Sermon Manuscript example: the Slaying of the Innocents

The Self-Flagellation of Saint Hedwig

My Last Preaching professor said I was something of a natural when it came to writing out sermon manuscripts.

What’s odd though… is I’m very poorly at preaching off of a script. In part because the method used in this Sermon was a “very last quarter” discovery for me.  

I almost never use notes when preaching because I trip over it. This is way out of Season; I figure this “the Slaying of the Innocents” Sermon is a good exemplar of the mechanics of a good manuscript. I know them… but I won’t really ever use them… 


the Slaying of the Innocents in Matthew

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated,

Thesis introduced:

Matthew inserts this story right after the story of dream of the Wise-men, and the dream of Joseph warning him of the danger.

Like the story of the star in the night sky, God is active in the tale.

He is ordering things behind the scene.

And this idea of God ordering things is a difficult reality to read into a situation of a bunch of children being killed YET, it is often in the darkest times that the light shines out.

It is when he seems to abandon us, that he is most near

Notice the sentence length is variable, and they are set as “chunks of speech.”
Notice the more basic vocabulary

Verse expounded

Herod was known as a nasty fellow, he even had his own son killed.

So, it is not outside of reality to put the idea of killing someone else’s children beneath him.

And this reputation preceded him,

it would have been in the back of the original readers mind as they contrasted the warm reception of the Wise-men by Herod.

What they knew of him would have made that story at first seem unlikely.

Yet, a weak king who kill for power would have trembled at the news of a legitimate ruler,

and as the story of the wise-men tells us, Herod was playing power games.

The mechanism here is the same rhetorical device of black in white, etc. contrast as used above.
This helps the idea flow in your head.

What is interesting is that Matthew here records the Wise-man as having actually “tricked” Herod!

I think the “tricking” would have gone the other way, with Herod trying to play nice

And the Greek ἐνεπαίχθη (enepaichthe) doesn’t really mean tricked so much as outsmarted

They were wise-men after all, but wise only because God has played a hand!

This kind of “disjointed” formulation, if you can put emotion into it… is normally for “ad-hoc” speech
One issue with manuscripts is some focus on being ‘ridgepole correct.’ Nobody talks that way!

[Herod] sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

Now Herod went and did this,

though the scope of things may be <<< (INTENTIONAL FOR READING) put out of focus with our modern sense of war-crimes

And again, there are those who try to make the bible a nice bunch of fairy tales

And again again… there are those who can’t ever countenance the idea of God being involved in nasty things

I would like to say, “Well, then is he going to be involved in the nasty things of your life?!”

And to some seeking to be insanely factual and historic, don’t like that such a world shattering event isn’t recorded by a 3rd party.

However, most scholars state, with a bunch of Math, that the death toll here would have been low.

Maybe 10-20 as the statement “in and around” encompasses a very small area”

“That’s better” or “more reasonable” we think, and hardly front page news.

But Luke was sensitive to the fact that for the people involved…

One was one too many!

Note I don’t say “one dead.” You don’t need to beat people on the nose with facts… they’ll follow you

The personal tragedy of such would be absolutely devastating.

This is not abstract statistics, but real human life!


So, Luke must continue with the second portion:

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

There us a lot of history in these versus. And a bit of a prodding of the lazy conscious of the reader who may be trying to think of these events coolly and level headed like.

Ramah is a historical place where the worst things seemed to keep on happening.

It is the place that the Jewish people, having been conquered by Babylon, lined up to be shipped out into captivity

But it is also a place where the seeming emptiness and hoplessness of life was turned back

The barren Hannah gave birth to one of the Greatest Prophets there

And Matthew is sensitive to this in calling to mind the barren Racheal.

What could be more barren than the cold-still bodies of slaying children.

What could more stire a people to outrage than to have their own king kill their own people.

Matthew is in these verses saying, remember how this hurt us? Remember how our story is connected?


I would pause here.

Relating to the big picture

Just like in all the events of the past, God was doing something in Isreal even when things seemed the worst.

Matthew here, must also be remembering stories told him in his youth of another bunch of children.

For, way back in the dusty books of Israel’s history the Pharaoh of Egypt had made a very similar discussion to Herod.

He had decreed that all the Jewish babies should be tossed into the Nile and drowned

The nation wept and mourned then too.

But like this story here, back then God had been in it.

A child had lived. Moses not only survived but thrived, raised by his own mother, and had eventually came back to prove to the Pharos how powerless they were.

Just as the latter Babylonians and the childlessness of Hannah proved unable to stop God’s plans…

Jesus took upon himself all our human weakness, and as a baby, it was all he could do to run.

This is neither shameful nor a moral failing, but solidarity.

As Paul in his epistyles eludes, God allowed the saints to be barren, for his promises to seem unfulfilled, to be lined up into captivity, and all the other realities we fear

So that we, the chosen ones of this new day, would have the surety that he is a god with us and for us through it all.

Notice the “hope passage” is again the reversal metaphor “type” at the very beginning?
You can’t do that without notes…


I almost always don’t read conclusions/ make alternates.
You’ve read the room and this is were what you will say and what last will be said.

And in that infant, tucked in Joseph’s arms as he flew to Eygpt, there rested a new hope and a much greater power than anything Herod could have imagined.

If the Egyptians where guilty of killing their own, and yet liberation came to the people

How much more when the Israelites killed their fellow citizens, does a new liberation come?

Still, I would resist the urge to run to the end of the Gospel and dwell in what this one little story teaches.

Namely, that Evil will always pounce when God is moving among his people

It will always try to destroy.

It is no more a legitimate king than Herod, and it struggles flutily to hold its power.

And it has always failed because in it all God is with us.

In Jesus, the people of God found a God who was with them so completely that he would be among them as the killers came back then.

And he is with us even now.

He is the God that does not fly from the evils in our lives;

Rather, he goes through them himself even into our very graves.

In death, we are not separated even there.

But do we trust God?

Do we think he is through these things with us? Or do we only see the death and destruction of the day the children were cruelly wiped out?

To stop there, that is Herod’s story.

Problem solved.

But we cannot and must not stop there.

For we know that there is a small child growing in Eygpt, that in some land far away, a true king builds his strength

And that not in frustration but in fulfillment of God’s plan for each of us.

Post Author

Paul is the founder of and a life long Christian with a childhood interest in systematic theology. He holds an M.Div. from Fuller Theological seminary and hopes to use his education to better his fellow man. He also operates an automotive blog, has worked at Google, and has diverse life interest.

reformedmonk – who has written posts on Religible.

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