Summary: the holy innocents slaughter.
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENT
I hope you had a nice Christmas together. What were the familiar sounds of Christmas? Presents being opened, children’s excited voices, food being eaten, bells, carols and probably snoring. There are smells and there are sounds which remind us each year of Christmas. There are images, pictures that are also familiar to us and which immediately conjure up the image of Christmas. But let me share with you this morning one part of the Christmas story which tends to be ignored. You never see it on a Christmas card. It is never included in any nativity play, certainly none that I have ever seen. And yet it is one of thee most significant parts of the Christmas story because it helps us to understand the importance of this baby, this Jesus who has come into the world. It is the story which has come to be called ‘The Slaughter of the Innocent’ and we find it in Matthew 2.13-18, turn with me to there now.
Let me set the background to this passage. Jesus has been born in Bethlehem, and wise men (or magi) have come in search of him, guided by a star. They, naturally, looking for a king go to the palace. When Herod, the king, hears of the birth of a king, he sends these wise men away and asks them to return with the location of this king, so that he too ‘may go and worship him.’ Now we know that is not Herod’s intention – but we only know that because of what he does when the magi do not return to tell him of the location of the birth of Jesus. We read in verse 2 of this chapter that Herod was deeply troubled and disturbed by news of the birth of a king.
And so we come to the passage we read this morning – verses 13-18. By the time the magi found Christ – he may well have been 12-18months old. We know that because the magi saw the star when he was born and it would have taken some time to travel from the East to Herod’s palace and then to Bethlehem. Also because Herod orders the death of every boy 2 and under after he has inquired at what time the star first appeared.
We read prior to verse 13 that the magi had been warned to go home via a different route and they obey. Herod’s anger is kindled by this subterfuge. Joseph too is warned in dream – to get up and take Mary and the infant Christ into Egypt and not to return until Herod is dead. I want you to stop there for a moment and I want you to think what Matthew is telling us here. You see it is easy to read this and say that Jesus was taken off to Egypt for his safety but there is much more here. Matthew’s gospel is the most Jewish of the four gospels. He is the only one who includes the story of this slaughter, Luke leaves it out. Matthew pulls in OT quotations from Hosea and Jeremiah in order to support the significance of this flight to Egypt. Let me explain. Egypt and the Exodus are thee most significant moments in the history of Israel. They speak of God’s salvation of his people from bondage and slavery. They speak of freedom from slavery, deliverance, and also of God’s provision for his chosen people. Matthew at the beginning of the life of Christ wants us to understand that this little baby is the Saviour – he is the one who will free God’s people from sin and slavery (Egypt) and lead them (Exodus) to the promised land (heaven). When he quotes Jeremiah about Rachel crying in Ramah – he is reminding his Jewish readers that Rachel who they see as the mother of Israel (as the wife of Jacob who became Israel) was buried at Ramah – and Ramah was the site of the Babylonian exile. So the lament of Rachel was for the children of Israel (her children by lineage) being carried off into slavery and bondage once again. They were taken into exile because of their sin and idolatry. So Matthew with a few literary allusions wants to establish in the hearts and minds of the readers that this baby Jesus will be a new Moses who will come and lead the people of God out of slavery and bondage and into the freedom of the promised land.