Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:  “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
As we conclude our Advent Series from Matthew 1-2, I am struck by the cost of redemption as reflected in Matthew 2:16-18. I am even more struck by how lightly I take the cost of redemption (if I even consider it all) even though I find this passage to be devastating every time I read it. Part of the problem is rooted in the idea that permeates Western Christianity that “redemption (or salvation) is free.” The other part of the problem rises from radical individualism that divorces us from our historical and global community blinding us to how historically and globally connected we truly are. The sum result is our approaching Advent without the weight of thankfulness and solemnity for which the coming of Christ is due. It also inhibits the full breadth of joyous celebration for which this season is truly worthy. Advent deserves a healthy balance of solemnity and celebration given the cost of redemption.
Based on what we see in passages like Matthew 2:16-18, is redemption (or salvation) actually free in the fullest sense of the word? Paul’s declaration in Ephesians 2:8-9 that “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” is oft used as the ringing bell proving that salvation is free. This is true in that salvation is free in that the one being saved does nothing to earn it nor can anyone other than Jesus earn it for them. However, this narrow view all too often divorces the individual from the significant historic cost to make it possible for them to hear, read, and receive the Gospel. Consider the vast historic and global persecution and suffering of the people of God along with the specific persecution and suffering of the prophets who fought to keep the truth alive amid the people. Consider the martyrs over the centuries that lost their lives over translating Bibles into native tongues or trying to share the Gospel with various tongues, tribes, and nations. Consider the murder of the innocents in Bethlehem at the hands of Herod and the subsequent suffering of the families of those children. But most of all, consider the body-breaking, blood-shedding cost to Jesus the Christ who bore the totality of the sins of God’s children along with the full weight of God’s wrath toward those sins. Many throughout history and around the globe have paid the ultimate price to ensure the continuation of the Gospel over the ages. Jesus paid the highest price of all on the cross in order for Immanuel to be enjoyed in full. No, redemption is not free in the fullest sense of the word.
There is quite a historic cost to redemption that we should remember as we celebrate this Christmas day. Give thanks to the Lord for providing a faithful remnant and not allowing the light of the Gospel to go out. Praise God for Jesus being the ultimate payment for our sins purchasing for us newness of life and eternal joy and peace in His presence. Pray for those around the world in places like Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Iran who are being persecuted for their faith but faithfully serving as the remnant for the future generations to hear of the Advent of Christ in those places. Confess any way in which you have taken the cost of redemption lightly. Ask the Spirit to help you have a healthy solemnity and engage in a more joyous celebration this Advent Season given the cost of redemption.
Cameron Barham is the Lead Pastor of Christ Community Church in Kennesaw, GA.
Images: FreeImages.com/Hans Widmer, Derek Boggs
 For those who would question the historicity of the murder of the innocents by Herod, a number of scholars have proposed that the small population of Bethlehem (approx. 1,000) would suggest that the total number of children 0-2 years old would be around 20 which would be “insignificant” in the annals of history. See R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 84-85 for a fuller discussion.