Matthew 2:16 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. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “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.”
This morning we have a difficult passage before us. There is nothing light hearted about it. I’m not going to make it sound light hearted, that wouldn’t do justice to its context. But having said that, we can find some hope here and some encouragement for our own hearts and minds.
Over the last several weeks we have learned some of the aspects of the birth of Jesus Christ, and of some events that immediately followed His birth into this world. It's good stuff! The Christ has come. But His coming would not happen without controversy. His coming from the beginning caused a stir among the people in His region. We have seen some of that stir. The wise men came from the east, following a star, bringing gifts and worshiping King Jesus.
The wise men coming alerted Herod, the known king of the land, that Jesus had been born and that He was thought by some to be the new King of the Jews. As we have seen, this got Herod’s attention. Herod met with religious leaders to see what this was all about, he talked with the wise men and tried to convince them that he was like they were, a man who wanted to worship the Messiah. God intervened and told the wise men to leave another way, avoiding Herod. Our account starts at this point.
Matthew 2:16 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.
Wow! The lengths that people will go to in order to protect and preserve what they value is incredible. Herod valued, highly valued his kingdom and all that his kingdom provided for him. We are going to try and get inside Herod’s mind here, but in doing so let’s not fail to consider what we value and the lengths we may go to to protect what we love most. Herod is an extreme, I know, but we can be as well. Look at Herod with me.
Matthew 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious,
He believed that the wise men tricked him, tricked the king. Herod was not a man that others were allowed to trick. To trick King Herod could be a deadly decision. He was proud, arrogant, powerful. Herod ruled with an iron fist. He had killed before and would not hesitate to kill again to preserve his kingdom and his power. Men who have much, have much to lose, and Herod was not going to lose. How does a man get to this point?
Believing he had been tricked, he became furious. To be furious is to be “extremely angry so as to not be able to think.” This is pure emotion which rules a person in an extreme case, red hot anger. This is an anger that communicates, ”How dare you cross me. You will feel my wrath!” It is uncontrolled anger that most often seeks revenge. This is where Herod was. And why? Because what he loved most was being threatened.
Look, we are not immune from such awful sinful behavior. I don’t mean that any one of us would commit the heinous act that we are about to read about, but we are not above sinning in order to protect an idol in our lives. We are not above loving something so much that we are willing to sin in order to preserve it – willing to lie in order to maintain some false good reputation, willing to cheat in order to gain financially, willing to dress provocatively to gain attention, willing to lash out at people in order to keep them under our control. Think about it: what do you love most and how do you preserve it?
Here is what Herod was willing to do in order to preserve his kingdom: "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."
Murder. Murder of children. Murder of all male children two years old and under. How far will people go? Herod, in his fury, had children killed.
I cannot even begin to imagine what that night would have been like for families in that region. Herod made a quick decision that those lives were of little value compared to his personal desires, and so he could justify his action, his command. This should send a chill down our spines. It should because it is an illustration of how far sinners can go, sinners who love themselves first and foremost.
Have you even been entangled in some sin and just contemplated where it could lead? Or have you ever observed someones else’s habitual sin and thought of where it might lead? Sin, unrestrained sin apart from repentance, is a path of progression. James 4 shows a progression of sin.
James 4:1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
We see this idea, this truth that passions are at war within us. Strong desires for things that God prohibits for our good. There is a war. And if this continues, and if we desire, strongly desire something that we do not have, it leads to sin, "murder" James says. "You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel."
When our passions rule us, then our passions will lead us to sin. We are not to be ruled by our passions, but we are to have self-control.
This terrible thing that Herod did was talked about in Jeremiah.
Matthew 2:17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “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.”
The quote in 2:18 is from Jeremiah 31:15. Jeremiah prophesied during the decades leading up to and immediately following Judah’s fall to Babylon. His ministry was one of proclaiming doom and judgment – if you've read Jeremiah lately, you'll see that. However, he, like most Old Testament prophets, included a message of hope, of forgiveness, and restoration. Jeremiah 30–31 gives us a lengthy discussion focused on the future restoration of Judah. They were being taken captive, but they were going to be restored. Jeremiah, in his declarations here, mentions the sorrow and devastation of Judah, by way of contrast with the joy that would follow. Jeremiah’s specific prophecy relates to the captivity in Babylon and the killing of children during Babylon’s conquest of Judea. Children were killed. So this parallel is interesting with what we see in Matthew 2.
The verse in Matthew regarding the children being slaughtered by Herod is one of these sorrowful, terrible notes common in Jeremiah’s ministry. But in its context it is immediately followed by this: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,’ declares the Lord. ‘They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 31:16–17). In the middle of some terrible things that were happening, God instructs Jeremiah to declare, "Your hope is still in the Lord." Perhaps the parents who were suffering in Bethlehem with the loss of a child, perhaps they found comfort in the Lord’s promise, trusting Him, even without understanding what had just happened. Believing that there was some kind of purpose behind the tragedy. Matthew probably intended that his readers here, being familiar with the Old Testament passage, would understand that God has purpose in what He does, and even that the Messiah was coming to the region.
As I mentioned a few minutes ago, this is a difficult passage for us to think on. And yet, we can find great hope in the gospel as we consider it. Our own hearts and minds can be encouraged. This is what I mean: when we are confronted with terrible sin, whether ours, sin that we commit, or terrible sin against us, we can go to Christ, the gospel of Christ and find hope.
Apart from Christ, we have no hope. We would be devastated by sin in this world, we would be left in despair and we would suffer not just now but for all eternity. But the truth is Jesus came to give life and to give it abundantly. Jesus came to give comfort to the hurting and strength to the weak.
Psalm 34:17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
Because Jesus came and because of His love for us, we are not slaves to the effects of sin that is all around us and even in us. We have been called to live new lives in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
What is this new that has come? It is peace.
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
What is the new that has come? Joy.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
It is anticipation of life with Christ in heaven.
John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
Security in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 1:13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
As Christians we are not slaves to sin, nor are we slaves to its effects on us. We are new creatures with peace, joy, hope of eternal life, and security in Christ. This is the new life we have been given. Apart from Christ we are Herod, but with Christ we are transformed, God’s children, secure in His arms. Our hope is not in this world, nor in the events that we see around us; our hope is in Christ alone, and the promises He has given to us.
We have a choice as to whether we will focus our lives on the here and now, and the terrible effects of sin around us, or whether we will focus on Christ and His work in and around us and in this world.