February 26, 2016
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
The arrival of the star gazers caused quite a stir in Jerusalem. Even the whisper of the words, “child born king” would have sent Herod into a full scale panic and raised the security alert to red. Insecure leaders have a way of fostering insecure followers—indeed insecure nations. And this was the birth of a baby, mind you; imagine if we were dealing with a border threat or a terror plot. Leaders who lead from an inner-well of deep personal security have a way of fostering the same kind of confidence in their followers—even in the face of unsettling and insecure conditions.
Sidebar: When a nation’s leaders do not provide such leadership, it becomes all the more imperative for the followers of Jesus to take responsibility as agents of the Kingdom of God to leaven the nation with the salt and light of their humble and unswerving confidence in God and by refusing to further or foster the kind of fear mongering and often bombastic rhetoric that stirs such unrest.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, King Herod—the supposed King of the people of the Book—called the religious leaders (i.e. the Scribes, Pharisees and Priests) together to see if the Bible had anything to report on stars, child born kings, uprisings and insurrections.
Sidebar: It’s essential for the followers of Jesus to be very vigilant and discerning when the nation’s leaders come knocking on their leaders doors and asking for help. It often strikes us as an encouraging and hopeful gesture, and it may well be. However, such alliance building also presents tremendous opportunities for the agenda of the state to co-opt the mission of the Church by seductively recruiting its leaders to support political and ideological agendas that often run afoul of the interests of the Kingdom of God in the world. The principality of Caesar and the phalanxes of Rome are alive and well in every age, ever aspiring to craft unholy alliances with God’s holy people in the interest of advancing agendas that are often dubious at best and dangerous at worst.
So am I advocating withdrawal from the systems and structures of democracy and governance? Absolutely not. I am advocating for the people of God to come to grips with their own propensity to be seduced by the prestige of power and the wiles of public prominence and become as our King called us, “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” After all, it was something of a confusing political context into which Jesus spoke these words to his first followers.
It turns out that several hundred years prior, a prophet by the name of Micah had prophesied something about a ruler of Israel coming out of humble Bethlehem. And just like that, King Herod ups his religious game and becomes a purveyor of biblical prophecy to the pagan astrologers.
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
Six miles—that’s roughly the distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. These kings may have travelled a thousand miles across the continent in order to worship this child born King. Herod wouldn’t travel six. It tells us not to trust a word he says.
“As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
Let me risk a rough translation of what Herod really meant, “As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I may go and kill him.” Jesus had a target on him from his first day on earth until his last.
Final Sidebar: Let me close by saying I recognize my sidebars today have been overtly political. Let’s be clear though. They are not intended to be ideological. My aim is to help us think theologically. The Kingdom of the World is in direct opposition to the Kingdom of God. It always has been and it always will be as long as the Kingdom of the World is allowed to remain. Far from some kind of political stagecraft, my sidebars today are intended as Kingdom statecraft. Our Kingdom, we must remember, while ever breaking into this world will never be built from the stuff of this world. That’s why the ancient battle cry and creed, “Jesus is Lord,” is as big a threat to Democrats as it is to Republicans and any other party that ever was or ever will be. It’s why the strategy of the world is more often co-option than it is confrontation. It’s much harder to see it coming. Be alert Church. Be alert.
1. Analyze your own rhetoric when it comes to political discourse and the leadership of your nation. Are you part of the caucophany of voices contributing to the unrest or do you speak with a different tone and tenor? What would the latter look like for you?
2. What kind of leaders must we seek for our nations and how do we avoid the “Herods” in our midst?
3. Did you notice how it’s the astrologers who are presented as the preferred option for discipleship—as compared with the sanctioned religious leadership? What implications does this have for us? How might we become more like the astrologers than the religious authorities?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.