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THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Morning, December 24, 2006
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).


Bethlehem was a small village about five miles from Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary had travelled there from their home in Nazareth far to the north. They had come to Bethlehem to register and be taxed because they were descendants of David, who had been born in Bethlehem a thousand years earlier. Jesus was born while they were there.

All of this happened during the reign of King Herod the Great. Herod was not Jewish by birth. He was a descendant of Esau, an Edomite, an Idumean. His forefathers had embraced the Jewish religion. However, the Jewish people always regarded Herod with suspicion, calling him a “half Jew.”

The historian Josephus said that Herod was appointed by Rome as procurator of Galilee when he was twenty-five. Afterward Herod paid money to the Roman Senate to make him the King of Palestine, and he was crowned king of the Jewish state by Augustus Caesar amid great pomp and ceremony. Dr. Merrill F. Unger said,

Herod was not only an Idumean in race and a Jew in religion, but he was a heathen in practice and a monster in character. During his administration as king he proved himself to be exceedingly crafty, jealous, cruel, and vengeful. He exercised his kingly power with the disposition of a very despot…He had nine or ten wives and on the merest suspicion put to death his favorite wife, Mariamne, and also her sons, Aristobulus and Alexander…and at last, when on his own deathbed, just five days before he died, he ordered his son Antipater to be slain. It is no wonder that Augustus [Caesar] should have [said] “It is better to be Herod’s hog than to be his son”… [Dr. Adam Clarke said that the point of Caesar’s statement was that Herod’s Judaism forbade his killing pigs, “therefore his hog would be safe, where his own son lost his life.”] One of Herod’s most infamous crimes occurred when he was on his deathbed. He commanded “that all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation” should come to his presence. Then he shut them up in the hippodrome [arena] and surrounded it by soldiers. He ordered that immediately after his own death, which he expected soon, they should all be killed, that it might seemingly, at least, afford “the honor of a memorable mourning at his funeral.” The royal wretch died but the order concerning the men at the hippodrome was never carried out (Merrill F. Unger, Ph.D., The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody Press, 1988, pp. 556-558).

The wise men from the East did not know these facts about Herod. They came to him as ingenuously and openly as children, and asked,

“Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

“King of the Jews?” The jealous, cruel and deceptive heart of Herod recoiled with malignant fear that someone else, some “King of the Jews,” should take his place, and usurp his throne. Therefore the king sent them to find that child, saying,

“When ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also” (Matthew 2:8).

The wise men found the Christ-child, worshipped Him, and presented Him with costly gifts. But they were warned by God not to return to Herod, and so they went back to their own country without telling the king where Jesus was.

“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of [tricked by] the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).

After learning of Herod murdering his own wife and children, it does not surprise me that he slaughtered these helpless children, seeking to murder the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. How can we account for such beastly behavior? Can we explain how a human being could sink so low? There are at least three explanations.

I. First, Herod was a child of Adam.

The root of sin lies in the fact that all human beings are born sinners. Every man and woman is related by blood – back to Adam. The sin and guilt of Adam was imputed to all his offspring, the entire human race. When our first parent rebelled against God, a poison was infused into the genes, and bloodstream, and the very soul of the human race.

God’s holy law says,

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

But the poisoned blood and polluted soul of depraved sinners has no love for God.

I say that Herod never had any love for God. Oh, he said he believed in God. He even rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. He went there on the sabbath and recited ritual prayers. But do you think that he ever loved God? Do you think he ever really prayed to God from his heart?

And, now, may I ask you, are you so different from Herod in that respect? Can you honestly say you love God? Can you honestly say that you pray to God? Or did the Psalmist describe you when he said,

“The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts” (Psalm 10:4)?

You can come to church because it is your habit, or because you have friends here, but do you

“love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5)?

“Oh,” someone may say, “but I am not as bad as Herod.” I agree that you have not sunk as deeply in sin as he finally did. But I disagree with you if you think your heart is any different from his. If you are honest with yourself, I think you will have to agree that your heart does not love God any more than his did, that your heart is self-centered rather than God-centered,

“For men shall be lovers of their own selves” (II Timothy 3:2)

rather than lovers of God.

Now, I know you don’t want to hear that, but I wonder if your conscience doesn’t agree with it. I wonder if you may be thinking, “There’s some truth to that. I really don’t love God. In fact I hardly ever really think about God.” And, then, that being true of you, how is your heart different from that of Herod? He went to the Temple each week. He went through the ritual,

“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof”
      (II Timothy 3:5).

Isn’t that true of you as well? Isn’t it true that you have the outward form of religion, but no inward reality, no real joy in knowing and loving God? Isn’t it true that you have a sinful, godless heart? Isn’t it true that you have broken the holy law by not loving God as you should?

And so, at the very root of the matter, in the very center of your heart, you are as much a ruined child of Adam as Herod was. Your heart, in its lack of love for God, is as sinful as was his.

II. Second, Herod went from bad to worse.

You don’t think he started out as a murderer, do you? Of course not! He started life as a child, then he was a teenager, and then a young adult. He never murdered anyone when he was a little boy, nor do I think he did such a thing in the early years of adulthood. But his heart was wrong, even then. And the wrong inclination, the wrong tendency, of his heart led him in the wrong direction in life. As my mother used to say, “He went from bad to worse.”

The Bible warns us about that when it says,

“Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse”
      (II Timothy 3:13).

The person who remains unconverted will grow worse and worse as time goes on.

Make no mistake about that. The longer you remain unconverted the worse your heart will become,

“having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Timothy 4:2).

It is a common error to think that the more sermons you hear the more likely you will be converted. The facts show that this is not true. In reality, the opposite is true. The more you hear the Gospel proclaimed, and reject Christ, the less likely it is that you will ever be converted. Your conscience will be seared more and more, as you reject Christ, until it is so calloused over, so hardened, so unimpressible, that your

“latter end is worse with them than the beginning”
      (II Peter 2:20).

Oh, will it be said of you, that you grew “worse and worse”? Will it be said of you, that your “conscience [was] seared with a hot iron”? Will it be said of you, that your “latter end [was] worse than the beginning”? I am very sure that those things will all be said of you, as they were of Herod, if you go on as you are, in an unconverted state! He went from bad to worse – and so will you!

III. Third, Herod neglected the means of grace.

The means of grace are the Holy Scriptures and the sermons one hears. The scribes told Herod where Christ would be born. They quoted Micah 5:2 to him,

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

Did he listen to the Bible? Did he trust the newborn Saviour? Was he converted? No. He rejected that means of grace given in the Bible. He was unmoved by the Bible.

Did he listen to the preaching of the wise men? No! He tried to trick them, so he could kill Jesus! If he had paid attention to their preaching, why wouldn’t he have gotten up, gone to Bethlehem and worshipped Christ? After all, Bethlehem was only five miles away! But he did not listen to the preaching of these wise men. Instead of simply coming to Jesus and getting saved, he played games with the preachers and rejected that means of grace as well!

And look what happened to Herod! Even while he was murdering those little children in Bethlehem, dreadful doom was falling upon him, as a fearful disease raced through his body. Dr. Gill said,

The account which [two ancient historians] Josephus, and from him Eusebius, gives of his miserable death, is as follows: a burning fever seized him, with an intolerable itching over all his body, and continual pains of the colic; his feet swelled with a dropsy; he had an inflammation in the lower part of his belly; a putrification in his [private] parts, which bred worms; a frequency and difficulty of breathing, and convulsions in all his members; he had a voracious appetite, a stinking breath, and his intestines abounded with ulcers; when he found that all means made use of were ineffectual, and that he must die, he attempted to [commit suicide] but was prevented, and soon after [died] in a very miserable manner (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume I, p. 17).

The picture given to us by those ancient historians, Josephus and Eusebius, is truly horrible. It is as though we are given a glimpse of this man descending, down into the scorching bowels of Hell,

“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” 
      (Mark 9:48).

If you have not already been given “over to a reprobate mind” (Romans 1:28) I urge you with all seriousness to come to Jesus Christ for salvation, while there is still time.

“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come” (Revelation 22:17).

The Holy Spirit says, “Come to Christ.” The bride, the local church and all her people, say, “Come to Christ.” Let every person here who is thirsty for salvation come to Christ! He died on the Cross to pay for your sins. He rose from the dead physically. He is seated at the right hand of God in Heaven praying for you. Come to Jesus Christ. Your sins will be washed away by His Blood. Do not go down into the burning pit of Hell with Herod! Come to Jesus Christ and be washed clean by His precious Blood – so you can live forever with Him in the paradise of God! Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 2:1-18.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“We Three Kings” (by John H. Hopkins, 1820-1891).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).

(Matthew 2:2, 8)

I.   Herod was a child of Adam, Deuteronomy 6:5; Psalm 10:4;
II Timothy 3:2, 5.

II.  Herod went from bad to worse, II Timothy 3:13; 4:2; II Peter 2:20.

III. Herod neglected the means of grace, Micah 5:2; Mark 9:48;
Romans 1:28; Revelation 22:17.