Massacre of the Innocents, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1636–38.
As I mentioned before, one of Satan’s most effective tricks is to tempt people into sin so they incur God’s punishment, and he never has to touch them. This post shows another of his tactics – moving the hearts of the Godless to do his bidding. (When I hear about bad people doing bad things, I generally chalk it up to this.)
Post-Christmas, there’s a lesser-known story about Jesus’s childhood that I wanted to share. It was the first attempt on His life, and as will happen again and again, by someone who felt threatened by His power. Bear in mind, He was only a few days old.
By my count, there were about three attempts made on Jesus’s life as an adult before He went to the cross. I say three because different Gospels record similar events a little differently… or different events similarly. During His ministry, people attempted to stone Him, throw Him off a cliff, and otherwise “lay hands on Him”. In all cases, the modern colloquialism applied literally – it wasn’t His time. Feel free to correct me in the “Comments” section if I’ve miscounted.
Everyone who attends Christmas Mass knows that after the Magi left the manger scene, an angel warned them not to return to Herod. (For those who aren’t familiar, click here for the background. It’s a quick read.)
The Magi obeyed and never returned to Herod. When Herod found out, he was furious. So, partially out of revenge, partially out of fear of the “new” king of the Jews, he sent an army of soldiers to kill every male child in Bethlehem two years old and younger (Matthew 2:16). These children are remembered as the first Christian martyrs on Holy Innocents Day, December 28. And this is actually in the Book of Revelations, too.
My first question in all of this: What do you think was going through the minds of these soldiers when the order came down? Or on the long march to Bethlehem? Or after the first mother started begging and screaming for mercy? Do you think any of them abandoned their posts, knowing the consequences in store for desertion (which was probably at least a severe flogging, more likely death)? We all take orders from someone, and to some extent, we’re all required to follow them. But after we’re laid in the dirt, we all have to answer for everything we’ve done, no matter the pressure put on us by someone else. Standing before God at their judgement, what do think the soldiers said in defense? “Yeah, I know I stabbed all these children to death, but you see, I was really just trying to kill you, so…” I’m guessing it was more like, “Oh. Shit.”
The other head-scratcher for me is that God knew this would happen, yet He still protected the Magi from Herod. (Says a lot about how He guards His faithful…) Trusting in God’s infinite wisdom and judgement, I can’t imagine how much worse everything would have been if the Magi returned to Herod. My guess is that he would have tortured them until they gave up Jesus’s location, killed them, and then sent a dispatch to kill Jesus. Again, God would have protected Jesus and his Earth-parents, so I envision Herod warring through Judea, burning town after town, and swording anyone he could find.
Finally, what do you think Joseph thought when the angel told him to run? Joseph was, by all accounts, a good and humble man, and I’m sure he dutifully obeyed. But I have to believe that at some point, he must have thought, “Wait, the long-awaited Messiah is born – the greatest of kings that will finally free the Jews. Why do we have to run and hide in the desert?” I’ll bet that Joseph (who knew how to build things) intrinsically understood the need to care for things that were new and vulnerable, so he may not have thought much of it. But growing up in ancient Rome, he also knew war. I wonder if he realized what so many of his contemporaries failed to grasp: the Messiah would not be the warrior-king that the Jews expected. Not wielding swords, spears, and shields, but rather love, compassion, and humility.
This message has been repeated for 2,000 years, and Christians still struggle to grasp it.
The big morale of this story is that sometimes, God tells us to do things we don’t understand, don’t agree with, or just plain old don’t want to do.
Like the Magi and Joseph, do them anyways.
God is leading you to a better place. And even though you might not see it from where you stand in the valley, God is using you to make the world better, too.
The lesser morale? The devil is not good. And if you’re unhappy about all the pain, illness, sorrow, violence, jealousy, mosquitoes, whatever in the world, blame him, not God. Because Herod was moved by the devil to murder all the boys in a town. And when people talk affectionately about the devil, I as the father of a two-year-old boy (and a two-month-old girl), think of this story. No goat head. No van dyke beard with a red outfit. No pitchfork. Just a bad man murdering children in a town because he was worried about losing his place in the palace. His creature comforts. (By the way, does that sound like any modern “choices” people make nowadays?) That’s the devil I know.