Matthew 2:7-18 – Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “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.”
JESUS AND THE INNOCENTS
Matthew was written first to the Jews in the Hebrew language. As such, he relates Jesus to the Old Testament prophesies and helps us see how Jesus fulfilled those ancient anticipations. In a little over 300 words at the beginning of Matthew, we learn that Jesus is the son of Abraham and of David and is King of the Jews. He is conceived of the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary. He is Jesus who will save the Jews from their sins and that he is God with us. Any person schooled in the Bible will immediately discern a pattern, something upon which Matthew counted.
The flight into Egypt had memories alerting the reader to look for something more, to be reminded of Egypt and the Exodus.
Egypt had been their place of refuge under Jacob and Joseph, but it turned into their place of slavery. The most notorious distinction of their slavery was the killing of all the male children in their infancy with only Moses surviving by being hidden in the bulrushes by his mother. In their captivity in Egypt, their innocent children were destroyed. Every Jew remembered all these details every year in the Passover as they do to this day.
In Jewish history, after the Egyptian captivity, there was the Assyrian captivity followed by Judah’s Babylonian captivity. These exiles or captivities formed the hub of Jewish existence.
Jewish readers could see in the behavior of Herod the behaviors of the Pharaoh or of Nebuchadnezzar. Jews would have seen the parallels of Herod with Pharaoh, Rome with Egypt, and Jesus with Moses. Israel was in captivity under the Romans as they had been previously under the Egyptians and the Babylonians. The evidence was the death of their innocent children.
To cement the parallel the prophet Jeremiah, who preached to a rebellious Judah, is quoted.
Mt 2:18 – “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.” Matthew recalls Rachel, the wife of Jacob who died very near that place giving birth to a son.
Gen 35:18-20 –“As she breathed her last – for she was dying – she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.” By the way, you can still visit that site today on the road to Bethlehem.
In that very place where the children of Bethlehem were destroyed by evil, Jeremiah had stood some 600 years earlier. He saw Israel’s sons being marched off into the Babylonian captivity, and he thought of Rachel’s tomb nearby. Rachel was not to be consoled as Benjamin’s sons were now being lost.
In each of the three epic captivities, Egypt, Babylon, and Rome, the little children of Israel are slaughtered. It is virtually the defining characteristic of captivity and evil. It epitomizes loss at every level.
I thought the Governor of Connecticut had it exactly right when he said “evil came to our city today.” There is a time to recognize that we have been touched by evil. It is entirely inappropriate to say “God is still in control” in times of calamity such as the gay marriage vote and this slaughter of innocents in Connecticut. While it is always true that God is in control in some ultimate sense, man’s evil is often the dominant headline.
It is a positive sign that people are asking what can be done about it.
Mayor McGinn thinks the answer is gun control. I suppose in Herod’s day, he would have favored sword control; or in Cain’s day, it would have been stone or club control.
It should not be lost on us as Americans that the two most recent assaults came in two of our primary institutions. In Oregon, it came at the Clackamas Town Center, maybe Oregon’s best mall. It hit the heart of business at the peak of the season. I can almost guarantee there was no manger scene at the mall, but Santa did dive for cover when the shooting started.
In Connecticut, it was in a school, the center of education and America’s great hope for the future. Within that school, it hit our greatest treasure: our children. By national policy, could the Lord Jesus Christ be taught there?
We are in captivity, and the suffering of the innocents tells us in no uncertain terms the nature of our losses.
Yet we continue to want to frame the question in terms of “rights” rather than what is right! What can be done in human hearts so this never happens again? The real question should be “what can be done about evil?” That is the answer of Matthew.
In a dark world of captivity and evil, the light of Jesus Christ burst forth.
He doesn’t waste much time with Herod. Rather, he is intent upon showing us Jesus because Jesus is the answer to the problem of evil. This son of Abraham, and son of David, is the King of Kings. Herod is a usurper, and the rightful king has come to bring us back from captivity.
We have made moral progress if we can call evil by what it is, EVIL. Jeremiah certainly knew evil. Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
We have made even more progress if we can know that God is good yet just. Exodus 34:5-7 – “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
Sin quite naturally rears its ugly and evil head, and we feel the sting of it. Every America feels sick in their heart over what has happened. It is evil that motivates the things we have seen of late.
But what the world needs is not an explanation of sin, but a cure for it. That is what Christmas is about.
We have come to salvation if we can make Jesus, the baby of Christmas, the King of our life. Christmas is God’s answer to the existence of great evil. It is Jesus, suffering along with his people, tested in every point like we are. He identifies with us by becoming the father to the fatherless and a protector of widows. He came to bind up the broken-hearted and to set at liberty those who are bruised. These are his answers to great evil.
Light is made to shine more brightly in the darkness.
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