Bible Text: Matthew 2:1-16 | Preacher: Ray Galea | Series: Christmas 2017 | Herod was an illegitimate king in a doomed power struggle with a baby born in Bethlehem.
Jesus was the true King of the Jews and the Magi proved to be the wise ones by worshipping the King of Kings.
I love Christmas. I love the presents, the food, the church services, and the family gatherings.
But let’s face it—there is at least one person you are not really looking forward to see this Christmas. And the chances are that the reason you don’t want to see that person is because there is a power struggle going on. This power struggle involves one person trying to change another, and the other person refusing to be changed. This is the classic mistake in marriage: a couple enter the marriage with each thinking that they will change the other person, only to discover that the other person doesn’t want to change.
I remember one pastor, the US pastor Paul Tripp, saying how his wife was constantly talking to him about his anger. So he bit back and said that 95% of the women of his church would love to be married to him. She responded by saying, “I must be a part of the other 5%”.
In one sense, the birth of Jesus created the biggest power struggle of all. Herod wanted to kill Jesus, and Jesus refused to be killed.
This power struggle—between Herod the king and Jesus the baby—is surprising. It is surprising because there is nothing more powerless than a baby. A baby is the definition of powerless. If you don’t feed them, they don’t get fed. If you don’t change them, they pong. If you don’t move them, they stay put. All a baby has at its disposal is its scream.
All of this makes the reaction of king Herod to the birth of a baby a little surprising. A child is born in the town of Bethlehem, and a 70 year old king is terrified. In fact, all of the city of Jerusalem is disturbed. Matthew 2.1-3:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. (NIV)
King Herod is seriously worried. The child born is called “the king of the Jews”. But that was Herod’s title. The Roman Senate 40 years before had declared Herod to be “the king of the Jews”.
So what we have here is the clash of two kings, two very different kings.
First, the child Jesus was born the legitimate king. He had the credentials. The Bible predicted that the God-appointed king had to be human—but not just human, but Jewish, of the tribe of Judah. Not only is he Jewish, but he had to be from the line of David. And not only this, but he had to be born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem. Human, Jewish (from Judah), of the line of David, born of a virgin, and in Bethlehem: Jesus ticks all the boxes predicted in the Old Testament in the Bible.
Second, we have Herod, who was the illegitimate king. That is why Herod burned his family records. If you think you’re a little insecure, you have nothing on king Herod. Josephus the Jewish Historian who worked for the Romans tells us that Herod saw everyone as a threat. Herod had murdered his own favourite wife, he killed three of his own sons along with his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncle, as well as a cast of thousands. It was said that, “it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.”
Herod was so terrified of being dethroned that he organized the mass slaughter of every boy two years old and under in Bethlehem. Matthew 2.16:
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. (NIV)
How different are these two kings?
Herod is the butcher of Bethlehem, who spills the blood of hundreds of Jewish boys. He did not want to share his power, and every boy under two paid the price. That is the dark side of Christmas.
In contrast, Jesus at the cross would only allow his own blood to be spilled. Thirty years later when they came to arrest him, Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword away”. In other words, “I’m the only one dying this weekend!” It was no mistake that Jesus then would hang under the sign, “This is the King of the Jews”. The coming of Jesus reveals the desperation we humans have for gaining power and control.
Matthew 2 is the only time that the title, ‘the king of the Jews’ is used in a positive way about Jesus and by outsiders.
CS Lewis who wrote The Narnia Chronicles tells how he was wrestling with letting God take control. He said:
[W]hat mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism, my lawlessness. No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word ‘interference’. But Christianity placed at the center what then seemed to me a transcendental Interferer. If its picture were true then no sort of ‘treaty with reality’ could ever be possible. There was no region even in the innermost depth of one’s soul (nay, there least of all) which one could surround with a barbed wire fence and guard with a notice, ‘No Admittance’. And that was what I wanted; some area, however small, of which I could say to all other beings, “This is my business and mine only.” (CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 1955, 139, emphasis Lewis’).
Deep seated resistance to give up control to king Jesus: does this sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s me and you. Rebellion against Christ may not always look as ugly Herod’s, wiping out every boy under two. Most often rebellion against Jesus is just ignoring Jesus.
How do we treat people with whom we are in a power struggle? By limiting contact with them to special events like Christmas, and tolerating them two or three hours in the year. And maybe that is what we do with God: give him two or three hours a year.
We are engaged in a power struggle. A power struggle is defined this way: “One person trying to change another, and the other person refusing to be changed.” Either God wants to change you and you are refusing to be changed, or you are trying to change God and make him agree with you, and he is refusing to be changed.
Herod does not want to change and worship Jesus.
However, there is no power struggle between wise men and Jesus. The Magi were wise men from the East—probably they were Persian, from modern day Iran.
I read a cartoon the other day that said that if the three wise men were three wise women, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, brought practical gifts, and made a lasagna.
But the account in the Bible doesn’t say that there were three of them, nor that they were ‘kings’. The Magi were wise priest from another religion and another country. They came to realize that to worship the true God you must worship his Son, king Jesus. They came following a star. Somehow—and we don’t know how—they had been told that a star will take them to the king of the Jews.
Do you know what makes these Magi wise? In fact, do you know what makes anyone wise? It is that they worship the God-appointed King of Kings. Jesus is God’s way to God.
There are in the end only two options for worship: you either worship the true God or you worship yourself.
The Magi come to worship God as he is. They recognize Jesus as King of Kings. They come and bow before him. They are filled with joy. They come bearing gifts fit for a king. They have come to worship not the stars but the one who created the stars. That is what you do for the God-king. Matthew 2 verse 11:
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (NIV)
While the wise men travel 800 kilometers to worship Jesus, Herod can’t travel 8 kilometers to go to Bethlehem. In the end, you can’t win if you enter a power struggle against Jesus.
Herod plans, he plots, and he plays his many games. It’s all a waste of effort and time. It is so futile. What is crystal clear is that God is in control—and it is made clear each time Herod plots to kill Jesus. So God gives both Joseph and the Magi dreams, telling them to move on, or change direction. Like in a game of chess, Herod is continually outsmarted until finally, ‘checkmate’. God is in control as he always was, and is, and ever will be.
Entering into a power struggle with God is like seeing a buffalo run headlong into a train. You may admire its courage, but you have to doubt its wisdom. The buffalo is going to come off second best.
Who do you worship? There are two options: it’s either you or God.
Herod worshipped himself: he served his need for power, for control, and for his comfort, and for approval.
Can you identify with these idols in your own life?
If you seek power—such as success, winning, or influence—your great fear is humiliation. But people around you feel used and you battle with anger.
If you seek comfort—such as privacy, lack of stress, or freedom—your great fear is stress and demands being made of you. People around you often feel neglected and you battle with boredom.
If you seek control—such as self-discipline, certainty, or standards—your great fear is uncertainty. People around you often feel condemned and you battle with worry
If you seek approval, your great fear is rejection. People around you feel smothered and your battle is with being a coward.
Whether its power, comfort, control, or approval, Jesus says that its time to be set free and worship me. Jesus says, “I am no long a baby in a manger but I have become a man, who lived the life you should have lived. I no longer hang on a cross. The price for your sins has
been paid. I no longer lay in a tomb. I’ve risen from the dead never to die again. I am now seated at the right hand of the Father above all power and authority. I will come back, and on my thighs are tattooed the words, “King of King and Lord of Lords”.
And for you who trust in Christ, he says to you, “Your longing for power will be satisfied, for you will sit on my throne. And your desire for approval will be met, for I love you. And your need for comfort will be addressed, for I will be with you 24/7, and you will have rest. And your yearning for control will be satisfied, for all authority in heaven and earth has been give to me. You can relax. Your power struggle with me needs to come to an end.
Let this Christmas day be the day when Jesus is your king and your saviour. Join us for next week and start a new journey. There are so many things for which ‘getting it right’ turns out just doesn’t matter like we thought it did. But getting it right about Jesus is a matter of life and death—eternal life and eternal death.
At the age of 21, I remember travelling to Perth and back on a bus to visit friends. It was a journey of three days and two nights, and I was exhausted. At the end of it, I arrived at my parents place in South Rooty Hill at 6am in the morning. They were farmers, market gardener, and they were there washing cucumbers. I wanted to do nothing else than go to bed, but my dad wanted me to spray half an
acre of cabbages near the house for pests. I reluctantly said ‘yes’, sprayed the cabbages, and then went to bed.
About 3pm that afternoon, I was walking down the hallway. At the end of the hall was the dining room, and my dad was looking though the window. He looked perplexed. I said to him, “Dad, what’s the problem?” “Take a look at the cabbages”, he said. Sure enough, they looked wilted. They were sick. We tossed around a few theories. Eventually he asked me, “What kind of spray did you use?” I said, “the Gamaxone”.
At that point, my dad turned red. The white spit gathered at the corners of his mouth. His neck enlarged. “You idiot! You used the wrong spray!” Instead of killing the bugs, I was killing the cabbages. That was half an acre gone: every cabbage dead, and thousand of dollars never to be seen.
But I’m here to say today, “Life has gone on”. I’m able to laugh at it. You’re able to laugh at it. Even Dad, eventually, ten years later, was able to laugh at it. He never let me spray after that, and if I knew that then I might have been tempted to do it less accidentally.
But my Dad’s cousin wasn’t so fortunate as I was. In the 1960s, farmers used a very toxic spray. They had to wear gloves and masks. He was spraying one day and decided to take off his gloves. He reached for a cigarette not knowing he had spray on his fingers, he put the cigarette in his mouth, and three hours later he was found dead in bed by his brother.
There are some mistakes you just can’t afford to make. Getting it right about Jesus is a matter of life and death—eternal life and eternal death. Come and worship this Jesus. See to it that he is your king who died for your sins.