The recent events in Paris were both brutal and barbaric. Watching the scenes of bullet riddled windows, covered bodies and wounded people; Listening to the stories of survivors and victims, grieving over friends who never came home. It truly was a Slaughter of the Innocent. An evil and henious act that demands justice.
The heart breaking cries of Mothers and Fathers weeping over their children reminds me of another mindless act of terror.It’s captured well in the painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569), with the title ‘Massacre of the Innocent’. The scene seeks to capture the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. Seeing the birth of Jesus as a threat to his kingship, King Herod ‘gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and it’s vicinity who were two years old and under’ (Matthews Gospel 2 verse 16). One could only imagine the absolute fear and terror as Mothers stood by helpless, watching their innocent little boy slaughterd by the sword. Matthews account captures their pain with a quote from the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’ The pain in Paris is the same ‘because those they love are no more’.
As Mothers weep in Paris so Mothers wept in Bethlehem. But the true story of Bethlem is not just similar it gives us hope as we face a world gripped by fear and terror. The brutal and savage attack by Herod was not against the innocent children – it was an attack on Jesus, God’s chosen King of the world. The killing of the children was an effort to rid the world of the true King he should submit to. I see the events in Paris in a similar light. Yes it is an attack on Liberty, Equality and the Brotherhood, but this act of terror is ultimately an attack against the King of the world – Jesus Christ. The King who rules, the bringer of justice and peace. The acts of these terrorists reveal a much deeper issue – it reveals a heart that will not submit to the rule and authority of King Jesus. This is ultimately God’s world not ours and so first and foremost these events are an attempt to usurp God’s Son Jesus Christ.
However a closer look at the story in Bethlem offers us two things we all long for in the midst of such suffering and slaughter; Comfort and Restoration.
Comfort. The ‘weeping’ and the ‘mourning’ comes in the context of God’s great comfort for his people. Yes there has been great pain but God promises that will all be replaced by joy and comfort: ‘I will lead them beside streams of water…I will watch over them like a shepherd…I will turn their mourning into gladness, I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.’ (Jeremiah 31). Jeremiah the prophet points to a Shepherd King who is not immune to our suffering and comes to us in our pain. This comfort is experienced as we turn, in our heartache, to Jesus and trust him as Lord and King. Jesus may have escaped the slaughter of Herod as his family fled to Egypt (Matthew 2 verse 13) but He did not escape his death at the hands of eveil men when he died on a cross. He understands and he alone can bring comfort.
Restoration. Following Herods slaughter of the innocent we read that an angel said to Joseph: ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who are trying to take the child’s life are dead. So he got up, took the child and his mother and went…’ (Matthew 2 verse 20-21). Herod the evil King dies and the true King returns! That pictures for us the restoration we all long for. One of the questions I keep hearing people ask is ‘when will it all end?’. Well just as Herod came to an end so one day all evil will come to an end when the King returns. Jesus did die but he rose again three days later to prove who he was and all that he had come to do. One day the risen King will return and restore this broken world, establish peace and correct every injustice. The true King has seen and he will restore.
The slaughter of the innocent in Paris fills us all with pain and anger not least those who are closest to it. But as we get close to Christmas look back to the slaughter in Bethlehem and see a King who comforts and restores. In Jesus we find hope for today and hope for the future. He will bring it all to an end.