The recent events in Paris were both brutal and barbaric. Watching the scenes of bullet riddled windows, covered bodies and wounded people; Listening to the stories of survivors and victims, grieving over friends who never came home. It truly was a Slaughter of the Innocent. An evil and henious act that demands justice.
The heart breaking cries of Mothers and Fathers weeping over their children reminds me of another mindless act of terror.It’s captured well in the painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569), with the title ‘Massacre of the Innocent’. The scene seeks to capture the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. Seeing the birth of Jesus as a threat to his kingship, King Herod ‘gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and it’s vicinity who were two years old and under’ (Matthews Gospel 2 verse 16). One could only imagine the absolute fear and terror as Mothers stood by helpless, watching their innocent little boy slaughterd by the sword. Matthews account captures their pain with a quote from the prophet Jeremiah: ‘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 pain in Paris is the same ‘because those they love are no more’.
As Mothers weep in Paris so Mothers wept in Bethlehem. But the true story of Bethlem is not just similar it gives us hope as we face a world gripped by fear and terror. The brutal and savage attack by Herod was not against the innocent children – it was an attack on Jesus, God’s chosen King of the world. The killing of the children was an effort to rid the world of the true King he should submit to. I see the events in Paris in a similar light. Yes it is an attack on Liberty, Equality and the Brotherhood, but this act of terror is ultimately an attack against the King of the world – Jesus Christ. The King who rules, the bringer of justice and peace. The acts of these terrorists reveal a much deeper issue – it reveals a heart that will not submit to the rule and authority of King Jesus. This is ultimately God’s world not ours and so first and foremost these events are an attempt to usurp God’s Son Jesus Christ.
However a closer look at the story in Bethlem offers us two things we all long for in the midst of such suffering and slaughter; Comfort and Restoration.
Comfort. The ‘weeping’ and the ‘mourning’ comes in the context of God’s great comfort for his people. Yes there has been great pain but God promises that will all be replaced by joy and comfort: ‘I will lead them beside streams of water…I will watch over them like a shepherd…I will turn their mourning into gladness, I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.’ (Jeremiah 31). Jeremiah the prophet points to a Shepherd King who is not immune to our suffering and comes to us in our pain. This comfort is experienced as we turn, in our heartache, to Jesus and trust him as Lord and King. Jesus may have escaped the slaughter of Herod as his family fled to Egypt (Matthew 2 verse 13) but He did not escape his death at the hands of eveil men when he died on a cross. He understands and he alone can bring comfort.
Restoration. Following Herods slaughter of the innocent we read that an angel said to Joseph: ‘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…’ (Matthew 2 verse 20-21). Herod the evil King dies and the true King returns! That pictures for us the restoration we all long for. One of the questions I keep hearing people ask is ‘when will it all end?’. Well just as Herod came to an end so one day all evil will come to an end when the King returns. Jesus did die but he rose again three days later to prove who he was and all that he had come to do. One day the risen King will return and restore this broken world, establish peace and correct every injustice. The true King has seen and he will restore.
The slaughter of the innocent in Paris fills us all with pain and anger not least those who are closest to it. But as we get close to Christmas look back to the slaughter in Bethlehem and see a King who comforts and restores. In Jesus we find hope for today and hope for the future. He will bring it all to an end.
The Bible contains many books but they must not be read as separate stories, rather ‘each book is like a chapter of one great true story which is united in it’s theme and purpose’. That great theme and purpose is a person – Jesus Christ. One author put it like this: ‘The Bible is not a series of disconnected stories, it is a single narrative in which every story, every character and every act points beyond itself to one who is greater.’ The story of the Bible, therefore, is all about God’s Son Jesus Christ, through whom he has come to redeem our broken lives and restore this disordered world.
In the New Year we will be staring a new series God’s Big Story. Together we will take a trip through the entire bible starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation. We will read true stories of people who met God, listen to great events orchastrated by God and through them all we will see how they point us to Jesus. Of course reading the bible and connecting all these themes can be hard, especially when reading through the Old Testament so to help you we are encouraging you to get your hands on some great Bibles & Books that help you to connect the stories together. Why not make it a Christmas gift for your spouce, a member of your family or a friend! Happy Reading.
Adults: New NIV Study Bible. The NIVSB centres on biblical theology—the “ways in which many important themes work their way through Scripture and come to a focus in Jesus Christ.” With this focus on God’s unfolding revelation in the storyline of Scripture, the NIVSB unpacks his redemptive work in Christ book by book. Check it out here:
Early Teens: Action Bible Study Bible (Age 7-13) Check it out here:
Children: Big Picture Story Bible (Age 6-9). The Bible is a big book about a big God who keeps a big promise! It is the real account of God’s love for the world. The Big Picture Story Bible presents this remarkable true story. Simple words and striking illustrations unfold the storyline of God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation. All ages will enjoy this exciting discovery of a God who keeps his big promise.
Jesus Story Book Bible (Age 5-11). The Jesus Storybook Bible tells that Story beneath all the stories in the Bible. From Noah to Moses to the great King David, every story points to a Child. The one upon whom everything would depend…There are lots of stories in the Bible. But all the stories are telling one big story. The story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. And at the center of that story is a baby. And every single story in the Bible whispers his name.
Smallies: The Beginners Bible for Toddlers (Age 2-4)
Adults: The God who is there by DA Carson. Most people do not have a basic working knowledge of the Bible. This book unpacks the whole biblical storyline through the lens of God’s character and actions, to help you know what we should believe and why we should believe it.
God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. A big picture overview showing you how the different parts of the Bible fit together.
Teens: Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware. Check it out here: https://www.crossway.org/books/big-truths-for-young-hearts-tpb/
Children: The Ology by Marty Machowski. Two young children discover a hidden treasure—a carefully wrapped ancient book full of deep truths about God presented in simple language using everyday examples. The children are captivated by the book and by the life-changing truths they find inside about God, their world, and themselves. Families with children of all ages will also love this multilayered resource that systematically teaches the great truths of the Bible to six-year-olds through preteens. Check it out here: http://www.wtsbooks.com/the-ology-marty-machowski-9781942572282
Smallies: Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth N Taylor. Help your child discover the wonders of biblical truths in simple terms our child can understand. Dr. Kenneth Taylor explains in child–friendly language the essential Bible truths you want your child to know. He tells children about God’s creation of the world, why Jesus came to earth, how the Holy Spirit helps us, and so much more! Give the child you love the greatest gift of all – a deeper understanding of God. Check it out here: http://www.wtsbooks.com/everything-a-child-should-know-about-god-kenneth-n-taylor-9781909611627
‘And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6v8
The tragic and heart breaking scenes captured by the picture above are hard for us to comprehend from the security and comfort of our own homes. As we watch the hundreds of families trying to board a train in Hungary, as we listen to the reports of yet another boat that has capsized we need to pinch ourselves that this is not a film – this is unfolding before our very eyes just a few hundred miles away!
The loss of little three year old Aylan Kurdi is a shocking reminder to us all of what countless more families and children will face if things don’t change. At a political level there is still a long way to go but what can we do?, what should we be doing?
First we should speak up for the most poor and vulnerable because God is concerned for the poor and vulnerable. ‘For the Lord your God…shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the Alien (refugee), giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens (refugees). Deuteronomy 10v17-19
God is not immune to the heartache of these peopel broken by acts of injustice, greed and war and so we should also share the same concern and speak up for their needs.
Second we should act justly. ‘Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?’ Isaiah 58v6-7. This desire is portrayed by the teaching of Jesus: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ Luke 10v27. Those we see on our television screens are our own flesh and blood. They are our neighbours.
To act justly is to give what people are in need of, and in this case it is obvious what people need: Homes, Food, Security, Peace. We should do all we can to give and make their lives better.
Third we should provide a rich welcome to those who are without homes in need of homes. ‘There should be no poor among you…if there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you do not be hard hearted or tight fisted towards your poor brother or sister.’ Deuteronomy 15v4,7. Gods desire was that their should be ‘no poor’ and to ensure that happened various laws were given to his people to welcome and provide for the most vulnerable. It was also God’s command to the church: ‘Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.’ Galatians 6v10. While we care for the church family we are to ‘do good to all people’ regardless of their race or religion.
As people, children, Mums, Dads, Families make their way to this nation make sure we are at the forefront of welcoming and providing and not ‘crossing the other side of the road’.
Perhaps more important than all this is why we should do it.
We have been shown incredible mercy by God. God has shown us grace upon grace every day. We have homes, schools, hospitals, work, social benefits – there is so much to be thankful for. But above all this God has Welcomed us into his family. God through his Son Jesus Christ entered into the poverty of this world, this broken God-rejecting world, and made it possible for us to be forgiven so that we might have the hope of an eternal home, heaven itself. God took us, who were wandering away from him, without hope and gave us a new life, peace with God and the security of life eternal. When we were in the crisis of our sin God showed his amazing grace to us. Let us show this same grace to others.
Ghandi famously once said of the church: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
While Ghandi is not an authority on Christ and the Church he did observe something that is true but hard for us to take. He heard one thing ‘The teaching of Christ’ but yet he saw something very different ‘The behaviour of the Church’. They simply did not match up!
That was true of the Church in Corinth and sadly it can be said of the Church today.
The church in Corinth was planted in 50AD (Acts 18v1-18a) during Paul’s second ‘missionary journey’. Having arrived in the city on his own he met Aquila and his wife Priscilla who teamed up with Paul as ‘Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks’ (Acts 18v4). Paul was later joined by his gospel team mates, Silas and Timothy, which meant he could ‘devote himself exclusively to the preaching …that Jesus was the Christ’ (v5). While there was much opposition ‘many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised.’ (v8) Paul stayed in Corinth for at least eighteen months ‘teaching them the word of God’ (v11). After Paul left Corinth Apollos arrived where he continued on the good work ‘proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ’ v28.
Despite these encouraging beginnings the church in Corinth did not mature and grow: ‘Brothers and sisters I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ’ (1 Corinthians 3v3). Sadly these ‘worldly’ issues were not new. Paul had already written to them before: ‘I have written to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people…but now I am writing to you…5v9,11. These matters had not been dealt with and it was causing the church to fall and fail in it’s witness. Paul was concerned for them and was firm in his challenge: ‘Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; (15v34).
While we don’t have any record of Paul’s ‘First’ letter to Corinth, we do have his ‘Second’ letter which we now call First Corinthians. Addressing each issue in turn Paul leads us back to a church that not only teaches about Christ but begins to behave as the people of Christ.
Called to be Holy
Paul starts by bringing us back to our true identity.
Encouragingly we are reminded that we are: ‘The Church of God…sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be Holy.’ 1v2.
Holy, as some people might think, is not hiding away from the world with your bible and singing old hymns, although reading your bible and singing hymns are great things to do. No! ‘Holy’ means to be made clean and pure so as to be made acceptable to God. It also means to be set apart, to be pure and different from that which is around you. Amazingly we have been made Holy (sanctified) through Jesus and are now called to be Holy in the world in which we live. Thankfully we do not do this alone: ‘He (God) will keep you strong to the end… He who called you… is faithful’ 1v8.9. The church is messy and the way back to being a true church is to remember our true identity – we are God’s holy people, made pure and blameless through the redeeming work of Jesus and called to live pure and blameless lives in the world.
But how do we live out our calling to be Holy? Well I Corinthians 16v13-14 are a good summary of the letter and what it means to be God’s holy people: ‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men and women of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.’
So lets go through these two short verse in four steps which will help us move from Messy church to Holy church.
First ‘Be on your guard’ – Sin is deadly 16v13a
The church was very messy because of the sin that was undealt with in their lives. There were: Quarrels among them leading to division and fall out 1v11; Superior attitudes over people 1v26; Arrogance towards leaders 4v18; Sexual immorality 5v1, 6v18; Disputes 6v1; Marriage break up 7v2; Causing others to sin and Misusing their freedom 8v12; Drunkenness at the Lords Supper 11v21; Disorder in church gatherings 14v40
Their sin was like ‘Yeast’ 5v7 which was impacting and effecting the whole church family. As a result God’s judgement was among them, some were getting sick and some even died 11v30! Paul’s encouragement to the church is clear: ‘Come back to your senses…and stop sinning’ 15v34
Second ‘Stand firm in the faith’ – Remember the gospel 16v13b
The way to deal with these sin problems in the life of the church was to get back to the gospel. The gospel is primarily about God and what he has done for us: ‘God who called us into fellowship with himself is faithful’ 1v9; God has chosen us by his grace 1v27; God has saved us through the power of his Holy Spirit 2v4; We are the temple of the Holy Spirit 3v16/6v19; We have been washed, sanctified and justified by God 6v11; We are now the body of Christ 12v27; We have been made alive in Christ 15v22; We have the victory in Jesus Christ 15v26
This is the ‘gospel by which we are saved’ 15v2. This is the gospel that saves us and it is the gospel on which we must stand. We need to make sure we are standing firm in the gospel: ‘If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall’ 10v12. To make sure we don’t fall and stand firm Paul takes us back to the gospel: I want to remind you of the gospel…on which you have taken your stand.’ 15v1. Keeping to the gospel will deal with the problem of sin in the church.
Third ‘Be men/women of courage; be strong’ – Live for God 16v13c
Living as a Christian in the world is tough, it’s hard to be church as God calls us to be. But we must resist following the ways of the world around us and live for God as his new holy people. To do this we must turn from living for self and live for God. There must be: No more boasting of yourself – it’s all of grace 1v29-31; Follow the Christ-like example of Paul 4v16, 11v1; Honour God with your body 6v20; Give undivided devotion to the Lord 7v35; Do everything for the glory of God 10v31
Paul knows it’s tough and the temptation is to give in so he reminds us: ‘He (God) will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear…he will also provide a way out so that you can stand’ 10v13. Paul is crystal clear in what he says: No compromise. No more split loyalties. Live as God’s people in the world but not of the world. We need Paul’s encouragement: ‘Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour is not in vain.’ 15v58. Be confident that God will use our efforts for his glory.
Fourth ‘Do everything in love’ – Love the church 16v14
Rather than be divided and fall out with each other as the church was doing we are encouraged to live out our new lives as God’s people by loving the church. The Christian life is never lived out in isolation but in community. This love means we: Are united together in Christ 1v10/13; Discipline those who are unrepentant to win them back 5v13; Care for the weaker brother 8v4; Surrender our rights for the sake of the gospel 9v19; Share with each other in the Lords Supper 11v33; Use our gifts to build up the Church 12v7; Love each other 13v4; Make every effort to build up the church family 14v4, 26
The good news is we have not been left alone to do this. We are not lacking anything: ‘For in him we have been enriched in every way…therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus to be revealed.’ 1v5, 7.
I Corinthians reminds us that the church is messy. It is made up of sinful broken people like us who are more worldly that spiritual. If our sin if not dealt with it will destroy the church family and fail in it’s witness. The way back to being a true church is to remember our true identity ‘Called to be Holy’. We remember the gospel, all that Christ has done for us on our behalf and in response live for God and love the church. This way, the church becomes all that we are meant to be. So ‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men and women of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.’ 16v13-14.
The loss of life is both shocking and horrific. One moment celebrating the joy of life the next grieving in the pain of death. For those of us watching and listening at a distance, we can only imagine the heartache for family and friends as they try to come to terms with what has happened to their dearest and closest. Exams over, The summer to enjoy, The freedom of life, Happy memories to create – an accident that would cut short six young lives was the last thing on anyones mind. Death is cruel, it robs us of those we love the most and steals away our joy. As we remember we can only pray that in the midst of such brokenness and pain they will know and experience the comfort of others and the love and kindness of God.
We never plan for these events, we don’t live life thinking, Will it happen to me? Twenty four hours later we heard of yet more tragedy as nine people were shot dead in a South Carolina church. As the attending chief officer said: “It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives.” Whether it’s a violent action or a tragic accident the sudden loss of life is never easy to explain.
It’s happened before
Sadly the recent events to hit our news are not new. They have happened before. The Gospel of Luke (Luke 13 verses1-5) records for us two events of similar proportions. Some people came to Jesus and told him about ‘the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices’. We don’t have all the details but it seems a group of people had gone to worship and pray. For no explicable reason (perhaps a reminder to the masses of who was in power), Pilate violently slaughtered them, cutting short their life. Those who came to Jesus with this news seemed to be looking for an explanation – ‘why do you think this has happened?’
If that event is not troubling enough Jesus reminds them of another terrible event: ‘those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them..’. Again we don’t know what happened, other than a tower on the city wall fell, killed and crushed it’s victims.
Like the nine people who went to pray in a church in South Carolina, like the six young people who were enjoying life on a balcony – suddenly and tragicly their lives came to an end.
Death comes to all
Jesus does not give us answers to all the questions we may have. He does not respond in the way we always want – but he does say something to us all about our life.
Jesus responds to one tragic event by telling the people of another. It’s a reminder that life does not go on forever – all life comes to an end. We all die. The reaction of many fellow students in Berkeley was: ‘It could have been me!’ And that’s the reality it could happen to anyone of us. We are fragile beings who do not control the number of days we have. Faced with the sudden and shocking loss of life we are confronted with our own mortality.
The reason for all death is sin
When Jesus responded to the tragic events he said something we would not expect: ‘Do you think that these were worse ‘sinner’s than all the others because they suffered in this way?…Do you think they were more ‘guilty’ than all the others?’
You see many have this ‘Karma’ view of life: Live a moral life and you will live long, Live an immoral life and you will die young. That is not true. Jesus dismisses outright this kind of thinking. How we die is not evidence of how good or bad we are. We make no judgement about those in the church or on the balcony. It’s not how or where we die but the fact we all die. The point Jesus is making is this: All death is evidence that we have all sinned. I may live a long and healthy life till I’m ninety, I may be struck down with cancer and die within a year…but however I die the reason is my sin. Death is part of our experience because we have rejected God’s loving rule over our lives, we have chosen to live apart from him and that always ends in death.
There is something worse than death
Like those who came to Jesus we are concerned about the here and now. But in his loving care Jesus directs us to think about what comes after death. While the people were all wondering: Why they died? What was the cause? How did they live? Jesus tells us to think about about our own life. In response to the murder in the temple and the falling tower Jesus says: ‘But unless you repent, you too will all perish’. To ‘perish’ is not just to die but to face the terrible reality of an eternal separation from God. In this life we enjoy so many good things; friendship, love, humour and creativity – all of these are good gifts from God. But to ignore God, to shut him out means an eternity without these things. It is a living death. So Jesus gently takes our focus away from the tragedy and pleads with us to be prepared for what happens after death: repent, turn away from self and turn to God.
There is something more wonderful than life
All death is sad and in particular there is nothing so heartbreaking than the sudden loss of life to those who are so young. In fact we all long for life to continue, we all dream that life could go on for ever where there are no more accidents and no more killings. But that is not just a dream that is also a reality. There is a life beyond this life. It is life as it is meant to be: A life were there is no more suffering, no more pain, no more tragedy, no more violence and crime, no more funerals and no more death. That is what Jesus has promised to all who repent.
How is this possible? Well as Jesus spoke about the murder in the temple and the tower that fell – he also became a victim of sudden death. Within a few months Jesus was also cut down in the prime of his life aged thirty three. He was slaughtered at the hands of a angry mob, crucified and nailed to a cross. But Jesus death was no accident, this was planned by God from before the creation of the world. Jesus died not because he was a ‘worse sinner’ or ‘more guilty’ – He was innocent! Jesus died because he took my sin and your sin on himself. Instead of God’s justice falling on us it fell on Jesus and crushed him. Jesus suffered the eternal death that you and I deserve so that we might be forgiven. Three days later Jesus rose again from the dead securing our eternal life with him. To know and experience this forgivenss and life, to guarantee this future we must turn from our selfish life and trust in his perfect life.
There is something more wonderful than this life, it is life in God’s eternal Kingdom where death is defeated and destroyed once and for all.
May God continue to comfort those who are grieving.