Matthew 2:13-18 — The Ugly Scene Inside the Nativity Passages and A Tough Question of Our Faith

Posted: August 28, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew
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Matthew 2:13-18 — When we read this passage, we are often thankful for Jesus being able to escape into Egypt, but we often ignore the hard question. In the beautiful story of Jesus’ birth, there is this ugly episode involving King Herod. There is a fundamentally hard question that often we Christians ignore because it is so hard to answer, particularly in the midst of this story that we tell our children over and over at Christmas time. With all of the “good vibrations” of the Christmas holiday, all the syrupy-sweet warm fuzzies our culture builds into the holiday, and especially here in the church where we celebrate our Savior’s birth and focus on its actual meaning…. Still, it’s kind of shocking, to be faced with such a gruesome story.

In this passage, we learn that Joseph is warned by an angel to flee into Egypt. Because Herod had learned of the Magi left town without re-visiting him he was enraged because they took with them the knowledge of the whereabouts of the would-be king, the Christ. Therefore, to cover his bases to keep a supposed rival king from arising from his midst, he ordered having all children under the age of two that resided in Bethlehem murdered. Although there has been conjecture as to whether this actually happened or not, it is completely consistent with the paranoid defense of his throne that Herod displayed during his reign which is well documented outside the Bible. He killed several of his sons and at least his first wife because of his fears that they were plotting to take his throne among many other such killngs. The fact that Bethlehem was so small at the time there was very few children under the age of two resided in Bethlehem (probably less than 10 in a town of approximately 300 at the time of Jesus’ birth). Therefore, to me, this did indeed happen.

This brings us to a troubling question, we can understand why Jesus was spared. He was God’s own Son, but why were the innocent children (even if it was actually less than 10) not spared from the mania of a diabolical earthly ruler? Did God allow this to happen just to fulfill the prophecies of Hosea 11:1 (out of Egypt I will call my son) and of Jeremiah 31:15 (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). Seems like God is either very callous in keeping to his prophecy fulfillment timetable or He is a weak God that cannot prevent such things from happening. We may not speak it out loud but we think it in today’s world when natural disasters happen or especially when senseless acts of violence happen. We certainly must ask this question here when there is this truly evil act of senseless violence.

This is a fundamental question of faith. Many people disdain the Old Testament today because of its violence and all the smiting that went on and the wiping out of entire groups of people. They say they are just going to stick with the New Testament. But here in the New Testament, you have this act of pure evil in which numerous innocents died, simply because of their age. So, this is a question we must deal with at some point or another. It is an ever present one in the Bible and it is an ever present one in our day and age. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did 09/11/01 happen? Why did Columbine happen? Why did the Japanese earthquake and tsunami happen? Why did Emmanuel AME happen here in our state just a few short weeks ago? Just this week, why did two fun-loving energetic young people who were in the midst of advancing their television careers get gunned down for senseless reasons? We avoid this question and it seems that with all the background and examples I am laying down in this blog that I am too. This question brings us into several doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith.

First, we as Christians believe that man is born with a sin nature. As a result, evil exists. Paul says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. With sin comes evil. Since the entrance of sin in the world, we see man unloading unspeakable evils upon one another beginning with Cain and Abel and degenerating from there. Evil is a real thing. Sin is a real thing. As we remember from Genesis, even the ground was cursed. Our planet suffers the effects of sin and evil. And Paul says even the ground groans under the weight of sin and wishes for the day when Jesus will return. Thus we live in a world filled with sin and on a planet groaning from the effects of sin. Because of the evil than can often go unchecked in the hands of someone in power such as a despotic king like Herod, unspeakable atrocities such as this can occur. Look at Hitler in Europe. He was essentially a king with no checks on his power. The holocaust was the result, World War II was the result, evil on a grand scale. Outside the Christian faith, many try to speak of the basic goodness of man. It is just not true. We are evil at our core. Just look at all the attempts at utopian societies. Each one has ultimately failed because of greed caused by the innate evil nature of man. This scene from Matthew is evidence of the fact that man is evil. Because of this evil nature of man, it amply points out our everpresent need for a Savior.

Second, God gave man free will. We have the power to choose our actions on a daily basis. In our free will, we daily choose to disobey God. When we sin, it has ripple effects. Our sins impact other people. Herod’s sins are all on display here and throughout his rein his sins have devastating effects on many, many people. We think of the children murdered here. But think of our own evil actions and the long lasting impacts they have on others. Just think of the disastrous effects of adultery on families. It may feel good to the person enjoying a dangerous liasons where the sex is fun and secretive and you may even be able to justify in your mind why you are doing it, but the ripple effects destroy families. Adultery impacts children deeply and can often ruin their lives. Adultery can have impacts for generations. Evil upon evil is dumped on all of us from the actions of others and our sins are dumped on other people too. Free will, what a dangerous thing that was that God gave us. It has had disastrous effects. It has been God’s grand experiment gone wrong it seems. Like leaving your kids home on the weekend while you and your spouse go on a weekend getaway and the house gets trashed in the process. However, free will with all his resulting troubles is necessary in God’s plan. It is a risk that He is willing to take. If we were robots of God, we would robotically obey God. He wants us to choose Him, not robotically obey Him. With free will, we come to God and seek Him out. With free will, we choose to reject evil and our evil ways and repent. With free will, we understand why we need a Savior. With free will, we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So, free will enables us to choose, but because of the sin of Adam, we choose evil over good and bad things happen to us and everyone around us. In our free will, we sin and we definitely need a Savior.

Third, we find the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. In this scene, we completely do not understand it. We do not understand it when a 16 year old is killed in a car accident. We certainly do not understand it when a mother who has sweet innocent children at hope is murdered. We certainly do not understand it when a young woman is raped and murdered. We certainly do not understand it when planes crash. We certainly do not understand it when a young man walks into a church and murders 9 people for no other reason that the fact that they were there. Sometimes, when the inexplicable happens, we simply have to trust that God has a purpose and plan in it all. We don’t have to understand it sometimes. We may even get angry at God about it at times. But ultimately God is sovereign and He does not have to explain Himself to us. Many times though we can ultimately see what His plan was. Often out of bad things, good things come. Often people’s eyes are opened. Often in our loss for words and explanations for life’s events, we see that we do not have all the answers and that we need God. Often bad things happen cause us to see our sins for what they are. Often bad things happen to force us to see our need for a Savior. I am not saying that this is why God allows what seems as a bad things in our limited nature to us. I don’t know that. Because God ways are higher than my ways I will never truly understand Him fully in this my limited nature in this human life. However, I am just saying that there are often the results of bad things happening is that we are drawn closer to the Almighty, All-Knowing God. It is often true that bad things happening show us the limited nature of our life and it points us to our need for a Savior. Bad things happening often force us to take stock of our mortality and forces us to our knees to see that we definitely need a Savior.

Tomorrow, we will look at this passage one more time from the point of view of the parallel of Jesus’ life and the history of Israel. But for today, we are dealing with this tough question. Sin. Free Will. God’s Sovereignty. Evil in the world. The tough questions of our faith. Right here in the middle of the nativity scene that we make so sweet at Christmas. Our faith forces us to deal with tough questions all the time. When we deal with these tough questions head on, we will, I think, grow in our faith. When we deal with the tough questions of life, we begin to understand why we believe what we believe and it all starts making sense and strengthens our faith and strengthens our belief in our need for a Savior. It demonstrates the wonderful grace that we live under in the name of Jesus Christ, the central character that was spared in this scene from Matthew 2:13-18.

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