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Christmas- Comfort For The Comfortless 2

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Christmas:  Comfort For The Comfortless 2

Matthew 2:1-18

        Christmas is about the comfort of God that is revealed in the birth of Jesus Christ.  Yet, there are many people, particularly in this country and particularly at Christmas time who don’t feel that there is any comfort for them.  They are without comfort.  They are without any hope of comfort.  They are comfortless!!!  If that is you, don’t play the game of sanctified denial.  Because, the first step in solving a problem is realizing that there is a problem.

Being comfortless has to do, in a great part, with excessive grief.  Natural grief will certainly bring sadness during the holidays and sad ain’t bad.  There is a great little book entitled, The Empty Chair, that can help you deal with grief that is brought on by the holidays.  But, there are also those who refuse to be comforted.  They don’t believe that Jesus, or any one else; can comfort their saddened hearts.  This is especially and still true, in the light of what happened on September 11th, 2001.

We see a similar situation in the Bible, in

Matthew 2:16-18, “Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi.  Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.’”

        Is there comfort for the comfortless?  This is the second message in this series of messages entitled “Christmas:  Comfort For The Comfortless.”

Believe it or not, the passage before us is a part of the Christmas story, and the setting of this story is in the days of Herod.  The story occurs “In the days of Herod;”

·        in the days of the empire of Rome and her imperial forces;

·        in the days of petty dictatorships and rulers under the strangle hold of Caesar;

·        in the days of Caesar worship, where Caesar was worshipped as God and those who refused were punished.

·        in the days of the cruel and savage dictatorship of Herod.

        Herod is a type or picture of Satan.  Satan wanted to destroy the Christ-child and he wants to destroy the Christ-child in us, so that there will be no Christmas.  Even though he cannot destroy Christ, he seeks to destroy the joy of His birth by trying to kill the seed of Christ’s potential, in our hearts.  I believe Satan hates Christmas, because he hates Christ and he hates Christ’s children.  As Christ’s children we are and we carry in our hearts the seed, birth, potential and deliverance of Jesus Christ!

        Satan also hates Christmas because it highlights his murderous spirit!!!  When you read the Christmas story, you find out that about the same time or shortly after Jesus was born, Satan launched an all out attack against Jesus.  Herod had every male child in the environs of Bethlehem, from two years old and younger, murdered.  Satan exhaled his own spirit, the spirit of murder, into the atmosphere.  This is the same spirit that was exhaled in the Oklahoma bombing and the Twin Towers Disaster.

        So, we see here two competing spirits:  the spirit of Herod against the spirit of heaven.  The spirit of heaven is one of rejoicing, because of the birth of the Savior of the world.  The spirit of Herod is one of rejection and excessive grief and sadness over the children that Herod murdered.

At Christmas time, there is a spirit of Satan that approximates the spirit of Herod that seeks to impose itself in our lives.  Satan wants to kill all of our children two years old and under.  I am not talking about our physical children, although he would certainly do that, if he could.  I am talking about the hopes, dreams, destiny, joy, etc. that our small children represent.  Satan wants to kill our dreams and our destiny, so that his kingdom will seem to reign preeminent over Christ’s kingdom.

(Before we can understand more about God’s comfort for the comfortless, we have to explore the pain in the passage.)

There is great pain in this passage, i.e. weeping, mourning, and the refusal to be comforted.  The pain of this passage of Scripture was prophesied through the prophet Jeremiah.  This is found in

Jeremiah 31:15, “Thus says the Lord, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.  Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’”

This statement (Jeremiah 31:15) referred initially to the weeping of the nation as a result of the death of children at the time of the Babylonian Captivity (586 b.c.).  But the parallel to the situation at this time was obvious, for again children were being slaughtered at the hands of non-Jews.[1]  But, why is the name Rachel used?  “Rachel, the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin, was buried in the neighborhood of Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19), where her grave is still shown.  She is figuratively represented as rising from the tomb and uttering a double lament for the loss of her children—first, by a bitter captivity, and now by a bloody death.  And a foul deed it was.”[2]  Also, Rachel was considered by many to be the mother of the nation.  That is why she was seen weeping over these children’s deaths.[3]

And what is the significance of Ramah?  “The Babylonians apparently used Ramah as a prisoner-of-war camp from which captives of Jerusalem were processed and sent into Babylonian Exile” (Holman Bible Dictionary).  “It was here that the Jewish captives were assembled in chains, and they included Jeremiah himself (Jeremiah 39:8-12; Jeremiah 40:1).  Here, those who were not believed worthwhile to transport to Babylon, because of weakness, age, or poverty, were probably slaughtered, thus fulfilling part of the prophecy:  “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.  Rachel is weeping for her children,” etc. (Jeremiah 31:15 cf. Matthew 2:18).”[4]  Now, this Scripture is mentioned in coincidence with the birth of the Christ Child.

Some would certainly wonder, “Can the Messiah, who is to be the Consolation of Israel, be introduced with all this lamentation?”  Yes, for so it was foretold, and the Scripture must be accomplished.  And besides, if we look further into this prophecy, if we will read but one more verse, we shall see this exhortation in

Jeremiah 31:16, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Restrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded,’ declares the Lord, ‘And they shall return from the land of the enemy.’”

The larger context in the prophecy of Jeremiah is one of hope, deliverance, and fulfillment (chaps. 30–31 form a “book of consolation” and include the statement of the new covenant, 31:31–34).  References to messianic joy surround Jeremiah 31:15.

In a similar way, the larger context of the shadow of death upon innocent children of Bethlehem is the Messianic joy of Matthew’s story.[5]  Unto them a child was born, sufficient to repair their losses.[6]  And the same will be true for those of us who contemplate the birth of the Christ Child, follow His birth, gaze at His death, wonder at His resurrection, marvel at His ascension and trust Him for eternal salvation.

·        The darkest part of the night is just before dawn.

·        The roughest part of a storm is just before it breaks.

·        The worse things are, the sooner they will mend.


(So, let’s explore the larger context of Jeremiah 31:15, by reading Jeremiah 31:1-20 and Jeremiah 31:31-34.)

In spite of the attack of the enemy, because of the rebellion and sin of the Jewish people, the surrounding verses are full of love, joy, and blessing.  As I tried to get you to think about last Sunday,

·        We see sorrow in the midst of joy.

·        We see tragedy, in the midst of promise.

·        We see unrest, in the midst of supernatural rest.

·        We see despair in the midst of hope.

·        We see discomfort in the midst of Comfort.

Is this not how life is—particularly when there has been sin or rebellion.  But even in the absence of sin and rebellion, the impact of the original sin of Adam still has creation groaning and travailing in pain; waiting for the manifestation of the children of God!!!

        This is also captured in

Ecclesiastes 4:1, “Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun.  And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them.”

(But do not despair, because there is comfort for the comfortless and that comfort, in our text, is in the birth Jesus Christ.)

        There are times, when it seems appropriate to refuse to be comforted, but the good news of Christmas is that there is comfort available, in spite of tragic circumstances—and that comfort is in the Good News of Jesus Christ!!!

        Does not Isaiah pick up this refrain in the Birth of Jesus and the ultimate plans of God for His people, which are represented by the city of Jerusalem.  He said in

Isaiah 40:1-2, “‘Comfort, O comfort My people,’ says your God.  ‘Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.’”

Isaiah is prophetically comforting Israel, the people of God, on the command and authority of Jehovah God.  He was to speak kindly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare and slaughter had ended, her pernicious sins removed and that she had received double chastisement for all of her sins!!!

        Let me put this in the jargon of the older saints, “I’m so glad that trouble don’t last always!!!”  Yes, Jerusalem, the geopolitical, spiritual, center of the earth had endured great sorrow, because of sin, rebellion, satanic attack, etc., but with the coming of Jesus, the end of pain was signaled.

        As a matter of fact, this is the point of the coming of Jesus Christ and the Good News of the Gospel.  Again, Isaiah points this out prophetically.  In Isaiah 61, Isaiah is given the future words of Jesus Christ; words that Jesus would stand in Herod’s Temple and read with a view to their fulfillment.  Isaiah prophesied in

Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

Jesus read these words in the Temple and then sat down, with all eyes upon Him!  Jesus came to comfort all who mourn!!!  That was part of Christ’s value system, which was transmitted in what we call “The Sermon On The Mount.”  He said in

Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

What a paradoxical Scripture!  Jesus said that those who mourn were blessed, i.e. fortunate or happy.  This is certainly contrary to the American way of things.  The Greek word that is translated “mourn” is the word that is most frequently used for mourning for the dead in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures In The Greek New Testament).  This is about legitimate grief!  “Happy are those who mourn for the dead!”  Why?  Because, they shall be comforted!!!  By whom?  They shall be comforted by God.  True comfort requires true grief!!!  The word “comforted” is parakaleo and the Holy Spirit is the ParakleteThose who are mourning are closer to God, through the ministry of the Holy Ghost who comes along side of and inside of the mourning one.  David sung of this in

Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

“‘There can be no comfort where there is no grief’ (Bruce).  Sorrow should make us look for the heart and hand of God and so find the comfort latent in the grief (A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures In The Greek New Testament).  There is a silver lining to the dark cloud of grief!!!  There is a rose of comfort hidden among the thorns of grief.


Safe With Me

In an article in Decision magazine, Anne Parrish tells of the comfort she found after the drowning of her son John.  He and a friend had taken a sailboat out on Willoughby Bay one more time before pulling it in for the winter.  That evening the craft capsized and both boys lost their lives. “It was then that I came to know the Lord as my Comforter, as well as my Savior,” said Anne.  “Because the water was so cold, it was 5 weeks before their bodies were recovered.  Yet, when I thought of my son, it was as if the Lord were saying, ‘Anne, don’t worry about John.  He’s safe with Me.  All that remains in the water of Willoughby Bay is the earthly shell he lived in for 16 short years.  But he doesn’t need it anymore; he’s safe with Me.’”

(Some of you are still asking, as you refuse to be comforted, “But, where is this so-called comfort?”)

        I know that it is hard to see, but we have pointed out that it is in the Godhead.  We have already seen that it is in Jesus Christ and His blessed birth.

        We have already alluded to the fact that it is in the Holy Spirit, but let me give you another verse of Scripture on that point:

Acts 9:31, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.”

There is comfort in the Holy Ghost!!!  I have seen the Holy Ghost baptize a person and mediate their grief.

I reiterate, “There is no affliction that the “God of all comfort” cannot comfort!!!”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

(There is comfort in the Godhead that is in Jesus Christ and His blessed birth, in the Holy Spirit, and in God the Father, and there is also comfort in the Word of God.)

Again, Paul wrote in

Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

How can we go away from quiet time in the Word of God and expect to find comfort?

(There is comfort in the Godhead that is in Jesus Christ and His blessed birth, in the Holy Spirit, in God the Father, and in the Word of God.  But, there is also comfort in the fresh word that God gives through prophecy.)

Once again, Paul wrote in:

1 Corinthians 14:3, “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.”

Consolation is comfort!!!  And there is comfort in the fresh word of God letting us know that He loves us and wants to comfort us today!!!

(There is comfort in the Godhead that is in Jesus Christ and His blessed birth, in the Holy Spirit, in God the Father, in the Word of God, and in the fresh word that God gives through prophecy.  But, there is also comfort in personal fellowship with the saints!)

        Again, Paul wrote in

Ephesians 6:21-22, “But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you.  And I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts.”

Tychicus was going to comfort their hearts about Paul’s well being through personal interaction and testimony.  Satan tries to isolate you in your grief, but God comes to fellowship with you through His saints.

        If you still refuse to be comforted, I can understand that, but let me assure you that you already possess and ultimately will experience the eternal comfort of the Godhead.  Finally, Paul wrote in

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.”


At the end of each one of these messages, I am going to be answering the question, “What specifically does the Comforter give to those who mourn?”  I am going to answer that question from the resources that are listed in:

Isaiah 61:1-3, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.  So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

In this passage of Scripture, which Jesus used, in the Temple, to announce the inauguration of His ministry, we see that God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and appointed Him to comfort all who mourn or grieve.  In comforting all who mourn, Jesus grants or gives three special gifts.  The first special gift is a garland instead of ashes.

A garland was a wreath or woven chain of flowers, leaves, etc., that was worn on the head or used as a decoration, especially as a symbol of victory, honor, etc. (Webster’s New World Dictionary).

Ashes were often associated with sacrifices, mourning, and fasting.  Grief, humiliation, and repentance were expressed by placing ashes on the head or by sitting in ashes (Holman Bible Dictionary).

        Jesus, through His ministry of salvation and grace, gives a crown of joy for the heads of those of us who believe in Him—in place of the crown of grief.  We will no longer be crowned with, ruled by, or known by the “ashes of mourning or repentance laid upon our heads.  Jesus now brings a diadem to adorn our heads.”[7]

        The Hebrew scholars, Keil & Delitzsch tell us that the letters of the two words “garland” and “ashes” are transposed or in reverse order.[8]  This signifies a supernatural exchange.  God wants to give us a Christmas gift that exchanges joy for grief!!!  Will you accept His gift?

        Come on then, repeat after me, “I renounce the spirit of Herod and receive the Spirit of Heaven!”  Now thank the Lord!

(Now is the Day of Salvation!  Come to Jesus, Now!)

Invitation

Call to Discipleship


----

[1] Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.

[2] Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A.R.; and Brown, David, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1998.

[3] Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.

[4] Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.

[5] Hagner, Donald A., Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 33a: Matthew 1-13, (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher) 1998.

[6] Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.

[7] Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary On The Old Testament, The Prophecies of Isaiah, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988, p. 427.

[8] Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary On The Old Testament, The Prophecies of Isaiah, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988, p. 427.

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