Thoughts about the Slaying of Innocent Children

At Newtown, Connecticut



For a few minutes today, I want to talk about what has happened in Newtown, Connecticut.


1 Peter 3:15 NASU


15     But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;


This verse tells us to be ready to be an apologist of the hope we Christians possess.  Today, some may be wondering if our “hope” is real or only a dream.


Once again we have witnessed pure evil being displayed.  What we have witnessed this week seems so unreal – except that we have witnessed it before.  Allow me to relate it to the Christmas story as related in the Bible.


Acknowledgement: Part of what I will say today comes from an article by Doctor Dwaine Braddy, written before the atrocity at Newtown, Connecticut.


One of the traditions of the Christmas season that I enjoy is the Christmas music.  You know:  Hark! The Herald Angels Sins.  What Child is This……O Little Town of Bethlehem……Silent Night, Holy Night.  But  also enjoy some of the more secular, like: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, or Silver bells, Silver bells; It’s Christmas time in the city or Christmas, It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  Then there’s it’s a holly, jolly Christmas; it’s the best time of the year according to Burl Ives. 


But is this the real picture of Christmas that many see today when they are struggling with health concerns, terrorism fears brought on by Sept. 11, economic pain from job loss, the fiscal cliff, and the list could go on and on.    For those living in Newtown, Connecticut, it is difficult to sing with Burl Ives, “it’s the best time of the year.”  At least that isn’t true this year.


By nature, I am not a pessimist – Paula might say I’m the most optimistic person in the world.  But today many feel their lives can be summed up this Christmas by the revised version of the bumper sticker that reads Bad Stuff Happens – yes, even during the Christmas season.  What happened in Newtown, Connecticut reminds me of a couple of biblical atrocities. 


The first was 3,500 years ago, and recorded for us in Exodus 1.  The Pharaoh of Egypt decided the population of the Israelites was getting to large.  So he decreed that from that point on all new male Jewish babies would be killed.  The second biblical atrocity is found amid one of the Bible stories of the birth of Christ.  This one is found in Matthew 2:13-18.


When it comes to Christmas stories, we don’t often use Matthew’s account among the pageantry of the season, except for the story of the wise men.  What we like to hear is Luke’s account.  Why is that?  Simple.  It’s so warm, and beautiful, and so full of love, joy, and human tenderness.  It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.  It’s a story of angels proclaiming glory to God in the Highest and glad tidings to all people; and of Simeon declaring that his eyes had seen the Messiah; and of shepherds glorifying and praising God.


That is all true!  But today we’re looking at Matthew, and he presents a very different picture.  If Luke reads like the Saturday Evening Post, then Matthew reads like the Wall Street Journal.  No color pictures, just the cold, bare facts.  And let’s face it.  We probably would never have children read this in the Christmas play.  Matthew’s account of the Christmas story is almost as violent as some of the computer games kids play today.


Like 9-11, and Dec. 7, 1941, what happened in Matthew 2 is a day that lives in infamy.  It’s a brutal, surreal story we only sometimes read in the midst of Christmas joy.  What happened this week in Newtown, Connecticut sounds so much like what we read in Matthew 2.  It is something the infamous and evil Herod the Great would do.  It fits him like a glove!


He was a suspicious, insecure tyrant who never hesitated to eliminate anyone who was a potential threat to his power.  He wiped out his wife, her mother, and three of his sons!  The Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar, joked that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son.


Look at Matt. 2:3 and 16 again.  When Herod first heard from the wise men, Matthew says he was frightened, terrified, disturbed.  And when the wise men tricked him by returning home another way, Matthew records that he was infuriated and sent his storm troopers down to the tiny village of Bethlehem and slaughtered all the male children under two years old.


The holocaust at Bethlehem is a ghastly picture of how far evil power will go to resist any intrusion of goodness.  And this week, the ghost of Herod still does its ghastly work today.


In 1945, the American poet, Robert Lowell, wrote a poem entitled The Holy Innocents in which he looked back on the horrors of World War II through the prism of the slaughter in Bethlehem.  In a fascinating phrase, he said, the world out-Herods Herod.  Our world today gives tragic truth to that statement.  Yes, sometimes the world out-Herods Herod.  The nightmare Herod brought to Bethlehem is the symbol of the ghastly power of evil that contradicts the goodness, love, and life of God.


Matthew 2:16-18 NKJV


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."


And if you listen you can still hear it:  A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation.  Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they no more (2:18).  Matthew is quoting, as he often does, the Old Testament, and here it’s Jeremiah who pictures Rachel, the symbolic mother of all the Hebrew children, weeping over those who were taken into Babylon in 586 B.C.


Her voice is the voice of all the mothers and all the fathers in every place and every time who weep over the loss, the hurt, and the pain of their children, in Newtown, Connecticut and many other places in this world today.


We more easily deal with the loss of our parents, especially when it comes at the end of a long, productive life.  But we are not put together to be able to cope with the loss of our children.  When we lose our parents we lose our past;  When we lose our children we lose our future.  And our whole being cries out in protest against this contradiction of God’s gift of life.


What would possess a Pharaoh of Egypt or a King in Judea, or a gunman in Connecticut decided to perform such acts as to end the lives of so many innocent children?


But that’s just how true the Bible is.  The biblical writers never cop out on the hurt, the pain, and the suffering of innocent people in this world because of the power of evil can shattered our world and wreaks havoc on innocent lives like the children of Bethlehem.  And, once again we have seen the works of those, who, without knowing it, try to “out Herod Herod.”


The Bible never denies that sometimes the carols of Christmas are mingled with songs of sorrow.  The angel promise of peace and glad tidings to all is announced in the middle of a world filled with conflict and violence.  The hope of the coming of this child is caught in the web of our human suffering and pain.  Somewhere deep in our souls, we can still hear the weeping mothers of Bethlehem.  Today they are echoed in Newtown.


And it is the babies of Bethlehem who are the forgotten victims of Christmas.  Why is that so?  They died because they had the misfortune of being born in the same place and at the same time as the Savior.


So, even among the joy of the Christmas miracle, there are those who suffered.  With every Christmas we observe, remember there are those who will experience suffering amid the joy:

What are we to do then with this horrid story that Matthew recounts?  What are we to do when such acts are perpetrated by evil in our world today?  Amidst all of our Christmas anticipation and celebration, we would like to avoid it.


But here it is – right alongside the shepherds, the manger, the shining star, the wise men, and the Christ child.  We can’t escape it; we must not avoid it.  Do you hear the wailing of mothers who, like Rachel, cry for their children?  Sometimes their sound echoes off the cobblestone of the streets and buildings so loud we cannot dismiss it.


Let me suggest a way we can let this story speak to us this Christmas season.  First, look to and for Jesus when suffering comes amidst Christmas joy.


Hebrews 2:8-13 (RSV) is a good place to begin our look.  The writer said, As it is, we do not see everything in subjection to Him . . ., but we do see Jesus, who [tasted] death for everyone . . . the Pioneer of [our] salvation [whom God made] perfect through sufferings . . . he himself likewise shared [flesh and blood], so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death . . . Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those [us] who are being tested.


Notice the phrase “as it is.”  When observing our world today we don’t see everything in subjection to the control of God’s goodness and love.  Evil is very real, very present in our world, and not everything or everyone is under the control of God’s perfect will and love.  Even amid the heart-lifting season commemorating the coming of our Savior, the staccato of stark evil will penetrate our eyes and ears.


Don’t tell the parents of the children of Bethlehem that God had some purpose in Herod’s atrocity.  Matthew makes it clear that this was Herod’s action, not God’s.  Who would dare tell the loved ones of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy that God had some reason for it?  No, we live in a world where God’s perfect will and way are not always realized.  “As it is, we do not see everything in subjection” to Christ.


But the Passage does not end there.


So, where is Jesus in this story?  See vs. 13-15.  And 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.  Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.


What is Matthew saying?  Jesus became vulnerable.  He, God in flesh, was willing to become one of us, and be touched with the feelings experience.  This child honored by wise men, just barely escapes in the protection of Joseph and Mary, running into the darkness of the night.


Yes, Jesus comes to us, but how?  He shared our flesh all the way through death.  He knew all of the pain and suffering of everyone of us.


The Hebrews writer uses a fascinating phrase here when he describes Jesus.  It’s a hard word to translate into English.


                            •  Captain (NKJV)

                            •  Author (NIV, NAS, ASV)

                            •  Pioneer (RSV, The Message, Amplified, NEC)

                            •  Perfect Leader (TLB)

                            •  Initiator (Complete Jewish Bible)

                            •  One Who Leads (New Century Version)

                            •  Founder (Eng. Std. Ver.)


         IN several translations, Christ is referred to as the “pioneer” who brings many children to glory.


It doesn’t mean a pioneer in the sense of one who goes out west and leaves the rest of us back east.  Rather, it means one who goes before, but brings all the rest of us along with him.  You can see that in the last phrase of verse 10.


Hebrews 2:10 (Message)


10     It makes good sense that the God who got everything started and keeps everything going now completes the work by making the Salvation Pioneer perfect through suffering as he leads all these people to glory.


This Jesus, to Whom we look when suffering occurs amidst Christmas joy, is the Pioneer of Salvation who brings all of His children to glory.  In some way that I can’t fully understand, God in Jesus comes into our world and goes through our suffering with us as the pioneer of salvation who will bring us all to glory.  I can’t adequately explain that to you, but by faith in Him I believe it!


There is a great word of hope in each of the biblical atrocities mentioned earlier.  The Pharaoh of chapter 1 of Exodus died in chapter 2 (vs. 23).  And in Matthew 2, it reads, When Herod diedPharaoh and Herod had their day of inflicting suffering and pain upon innocent people – but they died.


But, even though Herod died his ghost seems to be having his day in our world.  All of us are affected by the suffering and hurt of evil and catastrophe in this world.  But remember, when Herod died, Jesus came back.  And just the way he came back on that first resurrection morning, is coming back in the future. 


Still, as it is, we do not see everything under subjection to God’s perfect rule of life and love.  The Herod’s of our generation have their day.  The power of evil sometimes contradicts God’s purposes and wreaks awful suffering upon us.  But we do see Jesus:  the One who shares the human weakness and suffering of all of us.


But remember Herod died.  And Jesus came back.  The writer of Hebrews continues by telling us that when He came back, He shared in our suffering, even death, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death.


Somehow, in the fullness of God’s redemptive purpose, the brokenness of our lives will be healed, too.  Read about it in Revelation 19:11-16


The last part of the Hebrews passage says: Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those [us] who are being tested.


Not only should we look to Jesus when suffering amidst Christmas joy, let’s look for how we can alleviate the suffering that comes to people who are suffering amidst Christmas joy.  What will we do to alleviate the suffering amidst the joy of the Christmas season?  How will you and I live and reflect the life of Jesus this Christmas.


Final Comment


After tragedies like we have witnessed, some ask, “Why doesn’t God remove all evil from the world?”  If God, at the time of His creating the earth, removed all possibilities of evil occurring, we would still be in our sins.  If all evil was totally removed, Jesus could not have died for you and me.  Like the children in each of the stories, both in the Bible and in our news, Jesus was also innocent, not deserving of evil against Him.  But because evil does exist, I, as a sinner, was guilty while He was not.  And He became the Pioneer of salvation, taking the evil that I deserved, so that I would not have to.  Thus, now I am a partaker of His divine glory.