The Christmas Gift the World Didn’t Want
During yesterday’s sermon, the preacher focused on the nativity scene and the sweetness surrounding the birth of the baby Jesus, which is the norm this time of the year. But unlike the typical view of the manger scene, he threw a little reality into the mix. He said that there were some characters missing from the scene who should be standing right next to Mary and Joseph and the donkey, one being King Herod.
Having Herod on the scene would cast a considerably dark shadow on the celebratory nature of the event, but isn’t that the reality of it? Shouldn’t Herod be included? After all, Matthew’s Gospel account of Christ’s birth mentions Herod specifically and repeatedly, and it isn’t a good reflection.
The truth is, the birth of the new King of the Jews wasn’t good news to the existing king or to the religious leaders of the day. Matthew says this about the reaction to the magi, from Matthew 2:3:
“And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”
“The birth of the new King of the Jews wasn’t good news to the existing king or to the religious leaders of the day.”
So troubled, in fact, that he lied to the magi to ascertain the whereabouts of this baby, presumably to worship him, and when his lies didn’t fool them and God warned them not to return to Herod, he blew a gasket. Or as described in Matthew 2:16,
“Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi.”
Meanwhile, Joseph had also been warned by God to flee with his family to Egypt, far away from Herod and his wrath.
Something has always bothered me about this entire affair. Why was a tiny baby such a threat to a powerful king such as Herod? And the reaction to Jesus didn’t end with Herod. Jesus continued to be perceived as a threat by the Jewish religious leaders as an adult, and their response was to kill him.
“Jesus continued to be perceived as a threat as an adult, and their response was to kill him.”
But why was he a threat? He went about healing people and preaching love and forgiveness. He taught his followers in Matthew 22:21, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”He taught us to love our neighbor and our enemy. To turn the other cheek. To do good deeds and put other’s needs before our own. It seems to me, that kind of person wouldn’t be a threat to anyone. In fact, it seems like that type of person would be the ideal citizen and role model.
Why the strong desire to rid the world of Jesus?
And as I thought about it, other things bothered me and led me to further questions. After Jesus was gone, and with him the threat to those who had him killed, his followers went around doing good deeds and preaching the name of Jesus. Yet Peter and Paul and Stephen and a host of others were martyred. Why? What was threatening to the authorities about doing good and preaching in Jesus’ name?
If what they were preaching was truth, shouldn’t the leaders have acknowledged it and joined them in their worship and devotion to this new King? But if what they were preaching was a lie, then why not let them blather on and let the lie be exposed? Why kill them? And why did Nero feel threatened by a bunch of weak, powerless followers of a dead man, when he was the most powerful man in the world? Why then did he turn them into torches and feed them to the lions?
“Why did Nero feel threatened by a bunch of weak, powerless followers of a dead man?”
Looking at the world today, I read of Christians being put to death, as has been going on for millennia. And even in the “Christian friendly” United States, there has been an ongoing effort to silence Christians who have biblical convictions (e.g., about sexual morality). To eliminate their ideas from the public square. To minimize their beliefs and eventually have them bow down to the state as a replacement god. Ultimately, to have them deny their faith or suffer the consequences. A people who can be the best citizens, the most giving, the most well-behaved, the most loyal, and yet…
After much contemplation, I came up with some answers to my own questions. The “world,” Satan’s dominion, as represented by the powerful, the tyrannical, the despots, the evil leaders then and now, all hate Jesus and what he represents. King Herod was only the first to feel threatened. An evil king if there ever was one, he is remembered as the one who, on his deathbed, plotted to have his political insiders killed so that there would be mourning throughout the land when he died.
Men like Herod cannot tolerate any allegiances to others. Their jealousy knows no bounds. And they cannot tolerate their evil deeds being exposed.
“Men like Herod cannot tolerate any allegiances to others.”
When John the Baptist called out Herod Antipas (progeny of the original) for marrying his brother’s wife, this younger Herod had John beheaded. Exposing the powerful won’t be tolerated. This holds true still today. When politicians lie and deceive and cheat and are found to be corrupt, the last thing they want is a constituency that recognizes right from wrong. One that calls out and exposes their wrongdoing. They can’t tolerate a citizenry clinging to what are perceived as antiquated views, or believing the words in their “outdated” Bibles.
Jesus came as light, and as such his teachings expose the darkness, and the darkness cannot tolerate the light. Nor can the powerful tolerate allegiance to another. Jesus says it best in John 3:19,
“And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
The sad history of mankind.
The good news is, there were many called out of the world, millions of us, who love the first and greatest Christmas gift, and celebrate the event and its namesake still. People who saw their sin exposed and desperately wanted to be forgiven.
“The good news is, there were many called out of the world, millions of us, who love the first and greatest Christmas gift.”
I am one of those who came to the light. And my allegiance is to the King of kings and Lord of lords, first and foremost. And I realize that, as such, I’m a threat, as described in Ephesians 6:12, “…against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” But I know what Jesus knew, what Paul and Peter and Stephen also knew, from Hebrews 13:6:”The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?”
Excerpted from Ron Bay, Jr., Pondering God: 40 Years with the Master (2022).