January 3 in Christmas

Matthew 2:13-23

The First Martyrs

Today we take up one of the most horrifying passages in all of Scripture.  The Church has commemorated this event as “Holy Innocents” (December 28, see my devotion under tab, “Christmas I”).  Indeed, we almost wish that this passage wasn’t ever recorded; it seems to spoil the entire account of our Lord’s birth.  Why must these babies die?  We recoil at the injustice of it all.

Herod (called, “the Great,” because of his vast building projects) was a paranoid, wicked, and lecherous old man.  Herod murdered three sons, one wife, a mother-in-law, a brother-in-law, and several others he feared were threats to his throne.  Caesar Augustus remarked, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.”  He had even planned for all the Jewish nobility to be slaughtered when he died just so there would be genuine mourning at the time of his death (R. T. France, NICNT, 84-85).  So we are not surprised when we read that after the Wise Men (who were not fooled by the decrepit old man’s longing for the child) left by another way, that he committed this deplorable act which shall forever remain the standard of measure by which we judge ruthless and paranoid brutes who pretend to be rulers.

But back to our question, “Why must these children die,” besides the matter of having to satisfy a butcher’s paranoia over rival toddlers to the throne.  The slaughter of these children serves not only as the measure of this one man’s sin, but of all men’s sins.  Herod is the mirror image of ourselves when we have given ourselves completely over to the flesh, the world, and the devil.  Herod is the man totally turned in upon himself, who took the sinful nature in which he was born and nurtured it to its most hideous form.  We must stand in judgment of this man’s sin, but at the same time be reminded and tremble before such a stark display of what human beings—of what we—are capable of doing when we care for nothing but our own desires.

But at the same time, these children gave themselves for the One who would give himself for them thirty years later.  They led the way as the first martyrs of the Church.  They could not speak for themselves, but their sacrifice (and that of their parents) speaks volumes.  We must remember that for Christians, death has been defeated; it is not the last word—not by a long shot.  These babes found themselves in glory just like the Old Testament saints who died looking forward to the blessing which would be theirs when Messiah came.  So let us contemplate their testimony in the face of absurd evil, but also rejoice that our Lord has received them and conquered all.

Addendum

When writing a devotion on this passage, the martyrdom of the children in Bethlehem must take center stage.  But I do wish to speak briefly on something else—something very important—that is happening in this passage.  Because the angel appears to Joseph in a dream warning him of Herod’s intentions, Joseph leaves for Egypt.  (A cynic might ask why the angel didn’t warn all the other fathers in Bethlehem, but we must understand that God works for our salvation even in the most horrible circumstances.  And this particular baby will grow up to be the means of salvation for those babies.) 

But what is happening with the holy family is a replay (the ancient fathers of the Church called it “recapitulation”) of the Old Testament account of God’s people.  The holy family flees to Egypt under difficult circumstances, just as Jacob (Israel) and his family did eighteen centuries or so before.  He then goes out of Egypt just as the Israelites did four hundred years later in the exodus.  He returns to the land of Israel, as the ancient Israelites did, and settles in Galilee.  Jesus will then live his life in the land of his fathers, as the Israelites did, yet without sin, as the Israelites did not, be crucified (we might call this his “exile” from the land as the Jews were exiled under the Babylonians, 586 B.C.), and then rise again (his return as the Jews were later allowed to return to the land under Persian King Cyrus seventy years later). 

All of this is to show that our Lord not only lived our life but also relived in his own life the entire history of the people of God—which is why the early Church called his life a recapitulation of everything in the Old Testament: Adam—as the last man recapitulates the first; Israel—as the last holy nation (His body—the Church) recapitulates the first; Moses—as the last lawgiver full of grace and truth recapitulates the first; Aaron—as the last Priest recapitulates the first; David—as the last King recapitulates the greatest king; and all the prophets—as the last Prophet recapitulates all the others as the final Prophet, Priest, and King.  In short, our Lord’s entire life and ministry is a recapitulation of all things from Adam to the present as the One who came in the fullness of time for our salvation.

In our Lord’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, the history of God’s people, and each of our personal histories, are relived, recapitulated, and thus, restored to us, as his redeemed people.  Don’t you just love the intricacy of the history of God’s redemptive work among His people!

Author: The Reformed Baptist

My name is Stephen Taylor, ordained Baptist minister of eighteen years pastoral experience with a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Better than that, I am married to a godly woman, Karla, who has been very patient with me since 1989. I have two daughters, both of whom I homeschooled for extended periods of time, who became godly young women, and who ran off and married godly young men, all of which is very proper. The oldest daughter has even seen fit to bless me with a grandson and a granddaughter, and my youngest daughter with a grandson, all three of whom are bundles of exceeding joy. As you can see, I am quite blessed. This website is dedicated to helping people grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of writing that the Lord has given to me. It is specifically about helping His people grow in godliness, the theme you see repeated above. I write devotions with this aim and hope that they might be of some help to God’s people. Full disclosure: I am of a Reformed bent, meaning that my understanding of Scripture is primarily informed by the Reformers and their successors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, as a student of church history and theology, I strive to remain true to that teaching handed down once for all unto the saints through every age of the Church. I like to think of myself as a “catholic” Christian, as the Reformers thought of themselves. At any rate, feel free to read, pray, and contact me if you wish, or correct me if need be. As you can see, I tend to follow the church year. Of course, I make no special claims about these devotions. I know very well that others have written better and plumbed the depths of God’s word with greater insight. But if my musings help someone draw closer to the Lord, well then, I have my reward. Blessings to you and may the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ speak to you that word which He knows you especially need to hear. Grace & peace, Stephen Taylor

Leave a Reply