Who is in control ? God or man ? That’s not just a question most people ask in their lives, but has been a question at the heart of philosophy and theology for centuries. The debate goes under various names: in the early centuries the protagonists for each side were Augustine and Pelagius .
Moving on into more recent centuries, the debate was led by John Calvin on one side, and Jacob Arminius on the other.
The question comes down to this: Is God in control of all events, including the essential matter of who gets saved by Jesus; or is individual free will the decisive factor, both in our lives generally, and in the specific matter of choosing to be saved [ie Jesus offers salvation to all, and its up to you the individual to decide to respond or not].
So what has this to do with our current survey of the Gospel of Matthew ? Well, everything. Because we have reached chapter 2 and if you take all 48 verses of both chapter 1 and chapter 2 you will find there the answer to the question made very clear indeed, and brutally so in chapter 2.
In chapter 1 we saw that there were 3 sets of 14 generations before Jesus Christ comes on the scene – each set of 14 marking distinct phases in the history of the Israelites. We saw that Jesus arrival was in fulfilment of Old Testament scripture, namely Isaiah and chapter 7 and verse 14.
In chapter 2 there are more Old Testament scriptures cited about the life of Jesus Christ – that he would be from Bethlehem, that he would be called out of Egypt and that he would be called a Nazarene, ie from the town of Nazareth.
Such apparently contradictory statements about the Messiah – ie that he came from 3 entirely different places – are explained uniquely by the actual events of Jesus life, as told in chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel.
Quite incredible, and a prediction and fulfilment which no man or group of men could possibly have either planned or brought about. We are left with the distinct conclusion that only God could carry out such a plan. Not man.
And yet we see a man in chapter 2 doing precisely as he pleases, regardless of God’s laws and God’s standards.
We see King Herod slaughtering the children of the area of Bethlehem in his rage and in his human attempt to control events and stop a rival King emerging in the form of the long awaited Messiah.
Let’s just look at Herod a moment, because his attitude and his actions have all the marks of human nature in all its sinfulness, openly defying God’s purpose and God’s ways.
Herod believes he can control the situation. He believes he can thwart the very purposes of God by eliminating a rival – the Messiah himself. This sort of arrogance is typical of the human heart, steeped as it is in God defying sinfulness.
His arrogance in defiance of God’s ways lead him to lie to the 3 wise men who come to him for help. Out of simple and evil ambition, Herod seeks to deceive the wise men, and plans to murder the recently born Jesus.
This is the wickedness of the human heart writ large, and shows how dangerous the pretensions of man to control events can be. Nothing has changed – today people murder and deceive to gain greater power for themselves …
So Herod does exactly as he pleases.
But God thwarts his plan as only God can do – he intervenes directly to warn the wise men to return another way, and avoid Herod. He also warns Joseph to take the child far away and not return home.
And in doing so, yet more Old Testament scripture is fulfilled – Jesus is eventually brought back from Egypt, and goes to live in Nazareth.
God intervenes and directs the other actors in the drama to thwart the evil plan of Herod.
God knows in advance the evil Herod will do to the children, and it is predicted in the prophet Jeremiah [chapter 31, verse 15] some 4 centuries before.
So, Herod the evil king did just as he pleased, and God in his foreknowledge took account of Herod’s actions and did just has he pleased, but of course determined the outcome of the entire attempt of Herod to intervene and change the direction of history.
As the apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians in chapter 1 and verse 11,
predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will
This citation is actually talking about the specific matter of salvation – ie who gets saved – but it is just as applicable to all that God does, because determining all events must be the competence of the Creator God who is all powerful [omnipotent], all knowing [omniscient] and all present [omnipresent].
God allowed Herod full rein to do the desire of his evil heart, and yet divinely ordered events to achieve His purpose.
And this must be the answer to the simplistic logic of the philosopher and his subsidiary counterpart, the theologian.
But what about the slaughtered children ? Doesn’t God care ?
Of course he does. Herod didn’t care, but God does. It was ever thus and still is.
But that is outrageous ! you say.
No, it’s not.
It’s outrageous to the man centred and materialistic mindset of sinful man who sees himself at the centre of events; for whom this life here is all that counts.
God sees differently, as we can see if read the Bible and reflect on it.
God sees eternally. God is the author of all life, and God is the one to whom we return when we die. This lifespan in this physical world is but a drop in the ocean of eternity – an eternity we will all live.
Those murdered children are in God’s hands, and played a part in God’s eternal purpose. Their fate is a matter for God – and the fate of us all is a matter for God – NOT US !