An Invader In Diapers — The “Almost Killing Jesus” Sermon

This past Sunday was full of opportunities disguised as obstacles  . . .

I was losing my voice even though I didn’t feel sick;

At 8:30, I confused Chris Macedo with how I received new members, forcing him to audible a time for “turning and greeting.”  He called me out on it, and so when I stepped up to speak I told the congregation that Chris had been loyal team member for seven years but now was moving on to “pursue other interests”;

Wondering if my voice would last until 12:30 made me loss my mental place; 

I met a new friend at one of the services who put the word “atheist” on his name tag (that’s an opportunity!);

I wanted to do an invitation but I wanted it to be “low key.”  In that regard, I probably set the bar lower than I should have.

In spite of all that,  I felt good about the Almost Killing Jesus message which landed on this bottom line:  Jesus will frustrate you when you try to eliminate him.

(I began by reading Matthew 2:13-18 to the congregation.)
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”[c]
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”[d]

            Well. There’s a scene they leave out of most Xmas pageants, don’t they?  I don’t see us using it at our own Xmas Eve “Family Friendly” 5 p.m. gathering.  I’ve never yet seen that story included in one of those Twas The Night Before Christmasillustrated books that granddad reads to his offspring on the holy night. 
            And actually, that horrific night, which has been called the “Massacre of the Innocents” in church history, doesn’t come to us out of thin air.  Because when baby Jesus invaded King Herod’s life, he went all kinds of crazy and this night of weeping is but the culmination of what had started much, much earlier.
            Because look earlier in the same chapter at Matthew 2:3: 

 When King Herod . . .

  “When King Herod”  Now: just who is he?  He was a long time ruler on behalf of the Roman govt. in the area around Jerusalem.  He was half Jewish and half what they call Idumean., he became governor of the region in 47 BC and within 7 years he had been given the title king.  He was ruthless, promiscuous (he had ten wives!), and one of his primary character defects was  paranoia. On the other hand, he was generous – one time he melted down some of  his own gold to help out some of his own subjects.  He kept the peace in Jerusalem and its surroundings, so the Romans liked him.  In that respect he was like the late Saddam Hussein – you wouldn’t want to have him over for dinner, really, but he did keep the order. The trains ran on time. 

            So now to the rest of 2:3: 

 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

Circle that word “disturbed” will you?  And why is Herod disturbed?  Because a king has been born in a land that already has a king.  And the sitting king doesn’t like it!  A battle for authority is begin set up.  And when it says “all Jerusalem with him” – it’s not so much that they didn’t like the thought of a newborn king; it’s more that they knew if Herod’s not happy, nobody’s happy.  But remember: Herod’s authority is being challenged . . . by a baby.  An uninvited, unwelcome, invader in diapers.  And that baby invasion makes this king does all kinds of illogical things (even more than marrying 10 women).  Look at 2:7-8:  

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

 So:  Unnumbered wise men from another land, YOU go find this new king & when you do, let me know where he is.  I want to go and worship him.  So after he was disturbed in 2:3, he is now deceptivein 2:7 because the LAST thing Herod wants to do to this baby invader is to worship him.  He’s got other plans.

            Well, the Magi DO find the baby and family (now perhaps as old as 2 yrs old), and when they find him they bring him presents, starting the tradition that is now the basis of 30% of the economic activity of this country.  But look what happens when the presents are unwrapped and the tinsel is thrown away in 2:12: 

 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Ah, the Magi, aided by the Lord!, frustrate Herod and never give him the report, never provide their GPS coordinates because God in a dream had provided them with info that Herod didn’t want to worship the baby; he wanted something else entirely, which we find out in 2:13: 

 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So the Lord tells Joseph to change directions like the Magi, though does it with more specificity: “to kill him.”

            See, Herod is so threatened by this invader clothed not in a suit of armor but in some pull up Pampers that he takes the approach of the Mafia.  Got a problem?  Eliminate it.  (AV Clip?)  That they do!  Someone invades your territory, threatens your authority, you eliminate them!  That was exactly Herod’s plan – and yet his great plan of elimination meets only with frustration.  The Magi evade.  Joseph Mary amd Jesus escape.  And Herod’s disturbed deception takes a tragic turn into derangement.
            Look at 2:16:  

 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious,

(I DO love the “outwitted”!  Next translation I’m adding “outfoxed” and “outplayed” to it!)  See: Jesus is always one step ahead of Herod. The harder Herod tries to eliminate, the more skillful God is to frustrate.  Which leads to the awful, horrific scene we read at the very beginning, that scene in 2:16: 

 and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Murderous rage.  Infanticide.  Given the size of Bethlehem, most experts figure that we are not talking thousands of little boys or even hundreds.  More like 20 or 30.  And your first thought to that is “Oh, that’s as bad as I first thought.  That’s not so many.”  Unless one of them was yours.  It was a gruesome roundup on Bethlehem and one reason we squirm so much at this scene is because face it:  we’re not used to other people dying for Jesus; we’re used to him dying for other people.  Others don’t sacrifice their lives for him; he does so for them. 

            But do you see what is happening? At every step Herod has been so threatened by the baby invader that he wants to eliminate him from the scene.  He was disturbed and then deceptive and finally so deranged he kills a whole slew of little boys.  And yet Jesus is always one step ahead, thwarting the plans.  The desire for elimination gets met with repeated frustration.  And I look at that pattern and I see how it intersects with us today:  Herod is not the last person to want to eliminate Jesus from his life.  He’s not the last person to have his authority threatened and his autonomy undermined and to respond to it with “out!”  He’s not the last one who got a little deranged at Jesus’ invasion of his turf. 
            See, some of you enjoy having Jesus in THIS part of your life over here but not THAT part as well.  Someone here loves him in church but has eliminated him from your finances.  Someone else here loves to bring his name up in politics but then you’ve eliminated him when it comes to your love of gossip.  Or you on board with Jesus has your ticket to heaven but you have eliminated him from your pathway to reconciliation of broken relationships.  He better forgive you because of that prayer you prayed that time but you darn sure aren’t forgiving that guy who cut you off on Carowinds Blvd.  And others of you have eliminated him when it comes to you and your marijuana.  You like to get chill and if he has a problem with that, then you have a problem with him.
            And then I suspect that more than a few of you have eliminated him altogether.  It’s not just this secret or that habit; you’ve simply landed in a place where you don’t believe anymore.  You can’t believe anymore.  It’s OK.  Even if you were dragged here today against your will, I’m still glad you’re here.  You might think I’m full of it.  Your issues could be intellectual; they could be personal – as in, you tried faith and it made life worse, not better, harder, not easier; or your issue might simply be that you can’t be bothered. Wherever you are on that kind of spectrum, you have effectively eliminated Jesus from your life.
            But if that’s you today, please, please, please notice what happened to Herod.  The baby invaded his life, he tried his dead level best to eliminate him and it never worked!  And I firmly believe nothing has changed!  That he will outwit, outfox, and outplay even you!  That he will frustrate your ongoing efforts to eliminate him.  Here it is:  Jesus will frustrate you when you try to eliminate him.  And he will show up in the most inopportune of times and ways.  Like the sad but true story from Bari Italy where a broken young man resorted to purse snatching to fuel his drug habit.  Yet on 8.10.95, he made an enormous mistake: speeding down a crowded street on his motorcycle he reached out and snatched the purse of . . . his own mother.  Does anyone know how to say “hell to pay” in Italian?  Jesus will frustrate you when you try to eliminate him. 
            Just like the Lord was one step ahead of Herod, he’s one step ahead of you.  He specializes in frustrating those plans that you have that will contribute to your self destruction.  Sometimes we get the hint, but most of the time we don’t.  But he so wants to call out from deep inside what is good and right and loving and what can make a difference in the world and he wants to eliminate all that holds you back. He wants to eliminate all that holds you up.  He puts people and situations and roadblocks and on ramps in your path all designed to bring you home.  My gosh, as a 12 year old I had effectively eliminated Jesus from my life as the loudest atheist in my 6thgrade class.  And I would have continued on that path had not I gotten a “best friend” in high school – everyone needs one of those.  And he’s the one who shook the gospel into me so that it took.  The guy made me so mad that I accepted Christ!  Jesus will frustrate you when you try to eliminate him. 
            Or even this email from something that happened here: READ 

Hey Talbot, I met a friend today who told me he has a year sober.  I was listening to him talk and he said that one day a year ago he wandered into church, which he never does.  And at that church, the pastor was talking about recovery a lot.  He said the pastor talked all about AA and the 12 steps.  He said he knew God was speaking to him and he hasn’t had a drink since.  I told him that was cool and asked what church.  He said it was . . . Good Shepherd.  I thought that was cool.
 You could be that guy today!  Can’t believe there’s a church that talks as much about recovery as we do! And you know your higher power is taking on the name of the Highest Power, Jesus himself.  Jesus will frustrate you when you try to eliminate him. 

            Matthew tells this story of Almost Killing Jesus and killing a whole lot of innocent boys (he could have left it out) because he wants to emphasize the degree to which God will protect his mission.  That God’s objective of YOU in his kingdom started a long time ago and will not be dissuaded by a murderous king or anyone else.  I love the parallels here. Who else in Scripture was a miraculous survivor of infanticide?  Moses!  Where?  Egypt!  Where does baby Jesus flee to?  2:13 tells us: READ.  Jesus is the new, upgraded Moses!  Matthew is so wise and skillful in how he tells his mostly Jewish audience about their Savior.  And your efforts at elimination will meet with that same frustration because God has been about defying the odds in people’s lives for a long, long time.  I just pray that you will see your current misery, your current predicament, even your current depression for the divine frustration that it is.  Jesus will frustrate you when you try to eliminate him. 
            Because look at 2:19: 

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt

  He started out disturbed, then deceptive, then deranged and now DEAD.  The would-be eliminator gets eliminated himself and even his son can finish what dad started:

 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,
 The frustration continues beyond Herod even to today.  I believe that Jesus will frustrate you all the way to the altar where you can fully surrender to the earth shattering declaration: He is Lord.  Jesus will frustrate you when you try to eliminate him.