In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Baby boys being bashed to death. It is a horrible fact of history. A testament that wickedness abounds in the heart of mankind. What did those poor boys do to be denied life? Where was God? I tell you, He was in the very middle of that suffering. In fact, God was so heartbroken about this wicked act that He prophesied about this through Jeremiah some 500 years before it happened. Jeremiah said it was so awful that Israel’s wife, Rachel—dead and turned to dust a thousand years, who had given birth to one of her two sons nearby—was grieving in her grave over these beautiful boys. If she who was dead for nearly 2000 years wept for these for children, how much more does God the Father of all weep for them?
Even the saints of old shared in this suffering. Israel, the father of Twelve sons which became the Twelve Tribes of Israel, was led by God into Egypt. Egypt of all places! Egypt was fertile, wealthy, and worldly. In the Bible it became known as the house of affliction for though God multiplied Israel there, making a great nation of him that nation also became slaves to the king of Egypt. God led Israel to Egypt where his family became slaves. This was God’s plan. No, God does not delight in our suffering, but He led them there knowing what would happen and how He would save them from slavery. Let me repeat that, God led them into slavery.
God allowed these things in order to save His people. It is better to suffer because of Him and not on account of what your own sins bring on you. But even your earned suffering He uses to changes you by it and save you from yourself. With your eyes you can only see the pain you are going through. But God uses suffering to mould and fashion you and me into the people He wants us to be. He even takes these dastardly dilemmas you find yourself in and uses them for your good!
In your suffering He shields you, leading you to freedom from the slavery of your sin. For suffering is a cross you carry, just as your Saviour said you would. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24-26) You suffer with Him, on account of Him, alongside Him. His suffering is your glory, just as your suffering as His beloved is His glory.
Your suffering is a crucible God uses to burn off wicked desires and character flaws in you. (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4) He doesn’t make you righteous by it. He has already declared you righteous when He finished suffering the price of your sin on the cross (John 19:28-30), and has baptized you into His suffering and cross. (Romans 6:3-4) He will make you righteous when He comes again in glory. But now, He uses your suffering to turn you from yourself and your sinful weakness, to Him and His higher ways. He uses your crosses to bless you and your loved ones, to keep you from greater harm, to teach you to shun evil, to cause you to rely on Him, to cause you to stop loving yourself only and love the people He puts in your life, and sometimes your crosses force you to receive their love in return and through them, His love for you.
God took Israel and his whole clan to temporary safety in Egypt, saving them from a famine, only to allow them to be enslaved. But even then He used their suffering to turn them back to Himself, teaching them to call on Him. At the peak of their pain He sent a son from their own family, Moses. Moses escaped a slaughter of Hebrew baby boys declared by the Egyptian king, by escaping into the King’s own house. There in the house of affliction he grows strong til He must wander in his own wilderness of woe before being sent to save His people. Do you see a pattern here? It occurs again and again in Scripture till it is fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus allows this pattern to occur in our lives too.
But we get caught up on that horrific detail, the slaughter of the holy innocents. We can’t imagine the death of babies being good. For it is not. It is evil. Yet our God works good in it. He preserves the Saviour of all humankind and He is faithful to His Word. For those baby boys were circumcised Jews. They were part of His covenant. They were under His grace, under His protection. But ponder this, the awfulness of that slaughter is not for those baby boys, it is for us, for the mothers, the fathers, the families, those remaining below mourning them and having to confront how evil this world is. But those boys, they entered paradise. They suffered for Jesus’ sake. They were counted worthy of Him by His grace. That was their cross to bear, and they rest in His peace. They are with Him in honour and glory, by His gracious salvation of them.
You see the problem when anyone dies young is you and I think that God is holding out on us. Repent. There are no “premature” deaths. God has numbered your days. (Job 14:1-2, 5-6) Those who are His through the covenant of Holy Baptism always have precisely the right number of days on earth. It does not matter how many earthly days or years they had, or whether they had had a chance to experience all that life has to offer or not, for they now have true, eternal life. They have life to the full. (John 10:10) They have bliss, in the perfection of Eden, the new heaven, the new earth, the new garden where they in glory shine. God has held nothing back from them. Rather, He has given His all for them, including His own Son, His very life.
You’ve all suffered. You’ve all experienced your God’s compassion and sustaining power in the midst of your sufferings. Here below we suffer with Jesus. But persevere, for He promises His greatest blessings are not here below, but waiting above.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON