If we learn anything from this, let us learn that the ultimate cause of the massacre in Newtown, the massacre in Bethlehem, and countless other massacres in between was nothing less than the total depravity of the human heart, and let us remember that it was for this reason that Jesus was born.
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)
Yesterday evening my son Victor asked me, “Why did my teacher burst into tears today?” The reason of course was that the nation’s hearts had been broken by the news that 20 kindergarten children had been murdered in their classroom that morning. I had occasion to speak with a principal and she was also in shock, not knowing how to respond. It just didn’t seem possible that something like this could happen in the very place where parents send their children to be nurtured and instructed. And of course it wasn’t just teachers who were dismayed. I suppose like countless other parents in America I began thinking “what if it had been my child’s school or my child?” Every sensible parent expects mishaps at school, perhaps even something as serious as a broken wrist after a fall off the playground equipment, but 20 children, all around five years old, together with teachers, counselors, and the principal murdered? It’s unthinkable. How could we bear it? How will those parents who received that unthinkable news bear it?
Inevitably the fact that it occurred just ten days from Christmas added to the pathos. So many Christmas presents already bought and wrapped that won’t be opened by those children. I even heard one commentator asking how could this possibly happen at this time of year when the world was preparing to celebrate the incarnation of the Prince of Peace? It was at that moment that I was reminded that the story of Christ’s incarnation also included the story of another massacre of young children.
Matthew tells us in His Gospel account that wise men, Magi, had seen a new star and had known that it was the sign of a great event – the King of the Jews, the long awaited Messiah had been born in Israel and so they had set out to pay Him homage. Naturally, given that He was a king, they had sought him in the palace of the current ruler, a ruthless usurper by the name of Herod. They had been surprised to learn that no child had been born recently, and so they inquired where to find him. Herod, equally concerned to find the location of this child had gathered together the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the scriptures said the Messiah would be born. “In Bethlehem” they immediately told him, for the prophet Malachi had said over 400 years ago, that the Messiah who would be the true Shepherd of His people would be born in the city of his great ancestor David. Thus informed, Herod had sent the Magi off to Bethlehem to find this newborn King, and report back to Him, that he might supposedly “come and worship him also” (Matthew 2:8).
Herod however, had no intention of worshiping Christ, the news of the birth of the long awaited King and Redeemer of Israel was not good news to him. A man who had slaughtered his own flesh and blood because he suspected they wanted his throne would stop at nothing to remove any threat to his kingship, and the wise men, divinely informed of that fact, disobeyed Herod’s instructions and did not bring back the location of Jesus and his family. When Herod discovered that he had been deceived, he realized his hopes of quickly dispatching the Messiah were over, and he devised a monstrous plan – if he couldn’t find the child he wanted dead he would kill all of the male children in Bethlehem 2-years-old and younger. I think we become accustomed to reading this story and don’t really absorb the gravity of what actually happened on the day that Herod’s plan was carried out. Bethlehem, like Newtown, Connecticut was a small town, and what probably happened was that one morning around dawn Herod’s soldiers suddenly invaded the homes of around 20 or 30 families and brutally slaughtered their young children as the families watched helplessly.
We rejoice that Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus before the murders ever took place, and as a result the true horror of Matthew 2:18 is often lost upon us, “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” In one horrible morning an unsuspecting town was suddenly filled from end to end with the sounds of wailing and mourning. Mothers held the lifeless bodies of their toddlers and wept inconsolably. These were their beloved sons, their little treasures, their hopes for the future. Now they are no more. They don’t even have hope that justice will be done, for it was not a foreign enemy that had done this monstrous deed, but their own ruler, Herod. Who will give them justice? What consolation can anyone bring them?
If we learn anything from this, let us learn that the ultimate cause of the massacre in Newtown, the massacre in Bethlehem, and countless other massacres in between was nothing less than the total depravity of the human heart, and let us remember that it was for this reason that Jesus was born. He was not born to provide us with an excuse for celebrating December 25th and giving one another presents, He did not enter into the world to give us traditions, He was not born of a woman, born under the law, to give us wise sayings, or even to do miracles. Jesus was born to “save His people from their sins” and to save creation from the awful effects of the Fall. He was born to do away with murder and death, and to make it possible for this sin sick world in which awful things like the murder of little children happens to be cleansed of every stain of sin and replaced with the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:12) He came that there might be a day when heartbreaking events like these might never happen again, a day when justice will be eternally done to wicked and unrepentant murders like Herod, and a day when His redeemed people might enter into an eternity in which “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.” (Rev. 21:4a)
We are reminded by awful events like the murders in Newtown of our terrible need for that work of redemption from sin and its effects to be completed, and so our hearts long for the return of Christ and a final end to sin and suffering. Today once again I have cried out in my soul saying “Come, Lord Jesus!” that there might be a final end to the murder of children and all the things that cause it.
So to that end I would encourage you all to pray. I do not think I really need to tell you what to pray for, but for those who might not know where to begin, here are a few suggestions:
- Pray for the families that are grieving inconsolably today
- Pray for the children, who witnessed things that no child should ever have to see
- Pray for the emergency workers who came face to face with the carnage caused by monstrous evil
- Pray for the doctors and nurses who struggled to save little ones who didn’t make it
- Pray for the policemen who had to tell parents that the worst thing they could imagine had happened
- Pray for the morticians and do not think for a moment that their job will be easy
- Pray for those who have reacted to this news with rage, frustration, and hatred
- Pray for those who have given up hope
- Pray that what Adam Lanza meant for evil would be used by God for good, with men this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible
- Pray that we would stop trusting in princes to provide answers to spiritual problems
- Pray above all for the speedy return of Christ and for a final end to the slaughter of little ones
Andy Webb is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church America and serves as Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, NC