Responding to the Christ Child
What comparing Herod and the Magi reveal about us.
This is the third of a four-part Advent series entitled After Darkness, Light. Read the first part here.
It has been noted that few seemed to notice or care about Albert Einstein's initial writings on his astonishing discovery of the quantum theory of light, the existence of the atom, and science's best-known equation. He was unable to get any kind of teaching position at a university and for years worked as a third-class patent examiner. A couple of years later he pursued teaching in a high school. It was not until 1909, at the age of 30, that Einstein was offered his first junior professorship.
The world’s response to greatness is at times baffling. We should not be surprised, likewise, when reading of the world's reply to the birth and presence of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2: 1-3a).
Matthew provides us with important observations regarding the world’s reaction to Christ's birth. The Christ child is the definition of that which Isaiah 9 speaks about. The most significant event in all of history is the coming as the light that shines in the darkness. In this section of his Gospel there are sharp contrasts between the different responses to that light.
Both parties believed that Christ was real and acknowledged his existence. Consistent with their beliefs, they pursued additional information concerning the life of Christ. They were truth seekers. Herod and the Magi responded with energy. They were not casual about their belief, and yet, significant differences are evident.
Matthew does not leave us with a good impression of Herod. What he says neatly conforms to what we know of the man from other historical sources.
In Matthew 2:3 we are informed that upon hearing the news of Christ's birth Herod was disturbed. The word translated as “disturbed” in the original means to be inwardly shaken, upset, troubled, or agitated. A king does not like to have his position threatened.
Born in 73 BC, Herod--an impressive military leader--was given the position "King of the Jews" by the Roman senate around 40 BC. For some thirty-three years, he governed Judaea as a loyal friend and ally of Rome. It took him three years of fighting to be king. During his reign, he engaged in lavish building projects such as his palace on the western wall of Jerusalem. The greatest of all his building programs was the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple which began in 19 BC.
Yet nothing could make him acceptable to the Jews because of his Edomite descent. After hearing about the searching Magi, Herod secretly requested that they meet with him to find out more details about Christ. He presented himself to the Magi as if he too desired to worship this one "born king of the Jews." After giving the Magi instructions to inform him of the child’s location, he sent them out. In time Herod realized that the Magi were not returning and instructed his soldiers to find and destroy the child. They were unsuccessful, but not until many children were killed in the futile search.
Jeremiah, speaking of this very event hundreds of years earlier, said this:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
Trouble, deception, and anger are often the marks of one lacking humility; who believes that he should be king. Herod rejected the idea of being dethroned. He did not humble himself before God, even in light of what God was doing. This is a sharp contrast to that which we learn about the Magi.
Regarding the Magi, we do not know their numbers nor exactly where they were from. We have no names or passport numbers. Were they legally in the country? We are not certain how they obtained the information about the Christ Child. All we know is what the Scriptures tell us. They came in humility to honor one they knew was king. What does this mean?
They put aside their agendas and went after a star after somehow learning it was a sign directing them to the light of the world. They knew that it would guide them to the King of kings. They were men persistently following a path that would lead to Christ. I believe they knew enough asking about the child in Jerusalem was dangerous. Yet, fear did not overrule their pursuit of the light.
The presence of Christ, for Herod, brought about anger, hate, bitterness, and revenge. There is no reference to frustration, weariness, or despair regarding the Magi. There is onlymention of rejoicing. When they found the place where Christ lived, they are described as being overjoyed. This is the state of mind of those who have been dethroned. Their focus on Christ causes them to experience only celebration.
They did not just come to see if what they had been told was true. They came with the intention of worship. Their mission would not be complete unless they had an opportunity to give of their time, resources, and even reputation. They brought to him that which you would give to a king: treasures.
The contrasting accounts between Herod and the Magi should lead us to ask ourselves which side we belong to. If we are honest, we do not always respond well to Christ's presence and the light he brings to our lives. We are tempted to reject Christ's rule at different times and in any number of areas within our lives. We may find at times that we are not rejoicing at his expressed will but resisting it. And it is possible that we represent a degree of deception when we give the appearance that something is true when it is not.
The good news is that the light of the world came to take on the wrath of God that belong to us even when we reject him. No matter how deceptive, angry, and unappreciative we may be, Christ's death on the cross was effectual. Paul reminds us that while we were God’s enemies, Christ died for us. We are all offenders. Some see and turn to Christ. Yet most within the world reject the amazing light. It is by our Savior's grace that we see our sin and in humility, repentance and faith give our Lord the worship that is due to him alone. May this Christmas season be a reminder of the extent of our Savor’s love.
Chuck Garriott is the founder and Executive Director of Ministry to State.