To be described as withdrawn' is usually not good. Withdrawing troops is usually not thought of as coming home in victory. But we read in connection with the slaughter of the babies of Bethlehem that both the Magi and the holy family withdrew from the murderous King Herod. So, might there be a time for withdrawing from the slaughter of our innocents? There is a good and bad withdrawing.
Withdraw from the widely held belief that abortion is a social issue, such as increasing the minimum wage, funding Social Security, or gun control legislation. A Christian can be on either side of a social issue. A Christian can't be on either side of a moral issue.
A Christian can no more withdraw from the abortion issue than a Christian could have withdrawn from Hitler's holocaust or Stalin's purges. You can't dismiss the murdering of the innocent for political, economic, or individual rights as a social issue. Solzhenitsyn compared not doing anything during Stalin's purges to "pushing away the hands of those who were drowning." And concluded, "Once you have been steeped in blood, you can only become more cruel" (Gulag, II, 650).
A Christian can no more withdraw from the abortion issue than he should have withdrawn from slavery. Try saying to anyone today, "O slavery was just a social issue." You'll be attacked immediately. You'll be told, "Don't you know in defense of slavery they legally declared blacks less than human, property that the owner can do with as he wills, devoid of rights?" How is this different from calling the unborn tissue, or blobs of cells? Or saying, "A woman can do anything she wants with her pregnant body?" Or, "A fetus has no right to equal protection under the law?"
A Christian in the 21st century can no more call abortion a social issue than a believer in the 1st century B.C. or A.D. could call child sacrifice a social issue. Whether they sacrificed the child to a named god like Moloch or the unnamed gods of expedience or common sense, a believer can't withdraw from that. You're sticking your head in the sand if you don't know that abortion is pursued today with religious and scientific faith. The book The Sacrament of Abortion was dedicated to the goddess Artemis and on the New York Times best-seller list in the early 90s (Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, 242). The May 1984 issue of Science had an article titled "Infanticide." It noted that Darwin believed it was "'probably the most important of all checks'' on population throughout human history (Creation and the Modern Christian, 75).
If you're withdrawing from the abortion issue under the guise of it being a social issue, you are without excuse before God. The blood of aborted babies is no less on your hands than that of the doctors who kill them and the men and women allowing or paying for abortion. But if you're not withdrawing from the sin of abortion, you must withdraw from the belief that the wrath of man can work the righteousness of God. James 1:20 plainly says, "The wrath of man doesn't work the righteousness of God" and woe to the man who thinks it can.
John Brown was a Christian who thought the injustice and sin of slavery justified force. He killed men in the name of stopping the enslaving of other men. Dietrich Bonheoffer was a Lutheran pastor who believed he was justified in plotting Hitler's death to end his murderous holocaust. Scott Roeder is the "born again" Christian who killed Dr. George Tiller in 2009. Tiller operated one of only 3 clinics nationwide that murdered unborn babies during their last trimester. His clinic was firebombed in 1986 and he was shot in both arms in 1993 but that didn't stop him. Roeder did.
You will find Christians who defend Brown's, Bonheoffer's, and Roeder's actions as moral, noble, and Christian. Maybe you think so too, but what do you do with the Slaughter of the Innocents? What do you do with the fact that the Magi didn't try to raise an army, Joseph didn't stay and fight, and Jesus Himself fled to Egypt leaving children to die?
I told you that unless you repent of withdrawing from abortion in the wrong way, you're as guilty as those doing them. Now I say unless you withdraw in the right way you'll conclude that the use of deadly force is justified. You'll conclude that the political way to end abortion hasn't worked, can't work, and since innocent human life is at stake you must meet force with force. Scripture does say, "The wrath of man works not the righteousness of man" but it also says that God can use the wrath of man and restrain the part that isn't useful. That's Psalm 76:10: "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain."
Our text says Jesus' flight to Egypt that was occasioned by Herod murdering the innocents happened in order to fulfill the Word of God. It does not say that the Slaughter of the Innocents happened in order to fulfill God's Word. It says "what was spoken was fulfilled." We have to see the fine distinction the Holy Spirit is making. Matthew cites the Old Testament 10 times in His Gospel only here and in the matter of Judas betraying Jesus does he not use the formula in order that. This shows God's intention and purpose didn't rule in the death of the Bethlehem babies or in the betrayal of Judas, but nevertheless God's will was done and His kingdom had come.
Jesus fleeing to Egypt and the death of the innocent babies are connected by the Holy Spirit in this way: In Jesus is all of Israel, all the children of God, and now that God has come to earth Rachel weeping for her dead children can be comforted as she never could be before.
God is now on the scene to do what the first Israel didn't do. The first Israel went down into Egypt as God's children and came out idolaters. The Second Israel went down into Egypt faithful and stayed that way. But Jesus is not just the Second Israel. He is the Second Adam, the Son of Mankind. He stands in the stead of all humanity. He keeps the Laws in place of us all. He never committed a sexual sin which often leads to the sin of abortion not even in thought. He never raised His hand to hurt some one let alone to murder an unborn child. He was tempted to disregard life in all the ways we are to look down on the infirm, to not consider children a blessing, to look at the aged as useless but never once did He give in.
The couple dozen men John Brown killed didn't pay for the sins of those men or his own. Bonheoffer's blood being shed didn't cleanse him or any of his many followers from their sins. Tiller's blood being shed didn't pay for his murderous sins and made Roeder guilty of Tiller's blood. The wrath of God, however, does work the righteousness of God. By taking His only beloved, perfect, Son and torturing Him, and ridiculing Him, and beating Him, and spitting on Him, and nailing Him to a cross and then abandoning Him to hell, God's righteousness was won for all sinners in Jesus' name.
Hell is what murderers deserve. Hell is what anyone who thinks abortion is a tragic choice, a perplexing social issue, or a necessary evil deserves. Hell is what the doctors who do abortions, the men who pay for abortions and the women who get them deserve: eternal Hell nothing cooler, nothing shorter, nothing less. And if they want it they can have it, but Jesus took their place. He took the place of the man who scarified his baby to Moloch. He took the place of the Roman who exposed his deformed child to die. He took the place of the slave owner who beat his slave to death, Nazis who murdered who they felt like, and the place of the men and women getting abortions and those staffing abortion clinics. Jesus took their places in hell.
God ended the child sacrificing of the Canaanites by having Israel destroy them. God ended the child sacrificing of Carthage by having Rome destroy them. God ended the infanticide of the Romans by having them fall one by one into the Faith that God became an infant for them to redeem all human life, even the life of murderers. Luther said that when you're dealing with abortion or infanticide you're dealing with the Devil. "Where does this come from that a mother would kill the fruit of her own body? It is certain they were possessed by the Devil" (LW, 58, 308). You and I are no match for the Devil. We go up against him in our strength, our reason, our way, and we will end like Brown, Bonheoffer, and Roeder.
Nothing you and I have can stop Rachel from weeping for her children. Whether Rachel is guilty of killing her own, has suffered a miscarriage of one, or never had a chance to have one, nothing we have or do can stop her tears. But God is able to do what we can't: not only can He use the wrath of man to praise Him, He can dry "undryable" tears. Jeremiah says, "Rachel was weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted." Then the Lord, Jesus, says, "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears."
This is exactly like Jesus telling the widow of Nain, "Stop crying." Either He is being cruel and heartless or He is saying there's no reason for tears because He is on the scene. You can't deal with the devil of abortion, the murderers of the unborn, or the tears of the guilty and pained by abortion or those who feel cheated by lack of life. But Jesus can. Jesus does. He says to the dead, "Live." He says to the guilty, "Forgiven." He says to those not getting all they had hoped for in this life, "There's another life quite different from this. Rachels weep here and now but not there or forever."
Let the centuries old Collect direct you to the proper way to withdraw. "Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips." We profess to believe in a Day when Jesus will certainly judge the hearts and lives of all men, not us. We profess to believe vengeance is God's not ours. We profess to believe that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and the knowledge of the truth. We profess to believe that as there was comfort, answers, and justice for Rachel in Jesus, so there is for us and anyone who withdraws to Him until as Psalm 57 says these calamities - which we can't solve in our wisdom or bear in our strength - be overpast. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Holy Innocents, Martyrs (20150118); Matthew 2: 13-18