One of the most disturbing stories in all of the Bible happens just at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. Jerusalem is abuzz with rumors - a Messiah, a new king of the Jews has been born! King Herod, the man in charge, is shaking in his boots. He knows that he is not beloved by his people, and his grasp on power is tenuous at best. He can’t afford to have rival kings popping up all over the countryside. He decides to take decisive action. He asks his advisers where the Messiah is supposed to be born (Herod never paid much attention in Sabbath School). “Bethlehem,” they tell him. So Herod orders his soldiers to go to Bethlehem and carry out a horrific massacre. They slaughter all of the male infants, up to two years old. Jesus and his family barely escape, fleeing to Egypt as refugees.
I wonder if Jesus heard this story growing up. Did his parents tell him what a narrow escape it had been? Did they tell him to thank God for rescuing him from the massacre? Or was this perhaps one of those things that the family didn’t talk about, a chapter in their story too horrible to remember? Did Jesus learn about the massacre years later, through whispers and schoolyard gossip?
We don’t know how Jesus found out about the Bethlehem Massacre. What we do know is that he was determine to be a different kind of king, exercising a different kind of power in a different kind of kingdom. One of the remarkable things about Matthew’s Gospel is just how often we see Jesus interacting with children. Jesus raises a girl from the dead, turning a funeral into a jamboree. Jesus casts a demon out of the daughter of a Canaanite woman. Jesus cures a boy of his epilepsy. When his disciples are arguing about who is the greatest in God’s eyes, Jesus points to a child and says, “If you want to become great in God’s eyes, you must become humble like this child.” When his disciples get irritated by all of the children who are always hanging around Jesus, he tells them that the kingdom of God belongs to the little ones. When Jesus enters Jerusalem to carry the cross and confront the powers of evil, children line the streets and sing his praise.
These stories help us to remember the reason ministries like Vacation Bible School/Sports Camp in the Park are so important. We tend to think of these ministries as opportunities to take Jesus to the children, but that’s not what is happening at all! The truth is that Jesus is already among the children - he always has been. We don’t put on ministries like VBS so the children can encounter Jesus; we do these ministries because when we spend time with the children, we encounter him! Thanks to everyone who helped make VBS happen this week!
Your servant in Christ,