A King's Selfish Cruelty and the Fulfillment of Prophecy (Matthew Sermon 3 of 151)
January 03, 1999 | Andy Davis
Death & Dying, Bible Prophecy, The Birth of Christ, Providence and Sovereignty of God
I would like to invite you now to turn in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 2. We are going to continue our series in Matthew with verses 13-23. I think as we look at the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century, the theme of the leadership of God is an important one. It's a confusing age we live in, isn't it? You might know something right now about the Internet, or about computers, or about technology and one year from now it will be obsolete. Times are changing so quickly, so fast that it can be very confusing. And the society around us is not what it used to be, things are new and different, many of them worse, and it is a time in which we really do need the leadership of God, don't we? And the beauty of the verses we are going to look at this morning is, they show so clearly the leadership of Joseph and Mary through the angels, and that is an immediate guidance that God gives. So that they know always at every step in the road where they are supposed to go, what they are supposed to do. And that is comforting to us as Christians, isn't it? And not only that, but a more remote guidance through the words of the prophecies that were being fulfilled one after another. God had laid it all out ahead of time in the words of His holy prophets, and all of it was being fulfilled. So the leadership and the guidance of God is a very comforting theme. But there is a darker side to the verses we are going to look at today because included in them is the slaughter of innocent babies. And I think as Christians we do ourselves and we do those who we are preaching to no favors to turn away from the hard issues of scripture, because we're afraid to answer them or face them head on. How is it that God could be so active in leading Joseph and Mary, protecting them and getting them where He wanted them to be, and yet these babies are slaughtered? How can that be?
I. Meat, Not Milk
When babies come into the world, they are given the capability to suck and to derive nourishment for themselves through milk. As they grow, they develop teeth. Any of you who have had little children who are teething know what it feels like to have that little tooth pierce your fingers. You stick it in the mouth and you say, "Don't bite." But there is that little tooth and what is the tooth for? It is so that more and more foods can be digested, moving up from being a babe to being a more mature Christian.
And so the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, "I couldn't speak to you as spiritually mature but as babes, because you didn't have your spiritual teeth, you weren't mature." But there are doctrines in scripture that are difficult. They are challenging. They are meat, not milk and we are going to see that this morning. So I think it is best for us to just roll up our sleeves and see the encouragement of God's leadership, but also deal with the issue of how these babies could be slaughtered and God still be a good and powerful God.
Listen now to Matthew 2:13-23, "When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, 'Get up! Take the child and his mother and go to the land of Egypt, for Herod is going to search for the child to try to kill him.' So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt 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.' When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious and 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. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled, '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.' After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel for those who are trying to take the child's life are dead.' So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 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, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, 'He will be called a Nazarene.'"
II. The Escape to Egypt: Echoes from the Past (vs. 13-15)
Do you see the theme there of the leadership, the guidance of God as angels keep stepping in and telling Joseph and Mary what to do? We see the first in verses 13-15, the escape to Egypt, which I call echoes from the past. Now, put yourself in Joseph and Mary's position at this point. The Magi had just left, and the Magi were strange visitors, weren't they? We talked about them last week. Perhaps they came in strange clothes and they brought rare and costly gifts, but I still think it must have been very encouraging to Joseph and Mary to have them come. And they had come from a distant land, they had seen the star, and I think it was just one more confirmation in a series of confirmations that the Angel Gabriel's words to Mary were true, that this really was the Son of God come to earth. And so that was a very affirming time, a very warm and joyous time. And so Joseph and Mary put the baby Jesus down to sleep and then they went to sleep themselves. But Joseph didn't have a good night's sleep that night, did he? His sleep was interrupted by an angel. An angel said, "Get up (immediately, right away, and take the mother and his baby) to Egypt… for Herod is going to search for the child (to try) to kill him."
You know those mountain top experiences in life don't last long, do they? We go through a time of being close to God and things are wonderful, we have a sense of fulfillment, God is working in our lives and then immediately in comes crashing a new trial, something, a new challenge, something to deal with. Well, Joseph responded as he always did with simple obedience. He did what he was told. And the angel's message was a harsh one, wasn't it? "Escape," it says. "Escape to Egypt." The word in the original language is pheugo, we get the word fugitive from that. He was called to be a fugitive. You know what other word comes from it? Another word is refugee, refugee. Those aren't pretty words, are they? That Jesus, the Son of God, should be a fugitive, running away from people who are trying to kill him. That Jesus, the Son of God, would be a refugee in Egypt. It is not a pretty picture, is it? But that is exactly what the angel told Joseph to do.
Now, when I was working as a missionary in Pakistan, I had the privilege, the joy, of ministering to some Afghan refugees who had come over the border into Pakistan. We were in Peshawar, Pakistan, right over the border. That was during the time of the war with Russia. That was a terrible war. And actually I think for a period of time, I do not know if it is still true, there are more landmines in Afghanistan than in all of Europe put together, if you can imagine that in all the wars that were going on, and World War II and all that. Everywhere they went, there were explosions. You just stayed to a certain path because if you didn't, you might lose a limb or even a life. But what really struck me about these Afghan refugees was the look of terror in the faces of some of them. You would sense that they had really run for their lives, that at any moment they are afraid that a Russian helicopter gunship could come around a hill and then start to shoot at them. Many of them had lost loved ones, a mother or father, someone too aged to run, or perhaps even separated from a spouse. And they didn't know if their wife or their husband was still alive. Perhaps they had even lost some of their children. I don't know if you remember at that time there was a picture on the cover of National Geographic of an Afghan refugee, a beautiful young girl, 16 years old, and a look of terror frozen in those beautiful eyes. She had green eyes, haunting eyes.
And that is what God called Joseph and Mary and Jesus to undergo as they went on that road down to Egypt. Now, we don't really know where they went in Egypt. Some people speculate that they went down to Alexandria. There was a large Jewish population there. That is where the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the Old Testament, was done. We don't really know where they went, but we do know that they went to Egypt.
Also, in terms of speculation, people wonder what happened to the gold, frankincense and myrrh. I don't really have any idea, maybe in their haste they left it behind. Some people speculate that they were taken with them to pay for their trip. But it was a dangerous journey that God was calling them to go on. There were poisonous vipers. There were lions and other animals that could attack them along the road. There were highwaymen that could be there to steal gold, frankincense, and myrrh from anyone that might be carrying things like that. And how much more, Herod's soldiers who might be breathing down their necks. So it was a terrifying journey that they went on, and they flew down to Egypt.
Now, I call this echoes of the past because it is ironic in a way that King Herod should chase them to Egypt. Now, he didn't know that he was chasing them to Egypt, but that is exactly what his command did. Because Herod himself, believe it or not, had been a refugee at one point. Herod the Great, around the year 25 BC, was chased out of Palestine by an invading army, the Parthians. And do you know where he went? He went where most Jews went when they are chased out of Palestine, he fled to Egypt. He fled to Egypt. And it is a little bit ironic that echo of the past, that Herod, who himself had undergone that kind of persecution, that kind of terror, should force Joseph and Mary along that same path.
But there really is an older echo here and that is a fulfillment of prophecy. Look down in verse 15. It says in verse 15, "And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my Son." Now, the Book of Hebrews says, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways." God speaks to us through the prophets at many times and in various ways because he has different things to say to us, and he uses different genres of communication. But all of the prophecy, taken as a body, points to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament word of prophecy. It points to him in one way or another.
Now, there are two types of prophecies coming from the Old Testament. There is what you could call verbally predictive prophecy, and in that case some aspect of Jesus' life is just predicted verbally, straight out. Let me give you an example of that. That would be Isaiah 7:14, which says, "The Virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son," etcetera. It just tells straight out what is going to happen in Jesus' life. But then there's a whole other body of prophecy called typically predictive prophecy. These are called types. In other words, that some aspect of Old Testament history acts out some part of Jesus' life. And that is, I think, what we get here is actually a blending of verbally predictive prophecy and a typically predictive prophecy.
Perfect examples of typically predictive prophecy are the sacrifices, the animal sacrifices. Every time a bull or a goat or a sheep was sacrificed it was a picture of Jesus Christ who would die one day on the cross for sin. Jesus' blood shed on the cross was reflected earlier by those animal sacrifices. So the blending of prophecy is a beautiful thing. And Matthew, throughout this gospel, is going to be saying time and again, "And so the word of the prophet was fulfilled." "And so Isaiah the Prophet was fulfilled." Or, "So what was said through Jeremiah was fulfilled." Time and again the theme of fulfillment in Jesus. I love that word fulfill. I get the sense that the Old Testament prophets were setting out vessels, cups of different sizes and shapes in front of us and then as things happened in Jesus' life they were filled up; each one was filled up. And there are some empty vessels and they were filled up right to the very end.
Remember when Jesus died in John's gospel, it said, "Then Jesus... " Because there was one more prophecy to be fulfilled said, "I thirst," do you remember that? And so the prophecy was that He would drink bitter gall right before He died. So it was like the last cup right before he died and had to be filled up too. So the whole life of Jesus set out in the words of the prophets.
Well, this is an interesting one, though, "Out of Egypt I called my Son." Have you ever taken a New Testament quotation of a prophecy and gone back in the Old Testament and read it? Have you ever been confused by how it doesn't really seem to fit in? Or you don't understand how it could apply to Christ? The thing that is interesting here is, it is in the book of Hosea. Now, Hosea the Prophet says... Here is the full verse, it says, "When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son." So there God is speaking of His love relationship with the whole nation of Israel. In effect, He said, "I adopted these people. They are my people. They are like my son. And I love them and out of Egypt, I called my Son." But their exodus, their coming out of Egypt, under the leadership of Moses, was also a picture of one, the only true, only begotten Son of God coming out one day of Egypt and returning to the Promised Land, to Israel. It is a predictive prophecy of the life of Christ.
III. Herod’s Selfish Cruelty: Written in the Scrolls (vs. 16-18)
In verses 16-18, we see the second fulfillment, and that is in Herod's selfish cruelty. Now, this whole thing had been written in the scrolls before any of it came to be. It says in verse 16, "When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious." He was outraged. He was apoplectic, beside himself with anger. "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."
Now, last week, we began to be introduced to King Herod the Great. What was it that made Herod great? Well, he was great at collecting taxes. He was great at building big buildings. He was a great politician. He was great in his ability to put down rebellions and so keep himself in favor with the Romans. But he was not a great man. We are going to meet a great man next week. His name is John the Baptist. Now, he was a great man. But Herod the Great was not a great man. As a matter of fact, Herod the Great was a small man. He was a coward. He was a fearful man, inside. Now, he could be clever and he could be generous when it suited his purpose. I alluded to this a little bit last week. Herod would collect taxes, but if there came to be economic difficulties, he would kick back some of the taxes back to the people. Don't you wish North Carolina would do that? Or the federal government? Have any of you experienced that? A tax rebate.
I have lived in Massachusetts, Kentucky, and North Carolina. I have never seen a tax rebate. I feel like if they collect more taxes than they need, if there is a surplus, they should give it back. But they never do. But you see, King Herod, now, he did. He gave some of it back so that the people could keep going economically. Well, that was a smart move, wasn't it? Because it established his reputation with the people. They were not as likely to overthrow him or to challenge his authority because he was this kind of a king. There was another time during a famine when he took some of his own gold and he gave it to the poor so that they would have something to eat. I am sure he announced it with trumpets so that everyone would know what he did because that suited his purpose. But he could be very clever in that way. He could be generous when it suited his purpose. But he could be absolutely ruthless if his throne was threatened in any way. He would crush anyone who got close to his seat of authority in his power.
One of his brothers-in-law, Aristobulus, did just that. It was his wife's brother, can you believe this? He had him murdered. He had him drowned. And then do you know what this hypocrite did? He put on a lavish state funeral and he wept at this man's funeral. Cried in front of everyone. "Alas, my brother, my brother," he cried over him. What a hypocrite. But you see the common theme here? Herod is insecure over his throne. He is insecure over his position in this world, and he wanted to hold onto it. And when Herod realized, it says, that he had been outwitted by the Magi, the word means played with like a child or scorned or mocked in some way. Now, the Magi, I don't think, were trying to do this, they just escaped because the angel told them, "Don't go back to Jerusalem." But he felt as though they had played with him, and he became outraged. But this was his natural reaction when his throne was threatened, wasn't it?
What is really remarkable is why it did not happen the first time. Do you ever think about that? Why didn't he give orders to search for Jesus and kill him the first time, when the Magi said, "Where is the one born King of the Jews? We saw a star in the east and have come to worship Him." Don't you think that would be threatening? Of course, it was threatening. But instead, he played it cool, relaxed a little bit, sent the Magi to go look for Him. He missed his opportunity, you see? God, I believe, was governing his thoughts. Keeping him from attacking at that moment of vulnerability. But now, Herod goes crazy, absolutely insane. Now, he must have, if he had any moment of thought, he must have thought to himself, "Now, wait a minute, if they have escaped, maybe somebody tipped them off as to my evil intent toward this child." That means that the child probably is not there, either. What is the point in killing? What is the point in searching? He is not there anymore. But you see, Herod is unreasoning. This is the irrationality of sin, it is insane. There's no reason for it. Why would we take the good gifts of God and turn away from Him and not worship and thank Him? Sin is insane, isn't it?
And so Herod was unreasoning. He gave an order that echoed down through time, and we still are amazed at its cruelty, aren't we? "Kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who are two years old and under." Do you notice the range? He does not know geographically where Jesus is, so he says, "Bethlehem and its vicinity." Now, later, it says, "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning." Well, Ramah is about 10 miles north of Jerusalem, Bethlehem about 5 miles south. Could it be that that was the radius of the killing? Incredible- the cruelty of Herod. He did not know where Jesus was, so he was willing to cast a wide net and kill anyone who might meet that criteria. He did not know how old Jesus was either, did he? So he said two years old and under, in accordance to whenever the star appeared. Kill them all just so that we get Jesus, so we get that one baby. The incredible cruelty. And why was it? What motivated Herod? It was insecurity and a desire to hold onto his earthly situation, no matter what the cost. What an evil man. But I don't think he is very much different than some people who hear the gospel, hear a call to repent, turn away from sin, to believe in Jesus. The cross is clearly portrayed before them, Jesus dies on the cross, and then messengers are sent out and said, "Jesus has paid your entire penalty for you. All He asks is that you turn over your entire life to Him. Follow Him, obey Him."
And then those people say, "No, I can't. I have too much to lose. I am the vice president of a bank," or, "I am the owner of a home," or, "I've got friends, drinking buddies who would never understand if I gave my life to Christ." They are holding on to what they've got in this world. They are not willing to let it go. Jesus said, "If you try to save your life you will lose it. But if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it." Now, Herod was a fool. But Herod's real crime, however terrible it was in killing all these babies, and it was terrible, his real crime was his desire to kill God's only Son. Far greater than his desire to kill all those babies. You see, God's Son had been awaited for 2,000 years since the prophecy given to Abraham, for 1,000 years since David. And here, how many people in all those years would have longed to have been able to see Jesus face to face, to go and worship Him. Herod missed his chance; instead he fought against, he wanted to kill. And that was his greatest crime. And for that he will stand accountable before God for all eternity.
Verse 17 and 18, "Then what was said through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled." There's that word again, "fulfilled." "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."
The power of these verses was lost on me before I had my own children. I think it is really not until you have children of your own that you understand what these women went through when their babies were slaughtered. About two weeks ago, I was coming out of the Duke Hospital. And hospitals are not cheerful places, really. The maternity ward is cheerful, usually. But the other places are places where people who are sick and dying go, some of them to spend their last days on Earth. I came out of the hospital feeling a little discouraged. And I saw a mother pushing a child in a stroller and I thought, "Oh, what a refreshing sight." And as I got a little closer I looked at her face, and she did not seem happy. She seemed a little careworn. And I smiled, she kind of smiled at me. The whole time I had not looked at her child. I did not notice he was kind of big to be pushed in a stroller. And then I looked a little more carefully and noticed that he had no hair and he had a mask across his face, and he was being pushed by his mother into the hospital. Probably a cancer patient receiving chemotherapy of some sort. From the look on the mother's face, it was not going well. And that is just one child. If that child dies she will grieve until she dies.
And so it was with all these women who lived in Bethlehem and its vicinity, who had boys two years old and under. And they grieved until the day they died, for their children. Because of one man. The cruelty of Herod. But it had to be fulfilled; the prophecy had to be fulfilled. Jesus said in Luke 24:44, "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms." Even the smallest details, even the cruelty of this King Herod, even that had to be fulfilled. God saw it all before any of it came to be.
IV. Joseph’s Return to Nazareth: A Different Kind of Prophecy (vs. 19-23)
In verses 19 through 23, we see the third fulfillment in this section. Joseph's return to Nazareth. A different kind of prophecy, a strange prophecy. It says, "After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel for those who are trying to take the child's life are dead.'" And so the angel keeps his promise, he said, "I'm going to come back and tell you when it's safe for you to go back home." And so he tells him.
And he gives some supernatural information to Joseph, some information he would not have had any other way. There were no telephones, there was no ESPN. There was no way of knowing that King Herod had died; not so soon. Eventually people would have heard. But the angel came and said, "Now it's time to go back because Herod has died."
And here we begin to get an indication of God's reaction to what King Herod has done. Now, we don't get it in Scripture, but there is an account from the historian Josephus of just how this man, Herod the Great, died. Now, I actually hesitated before reading it because it is so repulsive and so disgusting. But I will edit it a little bit and just tell you what happened. Shortly after giving the order of killing all these babies, Herod began to have intestinal problems and they began to get worse and worse. He started to bleed from the inside. He found out later that he had worms inside that were eating him from the inside. Absolutely repulsive. His breath was loathsome, nobody could get near him. Doctors were paid to get close enough to try to do something for him, but there was nothing that they could do. They tried washing him in certain oils and other ointments, but nothing would stop the process. He was being eaten out from the inside. Josephus, who was not a Christian, said that Herod was suffering under the judgement of God. It is interesting Josephus never mentions the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem. There is an account from a Roman historian of the slaughter. It has been testified to. As a matter of fact, some people think that one of Herod's offspring, a son, was killed in that sweep, you see? Because that included some parts of Jerusalem. And that his own son was killed, and Caesar Augustus made a joke because he knew that the Jewish people didn't eat pork. He said, "You know, I would rather be Herod's pig than Herod's son." And it is a terrible thing. Herod treated his pigs better than his own son, who is accidentally killed. But God noticed everything. "God cannot be mocked," the Scripture says. "Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. Your sin[s] will find you out." And that is what happened with King Herod.
Shortly before he died he was eating an apple, took a knife, and he was cutting the apple, and he suddenly turned the knife toward himself and started to try to kill himself. One of his attendants noticed what he was doing and reached and grabbed the arm so that he could not kill himself. There was so much crying and hullabaloo over that, that his son, Antipater, who was his heir to the throne, started to celebrate. He thought his father was dead. Good relationship between father and son, there. He had no love for his father, and he just was glad that his father was dead so he could take control of the throne. Well, Herod the Great survived, at least for a few more days. This was five days, by the way, before Herod died. And he was so outraged at his son that he ordered that he be executed. And he was executed. And Herod changed his will. It would not be Antipater who would be his heir, but it would be Archelaus. And so he put the word Archelaus in place of the other son. Five days later, Herod was dead.
What is interesting, though, is right before Herod died, he began, I think, probably thinking about his son's reaction to his death. And he was so upset that his son would not grieve over him, perhaps that no one would grieve over him, that he gave the worst order he ever gave in his life. Even worse than this one. He ordered that someone be killed from every household in his kingdom so that there would be grieving across his kingdom when he died. Can you imagine this man? Thankfully, he died before the order was ever carried out. So that is what happened to King Herod. What did Herod have to look forward to as he lay dying? Hebrews 10:27 tells us, "A fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." That is what he had to look forward to, the punishment of God. But notice in verse 20, a little word that I didn't highlight up to this point. Look at it carefully. "The angel came," and what did the angel say? He said, "Get up. Take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." Those. What does that tell you? Herod wasn't the only one who died. Perhaps it means that everyone involved in the slaughter of these babies was killed. Perhaps even some young soldiers who were just carrying out orders, we don't really know.
But God's judgement was exact and careful and swift. You cannot mock God and you cannot do this kind of thing and get away with it. But against all this, this picture of the rejection, the wrath of Herod, we have Joseph's simple obedience. In verse 21, "He got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel." Steadfast Joseph, going from place to place at the command of God, doing what he was told. "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 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth." Have you ever heard of Nazareth? Yes. Jesus is from Nazareth. Well, according to the Scripture here, that fulfilled a prophecy. [And so it] was said through the prophets, ‘He will be called a Nazarene.”
Now, here is a challenge for you. Look up the word "Nazarene" in the Old Testament and you are not going to find it. Actually, you are not going to find this prophecy in the Old Testament. No one really knows where this prophecy is written. It could be that it was never written down. Notice what it says in verse 23, " So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets," plural. Every other case where a scripture is quoted, it is always one prophet. So it said through the prophet or the Prophet Isaiah. Here it says collectively through the prophets. And it may be that Matthew has taken all of the Old Testament prophecies following a certain theme, and put them in quotation form, "He will be called a Nazarene."
Now, what was a Nazarene? In first century Judea, a Nazarene was someone from the worst place in the country, someone from the offscouring. And do you remember Nathaniel? Do you remember what Nathaniel said when Philip told him that the Messiah had come, Jesus of Nazareth? Do you remember his reaction? "Nazareth? Nazareth? [You've got to be kidding,] can anything good come from [Nazareth]?" And you see, Nathaniel was a godly man, wasn't he? A true Israelite in whom there is no guile. That was the national reaction. And so Jesus was coming from the worst place in all Israel to come from. I think that fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah where it says, "He was despised and rejected. A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised." That means thought little of, "And we esteemed Him not." He will be called a Nazarene. He is going to be looked down on in His life.
John 1:11 says, "He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him." The Jews did not receive him, they rejected him. No Messiah could come from Nazareth. "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believed in His name." Those were the true Israelites, the true children of God.
V. A Deeper Issue: The Direct Guidance of God and Problem of Evil
Now, we have looked at these verses and we have seen a careful leading of God step by step, haven't we? And we as Christians hold on to that, don't we? As a matter of fact, the Bible very plainly says that the Holy Spirit has come to give us guidance, has come to give us leadership. Now, maybe you do not have an angel coming to you and telling you what to do. Don't you wish you did? Wouldn't that be great to have an angel come at night in a dream and tell you, "Do this, don't do that," etcetera? But you have something even better. You have the indwelling Holy Spirit living within you. Isaiah 30:21, this is a great verse. I challenge you to write that one down, Isaiah 30:21, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way. Walk in it.'" Isn't that great? "Whether you turn to the right or to the left your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way. Walk in it.'" That is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And Jesus, that little baby who had to run for His life, and who lived the life of a refugee, not just at that time but really, through His whole life where He said, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head." He came to give you a gift and that gift is the gift of the Holy Spirit, that kind of leadership, that kind of guidance in this world. But He came to give a far greater gift than that. And that is freedom from eternal punishment and the joy of eternal fellowship with God face to face.
But what of this deeper question? We have seen the minute guidance of God, we've seen the fulfillment of prophecy. We've seen the fulfillment also of that statement that we have heard before, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Because Herod the Great was a corrupt man. But is there a power greater than Herod's? Oh, absolutely. And I am not thinking of Caesar Augustus. I am thinking of God. Does He have power greater than Herod? Of course. Well, then the impious thought comes and questions us, does God's power corrupt Him? Is God corrupt? Is there blood on His hands for what happened to these babies? Well, the Scripture says, “May it never be,” because God is a loving God, a holy God, a righteous God. Compassionate in every way. Jesus embodied God. He is the One who wept over Jerusalem, who cried over them. He was the one who stood in front of Lazarus' tomb and wept because of death. He is a compassionate God.
Now, you can do various things, tricks in your mind. You can say, "Well, maybe Satan is as powerful as God. And Satan does all the bad stuff, and God does all the good stuff, and that God really is not powerful enough to stop Satan." Some people say that. Some people, like Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People, said, "You know, you need to think of it this way. God is a good God, but He just is not all powerful. He cannot stop these kinds of things from happening." You see, he went through the Holocaust. And through that terrible time, he had to give an explanation. He had to give a sense of defense for God and so he wrote this book. And many people have read it, and they have been comforted by it. It is a false comfort, because the Scripture clearly portrays God as omnipotent. He is powerful. Jesus said plainly, "[A sparrow doesn't] fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father." How much more something this huge?
I think what we need to see instead is that this world, all that we see around us, is not all there is. There is another world to come. And those babies, they suffered for a moment, but I believe that they went on immediately into eternal glory. Each of them, before the age of accountability. Each one, free from standing to give an account for any sins done. They didn't understand the law. But what happened to Herod? He also moved from this world, didn't he? To the judgement seat of God. We can't understand everything that God does. But we do ourselves no favors, we do the world no favors, to take away clear teaching of Scripture because there are some parts we don't understand. God is a good God and He is a sovereign and powerful God. And God works out His purposes, He accomplishes His ends. And His end here was to bring His Son into the world, that He might die on the cross in our place and give us eternal life.
When I began talking to you this morning I talked to you about the leadership that God gives. Have you followed the leadership of God in your life? The Scripture plainly says that those who are led by the Spirit of God, those are the ones who are the children of God. If you are led by the Spirit of God, you are a child of God. If you follow the leadership of God, that is what makes you a Christian. The first way that the Holy Spirit leads anyone is he leads you to recognize that you need a Savior. He leads you to recognize that you need to give your life to Jesus Christ. That you need to lay down your sins at the foot of the cross and say, "I need a Savior like this, and Jesus is the only one who can save me." Have you ever followed God's leadership in that way? And for those of you who have, who have given your life to Christ, are you following His leadership now? It is a new year, 1999. If you have the Holy Spirit inside you, the Holy Spirit wants to do some things with you this year. Are you going to follow his leadership? Are you going to stay step-by-step with what the Spirit is doing? Are you going to keep in step with the Spirit this year? If you do, you will see a year like you have never had before. God has great things in store for First Baptist, if these people will just humble themselves and follow God's leadership.