The Christmas Story is always portrayed and remembered as a wonderful and warm event with pleasant and happy feelings. The soft manger scene with Mary and child, the joyful angels, excited shepherds, and expectant and adoring wise men are the way the story is always told. We limit our story from the Text to the positive part that is full of heavenly promises and peace on earth and good will to men. However, there is a very disturbing part of the text that is never mentioned in the Christmas Story and that is the killing of the babies by Herod. This slaughter of innocent children vividly portrays the violent world into which Jesus was born. Only Matthew includes this hideous story in his events of the birth of Jesus. Why did Matthew include this part of the birth story in his gospel? We have to remember that Matthew was a Jew and his target audience was his fellow Jewish brethren. His main purpose was to prove to his Jewish readers that Jesus was the promised Messiah that had been expected for generations. He did this by showing how Jesus, in His life and ministry, fulfilled the Hebrew (Old) Testament Scriptures. Matthew uses more quotations from the Old Testament than any other New Testament author and uses a lot of Jewish terminology in his writings. What is the significance of the killing of the babies in the Christmas Story and what does it have to do with Jesus as the Messiah?
Why did Matthew and not Mark, Luke, or John, make sure that this part of the Christmas Story was known?
One possibility is that Matthew, because of his Jewish background, wanted to portray Jesus as the “new” or “second” Moses. In the book of Exodus, Moses was born into the same kind of circumstances. Pharaoh was having every male Jewish baby killed and the baby Moses only escaped through divine intervention and miraculous circumstances. Moses then grew up to be God’s chosen instrument to save the Jewish nation from bondage. Now, here is baby Jesus, hundreds of years later, also escaping death at the hand of an earthly king who was having every baby boy slaughtered. Again, God intervened in history and saved the baby Jesus, and then used Him as His chosen instrument to save the Jewish people from their bondage. Jesus, in this sense, was the “second Moses” to come to save the Jewish people. This fulfilled the prophecy given by God to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, which says, “The Lord will raise up for you a prophet like me (Moses) from among your own brothers. You must listen to him…. I will put my words in his mouth”. (See also Are You the Prophet?)
This image of Jesus as the new or second Moses is found throughout the Gospels and the Epistles, but this is a place that I hadn’t seen it before. Matthew was making yet another connection from the Hebrew Testament to Jesus as He fulfilled one prophecy after another to show that He was the promised Messiah, sent by God. It makes for another fascinating piece of the puzzle that is, “God’s very words to us”, the Bible!