Perfect Predictions Series
Prophecies of Advent from Matthew 2
“Weep and Mourn No More”
This Advent season we are looking at the four prophecies surrounding the infancy of Christ found in Matthew chapter two. Most Advent sermon series conclude with the wise men coming to Bethlehem, bowing in worship, and presenting their gifts to the baby Jesus. But Matthew’s gospel goes further into Jesus’ infancy telling us that after the wise men departed back to their homeland being told in a dream not to return to Herod that an angel told Joseph to “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” (Mt.2.13)
This leads us to this morning’s text found in Matthew chapter two verses sixteen through eighteen. Hear now the Word of God:
16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more.”
Tis the Season to be Jolly
Christmas is supposed to be a time of love, joy, and peace. So, no wonder this text is often excluded or ignored during the Advent season. Christmas is a time of singing, happiness, and being of good cheer. “Tis the season to be jolly” but for many, Christmas is a time of depression, sadness, and mourning. For some the holidays causes them to have negative thoughts about what they have done, or what they wished they had done. Some have received a difficult diagnosis and for others it’s an anniversary of the loss of a loved one.
Personally, three years tomorrow I lost my closest cousin to a crazy and unexpected death. Barb and I were enjoying Christmas concerts in Nashville when we got the news that my youngest cousin had died. The joy of Christmas immediately changed to sadness and sorrow as we quickly drove from Tennessee to Indiana to be together with my grieving family. Instead of experiencing the wonder of Christmas we all were wondering why something like this could happen.
Our text this morning is often a forgotten passage in Advent preaching series because it speaks of jealousy, of rage, of murder, of grief, and of sorrow. Somehow it just doesn’t seem to fit with the joyful and peaceful picture painted for the Advent season. But a closer look at our text reveals that the Holy Spirit inspired this passage of Scripture so that those who are in mourning during the Christmas season would seek the Lord’s comfort and weep and mourn no more.
As you remember the Magi, or wise men, on their journey to find the baby Messiah stopped and inquired of Herod about where the Christ Child was to be born. After ascertaining the information from the chief priest and scribes Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”(2.8) Of course Herod had no intentions to worship the Christ Child but was only using the Magi to find the Child’s exact location so that he might harm Him. Herod must had chuckled at the naivety of the Magi who, as he thought, believed, that he, the Great king Herod, would go to the little town of Bethlehem to worship this so-called King of the Jews.
The Magi after finding the Child worshipped Him and offering their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and then departed for their own country. (2.11-12) After the Magi had departed an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” (2.13) It probably only took Herod two or three days after the Magi left Jerusalem for Bethlehem to conclude that he had been tricked. Being double crossed by the Magi enraged Herod. But the Magi had told Herod when the Messiah’s star had first appeared to them (2.7), so Herod sent soldiers to kill all the baby boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding region in an attempt to eliminate the threat of this Messianic King. (2.16) Killing all the boy babies in the region two years old and younger was probably an overreach by Herod to make sure that the baby Messiah was included in the murder of these children.
History describes Herod as “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis.” He was a ruthless and cruel man. Even Emperor Augustus said, “I would rather be Herod’s dog than his son.” No wonder Augustus would say such a thing knowing that Herod had murdered his favorite wife, had her two sons strangled and, executed another son for promoting himself too quickly to the throne. Surely, a tyrant who killed his own family would not hesitate to kill innocence children in Bethlehem. Skeptics have made much of the fact that this incident is not mentioned in any historical record except Matthew’s Gospel. But there is no reason why the incident should be mentioned in any ancient writing. Bethlehem was a small, rural, and insignificant town too little to be among the clans of Judah. Keeping this murderous act concealed also helped Herod to avoid any conflict with the chief priests and scribes who were aware of the whole incident with the wise men.
Bethlehem’s population, including the surrounding area, was no more than five hundred residents. Therefore, there probably weren’t more than a dozen or so children that met the age requirement of two years and below. Whether it was one child or a dozen, Herod murdering these innocence children caused the entire region to mourn, especially the mothers of those precious babies who had been violently executed. Matthew tells us that this was to fulfill what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet,“A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.” (2.18)
It is easy for the readers of Matthew’s Gospel to make the connection with the mourning mothers of Bethlehem with the mourning mother in Jeremiah’s prophecy because of they both rightly refusal to be comforted. “She refused to be comforted, because they were no more.” But beyond that it is difficult for most readers to understand any further connection of how this horrible incident in Bethlehem could have any prophetic fulfillment.
Most readers have no idea of where the city of Ramah is, who Rachel was, and why is there is weeping and great mourning. But that’s what I’m here for! To gain a proper understanding of the prophetic fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy the reader must understand the historical setting of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the meaning of the quote itself, and the context of Scripture from where this quote comes from.
Prophetic Fulfillment – The Historical Setting
So, let’s look at Jeremiah’s prophecy to find the reason why Matthew would call this a fulfillment. Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry around 627 B.C.
The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians who had taken most of the people into exile and it wouldn’t be long until the southern kingdom of Judah would fall to the Babylonians, who carried many of the inhabitants into exile. Jeremiah prophesied during the closing days of the southern kingdom of Judah and lived through the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed Jerusalem.
Prophetic Fulfillment – The Meaning of the Quote
Matthew quotes Jeremiah chapter thirty-one verse fifteen, “A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.” (Jer.31.15) Ramah was a small town located on the border between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah about five miles north of Jerusalem. This was the town where foreign conquerors ordered the defeated multitude to assemble for deportation into exile. The weeping and great mourning that was heard in Ramah were the cries of the mothers whose children were taken away into exile most likely never to be seen again. The most familiar of these exiled children are Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the book of Daniel. (Dan.1.1-7)
Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife, is figuratively depicted as the mother of all the children being carried away into exile. In real life Rachel was barren for years and cried out to her husband, Jacob, “Give me children or I die.” (Gen.30.1) Here in Jeremiah’s prophecy she is now figuratively depicted as the mother of all the children that were driven away into exile. The imaginary used in Jeremiah is spectacular! Jeremiah pictures Rachel watching the multitudes gathered at Ramah. She mourns bitterly because she is deprived of her children. First Israel is taken into exile (2Kgs. 17.5-6), then Judah (2Chrn.36.17, 20). The one who was so eager to have children sees some of them killed while others are driven away to foreign soil. How bitter are her tears; how loud are her lamentations. A worldly power, first Assyria, then Babylonia, has robbed her of that which was dearest to her. (Hendriksen – Matthew) She refuses to be comforted because her children were no more.
Prophetic Fulfillment – The Context
At this point you are probably thinking, “Thanks a lot Pastor! Two heartbreaking stories back-to-back. First the infants in Bethlehem and now the children taken into exile. But you must allow me to give one more piece of vital information. Jeremiah chapter thirty-one from where Matthew’s quote comes from is not a chapter of despair without hope. Chapter thirty-one of Jeremiah which Matthew quotes is a chapter filled with words of consolation, hope, and reason for rejoicing.
Immediately after we are told that “A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, because they were no more” in Jeremiah thirty-one and verse fifteen the Lord tells Rachel, “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; For your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord, “And they will return from the land of the enemy. “There is hope for your future,” declares the Lord, “And your children will return to their own territory.” (Jer.31.16-17)
Children being stripped from their families and carried away into exile is a terrible thing. It is an experience that would scar a parent for life. But the Lord responds to these weeping parents by telling them not to sink into despair but to have hope. Hope for the future. Jeremiah thirty-one is not a prophecy of despair but rather a prophecy of hope. The Lord is telling the mothers whose children were taken away into exile to restrain from weeping because their children will return.
Jeremiah thirty-one is a message of hope for these mourning mothers because the Lord promises that the children will return to their own land to fulfill the redemptive purposes of God – to bring forth the Messiah and to usher in the new covenant. Just listen to message of hope from Jeremiah thirty-one.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah . . . But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer.31.31-34)
Prophetic Fulfillment – Matthew’s Parallel
After Matthew tells us about Herod’s horrible killing of the infants in Bethlehem he writes, “Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled.” (Mt.2.17) The inspired parallel revealed to Matthew is that the word of the Lord for the weeping mothers of Bethlehem is the same as His word was to the weeping mothers who lost their children in exile six hundred years prior.
What did the Lord speak through Jeremiah? What is the Lord speaking through Matthew? “Even though your inconsolable weeping and your great mourning are justified due to these horrific events, take comfort that My Son will return from exile, and He will establish the new covenant. He will write His law on our hearts. He will be our God and we will be His people. He will forgive our iniquity and He will remember our sins no more.
Matthew is not trying to discount the extreme misery that the mothers in Bethlehem are experiencing. As a matter of fact, Matthew through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is doing the exact opposite. Matthew parallels the misery of the mothers of exiled children with the misery of the mothers of Bethlehem. This time the worldly power that brought this misery wasn’t Assyria or Babylonia, it was Herod. But it does matter who and it doesn’t matter when that reality is the same. These mothers in Bethlehem should have been in celebration because the Messiah was born in their town, and He would have been a childhood friend with their children but because of the evil in this world, they are experience great anguish to the depth of their soul.
Matthew is telling us of the Lord’s consoling love for the mothers of Bethlehem by reminding them of weeping mothers of the past that sought the Lord for comfort during a difficult and distressing time. The Lord feels their pain, hears their weeping and great mourning and desires to come to give them rest from their grief. During difficult times the Lord comes and says, “Take comfort there is hope. Take comfort there is hope for your future!”
I believe that this prophesy is recorded in the pages of Scripture not only to reveal to us the Lord’s consoling love for the mourning mothers in Bethlehem but also to reveal the Lord’s consoling love for all those who are mourning during the Christmas season. The Lord knows that while there is rejoicing and celebrations going on all around you are burdened in your heart because of a lost or a difficulty that you have experienced. The Lord feels your pain, hears your weeping and great mourning, and desires to come to give you to give you rest from your grief. During this difficult time the Lord is saying, “Take comfort there is hope. Take comfort there is hope for your future!” The Lord says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt.11.28) Come to Me and you will find rest for your souls. Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. (Ps.30.5b)
Brothers and sisters, listen to these words coming from the throne, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
On this third Sunday of Advent let’s seek the Lord to wipe away every tear from our eyes and to work His grace and mercy in our hearts through Christ so we would weep and mourn no more!