The carnal, unbelieving mind always understands political rule in a particular way. The names may change—Pharaoh, Caesar, pope, or president-for-life—but the underlying realities are always the same. These realities have to do with tyranny and coercion, and the imposition of a right-handed power, the kind of power that is necessarily suspicious of biblical liberty. This is a carnal political power that breaks the two greatest commandments—it does not love God, and it refuses to love its neighbor. This is what denial of human rights amounts to—a refusal to love.
“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt. 2:3).
“Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared” (Matt. 2:7).
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men” (Matt. 2:16).
Summary of the Texts
Jesus taught us that the children of this age are often more shrewd than the children of light are. They are often more aware of the ramification of what we say we believe than we are. When Herod heard of a king of the Jews, and of a star in the east, and of the wise men’s intent to worship Him, he was troubled (v. 3). And given his position and disposition, this was an entirely predictable and natural response. He was not imagining things. Second, Herod took the news that the magi brought seriously. He investigated their time line (v. 7), and he did so diligently. The birth of Jesus was a threat to him, and to his kind of rule, and he knew it very well. The seriousness with which he took these omens can be measured by what he was willing to do about it—which was to have the young boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas slain (v. 16).
From the Very Start
From the very beginning, the life of Jesus presented a potent threat to the status quo. This threat was not the result of Herod’s paranoia—Herod knew what many Christians do not. The birth of this child was intended to mean that the old way of ruling mankind was doomed. The transition from the old way of rule to the new way of rule was not going to be simple or easy, but it was going to happen. Of the increase of the Lord’s government there would be no end. But whatever it meant, Herod knew that he was against it.
Our Political Sins
But there are all kinds of workarounds that we have come up with, workarounds that enable timid Christians to rush in to assuage Herod’s fears. “There is no need to panic, no need to kill anybody, no need to do that.” But when we try to allay Herod’s fears by telling him, in effect, that Christ’s kingdom is an ethereal, spiritual, floaty-kind-of-thing, the problem is that we are bearing false witness.
Jesus came into the world to save us from our sins, and our political sins are not exempted from this salvation. Why would our political sins (which frequently have been among our foulest sins) be excluded? Jesus came as a Savior of our race. If that race was beset with seventeen different terminal diseases, why would Jesus come down only to heal two of them? And why would he leave the very worst of them untouched?
Too many Christians need to be reminded not to rob Christ of the greatness of His offered salvation.
A Bookended Life
When Jesus was born into this world, the attention of the existing rulers was drawn to that fact. The political leaders were told about it. A star appeared in the sky, and respected wise men cam on a long journey and they brought their news straight to the court. And when Jesus was condemned to die, He was condemned by the Roman governor, at the insistence of a mob stirred up by the national parliament of the Jews. The life of Jesus, from beginning to end, was a public life. He was born in poverty, but not in obscurity. Given the physical circumstances, it would have been obscure if the God of heaven had not made a point of leaving the rulers without excuse.
A New Way of Being Human
We have said many times before that Jesus came to show us a new way of being human. But this is not a lesson that we must learn “down in our hearts,” and nowhere else. No, humanity is what it is in the recesses of our hearts, and it is what it is in the public square. Mankind is what it is both within and without. It is what it is inside and outside.
If it is true that Jesus was born into this world to show us a new way of being human, this must necessarily include what we do in every place in which we find ourselves. This includes when we are alone, when we are in bed, when we are at the dinner table with our families, when we are out around town, and so forth. Of course it includes every aspect of our lives.
But it also includes every aspect of everyone’s life—from the lowest hired hand up to the CEO of the corporation, from the most obscure citizen up to the greatest political dignitaries. God wants all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, from the king on down. The transformation that Jesus has inaugurated is no partial thing.
A Political Act
And so your celebrations are all to be conducted in the name of Jesus, of course. He is the reason for the season. But more than this, He is the Lord of the season. He is the Lord of the season because He is the Lord of the earth. He did not come down here, He was not born on this earth, in order to work out a power-sharing arrangement with Caesar.
Let your Christmas celebrations be joyful therefore. But in order for it to be the right kind of joy, those celebrations should be one of the most political things that you do. It should be the sort of thing that carnal kings worry about.