christmas and infanticide are forever related and linked.

That may sound strange. Christmas is supposed to be a happy occasion. Food, family, and presents are the order of the day. And thoughts about baby Jesus, of course.

The tame, mild baby Jesus who was born in a manger, surrounded by cute, cuddly animals (all who could be at a modern day petting zoo, of course), doted on by his parents, and visited by some dumbfounded shepherds.

This view helps us maintain the sentimentality of the season. Fuzzy feelings and sugar plum thoughts.

But let’s not forget the rest of the story.

The wise men came bearing gifts for a king, intending to give homage. But the ruler of the land, Herod, a bloodthirsty tyrant, became jealous for his own power. He was troubled. And he was right to be troubled.

For make no mistake, the story of Christmas is the story of the first gambit in the last battle of a long war. It is the rightful king coming to take up his throne. The prince who would raise up the lowly, and throw down the prideful. Prideful people just like Herod.

And so Herod had every child under the age of two years old slaughtered. Mass murder. Infanticide. Mothers weeping as their children were stolen from their arms.This is as much a part of the Christmas story as the angels singing “Peace on earth,” but we don’t sing many carols about Rachel weeping for her children.

In a nation like ours that routinely murders its own children as a matter of convenience, it is a part of the story that we can never forget. Bundled up in the Christmas story is a clear picture of why Christmas had to happen in the first place. The world is dark. The world is sinful. The world is begging for light.

When the Bible says Herod was troubled, it also says that all of Jerusalem was troubled with him (Matthew 2:3). Their salvation from tyrants, like Herod, had been born, and yet they sided with the tyrant. They empathized with the man who would kill their children not long after.

It is no different today. Our own Herods nod approvingly as they allow the slaughter of millions of innocents, in numbers that might have made the original Herod blush. And we nod right along with them. We have our excuses. Some of them even sound reasonable, on the surface. But that is par for the course with sin. It always sounds reasonable, right up to the point where it demands your very life, or the life of someone you love.

We think we are an enlightened people. Because science…or something. But we are no better than Herod and his ilk. Perhaps, we are even worse.

Christmas is a time for celebration. So celebrate. But know what you are celebrating: the hope of a final victory of over darkness. A darkness that casually calls for the slaughter of children on a whim. A darkness that still calls for the slaughter of children.

This is the very darkness that Christ stepped down into, so that it would flee like a swarm of cockroaches.

Merry Christmas. And may the light continue to scatter the darkness.

 

More Necessary for Us to Remain – Father’s Day Reflection

Every father is a pastor and a preacher. Every father is a shepherd. You are leading somebody to somewhere. You are teaching somebody about something. These are unavoidable. Even if you abdicate these responsibilities out of laziness and selfishness, you are still fulfilling them in some fallen, marred way. They follow you into the pit of cowardice. They learn the lesson of….whatever.

And woe to those who would cause a little one to stumble. (Matthew 18:6) It is a responsibility that should make us tremble.

Yet, God always gives blessings with responsibility. At this point, I can’t think of a greater gift than when my daughter yells “Daddy!”, runs up to me, grabs my hand, and drags me to the latest mischief she’s gotten herself into. I’m sure my son will be the same way, although I assume his mischief will entail more of a combination of mud and scraped knees. It is a delight. It is a privilege.

It is something that has eternal consequences.

Our children are a precious gift, but they are not to stay the same as they are. Their souls need to be converted just like our souls. They are lumps of iron that need to be forged into sharp arrowheads (Psalm 127:4).

If you are a father, your children are the main reason you are here. And like Paul, our sentiment should be directed by Heaven, but bound to earth.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this,I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:20-26, ESV)

Our work is fruitful labor (Proverbs 22:6). He gave you a wife because he desires Godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). He commands us to never stop teaching them the ways of righteousness (Deut. 6:7 and 11:9). Every hour of every day is somehow devoted to this task. You imitate Christ, not only for your own sake, but for the sake of the souls put under your charge.

It is good to long to be with Christ. But for those of us with children, with the weight of a kingdom on our shoulders, it is more necessary for us to remain. For their account. We long for Christ, but first, we must bring Christ to them.

And so we should desire to stay here. If Paul thought it better on the Philippians account that he should remain and minister to them, how much more so our own children?

Thanks be to God that this heavy responsibility comes in the form of a gift, and is first made light with unspeakable joy.

Are all sins equal? (Or, Quench an Idol’s Thirst)

Every sin is against a holy God, and against Him only do we sin (Psalm 51:4). This, with the fact that we are all guilty and deserve death (Romans 6:23), can sometimes tempt us to flatten all offenses  and treat them all as equal. After all, James 2:10-11 says that if you fail to keep the law in one point, you are accountable to the whole law.

Jesus and the Pharisees

One of the warnings given against any kind of ranking is that is the temptation of pride, to act like the Pharisee who looks over at the sinner, and thanks God that he is not like him (Luke 18:9-14). While the sin and temptation to act like a Pharisee is perennial, we often are blind to what the sins of the Pharisees actually were, even though Jesus spells it out quite clearly for us time and again. We are never more like Jesus’s disciples than when we are like this: befuddled, confused, and always missing the point.

What were Jesus’s actual criticisms of the Pharisees?

Matthew 23: 23 – 24

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

There are weightier matters of the law. And some things are gnats while some are camels.

In the Sermon on the Mount, which is partly a response to the “rightouesness” of the Pharisees, Jesus says in Matthew 7:3-5:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (ESV)

Some matters are a speck, and some are a log. The fact that they both impair eyesight does not mean they are equal.

And lest we forget, Jesus also explicitly says that there are some commandments that are greater than others.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:37-39 ESV)

If certain commandments are more important, it makes sense that breaking those commandments would be a more serious matter.

Of course, this is not to ignore the other commandments. But some are foundational, and some are not. Some commandments are downstream from other commandments, caught up by the momentum of the current.

Finally, let’s not forget the the true unpardonable sin, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29). If we can’t say that this sin is worse than others, does the Christian have any basis of making any value judgments at all? Do words mean anything?

So what was one glaring part of the Pharisees’ problem? Not that they weighted sins differently, but the fact that they weighted sins improperly.

God’s Character Revealed in the Old

I’ve discussed the continuity of the covenant in some other places, and it is important here too to reiterate that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New. His character is revealed in both.

Every sin is against a holy God. But has that same God made known that some are more despicable than others? Should we, perhaps, pay attention? The entire law is filled with sins that are given different penalties. Read Ezekiel 8. Some things are more detestable to God than others.

And then, mercy gets bumped further up in the line, for God desires mercy, and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). That is an astounding statement, because sacrifice is the very thing that makes it tolerable for God to dwell near his people.

Blood guilt was (and still is) a very real thing, but stipulations were made to take into account motive. Was it an accident or premeditated (Deut 19:4)?  That state of heart made a difference in the severity.

And in the New Testament…Continued

Why did Jesus say it would be worse for Sodom than a town that denied hospitality to his disciples? The sins of Sodom were great, but they didn’t seem to light a candle to some of the sins of the generation Jesus preached to.

And what about those who turned Jesus over to be crucified?

Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin. (John 19:11 ESV)

When we get to Paul, we see the same thing. Paul’s list of qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy assumes that some sins will disqualify someone from being an elder.

Then there is the curious statement in 1 Cor. 6:18:

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

Sexual sin is a serious matter. Not only is it a sin against the body committing it, its so bad that God uses the sin itself as a judgement against the wicked (Romans 1). In many ways, it is its own punishment.

This even applies to doctrine itself. Of first importance…(1 Cor 15:3-5). God doesn’t hold to irreducible materialism, and neither should you. Some things are the foundation of the house, and some things are just the window trimmings. If we take pride in assuming they are of the same importance, people will rightly give us funny looks when we try to construct an addition to the house and start with laying down the curtains.

Why We Cringe

Why do we react against the simple truth that not all sins are equal? There are three main reasons.

 1. Flattening all sins helps us justify our obsession over pet issues.

We all have pet issues, things that we like to focus on to help create our own illusion that we are more righteous than someone else or some other group. If all sins are equal, that helps us pretend that the faith itself is at stake! If all commandments and sins were NOT equal, we would be forced to give our fellow brothers some slack when they did not agree with us on our favorite issue, and therefore realize our personal passion isn’t the most important thing ever since the Resurrection. It slows us down from devouring one another (Gal 5:15).

Weighting sins and commandments properly is a powerful corrective against sectarianism. If you must love God and love your neighbor above all else, then you must love God and love your neighbor above all else. Looking over at the adulterer, and feeling smug because you never cheated on your wife, is completely foreign to the two greatest commandments. Looking over the guy drinking a beer, and congratulating yourself on your teetotalism, is actually hating your neighbor.

So we, like the Pharisees, ask “Who is our neighbor?”, desperately hoping Jesus doesn’t point over there and say…that guy.

Most of the time, these are traditions that have been elevated, but this even applies for those matters that are not traditions. And this where wisdom must come in. Real life is messy, and it cannot be navigated properly with a simple pietism. This leads to our next point…

2. The desire for simple, immature, and straightforward pietism.

One reason that men desire to collapse everything into an indistinguishable glob of goo, including the weight of certain sins, it makes things easier to discern. If everything is black and white, we can just descend into a simplistic form of pietism that requires minimal wisdom. We don’t want to grow up. We don’t want to eat solid food. We don’t want to the constant practice it requires (Heb. 5:14). At least, until the real world slaps us in the face, and then it all collapses. When that happens, we just thank God we’re not like those other people over there, and congratulate ourselves for not compromising and keeping ourselves pure.

Take the cliched scenario of Nazis looking for Jews. If you were hiding Jews in your basement, and the Nazis came knocking, it will not do to wring your hands over lying, or stand tall in your obedience of Romans 13. If you do either, you are not being righteous. You are being a coward. The command for mercy trumps many things. You could even say it is a weightier matter of the law.

3. The most important commandments are really, really hard to obey.

Other people are annoying. I mean, they’re other people after all. Sometimes they smell funny.

Idols also have much too easy of a time settling down in our hearts, and finding a cozy spot on the couch. And then we offer them some iced tea before kissing their feet.

If we are honest, we must admit that we fail in the greatest commandments every single day. We are guilty. But if all sins are equal, perhaps we can take some misplaced solace in the fact that we have succeeded in something monumental.” I haven’t committed adultery and I don’t steal. I must be doing pretty good.” When we try and flatten all sins, we imagine them as deep as the kiddie pool, below our knees. If we don’t commit some, we can high-step it out of this muck.

In reality, the muck is constantly over our heads, and we are drowning. If we miss out on the greatest commandments, the others do not matter. And that is uncomfortable.

We are not in need of weeding our garden. We are in need of a strip-mining crew to lay it bare, haul in new soil, and reseed the cursed ground. Only once we treat the greatest commandments as the greatest commandments, does weeding the garden even make any sense. Only when we have this perspective does tithing out of the spice rack have any value.

From Promised Land to Promised Earth

Jesus doesn’t make up the Beatitudes on the spot. Each one has several Old Testament referents, and have long been part of the Word of God. What he does do, however, is inject more weight into them from a New Covenant/Kingdom of God context, which means greater glory and greater promises. This follows with the general direction of the history of the people of God (and consequently the history of the world): marching on toward ever greater things.

The most obvious example is the one directed toward the meek, which alludes directly to Psalm 37:11.

Psalm: “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.”

Matthew: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

But notice the key difference. The “land” has now become the “world.” The potential inheritance has grown.

This is consistant with the rest of the New Testament, as we see hints that the entire earth itself is the new promised land.

Paul says that the promise to Abraham, which in the OT was couched in terms of the “land”, was really that he would be the heir of the world. And we, as his children, have the same inheritance. (Rom. 4:13)

Likewise, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:2, that the saints are to judge the world. That is, to perform kingly duties, to discern between good and evil while partaking of Jesus, the Tree of Life. That is to be expected, since Revelation 5:10 says explicitly that God has made us both kings and priests, for the purpose of ruling on the earth, which you would think is so obvious and plain written, that no Christian would deny the fact. But we Christians are experts at discounting obvious parts of the Bible, and when we do, we’re called a “scholar.”

Here’s another one. When Paul quotes the fifth commandment in Ephesians 6:2 as still applicable to children, he calls it the first commandment with a promise: “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” But here, he’s not talking about the old land of Canaan. Why would the Ephesians care about that? Here, as everywhere else in the New Testament, the promise has expanded, and “land” has become “earth.”

It shouldn’t surprise us that God has made some glorious promises for his people. They are so glorious, so gracious, and so world-changing, that its understandable that we find them hard to believe. For some reason, however, we tend to believe that just the opposite is what God has in store for the world.

Which is a just tad ungrateful. It’s like turning down a filet mignon in favor of finding dinner in the dumpster out back, and thinking you’re doing the cook a favor.

Thanksgiving Psalms and Food

Psalm 147:9

He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry. (ESV)

Psalm 136:25

he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 111:5

He provides food for those who fear him.

Psalm 104:14-15

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

Psalm 104:27, talking about all of creation:

These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

In fact, just go read Psalm 104 in its entirety. I’ll wait until you are finished.

Done?

Jesus is probably pulling from the ideas expressed in these (certainly not exhaustive) Psalms, and in turn from Deuteronomy when he says in Matthew 6:26

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

We are the same as the animals because, like them, we are completely dependent on God. But we are not like them, because we are in the image of God, and are more valuable.

So do not worry. Be thankful, for our Father’s mercy endures forever. Be filled with good things.

Happy Thanksgiving.