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The Slaughter of the Innocents

A crazed lunatic – a man with serious emotional health problems – murders twenty innocent children in cold blood.

It’s a line that could have been pulled straight out of Saturday’s paper.  But it wasn’t.  I’m actually describing a part of the Christmas story.  When Herod heard there were Magi from the East in Jerusalem, he invited them to his palace.  He discovered they were so far from home because they were chasing a star heralding the birth of a new king.

Herod insisted that when they found the child they let him know, so he could pay his respects to the new royalty.  But upon finding Jesus, an angel warned the Wise Men that Herod had evil intentions toward the Christ child.  So they never went back to the palace.  Then we read: Matthew 2:16-18 (NIV)
16 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.17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: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.”

Bible scholars call this the “Slaughter of the Innocents.”  Estimates are that Bethlehem had a population at the time of approximately one thousand people…which would mean probably twenty of her citizens were males under the age of two.

In an interesting note, Matthew uses this terrible historical fact to let his readers know that this was one more prophecy fulfilled by Jesus’ birth.  He quotes Jeremiah, the weeping prophet’s vision of Jerusalem’s destruction by Babylon (see Jer. 31:15).  And, of course, it is eerily similar to the story of Moses’ birth in Exodus (see Exo. 1:15).

My point is that this evil has been around for a long, long time.  And, my guess is, that these sick men will be around for a long, long time to come.

Isaiah (see Isa. 53:3) refers to Jesus as a “man of sorrows.”  We see now that he was a man of sorrows even from his infancy.  As soon as he entered the world, trouble was waiting for him.  Before he could walk on his own, he was running for his life.  Because he was “well-acquainted with grief”, he is just the Savior the suffering and sorrowful need.  He understands our prayers and tears for the people in Newtown.  He sympathizes with our own shortcomings and challenges.

This is why the incarnation of Jesus is such a wonderful miracle…that the Word would become flesh and make his dwelling among us.  Hebrews 4:15-16 says: 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Because of Christmas we can confidently come to God and ask for mercy and find the grace we need.  When tragedy strikes, that is exactly the God we need.

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