St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-01-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-01-2017

Where Were You?

Isaiah 63:7-9, Hebrews 2:10-18, Matthew 2:13-23

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

It’s a wonderful thought to believe that God is in control of everything; even more wonderful to think that God makes everything happen according to God’s divine plan to glorify God! Wonderful, that is, until tragedies and horrors occur.

As a pastor I often have people ask, in one phrasing or another, “Why does God let such terrible things happen?” Or sometimes, with an even more difficult expression of misunderstanding, “Why does God cause such terrible things to happen?” And, as a pastor, I often hear others answer these questions, in one phrasing or another, “It’s God’s will”! Sometimes adding something like, “It’s a part of His great plan. We may not understand it but it’s the way He wants it”. Today’s Gospel reading is one of the texts that will raise such questions and cause us to ask “Why”.

It has to be one of the most horrible stories in the Gospels; even in the whole New Testament. Maybe second only to the crucifixion of our Lord but even that could be argued. Either way the “Slaughter of the Innocents”, as we commonly call it, is an awful story of unimaginable cruelty mixed into the most joyful story of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is an event that can lead us to ask “Why”, why would God allow, or cause, such a terrible thing to happen? Our answer is found right here in the nativity story as presented by Matthew.

In our Christmas Eve reading, in the part of the story where Mary is found to be pregnant according to God’s plan, we found the words…

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

Later in Matthew’s account, when he recalls Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem we read, again…

This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

In all, we find the phrase “this took place to fulfill…” 11 times in Matthew’s Gospel. So, yes, God is in control of God’s Divine plan.

However, when it comes to the Slaughter of the Innocents we might notice something a little different. Matthew is careful not to involve God in this act with the words, “Then was fulfilled…”

That phrase is found only twice in Matthew’s writing: here where we read of the Slaughter of the Innocents…

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

…And nearer the end of Matthew’s writing, when Judas throws his blood money into the temple where we read…

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field…”

It is a subtle difference in our translation but it is important to notice! Looking more closely, in this way, we learn that God is in control of God’s divine plan but is not in control of “everything”. And this brings into view another important distinction in Matthew’s writing; the distinction of those working with God in bringing God’s plan to fruition and those working against that plan on their own accord for the completion of their own plan.

In every instance where Matthew uses the phrase “All this took place to fulfill…” it is connected to a human responding to God’s message:  When Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” and Joseph was told, by an Angel, to not be afraid to marry her, he reacted according to God’s plan. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey he did so according to God’s plan. It’s the same in all the other occurrences of the “All this took place to fulfill…” phrases.

But in the two “Then was fulfilled…” incidents, someone is acting unilaterally outside of God’s plan: Herod having the children killed in and around Bethlehem; and Judas with his blood money.

God had a plan and it was fulfilled according to Scripture in spite of those who would have it otherwise.

This brings us back to the beginning of today’s sermon and the thoughts of God having control of everything. We can see by Matthew’s writing that God is not in control of everything. He is not in control of everything because he is not in control of everyone.

Joseph, even after hearing the words of the angel in his dream, still had the choice to stay with Mary or not. He chose to take an active part in God’s plan. Jesus had the choice to ride into Jerusalem even knowing it meant his horrible doom. He chose to be an active part in God’s plan.

God doesn’t allow or cause the terrible things to happen in our world. The only responsibility God may bear in the horrors is having given us free will. But as God does, God also calls us to be active participants in fulfilling the master plan; the plan for peace on earth, good will toward mankind. It is our choice to decline the invitation, or to accept and take part in fulfilling the plan.

As I wrote this message I was reminded of a meme I saw not too long ago. In it was a drawing of a distressed man sitting on a park bench next to Jesus. The man, with his face in his hands asks Jesus “All this violence and killing, in nations and in our streets; so many are starving and lacking proper care; all this suffering; Lord, how can you let such things happen”? Jesus replies “That’s funny, Ron, I was about to ask you the same thing”




Isaiah 63:7-9
63:7 I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
63:8 For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely”; and he became their savior
63:9 in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.


Hebrews 2:10-18
2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
2:11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,
2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
2:13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”
2:14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
2:15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.
2:16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.
2:17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.
2:18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Matthew 2:13-23
2:13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
2:14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,
2:15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
2:16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
2:19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,
2:20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”
2:21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.
2:23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”