So far the story is interesting, even beautiful, remindful of all the nativity pageants we’ve seen, Christmas cards with wise men on their camels.
The rest of the story is pretty harsh. King Herod wasn’t going to let it go.
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”Matthew 2:13-23 (NRSV)
God had given this king many opportunities to know Him. Herod had all of the scriptures right there at his fingertips, and access to the most knowledgeable people about God and religion in the whole world. Herod lived right there in Jerusalem, God’s holy city. And he had even personally seen to the rebuilding of the temple, now covered in gold, magnificent by night and day, sacrifices and incense being offered around the clock.
God had given Herod every possible chance to be in relationship with Him, including first chance at receiving the Messiah. But Herod had grown to despise the thought of God’s deliverance through Christ because it seemed like it would mean he would lose his throne, his power, and his wealth.
The loss of fellowship with God is humankind’s greatest, most devastating tragedy. Having been made in God’s image,
We are like God in spirituality: Only humankind received God’s breath, or “spirit.” We are aware of God and His presence, and have the ability to commune with God. We can be made one with God through regeneration by His Holy Spirit.
But instead of being spiritually alive, Herod was spiritually dead. God’s presence felt like a threat to his own power; he set out to thwart God by killing God’s Son.
We are like God in personality: God gave humankind intelligence, an ability to think and to know, feelings and emotions, and a will: the ability to make choices so we can correspond to God in obedience, experience His presence, to enjoy Him with overflowing joy, as the Magi did.
But Herod had allowed his entire personality to become twisted by his jealousy for his crown.
We are like God in morality: God gives humankind a simple test, teaching us to know the difference between right, which is obedience to God’s word, and wrong, which is choosing something apart from God’s expressed will. The chief priests remained unmoved by God’s word, they chose to do nothing.
Herod was troubled and unnerved by God’s word, he chose to try and destroy its fulfillment.
God revealed to Joseph what was about to happen, and Joseph obeyed God’s guidance in the moment. He did not hesitate, he knew this was God, and he knew exactly what God would have him do. I really admire that in Joseph.
“So [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt…”
How quickly, and completely, am I apt to obey what God reveals to me? This was such a huge disruption to their lives
“…where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”
This is the second fulfillment of prophecy. It was important that Jesus go into Egypt.
Jesus was to be the people’s savior, One Who had experienced every aspect of His people’s lives and history. God’s plan for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus was to save them from disaster by hiding them in Egypt, just as God had brought Jacob’s clan to Egypt thousands of years before, to save their lives during the famine.
It must have been only a matter of days before Herod realized the Magi were not coming back through Jerusalem.
“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”
Mayhem is part of life in a fallen world. The moment Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, murder was soon to follow as their firstborn son murdered their second, godly, son in cold blood. No one is exempt, not even the most godly.
Nothing escapes God’s notice. No one can thwart His plans or undermine His purposes. Yet, even so, events never spiral out of God’s control, as if He lacked power or insight to control what goes on in our little planet. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine what could possibly have been God’s plan here, as He allowed the desperately wicked and evil King Herod latitude to put all these precious babies and toddlers to death.
We can still know anything and everything that happens in the lives of His people only happens through God’s allowance, and will always be transformed to fulfill God’s purposes for ultimate good. God always has a purpose in what He allows, even if we don’t know what it is. From our perspective tragedies look meaningless and senseless, chaotic and awful.
But God specializes in taking evil and bringing good out of it. For every family during that horrific trauma in Bethlehem, God was there to experience it with them, all the grief, all the anguish, all the pain. We can trust in HIs goodness and love, in His power, that He offered each one the strength and courage, the grace and comfort, to get through it, as unspeakable as it was.
Later, this would be wrapped up in the judgment Herod, and his soldiers, will one day face. And each beautiful little boy most certainly was taken from the hands of the soldiers into the loving embrace of God to be held and soothed as he passed from the horror of his death to the gentle love of eternal life.
Tragedy can serve as a wake-up call. Sometimes it takes the horror of some awful event to wake up the otherwise stubborn coma of unbelief. As one theologian, C. S. Lewis, put it, “Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.”
It is possible to embrace hope even in the middle of a tragedy. God’s hand is always held out to you and me in the middle of our suffering with the invitation to grab hold and count on Him to pull us through.
This world is not our final home. When terrible things happen, as happened to these shocked and grieving families so long ago, it is good to remember this fallen, broken world, riddled with evil, is not our final home. We were created for eternity, and tragedy can never change that.
This life is only a transition period, a prelude to what God really has in mind for us. The all-absorbing “now-ness” of our experiences severely limit our perspective. We want to rewind the tape, we look at how it could have been different, but,
God says “Look forward.” Look into eternity. For all those who love Him, Jesus says “I AM preparing a place for you to take you to be with Me forever.”
(Thoughts taken from “Where is God When Bad Things Happen?” by Luis Palau)
[Giotto_di_Bondone_-No._21_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ–5._Massacre_of_the_Innocents-_ | Wikimedia, Public Domain]