Summary: This Bible passage, about the “Massacre of the Innocents,” can be applied to abortion. This message shares some insights into the driving force behind the killing of babies, and speaks of what can be done to stop it.
I’ve entitled our message this morning, “Remembering the Holy Innocents.” “In the New Testament, the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ is the incident in the nativity narrative . . . in which Herod the Great, king of Judea, orders the execution of all male children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem.”(1) “The Catholic Church regards [these children] as the first Christian martyrs.” They are known as the “Holy Innocents,” and their collective massacre is commemorated by Catholics each year on December 28, which is known as the “Feast of the Holy Innocents.”(2)
The account of King Herod’s murder of the male children of Bethlehem some two-thousand years ago is remembered and retold each year at this time, and still causes anger and outrage at its wanton cruelty. Yet, the number of children who died in that massacre pales in comparison with the sixty million babies who have been aborted legally in America since Roe v. Wade in 1973.(3) This morning, we’re going to view the account of the “Massacre of the Innocents,” and like the Catholic Church, apply it to the issue of abortion; and I believe we will gain some insight into the driving force behind the killing of babies, and learn what we can do to intervene and work to stop it.
Slaughter of the Male Children (vv. 13-18)
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
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.”
In Matthew 2:1, we read that the events in this passage took place “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king.” On the day that Jesus was born, and even a couple of years later when the Magi came looking for the Christ, Herod lived in his massive palace. “The Herodion, third largest palace of its day . . . was built in the wilderness near Bethlehem. The huge structure was a monument to Herod’s wealth and engineering skill. Its buildings covered forty-five acres of land and were surrounded by nearly two hundred acres of palace grounds.”(4)
“The Herodion stood on land rich with biblical history. In the nearby area, Jacob buried his wife, Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s fields, and Samuel anointed David as king of Israel. [But] about three miles away, the most significant event of all took place. Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem, a village that stood, literally, in the shadow of Herod’s greatness.”(5) “Next to the massive Herodion, the quiet place of Jesus’ birth must have seemed insignificant to [the] people of His day. Bethlehem was not a place of extravagant palaces or mighty power: It was a home for farmers and shepherds. In fact, Jesus wasn’t even born in the comfort of a home, much less a lavish palace. Mary gave birth amidst animals . . . where goats and sheep slept through the night.”(6)
The events in this passage took place a few years after Jesus’ birth, when He was an infant child around two-years-old; and I want to back up and read some selected verses from the beginning of this chapter. In Matthew 2:1-4, we read that after Jesus was born, “Behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.”
King Herod was troubled by this news about the “King of the Jews,” the one who would have been the rightful ruler of Judea. This was a threat to his throne and to all the privileges he had come to enjoy. In verses 7-8, we read, “Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me that I may come and worship Him also’.” One commentator has noted that “King Herod was a master politician,” and like many politicians we see today, he “felt threatened by the truth,”(7) and Herod lied in an attempt to maintain his office and accomplish his sinister plan.