If the scribes and chief priests knew when and where the Messiah was to appear, where are they when Jesus is born?
IT’S WORTH CONSIDERING
As I am writing this, I have just returned home after hearing a Christmas message from Matthew Chapter 2. The pastor made a point that I had never considered, even though it seemed rather obvious after he mentioned it: If the chief priests and the scribes knew where the Christ was to be born, why weren’t they in Bethlehem looking for Him? Why aren’t they a part of the nativity scene?
As the biblical account is told, King Herod and all of Jerusalem were in an uproar because of the arrival of a group of magi from the east. This by itself suggests that there were more than just three lone soles on camels. There was likely quite an entourage that was impossible to miss. In any case, these magi were looking for the King of the Jews. They had been following His star, which had led them to Jerusalem. They had traveled about a thousand miles in search of the promised one whom they came to worship.
Herod the Great, who was half-Jewish and half-Idumaean, had been appointed by Rome as King of the Jews. Under Rome’s supervision, he had been permitted to do as he pleased in this part of the Roman world as long as he provided military protection from the Parthians to the east and the Idumaeans to the south, interjected Roman culture into the region, and collected taxes from the people living in and passing through the region. Any potential threat to his rule had to be extinguished.
Needing more information, Herod called all the chief priests and scribes to find out what the ancient scriptures said about exactly where the Christ (Anointed One) was to be born. If anyone would know, it would be them. He learned that the prophet Micah had foretold that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem, a mere six miles to the south of Jerusalem. Hiding his true intentions, Herod secretly meets with the magi and sends them to Bethlehem, where they would find the newly born Christ child. All he asked was that they would return and tell him where he could find the Christ so he could worship him, too. Of course, they didn’t need Herod’s advice. The star reappeared and led them to the exact spot where the Christ was living. After presenting their gifts and worshiping the Christ, God warned then in a dream not to return to Herod, so they returned by another route.
AS I SEE IT
Keep in mind that this is some time after Jesus had been born. The shepherds had come and gone, and Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus had left the primitive confines of the stable and had moved into a house somewhere in Bethlehem (See Matt. 2:11). Yes, all the nativity scenes showing the shepherds and the wise men together at the manger is more a product of Hallmark than the Bible. It simply didn’t happen that way.
Herod had asked the magi about just when the star had appeared. He could investigate the births that had occurred around that date. Being the evil man that he was, he had a better plan. Why waste time investigating? He gave orders to have all the male babies in the region of Bethlehem slain. Surely, his rival to the throne was among them. Problem solved. Of course, Jesus was not among them. God told Joseph, through an angel, to leave immediately for Egypt. He would also tell them when it was safe to return.
The point, however, is Where are the scribes and the chief priests? Since all Jerusalem was in an uproar over the arrival of the magi, the religious leaders were also aware. Surely, they knew that Herod’s question was more than a desire to learn some interesting Jewish prophecy. Surely, they knew something big was up. Israel trusted in her religious leaders to know about important events, especially the coming of her long-awaited Messiah. Had they acted on their knowledge and gone to the nearby village of Bethlehem, Israel would have recognized her real king and the course of history would have been dramatically changed.
We can only make educated guesses about why they stayed home. Here are some possibilities:
1. They enjoyed their positions of authority too much to open the door for someone who would seriously upstage them.
2. They had their own ideas about how the Messiah would come, and what they had learned didn’t fit their “narrative,” so they ignored it.
3. In John Chapter 8, Jesus tells the scribes and the Pharisees that they are sons of the devil. Jesus would have placed the chief priests in the same category. It is very possible that Satan directed these leaders to stay home.
Whatever the reason (and I suspect all three are correct), their decision speaks volumes to us today. We need to make sure that none of these three scenarios applies to us. Jesus is calling us to go deeper in our walk with him. Like Point 1, it is possible that our flesh is still controlling our lives and standing as a barrier to intimacy with Christ. We’re more interested in ourselves than the call of Christ which can be difficult. Like point 2, it’s also possible that we have our own view of what the Christian life should be like. When Jesus brings something into our life that doesn’t fit our “narrative,” we fight against it instead of submitting to it and allowing Him to change us. Like point 3, it’s possible that we’re just playing a game, pretending to be the genuine article when we’re not. We may be on the broad road that leads to destruction (See Matt. 7:13), but have deluded ourselves into thinking everything’s fine.
We all need to take a serious look at our lives to see how we are doing with these three scenarios. The history of the world was changed by the decision of the scribes and chief priests. Who knows what might be affected by one simple decision to follow Christ with all our heart? Talk about a meaningful Christmas!