The Religious Leaders’ Reaction

“Reactions to Christ’s Birth” series: (post #6)

Imagine that you have waited your whole life for John Doe to arrive. When you were a child, your parents told you, “One day John Doe will come to our people, and when He gets here He will solve all our problems.” When you attended school, your teachers told you, “We are waiting for John Doe to arrive, and when He does He will lead our people into an age of peace, prosperity, and prominence in the world.” When you became an adult, other adults told you, “Surely it is almost time for John Doe to finally come and save us.”

Then one day, out of the clear blue, some strangers show up in your city and ask to be shown to the site where John Doe was recently born. How do they know He’s been born? They know it because they’ve seen His sign, a miraculous star, in the nighttime sky. To them, the question is not whether or not John Doe has been born. The only question is, “Where is He?”

Well, you don’t know these strange men, but you do know the answer to their question. According to what you’ve always been taught, John Doe is supposed to be born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, that’s the little town that is located only about five miles from where you stand. Okay, so what’s your next move?

Based upon what you have been taught your entire life, shouldn’t you be excited about the possibility that John Doe has at last been born? Shouldn’t you be encouraged by the news of His birth? Most importantly, shouldn’t you follow those strange men to Bethlehem? Better yet, shouldn’t you say to them, “Follow me, I’ll show you the way there. I want to see this child myself”? That’s what common sense would dictate you should do with such news.

This brings us to the Jewish ruling elite of Herod’s day. When those wise men from the East showed up at Herod’s palace and asked him about the whereabouts of the newborn king, Herod immediately called in Jerusalem’s chief priests and scribes and asked them for the answer. And they gave it to him by quoting the Micah 5:2 prophecy about Bethlehem. But, after giving that answer, those men simply faded back into the shadows, never to be heard from again (at least as far as the story of Christ’s birth goes).

Isn’t that incredible? Isn’t that shocking? Isn’t that sad? Those Jewish religious leaders weren’t interested enough or even curious enough to make the five-mile trip to at least investigate the validity of the claim. As far as we know, they were content to just return to the “business as usual” of their little world of religion and wait to see if any more was heard about the Messiah being born.

The Bible doesn’t tell us the reason why those men reacted that way. Perhaps they were terrified that Herod would see them get excited about the birth of the Messiah. After all, it’s not like they couldn’t have guessed that he would want to kill the newborn king. On the other hand, perhaps they inwardly hoped that the Messiah hadn’t been born. After all, they knew that if He really was on the scene, He would create a tidal wave that would come crashing down into their comfortable lives and positions of authority among the Jews.

While I don’t doubt that those religious leaders were terrified of Herod’s wrath, it’s impossible for me to believe that their reaction to the news of Christ’s birth didn’t have plenty to do with them potentially losing their lofty status among the Jews. Along these lines, it doesn’t help their case that, some 30 years later, when Jesus began His public ministry, these same groups hounded Him at every turn, tried to discredit Him, and ultimately worked through the Romans to get Him crucified. That tells us all we need to know about how they felt about Him.

In this way, those religious leaders symbolize all the people who won’t embrace Jesus as Savior because they know that doing so will bring major change to their lives. Show me a lost person who really, really, really likes the way his or her life is going, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t a top candidate to come under the Lordship of Christ. Seriously, Christian, if you try to witness to a lost person by saying, “Jesus can give you a new life,” and that person’s comeback is, “But I like the life I have now,” you’re probably not going to win that person to Jesus. That’s just reality.

What many lost people instinctively understand is that Jesus won’t play second fiddle or be a co-pilot. If He gets invited into a life, He’s taking over that life completely. Furthermore, the individual’s personal comfort won’t be nearly as high on Christ’s priority list as it is on the person’s. Yes, Jesus will help the individual in whatever way is needed, but then He’ll start to mold and shape that individual to be used in His service. Unfortunately, most people simply don’t have much interest in that kind of life.

At the bottom line, those Jewish religious leaders saw Jesus as a threat — a threat to their way of life, a threat to their place in society, a threat to their power over the people. It’s no wonder they had no interest in seeing Him. Even if they had traveled with those wise men to Bethlehem, they certainly wouldn’t have joined them in worshiping Him. It’s much more likely they would have ridiculed the idea of the virgin birth and dismissed Jesus as being nothing more than the product of premarital sex between Joseph and Mary.

You know, in many ways, the reaction from those religious leaders was about as bad as Herod’s reaction. The only difference was, they didn’t add in the effort to kill Jesus. But then again, that would come about three decades later, wouldn’t it? For that matter, the chances are that a few of those same chief priests and scribes who first heard the news about Christ’s birth were still alive to play an active role in His death. And if that was indeed the case, it meant that they helped finish what Herod had started. I wonder if they ever noticed the connection. They probably didn’t, did they? That would have required far more spiritual discernment than their warped minds were capable of generating.

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