Murder and Grief

(Please read Matthew 2:13-18 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

BOB SMIETANA (Bob.Smietana@LifeWay.comis senior writer for Facts & Trends.

“Check into a hotel room this holiday season and you’ll likely get a Wi-Fi password along with your room key. You’ll also probably find a copy of Gideon’s Bible.  More than three quarters of hotels (79 percent) say their rooms feature religious material, according to a new survey from research firm STR, which focuses on the hospitality industry.

That’s up slightly from 2015, when 77 percent of hotels had religious material.

“Hotel Bibles made headlines this week, after Marriott decided to drop Bibles from the amenities offered at several new high-end hotel brands.

‘It’s because the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands,’ a Marriott spokeswoman told the LA Times.

“The more expensive a hotel, the less likely they are to stock Bibles in their rooms. According to STR’s research, 57 percent of luxury hotel rooms have religious material.

“By contrast, 89 percent of economy hotel rooms have religious material. Small hotels (69 percent) and big hotels (70 percent) are less likely to have religious material than mid-sized hotels (86 percent).  Hotels in small towns (83 percent), off the Interstate (89 percent), or in the suburbs (83 percent) are more likely to have religious material than those at resorts (61 percent), in urban areas (67 percent), or by the airport (74 percent).

“Bibles have been a staple at hotels for more than a century, with many placed by the Gideons International, a Nashville-based Christian nonprofit, since 1908.  Founded by traveling businessmen, the Gideons placed their first Bible at the Superior Hotel in Montana in 1908.

“Hotel Bibles make up only 2 percent of the Bibles the Gideons distribute, according to the group’s annual report. More than a billion Bibles have been distributed worldwide since 1908—and almost 100 million were handed out in 2015.

“Craig Warner, executive director of The Gideons International, says a Bible offers comfort for travelers who may be far from home.

‘Travel can be stressful. And life can be stressful when travelling,’ says Warner. ‘It’s in their hour of need that people find a Bible in a hotel room. They may not be a person of faith but they still recognize other people find hope and purpose in God’s Word. For hoteliers, Bibles remain a service for their customers.’”

That is an appropriate item of good news on this Sunday when we look at Joseph’s second act of obedience in traveling and taking his family to Egypt.

<Retrieved from http://factsandtrends.net/2016/12/09/despite-worries-hotel-bible-remain-almost-as-popular-as-wi-fi/#.WFQC71UrLcu on 12/16/16.>

  1. This event fulfilled prophecies.

Hosea’s prophecy is quoted by Mathew in verse fifteen.  Compare Matthew 2:15 with Hosea 11:1; “WHEN ISRAEL WAS A CHILD, I LOVED HIM, AND OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.”

What the prophecy meant in Hosea’s time.  Israel became a nation after they left Egypt.  On the most immediate level, this verse looks back to that time.  For example, in Exodus 4:22-23 God instructed Moses to refer to Israel as His SON.  Israel enjoyed this relationship with God because God chose them.  We see this emphasis repeated in the NT, where the Church consists of the ones God has chosen and called out of the world.  In Hosea’s prophecy, this is the first part of God’s promise that after a time of experiencing His wrath, His people will be restored.

What it meant in Jesus’ time.  In the history of God’s people there was more than one occasion when they fled to Egypt for safety.  (Even a king, Jeroboam, did this.)  God condemned them for a lack of faith.  They put more trust in the chariots of Egypt than in Him.  This happened so often that there was a sizeable collection of Jews in Alexandria and other parts of Egypt.  This means Joseph would have had no problem finding a place to stay.

What’s interesting is that Jewish historians of the time accepted the account of Jesus’ family living in Egypt as historical fact.  They went a step further and claimed He learned magic there and His miracles were practices of that magic.

What we’ve said repeatedly about Matthew is his intent to show Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.  Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Matthew picked up this verse from Hosea and recognized it as a prophecy that referred to the Messiah, though there was nothing there to indicate that before Jesus was born.

Matthew quoted Jeremiah’s prophecy in verse eighteen.  Here’s what we found in Jeremiah wrote in 31:15: THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS: “A VOICE IS HEARD IN RAMAH, MOURNING AND GREAT WEEPING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN AND REFUSING TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE HER CHILDREN ARE NO MORE.”

What it meant in Jeremiah’s time.  RAMAH was a city 5 miles NORTH of Jerusalem.  BETHLEHEM was 6 miles to the SOUTH.  Perhaps the point is that the anguish of the grief in Bethlehem and the infamy of the crime against her would be so great that people on the opposite side of the city would be aware of it.  According to Jeremiah 40:1, RAMAH was also the staging area where the people of Judah were assembled and then deported to Babylon.  I’m sure that was an unpleasant association for the Jews.

RACHEL was Jacob/Israel’s favored wife, the mother to Joseph and Benjamin.  According to Genesis 35:19, Rachel was buried in Bethlehem where she died in childbirth.  (Her tomb is a holy site revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims to this day.)  This is akin to saying that Rachel would weep in her grave, sharing the grief of the people.

But if you read further in Jeremiah 31, to v. 17, God comforted Rachel with the promise that the people would be restored to Judah and He would make a new covenant with them at that time (see vs. 31-34).  In spite of all this unpleasantness, these verses are part of a promise of comfort.

What the prophecy meant in Jesus’ time.  The death of the male children in Bethlehem was another grief-stricken event in a history of having suffered cruelty at the hand of Herod.  It must’ve reminded people like Matthew of the grief suffered by their ancestors.  This verse was an emotional and spiritual connection between those who suffered tragic loss at Herod’s hand and their forebears, who suffered loss at the hands of the Babylonians.

  1. This event contrasted Jesus and Herod.

Herod is the vicious king who stopped at nothing to protect his throne from all perceived threats.  Herod’s character flaws are well attested in the Bible and by non-biblical ancient historians.  For example, Josephus wrote whole volumes about Herod’s ruthlessness.

From these verses we learn Herod…

– Intended to kill the newborn King of the Jews (13).

– Was furious at the Magi for not returning to him as ordered (16).

– He ordered the death of the male children (16).

He may have seen this as a measured response.  After all, it was only boys, only boys aged two years or younger, and only in Bethlehem (a very small village).   The actual death count may have been low, not enough to justify emotionally-charged words like “slaughter” and “massacre.”

But these facts only make it more chilling, don’t they?  That Herod struck at this specific group in this ways is cold-hearted and calculated.  It was carefully measured, enough to eliminate the new king, but not so much to arouse the population of Jerusalem to wrath.  Verse seven told us that Herod met with the MAGI secretly to inquire about THE EXACT TIME THE STAR HAD APPEARED.   His purpose was to be able estimate the age of the newborn king.  Herod was crafty – he was preparing to meet the threat on his own if the MAGI failed.  Combine that with verse sixteen where Herod targeted all Bethlehem boys up to two years old and you can estimate Jesus’ age when these events took place.

Jesus was the Prince of Peace, an innocent child.  This fact doesn’t need any more explanation does it?  The contrast between these two historical figures could not be greater.

            This week I read an interview Bible Gateway held with popular Christian author Max Lucado about his book, Because of Bethlehem: Love Is Born, Hope Is Here (Thomas Nelson, 2016).  A couple of their questions and his answers apply to our study of Matthew 2:13-18.  (By the way, Max Lucado is the author we’re quoting in our Advent candle-lighting devotions.)

ON THE SUBJECT OF KING HEROD:

            “While the Christmas story is full of beauty and wonder, there’s a bad guy. Describe the message his life offers.

            “Max Lucado: We can learn a lesson from the sad life of King Herod. It’s always better to step down from the pedestal than to be pulled off of it. Like the innkeeper, Herod missed an opportunity to see Jesus. God did everything necessary to get Herod’s attention. He sent messengers from the East and a message from the Torah. He sent wonders from the sky and words from Scripture. He sent the testimony of the heavens and the teaching of the prophets. But Herod refused to listen. He chose his puny dynasty over Christ. He died a miserable old man. The path marked Pride will lead you over a cliff. The path marked Humility will take you to the manger of the Messiah.”

ON THE SUBJECT OF JESUS, GOD INCARNATE:

Why did God decide to be become a human and go through everything he did?

            “Max Lucado: A chief reason is this: he wants you to know that he gets you. He understands how you feel and has faced what you face. Jesus is not “out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help” (Heb. 4:15–16 MSG). Since you know he understands, you can boldly go to him. Because of Bethlehem’s miracle, you can answer these fundamental questions:

– Does God care if I’m sad? Look at the tear-streaked face of Jesus as he stands near Lazarus’s tomb.

– Does God notice when I’m afraid? Note the resolve in the eyes of Jesus as he marches through the storm to rescue his friends.

– Does God know if I am ignored or rejected? Find the answer in the compassionate eyes of Christ as he stands to defend the adulterous woman.

– Does God understand you? Find the answer in Bethlehem.”

This is why we return to these Bible passages year after year.  We need to be reminded that God revealed the full extent of His love in Jesus Christ.  During Advent, it is our job to do the same.

(Should you like to see the video version of this message, please look up “EBCSF” on YouTube.)

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