A Voice Heard in Ramah
There are no words to describe the horrors of the all the recent evil manifested through senseless killings. None. We struggle to find some sense in what’s happening in the world, some meaning, some greater purpose, but we come up empty handed. No philosophizing seems to help. We cannot even imagine that someone would walk into a school filled with children, public places filled with unsuspecting bystanders, or some other venue for the sole purpose of killing and destroying as many lives as possible. Every new case leaves people in shock. How? Why? Where is God in all of this? What do we blame? Guns? Movies? Video games? Mental Illness? How do we even begin to talk about such tragedies?
Instead of simply another article on the problem of evil, I want to think about this passage:
“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.”
Matthew 2:18, quoting Jeremiah 31:15
This passage was quoted on the heels of Herod slaughtering innocent babies in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus. Such slaughters and atrocities have occurred throughout history. Millions have died at the command of those who, in their selfish ambitions bent toward their own evil purposes, have no respect or honor for life and liberty. We know we haven’t seen the last of such people, and it is exactly this mentality that will seek to outdo the last atrocity. God help us. Pray. Evil never quits.
Let’s come back to the passage Matthew quoted from Jeremiah. What are some lessons we can learn here?
1. The message highlights the importance of confronting our culture with the gospel. People need to hear it all -- the death and resurrection of Jesus, the need to repent of sin, the judgment day is coming -- and without our feeling the need to be sorry for it or watering it down. Doug Wilson put it this way: “If you want a society which refuses to name the name of Jesus, and yet is somehow free from these sorts of outrages, you want something that this sinful world cannot ever provide.”* Preach the gospel freely. No human philosophy will or can spare us from these atrocities. Only the gospel can change our lives in a way that impacts us both now and eternally for the good.
2. The message illustrates the very need for which Jesus came into the world: to deal directly with the existence and problem of evil. I don’t just mean cultural evil, but personal evil as well. We are all guilty of sin and need Jesus and the forgiveness that only comes through Him. We wonder why such atrocities occur, and the answer is that we live in a world severely messed up by sin. Yet this also shows why we need to look to God’s ultimatel standards for our morals and actions.
“We must have a God-given, fixed standard so that we may know why we need forgiveness so much. God’s law is not to pat us on the back and tell us what fine fellows we are. God’s law is given to provide a proper shape for our repentance. In moments like this, we are aghast, but our ‘repentance’ is formless and void. We need the shape of God’s holy Word so that we know how shapeless we have become. We need the Spirit of God to move on our waters” (Doug Wilson).
3. Have you ever looked at the passage in Matthew and wondered why he quotes that particular verse from Jeremiah? How could anyone have known that this verse in particular was a prophecy of Herod slaughtering innocent children 600 years later? The answer seems to lie in the context of Jeremiah 31. We recall that it is in this context that Jeremiah speaks of the new covenant that would come under the Messiah (vv. 31-34; cf. Heb 8). Jeremiah 31 is a passage that looks to the future of Israel, to a future of hope and blessing under the Messiah. Matthew quotes vs. 15, but keep reading. “There is hope for your future” (vs. 17). There is hope, and this hope is to be found in the Messiah. I believe Matthew quotes that verse in order to demonstrate 1) the horrors of sinfulness, 2) the need for salvation, and 3) the reality that the Messiah has now come. The hope God promised is found in Jesus. Only in Jesus.
Evil is real, and it brings unimaginable pain. But God sent Jesus to delve into the reality of evil and confront it head on. Jesus suffered to that end. The result? Salvation and hope that will take us away from the evil of this world. Are we paying attention?