Scripture: Matthew 2:13-18
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”
Meditation: Who can explain suffering, especially the suffering of innocent children? Herod’s massacre of children who gave their lives for a person and a truth they did not know seemed so useless and unjust. What a scandal and stumbling block for those who can’t recognize God’s redeeming love. Why couldn’t God prevent this slaughter? Suffering is indeed a mystery. No explanation seems to satisfy our human craving to understand.
First martyrs for Christ
These innocent children who died on Christ’s behalf are the first martyrs for Christ. Suffering, persecution, and martyrdom are the lot of all who chose to follow Jesus Christ. There is no crown without the cross. It was through Jesus’ suffering, humiliation, and death on a cross, that our salvation was won. His death won life – eternal life for us. And his blood which was shed for our sake obtained pardon and reconciliation with our heavenly Father.
Suffering can take many forms – illness, disease, handicap, physical pain and emotional trauma, slander, abuse, poverty, and injustice. Paul the Apostle states: We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called to his purpose (Romans 8:28)? Jesus exclaimed that those who weep, who are reviled and persecuted for righteousness sake are blessed (Matthew 5:10-12). The word blessed [makarios in the Greek] literally means happiness or beatitude. It describes a kind of joy which is serene and untouchable, self-contained and independent from chance and changing circumstances of life.
Supernatural joy in the face of suffering
There is a certain paradox for those blessed by the Lord. Mary was given the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God. That blessedness also would become a sword which pierced her heart as her Son died upon the cross. She received both a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow. But her joy was not diminished by her sorrow because it was fueled by her faith, hope, and trust in God and his promises. Jesus promised his disciples that “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
The Lord gives each of us a supernatural joy which enables us to bear any sorrow or pain and which neither life nor death can take way. Do you know the joy of a life fully given over to God with faith and trust?
“Lord Jesus, you gave your life for my sake, to redeem me from slavery to sin and death. Help me to carry my cross with joy that I may willingly do your will and not shrink back out of fear or cowardice when trouble besets me.”
1 If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, let Israel now say-
2 if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us,
3 then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;
4 then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;
5 then over us would have gone the raging waters.
6 Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth!
7 We have escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Daily Quote from the early church fathers: The first martyrs of Christ, by Chromatius (died 406 AD)
“In Bethlehem therefore all the babies were slain. These innocents who died then on Christ’s behalf became the first martyrs of Christ. David refers to them when he says, ‘From the mouths of nursing babies you have perfected praise because of your enemies, that you might bring ruin to the enemy’ (Psalm 8:2). … For in this persecution even tiny infants and nursing babies were killed on Christ’s behalf and attained to the consummate praise of martyrs. Meanwhile the wicked king Herod was destroyed, he who had usurped the realm to defend himself against the king of the heavens. Thus it is that those blessed babes have deservedly lasted beyond others. They were the first who were worthy to die on Christ’s behalf.” (excerpt from TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 6.2)