We’re looking at the stories usually associated with Christmas in these weeks approaching Christmas. Last time we studied the story of the magi in Matthew 2:1-18, and we concluded that wise men always seek Jesus. This week we’ll take a look at the other side of the coin in this story, Herod and the religious leaders of Jerusalem.
When the magi from the east came to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, seeking the One born King of the Jews, it threw things into quite an uproar in both the palace and the Temple — “he [Herod] was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod’s wife wasn’t pregnant, so this news meant only one thing to Herod, someone was being born who would take Herod’s throne from him and his family! Quickly Herod gathered the chief priests and scribes to ask what the Scriptures said about the birthplace of the “King of the Jews” — to answer the magi’s question, of course. King Herod then called the magi aside privately and after finding out the exact time of the appearance of the star that they followed, he told them, “Go search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”
After the magi found Jesus, however, they were warned by God to return a different way. When king Herod realized that his magi “spies” had not returned, he quickly composed plan B — kill all the male children two years old and younger. He was too late to kill the King of the Jews, however; God had warned Joseph of the danger in a dream and the whole family had escaped to Egypt. They were able to return to Israel/Judea after Herod the Great died.
What was so troubling to Herod that he took such extreme action? Every king realizes that there’s only one exit for himself or his family — death. And Herod was not a legitimate king — he was an outsider (Idumean by nationality, not Jewish) who had been appointed by the Romans. Herod knew that a legitimate King of the Jews was a significant threat, and he was keen on eliminating threats. In many regards Herod is much like the sinful world today, still wanting to illegitimately sit on the throne of their lives, to never yield sovereignty of their lives over to the legitimate King, the Creator — and realizing that yielding the throne will mean death (e.g., Luke 17:33 “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” and Romans 6:1-6). Sinful men, who seek to cling the throne of their hearts, are still troubled by Jesus.
But it wasn’t just Herod who was troubled, the chief priests and religious leaders were, too. You’d expected the religious leaders to have saddled up and followed the magi to Bethlehem, wouldn’t you? They should have been the first to worship and submit to Jesus; yet they were also “troubled”. But a change in administration, in the status quo, would be unprofitable and humbling and possibly fatal to them, too. They needed to protect their interests first — “Who cares about God’s interests?” Those who should have cared, did not. In fact, it is this group (although there were different individuals involved) who called for Jesus’ death on the cross 31 years later! Even then, they failed — He rose again!
Neither the “Herods” nor the “chief priests” of this world will ever be successful in ridding the world of Jesus or His church. They hate Him; they are troubled by Him; and will deny Him, discredit Him, mock Him, marginalize Him, and still try to kill Him in attacks on His church — sometimes including actual martyrdom of God’s people — but all to no avail; because, among other things, they can’t outlive Him. Jesus authoritatively told us, (Matthew 16:18) “…upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Later, in Revelation 12, we find a summary of the grand scope of spiritual history in colorful symbols, in which Satan (the dragon) tries again and again to kill and thwart the coming of the Messiah (the male child) and God’s people (the woman), but fails over and over through God’s power and providence — and is ultimately thrown (along with the beast and the false prophet) into Hell eternally (Rev. 20:10).
So — wise men still seek Him; sinful men still hate Him. Are you among those who seek Him or those who are troubled by Him?