Murder In Bethlehem

District Fellowship News

November, December 2011


When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. “ - Matthew 2:16

 In a little mentioned aside to the birth of Jesus, Matthew describes an event that  seems horrific to us, wiping out all the children under two in a town.  Of course, to understand how Herod had gotten to this point, you must look at his paranoid behavior (murdering a wife, her mother and father, even sons for fear they may be after his throne), the visit he received from important men from the east, and his own experts agreeing there may be a king of the Jews born in Bethlehem. The massacre of the infants came about because evil does not welcome holiness, justice, or truth but instead attempts at every opportunity to destroy it.

 How are we to react to this event? Do we focus on the loss of the children and the impact on their families? Do we ignore the ugliness and focus on the beauty of Christ’s birth story? Or is there a more balanced way to see this event in light of God’s plan for the world?

 Our tendency today is to focus on loss and hurt. Our answer would be to sponsor a law that makes baby killing in small villages a capital offense, and name it after one of the children who died, maybe Matthias’ law. It would make us feel like we had done something to fix the problem, even though murder already is against the law. The church classified the children as the first martyrs, and celebrated a feast in their honor on December 28th. Eventually building a theology around the importance of these children to the point that in the 15th and 16th centuries the church in England and Germany would appoint a “boy bishop” on December 8th to oversee the functions of the church (except the actual Mass), and he would continue in “office” until the Feast of the Innocents on the 28th was done. Putting the focus on these child martyrs and children in general became the goal. Yet we must realize that the importance of this story hinges only on it’s relationship to the Son of God. Otherwise the murder of these children (and remember this was not on the scale of Rwanda or Darfur, but maybe 6 or 7, possibly 20 children at the most) was not even mentioned in the secular histories of the time. There were too many other horrendous things Herod was known for. 

 Another way we have dealt with this story is to totally ignore it. We have beautified the birth, the life, and the death of Jesus. Just as we removed most of the blood and guts from the old westerns, we’ve cleaned up the story of Christ. Remember He was born in a stable, possibly a cave with no electricity or running water. There was a good chance Mary would die giving birth, or He would die being born. Men were attempting to kill Him constantly throughout His ministry. The movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, probably came closer to the reality of the suffering that Christ endured than we would like to see. There was more ugliness than beauty, and this event was a part of that. We cannot sugarcoat children being bludgeoned and stabbed to death by men who have no respect for human life. There was weeping in Bethlehem when the most innocent of mankind were brutally killed at the order of a despot. We cannot ignore the pain and suffering, We cannot ignore the story.

 To see the truth requires an eternal perspective. We must see the whole of God’s plan not just at that moment but across eternity. The story we read in Matthew 2 (Wise Men after witnessing cosmic events, traveled to acknowledge and worship a new king being born. They stopped in Jerusalem to talk to the one man who should know something about this, the present king. Going on their way these wise men found their new king, Jesus, and then returned to their own country) hints at a small part of the plan for God’s redemption of mankind that included his miraculous preservation and protection for his Son. God divinely impregnated Mary, showed both her and Joseph through signs and angels that this child was divine. God brought them to Bethlehem for His birth to fulfill prophecy, and through this present story we see that he sends an angel once again to warn Joseph that danger is coming in the form of Herod’s soldiers. The small family travels to Egypt until they hear of Herod’s death and then they return not to Bethlehem where the rumors may start again but back to Galilee where God’s son can grow and mature until the time is right for him to be revealed, to minister for three years, to die as a sacrifice for us, and then to be resurrected.  God’s redemptive message is then propagated around the world by those who will eventually be privileged to lay down their lives for Him. From these children, to Stephen, Paul, Peter and throughout the centuries to this day lives have been and still are being taken by those who like Herod hate holiness, and truth. But when we have an eternal perspective we realize that an ended life here means an eternal life with Jesus. That is the story of these children who died because a mad King thought they might be the real King of the Jews. They left their earthly lives behind but they have a place with the real King in his kingdom.