Some 2,600 years ago, Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, invaded Judah. Consequently, after a siege lasting about eighteen months, the Gentiles conquered and destroyed Jerusalem, plundered the temple, and hauled most of the city’s residents into captivity. Only the poorest of the poor remained. Watching these events unfold, Jeremiah recorded what God said:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and wailing.
It’s Rachel crying for her children;
she refuses to be consoled,
because her children are no more” (Jer 31:15, CEB).
The Lord’s description of Rachel weeping in Ramah, a village suburb near Jerusalem, focused listeners on the emotional response of Israel’s mothers as they mourned the loss of their future.
Six centuries later in another suburb near Jerusalem, Israel’s mothers wept anew over their children who died at the hands of Herod the Great. Having heard of the Magi’s desire to worship the king of the Jews, Herod lashed out at the boy-child he perceived as a threat to his dynasty. Can you imagine the parents’ anguish as soldiers spilled babies’ blood, striking down all the male toddlers two years old and younger?
Matthew quotes Micah as he compares the two events—the first foreshadowing the second (Matt 2:6). Yet interestingly, in both writers’ narratives, what follows is not despair, but hope. In Jeremiah’s account, the threat that the nation will be “no more” is answered with the promise of the New Covenant (Jer 31:31–40); in Matthew’s, readers learn of a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord (Matt 3:3).
As Matthew’s story unfolds, he reveals that Christ is the means by which God fulfills the promised New Covenant. The hope of a glorious future is thereby secured for all who respond to Jesus through faith. Still, the one who said “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:10, NASB) also warned of oppression that would happen while his followers await their deliverance. And he instructed, “Whenever they persecute you in one place, flee to another” (Matt 10:23, NET).
Across the world many of our brothers and sisters in Christ mourn as they flee their homelands and watch their children beheaded. By some counts, 100 million Christians are enduring mistreatment for their faith, and many predict the worst is yet to come. Yet these “of whom the world [is] not worthy” continue to revel in the reality that in Christ they are the blessed. They are free indeed.
Let us stand with the members of our spiritual family—until Christ comes to bring joy to the world and “make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matt. 5:10, NASB