Christmas - Week 4
This week we will look at another part of the Christmas story as we look at what Matthew records for us in chapter 2 of the gospel account that bears his name. Please read this chapter before or as you read this weekly note. We will finally begin to look at the Christmas story as told in Luke next week. As a reminder and a reference point, we are looking at hidden truths about Christmas from the account of our Lord and Savior as relayed in the book “Hidden Christmas” by Tim Keller. Today is the fourth note summarized from the eight chapters of the book.
Chapter 2 of Matthew is where we see the only account in scripture of the “wise men” or “magi” who travel from afar seeking the child who was prophesied to be born King of the Jews. Chapter 2 also includes the historical account of the genocide against small children conducted by King Herod the Great against his own subjects in the town of Bethlehem and surrounding area.
The first three verses of chapter 2 introduce the wise men or magi as some called them. These sages and astrologers from the East have come to find a young child who it is said would be born “King of the Jews” so that they could present gifts to Him and worship Him. Imagine how King Herod the Great felt when He heard this. Here, in his own kingdom, right under his nose, a new King is reportedly born and He knows nothing of it. Not only is he surprised but think also how you would feel if you are the “king” or ultimate authority in the land and someone comes and tells you that a new “king” or ultimate authority has been born. Would you celebrate or would you take it as a threat. From the story we see that obviously Herod takes it as a great threat.
Without going into all of the details of the story, we find that Herod is so upset that he plans to kill all of the children two years of age and under in the Bethlehem area to try and prevent this alleged king from becoming a threat to his own throne and authority. An angel warns both Joseph and the wise men of Herod’s plans and they escape Bethlehem without harm. Joseph takes his wife and young child to Egypt where they reside for a period of time. The gifts given by the wise men in essence become a source of financial assistance to Joseph and his family in this foreign land. We read this story of genocide today and think it is one of the most atrocious things that could happen. For that day and time though, this was not that unheard of which is why it is presented in such a matter of fact manner in the gospel. Herod did many atrocious things, many of them to his own family, just to ensure he stayed in power. We think ourselves much better than this but yet we kill thousands of babies each year here in the United States before they are even born. Maybe there is not as much difference between Herod and us as we think.
The account of deception, fear, bloodshed, injustice, homelessness and refugee status seen in this chapter is still familiar in our current world. There is great evil everywhere, much more than we would like to admit. While the Bible teaches us that God is love and that He is against those that oppress the poor such as Joseph and Mary, the Bible has as a central theme another point that must be brought up in our look at what Herod has done. The full teaching of the Bible is that the source of the world’s evil is every human heart. King Herod’s reaction to Christ is, in this sense, a picture of us all. Man, contrary to some popular teachings, is not born inherently “good” as we have covered repeatedly during these weekly notes. Man is instead inherently “not good”, or using a theological term - depraved, and is desperately in need of a rescue.
If you want to be king, and someone else comes along saying He is the king, then one of you has to give in. Only one person can sit on the throne at a time. As we saw last week, Jesus came claiming to be God, the true King. There is a very real cost to being a true disciple of Christ. Luke 14, verse 25-33 outlines this point. In this passage Luke tells us that Jesus is calling for an allegiance to Him that is so supreme that it makes all other commitments look weak by comparison. It is a chain of absolute authority, a summons to unconditional loyalty, and it inevitably triggers deep resistance within the human heart. We want to be in charge of our own lives and Jesus says you must let go of that. This whole story, your whole life, is no longer about you. It is about Him first and foremost, and your relationship walking with Him daily, fulfilling His good purposes, acknowledging Him in all things, leading to Him directing you down a new and straighter path that is best for you. He made you and knows what is best for you. What is best for you? To be conformed to the image of Christ!
Romans 8:7-8 tells us that in our natural, unregenerate state, the human mind is literally at enmity toward God. Paul tells us in Romans that this unregenerate man does not submit to God’s law nor can it hope to do so. At the core of the human heart is an impulse that says, “No one tells me what to do”. In every heart there is a little King Herod that wants to rule and that is threatened by anything that may compromise its omnipotence and sovereignty. We all want to be the captain of our own soul and fate. Paul tells us earlier in his letter to the Romans in chapter 3:10-11, that “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God”. Many think this an exaggeration because they just know so many millions of people who are sincere seekers of God. Christian theologians down through the ages though have made two clear distinctions regarding this point and what Paul is claiming.
First, we want the things God gives such as love, help, strength, forgiveness, happiness and so on but that does not mean that we are seeking God or want God Himself. Many people may seem like seekers but in essence they are only in it for what they can gain for themselves. The evidence for this is very strong since so many people who once confessed Christ have now left the faith because things did not turn out the way they wanted after their stated confession of belief.
Second, people may seek God as they want Him to be, but no one seeks God of their own volition as He reveals Himself to be in the Bible. Think back to the weekly note we covered on the passage from Romans 11:22, where Paul told us to consider both the goodness and the severity of God. God demonstrates both goodness and wrath or severity. Few people, and preachers even today, stress this fact about God. As such, when things are not “good” for us, we again fall away because we have not been shown the full picture of the God we serve.
This shows us one of the hidden truths of Christmas. This dark episode of King Herod’s violent lust for power points to our natural resistance to, even hatred of, the claims of God on our lives. We create God’s of our own liking to mask our resistance to the ultimate authority of the one true King. If the Lord born at Christmas is the true God, then no one will seek for Him unless our hearts are supernaturally changed to want and seek Him. We must be changed, made a new creation, in order to seek Him.
Is your true king today wrapped in religion allowing you to stay on the throne based on all of the good deeds you do? Are you fleeing from religion and loudly claiming there is no God? Or have you grasped what Luke is telling us in Luke 14:26 – 33, about the true cost of discipleship and putting God on the throne instead of yourself?
Christmas tells us that the King has come into the world. But the Bible tells us that Jesus comes as King not just once, but twice. He came the first time as a baby in Bethlehem but He will come again in power in order to end all evil, suffering, and death. The first time He did not come in strength but in weakness and humility, to a poor family, born in a stable.
Christmas tells us that Jesus does not behave like a king the world expects. He had no academic credentials. He had no high social status. When Joseph brought his family back from Egypt he settled as far away from the centers of power in Israel as he could by moving to the obscure town of Nazareth. One of his disciples, Nathaniel, famously said as recorded in John 1:46 when told about Jesus for the first time, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?”
The world has always despised people from the wrong places and with the wrong credentials. If you have the right answers you must come from a certain place. I was reminded of this listening to the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett where it was stated that all the other justices came from either Harvard or Yale. The world wants people from a certain place with a certain degree, from a certain school. The Bible teaches us something different though. God does not operate this way. We saw it in the genealogy in chapter 1 of Matthew. We saw it in Isaiah 9. The Bible tells us that the greatest personage in the history of the world was born in a manger and was raised in the tiny, inconsequential town of Nazareth. This concept is throughout the Bible. God initially brings His message not through the great kingdoms recorded in history such as the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans or Greeks. He brings His message through a small group of people called the Jews. God dispatches Goliath not with a bigger giant but with a shepherd boy at whom the giant laughed. That is just how God works.
In ancient times, the oldest son was the most important. How did God work? He worked through Able and not Cain. He worked through Isaac and not Ishmael. He worked through Jacob and not Esau. He worked through Ephraim and not Manasseh. He worked through David and not his older brothers. At a time when women were valued for their beauty and fertility, God chooses old Sarah and not young Hagar. God chooses unattractive Leah and not Rachel. He chooses Hannah who cannot have children. He chooses old Elizabeth, who was also barren, to be the mother of John the Baptist. Over and over again, God is saying, “I choose Nazareth, not Jerusalem. I will choose the girl nobody wants. I will choose the boy everybody has forgotten”.
Why does God do it this way? Does he just like underdogs? He is trying to tell us something about salvation through all of this. Every other religion tells you to summon up your strengths and live as you ought. These religions appeal to the strong, to the people who can pull it together. Only Jesus says, “I have come for the weak. I have come for those who admit they are weak. I will save them not by what they do but through what I do”. Throughout Jesus’ life his disciples kept asking Him when He was going to take power and save the world. Jesus keeps saying, “you don’t understand. I am going to lose all my power and die – to save the world”.
All of this brings us to both a point of comfort and challenge. Here is the comfort. I don’t care who you are; I don’t care what you have done; I don’t care if you have been on the paid staff of Hell. I don’t care what your background is; I don’t care what deep, dark secrets are in your past. I don’t care how badly you have messed up. If you repent and come to God through Jesus, not only will God accept you and work in your life, but He delights to work through people like you. He has been doing it all through history.
Here is the challenge, though: We need Christians everywhere. That includes in the centers of cultural influence, the centers of power, where those people of influence, beauty, talent and wealth reside. But everything about Christmas teaches us not to have our heads turned by such people, to not be prejudiced in their favor. Christians must live among them and love them and serve them as neighbors. Christmas means that race, pedigree, wealth, and status do not ultimately matter. It means not being prejudiced against the poor – and not being biased favorably toward the well off.
In Christmas, Jesus turns the world’s idea of success upside down. He is the KING and I pray He is yours.
Next week – “Mary’s Faith”.