Massacre of the Innocents

First Sunday in Christmas | December 29, 2019

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Isaiah 63:7-9 • Psalm 148 • Hebrews 2:10-18 • Matthew 2:13-23

13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. 17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A cry was heard in Ramah—
    weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
    refusing to be comforted,
    for they are dead.”

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”

21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. 22 But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. 23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Matthew 2:13-23 New Living Translation (NLT)

Today’s passage is typically labeled the Massacre of the Innocents. It happens following the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. The Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod. We learn that Herod has no plans to worship the child but to kill Him. Herod was in many ways a puppet ruler, but was given leeway by the Romans.

Herod, not knowing exactly how old Jesus is, gives the command to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem under the age of 2. Mary and Joseph are also warned and escape to Egypt. This would not be the first time a Hebrew or Jew escaped to Egypt. Abraham fled to Egypt during a famine and do did Jacob. It is Jacob’s moving to Egypt that eventually triggers the events of the exodus.

This Sunday I connected two events that I had never seen before. Between the time of Joseph and the Exodus it was 400 years. The time between the Old and New Testaments is also 400 years. Both of these 400 year seasons are not well documented – at least in the Bible. The Apocrypha does give us more history of these 400 years, but for 400 years God appeared to be silent – before the arrival of Jesus. Just as God raised up a leader for the Hebrews in Egypt, so God also provided a deliverer for his people. This time he would deliver them from sin – the sin that happened in the Garden of Eden.

Obviously this did not sit well with Satan. Just as he tempted Adam and Eve successfully so did he successfully tempt Herod to go after Jesus. Herod went after Jesus but was unsuccessful. A great cry was heard in Judea. This massacre of the innocents was another of the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. As I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks back, the chances of Jesus fulfilling just 8 prophecies was 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000 or the chances of finding a specific silver dollar – that are covering the state of Texas two feet deep. Those are quite insurmountable odds. Even early in his life, Jesus has fulfilled several prophecies.

This passage signifies the war in the heavenlies. This spiritual battle comes to life in Revelation 12:

12 Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.

Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.

She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne.

Revelation 12:1-5

The dragon – Satan was trying to silence Jesus – and the war continues to this day. We are reminded that we need to keep our eyes open to all of the enemies tricks. Jesus came as a human – He was God in the flesh – so that he would know the shortcomings of what it means to be in these mortal bodies.

As I close let me quote from this week’s Hebrews passage:

or only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

Hebrews 2:14b-18

Jesus knows what we are going through, after all, Satan pursued him immediately after coming to Earth. Jesus is her for us – he knows what it is to be tempted, he knows what it means to suffer, he knows what it means to be tested – and he is able to help us through.

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