Christian Persecution, Pt. 2
Aug 09, 2020
3. Carnage (vv. 16-18)
This brings us to the third form/stage of persecution.
The progression moves from secrecy to threats to physically killing people!
Verse 16 shows Herod coming clear that the wise men (from his perspective) have double-crossed him.
Within a single day, they reversed loyalties, having been “summoned” and “sent” by one king - to bowed worship and offering king-making gifts to another King (cff. vv. 7-8, 11).
- Herod “saw” had come to realize that “he had been tricked” perhaps better, “outwitted” (v. 16).
- If Herod’s perspective is in view, he was “tricked” or “duped” – having the rug jerked out from under him by the “magicians” acting as double agents!
- Homicidal Herod, thinking this way, “became furious” literally burning up inside or enraged!
- This initiating his nuclear plan to slaughter all baby boys there.
Herod was a killer.
- Paranoia drove him to kill his wife her brother, his mother-in-law, and three of his sons.
- He consigned one family member from each household to die the day of his death so tears would be shed.
Ruthless, in his military career, he ordered the mass killing of the Hasmoneans (Mariamne, his wife being the last Hasmonean), the sons of the Maccabeans who led a revolution against Greece’s rule.
- The murder was in Herod’s DNA.
Still, this infanticide was on a much smaller scale.
- It is difficult to find a record of Bethlehem’s slaughter outside of Scripture.
- Bethlehem was a population of 1,000.
- So, there would be around thirty babies in total.
Think of a stadium holding 30,000 people (back when that was a thing), you would have 20 to 30 babies there.
- Half being boys, two years, and younger.
- Sending soldiers was horrible was still fairly covert.
- All timestamped from his prior conversation with the wise men (v. 16b; cf. v. 7).
What makes this so horrible?
- Baby’s dying at all, let alone being ripped from the arms of their mothers is horrible.
- This kind of evil is present in our world today.
- Cultures trying to kill off cultures “Genocides.”
- However, this is not merely third world.
According to WHO, every year in the world there are an estimated 40-50 million abortions. This corresponds to approximately 125,000 abortions per day.
In the USA, where nearly half of pregnancies are unintended and four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion , there are over 3,000 abortions per day.
Approximately 1 million abortions a year in our country.
- Herod’s Covert, infanticide was still horrible.
- These lives are fewer than Pharaoh’s slaughter of Hebrews boys, still Herod’s mission was directly targeting God’s son.
- But, murdering a child, causing one of God’s “little ones” to stumble is an egregious sin.
- Babies dying – go directly to Heaven! God’s “Little ones.”
- Still, worse this assault was against the Lord Jesus! Full knowledge that this was the Christ, “Anointed One.”
These Bethlehemite mothers suffered incomprehensible pain for the sake of Christ.
- Suffering pictured again fulfilling another prophecy through a type.
- Again, not a word specific fulfillment as in 2:6 (i.e. “Bethlehem) is nevertheless tying the Bible’s story to Christ!
These are Jeremiah’s words cited from Jeremiah 31:15 could be referring to the deportation of the northern tribes by Assyria in 722 B.C.
But more likely the earlier deportation of Judah and Benjamin in 586 B.C. when the Babylonians captured and enslaved God’s people under Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar’s imperial guard, gathered captives at Ramah, using this as a prison camp awaiting exile to Babylon (cf. Jer. 40:1-2).
ESV Jeremiah 40:1-2 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD aafter Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from bRamah, when he took him cbound in chains along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon. The captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, a"The LORD your God pronounced this disaster against this place.
Rachel, Jacob’s husband was buried in Ramah, 5 miles north of Jerusalem.
1 Samuel 10:2 locates Rachel's tomb in the 'territory of Benjamin at Zelzah. ' In the period of the monarchy down to the exile, so Rachel's tomb would lie in this area, Ramah.
Rachel is portrayed as weeping (from her grave) over captives in prison camp, awaiting deportation.
- A prison depot.
- This vividly depicts the weeping of mothers persecuted in Bethlehem 5 miles south of Jerusalem.
This sadness was directly related to Christ. Killing others to discourage the plan of God.
“Here is a terrible illustration of what men will do to get rid of Jesus Christ. If a man is set on his own way, if he sees in Christ someone who is liable to interfere with his ambitions and rebuke his ways, his one desire is to eliminate Christ; and then he is driven to the most terrible things, for if he does not break men’s bodies, he will break their hearts.” [Barclay]
4. Consequences (vv. 19-23)
This is our final form/stage of persecution.
Though this might seem easier than stage three, I argue this could be more difficult.
This is “Nuclear Fallout!”
- Joseph willingly choosing to go into harm’s way.
- To die or be killed for the sake of Christ is horrible however, to be left after others have died even more so.
- To anticipate being killed or being persecuted perhaps is the worst trial of all.
Verse 19 brings a measure of closure, “But when Herod died…” (v. 19).
- The immediate danger is over.
Josephus in Antiquities reports Herod “died of this, ulcerated entrails, putrefied and maggot filled organs, constant convulsions, foul breath, and neither physicians nor warm baths let to recovery.”
Again, Matthew catching the attention of readers saying, “…behold” explaining Joseph’s second to last dream intervention from “…an angel of the Lord” (v. 19).
- I get the impression Joseph and his family were not there very long.
- Historically, Herod the Great was already in his final years.
- Jesus probably not more than a young child still, it is time for him to return home.
- The angel promised to tell him when to come back, “…remain there until I tell you…” (v. 13).
God giving preserving guidance every step of the way.
Verse 20 repeats the command for Joseph to act, “Rise, take the child and his mother” (v. 20).
- Call for Joseph’s immediate proactive leadership.
- Herod and his cohort, “those who sought the child’s life are dead” meaning the bloodthirsty threat is off!
Verse 21 reveals direct obedience from the carpenter – God says move – we will move!
- With this obedience, do not miss the dynamic between Joseph being lead and Joseph being discerning.
- Joseph was not acting in blind, headless obedience.
- We are to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
- Just because the threat level is not acute, it is nevertheless still there.
- Now Joseph has to discern exactly where to re-settle his family.
“Who is Archelaus?”
Herod’s kingdom was divided 3 ways and given to three of his sons:
- Herod Archelaus ruling Judea, Samaria, and Idumea;
- Herod Philip II ruling regions north of Galilee (cf. Luke 3:1);
- Herod Antipas ruling Galilee.
Rome had trusted Herod the Great with the entire territory but he knew his sons could not handle this level of power so he split it up. Right before his death – changed his will!
- Archelaus had Judea, Antipas had Galilee, and region away to the northeast and beyond to Philip.
Each of the Tetrarch son was the consequences of their father’s persecution.
- They carried these sins forward by what had been sown inside them.
Archelaus was the worst of them.
- A bad king.
- He began his reign with an attempt to out-Herod Herod,
- Opening his rule with a deliberate slaughter of three thousand influential people in the country.
- He was savage and reckless making returning there a bad move for Joseph.
Archelaus was appointed by Augustus Caesar as “ethnarch” outranking the other brother “tetrarchs” – making it his job to lose tile/powers of “Ethnic” - “King of the Jews.”
- And this power proved too much for him.
- Rome banished him making to way for new governance, under Rome’s appointed governor, Pontius Pilate.
- Sound familiar?
Joseph’s family moved to Galilee, specifically to Nazareth.
- Under Antipas (reappears in Matt. 14:1-10).
- Best of Herod the Great’s - children who nevertheless later has John the Baptist put to death (cf. 14:12).
- He will examine Christ on the eve of his crucifixion (cf. Luke 23:7-12).
- Make no mistake, Antipas was not safe.
- He executes Christ’s forerunner because of Christ.
Do not miss the human side of these events.
- This is living history.
- Joseph preferred to go back to his hometown but “he was afraid” [phobew - aor/pass].
- Joseph would have to move 60 miles, over a day’s journey away from his home.
- I do not take this as a lack of faith in Joseph’s part but that Matthew highlights the real threat of ongoing persecution.
- The “angel of the Lord” might have been alleviating the immediate threat but not all of the threat.
The goal in this life is not to come completely out from under persecution.
- As I stated before, as long as we represent Christ, one or more of these forms/stages of persecution will be present.
- Our job like Joseph is to discern what form is present and what to do about it.
- If anything at all.
- Asking, not “How can I get out from under persecution?” but “How am I supposed to respond in this case to persecution.”
When challenges come.
- First, discern whether something is persecution, a direct assault on the Lord.
- Second, what to do about it.
- This is what Joseph faced at every key moment throughout this record.
Chances are these silent years of Jesus as a young boy progressing into manhood speak to Joseph’s faithful parenting.
- The final window into Joseph’s life is recorded in Luke 2.
ESV Luke 2:40 aAnd the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
ESV Luke 2:52 And Jesus aincreased in wisdom and in stature1 and in afavor with God and man.
These references surround Jesus confounding his teachers in the temple.
- During these years, the “fire danger” level was perhaps blue.
- These were good years.
- Jesus an older brother over several siblings and carpenter’s son (cf. Matt. 13:55-56).
Jesus “…went and lived in a city called Nazareth” a very small town and population outside of Galilee.
- Nazareth was in the shadow of Galilee.
- However, climbing a foothill and looking east you would see the Mediterranean Sea with its trade ships and along the outskirts of these foothills, the Damascus road, the way back to Egypt, onward into Africa.
- Known as of one the greatest caravan routes in the world.
ESV John 1:46 Nathanael said to him, a"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."
Though Jesus was born in Bethlehem and rushed to Egypt, he was raised in Nazareth.
I was born in Wilmington, Delaware but raised in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.
Jesus was a Nazarene, fulfilling a final prophetic prediction.
- No explicit verse says the Messiah would come from Nazareth and this is why it says “the prophets” said this.
- The point is that prophets predicted repeatedly in the Old Testament that Jesus would come from obscurity.
- Population 200 to 300, Nazareth?
- A despised place, “Podunk” or “Endsville.”
- The point is that prophets predicted repeatedly in the Old Testament that Jesus would come from obscurity.
- Jesus would not come from a place associated with honor (cff. Is. 53:3, Ps. 22:6-8).
ESV Psalm 22:6-7 But I am aa worm and not a man, bscorned by mankind and cdespised by the people. 7 All who see me amock me; they make mouths at me; they bwag their heads
ESV Isaiah 53:2-3 For he grew up before him like a young plant, aand like a root out of dry ground; bhe had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 aHe was despised and rejected1 by men; a man of sorrows,2 and acquainted with3 grief;4 and as one from whom men hide their faces5 he was despised, and bwe esteemed him not.
Jesus was raised in an environment smoldering with the consequences of persecution. When Christ’s three-year ministry begins the threat level is immediately raised to red.
These are divinely prescribed consequences of persecution.
All part of the plan, all the Lord’s prescription.
“What is happening in our world today?”
“What form if any is the church experiencing as persecution?”
Discern and navigate today’s forms of persecution - softer levels on the whole.
Avoid feeling entitled to avoid all persecution in this life.
Expect it. Endure it. Grow from it. Give God glory for it.