The Lost Christmas Story

The Lost Christmas Story

We could call this the ignored story behind Christmas or we could call it, “The Grinch that Almost Stole Christmas.”  As we see the Christmas settings around town there will always be a nativity scene.  We usually see the beautiful manger scene with baby Jesus but there is one missing figure every time.  It’s not Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and it’s not Santa.

Throughout the World Christmas pageants are common and have been a tradition in many churches. Our Sunday School classes have Christmas plays that always include three characters, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  There could also be some angels, wise men, shepherds and/or a few animals. There is one person however that is never in the Christmas pageant.  And it’s right that he not be there for he is the vilest individual one could run into.  But he is an important figure in the story and must be kept in Christmas.

 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.  (Matthew 2:13)

My post revolves around the second chapter of Matthew and verses 13 to 23 of the Holy Bible.  Beginning back in Chapter 1; verse 18, Matthew describes an angel’s message to Joseph in a dream, followed by the journey of the magi in response to the appearance of the star, the magi’s conversation with Herod, their worship of the child, the slaughter of the innocents, and the holy family’s flight into Egypt, precipitated by another revelation to Joseph in a dream.

So, you see, the one figure from the biblical narrative you won’t see portrayed in a child’s Christmas pageant is King Herod. He is way too mean, nasty and evil to be involved on that holy night.

Most of us know the story of the wise men coming into the court of King Herod and asking where they could find the child born King of the Jews.  Herod, was thought of as the King of the Jews and believed he was.  Herod was crafty and thought he could have the foreigners lead him to this child born as King of the Jews and do away with him.  But, the wise men saw through the evil plans of Herod and returned home, “by another way.”   This is usually where the Christmas eve story typically ends.

That was only part one, though, of the two-part story.  The second part is what everyone wants to ignore because the details are just horrific. It gets a “R” rating for the intense violence.  We can’t be sharing this with kids heading home to put out milk and cookies for Santa.  We never want to replace visions of sugarplums with horrible nightmares.

You see, King Herod was enraged when he found out the magi had double crossed him and did not lead him to the Christ Child.  Because of this he sent his soldiers out to commit such an atrocity it ranks up there with Hitler’s deeds.  He commands them to break into every Jewish home in the region in and around Bethlehem, find every male child and cut their throats.

You may or may not know there is a Christmas carol about this wicked action.  It is called the Coventry Carol. The words are a melancholy lullaby, sung by grieving mothers to their dead children:

Herod the King, In his raging,

Charged he hath this day,

His men of might, in his own sight,

All young children to slay.

 

Then woe is me, poor child for thee,

And ever mourn and say,

For thy parting, nor say nor sing,

By, by, lully, lully.

The carol tells the story of everything having been sweetness and light.  But then, it all changed and they heard the pounding of fists on their doors as Herod’s soldiers were after all the newborn sons.   The mothers of the City of David weep their bitter tears, and they cradle their lifeless babies in their arms:

Lullay, Thou little child,

By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod was in his final year of his 41 year reign and he was definitely evil enough to commit these atrocities.  He was king in name only because the Romans were calling the shots then. It was Herod’s job to carry out all the dirty work like subduing a rebellious colony on behalf of the emperor.  And Herod relished his dirty duties.

To let you know the type of guy King Herod was:

During his reign, he had at least nine wives and at least 14 children and perhaps more. He executed one of his wives named Mariamne for adultery, her mother declared herself queen charging Herod was unfit to rule so Herod put her to death without a trial.  There were two young sons from his marriage with Mariamne and he looked at them as a threat so he executed them.  After murdering his wife, mother and two sons he named his eldest son the exclusive heir to the throne.  But then he grew jealous of the crown prince and had him executed. The emperor was so appalled that he refused to allow any of Herod’s remaining sons to claim the title of king- although three of them would eventually rule as “tetrarchs” each governing one third of his father’s realm.

Thirty-three years later, one of them, Herod Antipas, would look upon Jesus at last, as he stood before him in chains, wearing a crown of thorns.

Would anyone doubt that this man was capable of ordering the soldiers to kill babies?

We know that Jesus escaped that fate because an Angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and warned him with instructions to flee to Egypt.  Some may find it troubling that God would send an Angel to rescue Jesus but let all those little babies die.

That is a part of the theological issue we face so often: the problem of evil and sin, the question of why a just and an all-powerful God allows human suffering to take place. With that question answered elsewhere in no easy way, King Herod is well suited to play the role of evil incarnate.

So, Herod does not belong in a Sunday School Christmas pageant or play. But we must not forget about him.

King Herod is important to the Christmas story because he will help us remember what kind of world we live in and why this world needs a savior.  Jesus did not come to the world to bring a mid-winter festival.  He was not born into some Christmas card scene, rather He was born into a World where Families wander homeless and corrupt tyrants rule by murder and deceit.  Jesus didn’t come to offer respite from the world.  He came to save the world.

For us,

His Christmas weary disciples,

We have a role in carrying out the mission, by using the spiritual gifts he gave us along with whatever material resources we have.

It may be easier to remember the mission if we keep King Herod in Christmas.

 

 

 

Hell Yes It’s Real, part 3

Choiceisyours

HUMAN RESPONSES TO HELL

God has always been a God of Life and love. All humans including you were made in His image. (Genesis 1:26-27) He has a high value on human lives and also respects our human ability to choose. God makes His efforts to reach us all and move us to choose His Son to follow and join Him. We all have our entire life to make that choice, however long or short that life may be. Many will reject the truth and choose a path different than what God would desire for them.

Hell is a subject that even the most faithful of humans tend to avoid.  It is an extremely unpopular subject. To think of being permanently separated from God is a much too permanent thought in a world like ours where almost nothing seems permanent. It seems too final.  Everyone seems to think there should be a second chance. But the Bible is clear that this is not a trial run we are in and this life is the only chance we have.  Each person only gets to live life once.  You can use the life you are given by serving God or you can use it rebelling against Him.  God can never be accused of sending people to Hell. People make the choice.  If a person says no to God then they choose to go to Hell.  He doesn’t want them to go there but it is the choice made.[1]

Modern folks are trying to revise the doctrine of hell and to remove the finality of everlasting punishment and one observer asked, “Could it be that the only result of attempts to air condition Hell, however well-meaning they are, will ensure that more and more people wind up there?” R. Albert Mohler,Jr. wrote, “Hell demands our attention in the present, and now confronts evangelicals with a critical test of theological and biblical integrity. Hell may be denied, but it will not disappear.”[2]

Biblical Picture of Reality

We have found in the Bible that Jesus gives us a picture of hell that is truly real. It is awful to say the least and it is forever.  He says it is everlasting. Jesus points out that people should do all they can to avoid it.  With so many people today doubting whether Hell and the anguish and torment it carries are forever and eternal, the teaching of Jesus and His emphasis on the everlasting duration of Hell needs to be highlighted brightly.[3]

The doctrine of Hell is truly an emotional and repulsive thought and everyone is troubled when thinking of someone else going there, let alone the thought of going there yourself.  But there was all this emphatic teaching of Jesus Christ and the authors of the New Testament that we learn from the Bible.  All of these teachers are adamant there will be judgment.  They are all insistent there will be separation because some people will be fortunate and end up in Heaven yet others will be cast into that place where they will exist in weeping and gnashing of teeth.[4]

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT HELL

When the Bible says something it is the truth.  God’s word is infallible.  Think about the simple fact that from the beginning of the Bible in Genesis God pronounced the penalty of death on man due to the sin of Adam. Since that time the life of a human being has been limited to a number of years focusing around seventy.  There is no need to assume anything and all you need to do is turn the pages and look at the evidence for yourself.  Research all the history you want and you will find no man, not one, since the fall of Adam has lived forever.  All have died or been taken up. (Like Enoch) No one has ever escaped that penalty that God declared so long ago in that death would be the penalty for sin.  At times in my profession people begin a sentence with, “If anything should happen to me…” and I always stop them to say, “It will, You will die, we both will die because it is the reality.” There have been billions and billions of people that have taken a step on this earth since then and every single one has tasted God’s penalty for sin which is death.  Could there be any better example of the accuracy, power and truth of god’s word?[5]

Old Testament Doctrine of Hell

When we see the word Hell in the Old Testament it will likely be some translation of the word ‘Sheol’. This term occurs sixty-four times with a rendering toward “Hell” thirty-two times, referencing “grave” twenty-nine times and with a rendering toward “pit” three times. With an examination of Hebrew Scripture the determination will be a primary meaning of (the place or state of the dead.). By substituting the word hell in the place of “grave” or “Sheol” you will be better able to understand the scriptural doctrine on the subject of Hell.

Later in the Old Testament there is a figurative meaning to the word “Sheol” and this time is representing calamity and degradation that comes from sin or the judgment of God. When seen in those scriptures it is plain to see that “Sheol” or “Hell” was used during times of suffering, depravity and mortification. There is a reference to this in Psalm 9: 17, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”[6]

 “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.  Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.  Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.  The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.  Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee” (Psalm 116:3-7) “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20).

Several scriptures in the Old Testament lead us to a view of what will happen to the lost at the end when the world will end.  The wicked will become like chaff or husks of wheat blowing in the wind.   They will look like little pieces of broken pottery.  The wicked will be slain and will exist no more. The evil ones will be become like ashes under the feet of God’s people. In 1 Corinthians we get from Paul that the last enemy that gets destroyed is death itself. “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26).  The annihilation of death is described by John using the lake of fire picture in Revelation 20:14.  For all humans the lake of fire is the second death (Rev 20:14-15; 21:8).[7]

The work of Christ is previewed in Isaiah chapter 11 and this gets echoed in the New Testament.  This is about Jesus work of redemption and gospel ministry to the gentiles.  The judgment to come will provide freedom for some and for others there will be the punishment. Jesus will “strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked” (Is. 11:4) the clear message revealed here is the wicked will be ultimately destroyed.  Yes, Hell is for real. The wicked will not be able to hide or protect themselves when God does “arise”.  The evilness of their own sins will ignite and become a fire that “consumes” them (Is 33:10-11).  They will blaze as easily as “cut thornbushes” and burn so complete “as if to lime” (Is 33:12).  Can any metaphor describe destruction any better than this?[8]

In Isaiah 66 there is a clear picture of what the righteous will see after the wrath of God is poured forth.  The image is food for fire and maggots. “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Is. 66:24). So what the righteous see is corpses and carcasses.  God has executed His judgment and wrath with fire and sword. But the righteous will endure forever and worship God when the wicked are no longer alive. (Is 66:22-23)[9]

This is just a glimpse of what Hell is.. join me next time and have a look at what the New Testament says about Hell. 

Have a Godly day,Choiceisyours

“The Tubthumper”

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Why? Evil and Sin, Why?

GirdloinsThe bombers at the Boston Marathon got me thinking about something I read recently about evil and the universality of sin. It is indisputable that all are sinners and it has been estimated that some 40 billion human beings have lived (or are living) on this earth since God created Adam, the first human. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that perhaps one third of these 40 billion people lost their lives at the hand of another human being. So then, hundreds of millions of living flesh and blood creatures (people) have been stabbed, shot, stoned, strangled, gassed, bombed, burned, buried alive, hung, drowned and yes, blown up by other living flesh and blood creatures. (people) Each person has been given a sin-gauge at birth which is called a conscience. Unfortunately some gauges only have faulty operation and the voice of conscience is defiled. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The exceeding wickedness of sin is unfathomable. We can expect more to continue because the world has rejected the preventive actions of the Word of God, the Son of God and the Spirit of God. Gird your loin’s people for the battle is raging on.

So why has God allowed sin and evil? Couldn’t he have stopped it?

Simply put it is because God created man with a free will.  When he created Adam and then Eve he created them with a high reasoning capacity and the ability to make choices.  It was obviously the choice of God not to create humans as robotic and controlled.  He wanted to give the humans he created in his own image some real freedom.  He offered Adam and Eve a multitude of choices among lots of perfect and good things but he also offered them the choice of an evil thing.

God did not create sin or evil, however he did create the potential for sin by creating the tree of good and evil.  He declared that tree off limits and it was the choice of Adam to go against his creator that has allowed sin to permeate the world.  The day that Adam made that choice he made it for all of mankind. Sin was immediately imputed to the human race, you and I and all the rest of humanity.  God had the ability to create a world where there was no sin and no human suffering.  He chose not to restrict our freedom.  God created both angels and men as intelligent creatures possessing moral natures that could determine and choose between right and wrong.  What if God had stopped Lucifer (Satan), and Adam one second before they sinned.  If that happened He would have, in effect, have violated their moral natures and reduce them to mere walking robots.  That is how I see it.  There is another suggestion some scholars present. 

Actually he did create everything perfect and without evil.  It says in the beginning of Genesis that all of His creation was good. In verse 6 it says that “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”  Then something terrible happened.  An extremely damaging thing happened to all of creation at that first sin.  The Bible says in Romans 8:22 that “… all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Adam and eve wanted space and control and they got it.  Along with it came the sin, death and evil that permeated the world.

The question many ask is, “why did God let anything like that happen?”  After all, He is God!

God could have prevented sin but he chose not to.  He did it for the same reason that we all move ahead to have children.  He did it out of love. It was likely a desire to have a relationship with a being created in His image, much like we want to have a relationship with our children in our own image. (But now, who can know the mind of God?  No one can.) God made the choice to bring Adam and Eve into the world with the risk of choice and we choose to bring children in the world when they have choice.  And our children often make choices that pain our hearts in unimaginable ways.  Love is always the most costly of any actions that anyone can take. 

God created the potential for sin because it was the only way he could create humans with the potential to love and the potential to produce goodness.  He had to offer the bad with the good.  Or the good with the bad, if you will.  But it was not God that made sin a reality. It was man. Satan introduced sin into the universe but it was man that introduced it to our world. 

There is one other suggestion that some scholars give for the allowance of sin. That God allowed man to sin so that he might display His awesome grace.  Before Adam was created God was already exhibiting his omnipresence (in being everywhere at once), his omnipotence (in setting the galaxies into motion), and his omniscience (in creating angels).  However, there was one attribute that was closer to his heart than any other.  It was his grace.  Where there is no sin there is no need of grace.  So that is why some think it was allowed.  As Paul wrote, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20b).  

I don’t think I can accept that one because of the price.  My goodness… take a look what God had to do to correct the situation.  He had to give His only begotten son to pay the price and to free us from eternal punishment due to what was started by Adam.  Love is always the most costly of any actions that anyone can take. 

Have a Godly day,

“The Tubthumper”