"Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all it vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 'A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THERE WERE NO MORE.' " Matthew 2:16-18
The birthday of Jesus was not good news for Herod. He was an insecure, ruthless man. His man made throne, was invented in Rome when the Senate voted him the title, King of the Jews. He knew he existed only because he was the puppet of an invading army that now occupied the nation of Israel. He was supported by the might of Rome, as long as he kept the tribute money flowing their way. The Pharisees, the religious elite of Israel, did not trust him or accept the legitimacy of his conversion to Judaism. Herod tried to gain their support by rebuilding the Temple. The overtaxed people of his kingdom hated him and his puppet masters equally.
Herod would have sold his soul to Rome to remain king, but he had already found a buyer from the dark side. Herod's entire life was filled with palace coups, international intrigue, and murder. He had three of his own sons executed in order to secure his throne. It was no stretch for him to send soldiers into the village of Bethlehem to massacre the male children under the age of two. He and he alone was going to have the title of The King of the Jews.
The order of the massacre of the innocents did not catch God by surprise. God sent His own Son to die on the cross in order to shed light into a very dark world. Before Herod ordered the soldiers to Bethlehem, God knew what he was capable of doing. He knew Herod would consider the murder of little children as acceptable behavior. They were merely the collateral damage that was necessary for the consolidation of his throne.
The Gospel of John confirms why Herod could not see Jesus as a way out of the dark night of his soul. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him, nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." (John 1:1-5)
In 1983, I was asked by a Jewish rabbi in Houston to serve on a panel that would present to the congregation of his synagogue, "The Christan View of Suffering." The impetus for the discussion was the book, "Why Bad Things Happen to Good People." When I arrived at the evening's event, I discovered I was the only Christian member of the panel. The other three were rabbis representing conservative, reformed, and orthodox branches of their theology. As I reflect back on that night, I am amazed at the chutzpah I brought to the packed assembly room. It took alot of moxie for me to think I could represent the view of suffering held by the entire Christian movement. I was young. What can I say?
The impact on me was far greater than any insight I could have given them. It began when the presiding rabbi asked his people to raise their hands to show how many of them had lost family members or loved ones in The Holocaust. Thirty eight years after the end of WW II, out of a room of 500 people, an overwhelming wave of hands rose up and were held in the air. There were tears in their eyes, and anger on their faces. Some even rolled up their sleeves to reveal numbers tattooed on their arms. They had been there. They were survivors, and they would never forget.
When I read Matthew's account of the murder of the little children of Bethlehem, I am moved by thoughts of their mothers, and memories of that scene in a Houston synagogue. Where was God when they were suffering? He was there. He knew it was coming their way, and that death was leading the charge. That is why God sent His Son. He knew there was suffering in this world. He also knew that it often hits innocent people who do not deserve it, and did not cause it.
When I presented the Christian view of suffering, I walked them through Old Testament passages. I said that some suffering is self-inflicted, due to disobedience. They knew all about stiff-necked people taking 40 years to walk into the land of promise. I pointed out that some suffering is a result of an evil influence. Satan's power comes from his deprave heart, and it is sent right out of the pit of hell. They knew all about the book of Job. The major emphasis I made was on the coming of the Messiah, The Anointed One, The Christ. I called His name Jesus. They expected me to do nothing less. I told them God was always there in the midst of suffering to remind people that He loved them enough to send them His Son to be their Savior. I may not have been the brightest bulb in the room, but I shed the light that I had with people who had seen their share of darkness. When I get to heaven, I may be surprised at what Jesus did with a dim bulb in a dark room.
Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world; and he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." (John 8:12) This is point of the Christmas Story. The children of Bethlehem were massacred, not because Jesus was born, but because Satan opposed His birth. The influence of evil that Herod had allowed to saturate his life was the cause of the blood shed and the heartache. Long before Herod thought of this corrupt final solution, God saw what Satan was capable of doing. The prophet foretold of it, and God sent His Son anyway.
When women of a small village wept over the loss of their children, the prophet said they would not be comforted. It sounds terribly glib in light of their condition to say, "I would rather light a candle than curse the darkness." Their darkness was something only God could lift with the light of His love. It is sobering to realize that God was not in the dark. He knew about the consequences that would come to the mothers of Bethlehem, by sending His Son Jesus to die on a cross for our sins. That is precisely why Jesus came into the world. God was shedding His light on the dark side of sin. If Jesus had never been sent, the world would have never known any moral outrage over the loss of life of a few children in an obscure village.
As far as Herod's decision to kill the babies of Bethlehem, it is impossible to make sense out of the senseless. The people around him apparently did not expect anything less from him. They had seen him murder his own sons, to keep his crown. The killing of a few peasant children did not create a blip on Rome's radar screen. They had set him up as the "King of the Jews." If this action was required to maintain Roman honor, then so be it.
The cold, hard truth is...bad things really do happen to good people. The great concern of today is not "Herod the Great." It is more about the evil that influenced him, than the evil he did. How can a nation celebrate Christmas by honoring the birth of Jesus, and still be so calloused to the death of millions of babies who are killed in this country every year? Since the legalization of abortion in America, over 50 million children have been massacred. Today "little Herods" still sit on the thrones of their lives, putting their own children to death. They too are supported by the power of a government that has told them they are lord over their lives and they can do as they please. They are more focused on claiming their rights, than protecting the gift of life, regardless of the consequences.
This nation, individually and corporately, has been sitting in the dark too long. Putting Christ back into Christmas is not an end in itself. It is a beginning. It is the first step of repentance that will lead to personal, and then to an ever-widening circle of a corporate, spiritual awakening. This awakening is a renewal of our First Love for Jesus. This is what is needed to have a profound influence on the people around us, and change the culture that surrounds us.
To make a return trip, there must be an about face. To start a great journey, there must be a first step. Jesus is still turning lives around, one person at a time. Shine His Light on the dark side. The slightest light brightens the darkest night.