I will be posting my exposition of Matthew 2 over the new few weeks in anticipation of the celebration of our Lord's birth this season. I pray that you are encouraged.
We observed in the last study of Matthew 2 how the birth of our Lord Jesus caused uneasiness in the heart of Herod the Great and the people in Jerusalem. The advent of the Prince of Peace caused them to panic for different reasons. Herod was afraid of a political rival and the people were afraid of Herod. However, one would expect the religious leaders, who were fervently anticipating the arrival of the Messiah, to have a proper response. Surely, they would praise God for finally sending the “Consolation of Israel” and fall down to worship Christ. We will see, as we study God’s word that, sadly, this is not the case.
We read in verse 4 of the text that Herod gathered all the chief priest and scribes of the people together and he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. This was a fairly startling move for this man and it reveals something of his motivations. We know that the news that One had been born King of the Jews troubled him. We also know that he was not Jewish and from things we can read in history he was not a person of faith. We know, therefore, that the reason for his inquiry was not godly nor were his motives pure. In fact, being a Roman official and an outsider to Jewish life, he actually condescended himself in asking this information from the chief priests and scribes. Josephus records that when Herod was named the Roman provincial governor of Jerusalem, he killed many of the scribes that were in Jerusalem. He, like most Romans, felt these people in Jerusalem were beneath him. Therefore, it must have humbled him to have had to ask these people for this information. He appears willing to humble himself somewhat if it means that he can thwart the Messiah’s rise to power.
He certainly looked for the information in the right place. We observe that he inquired of the chief priests. There was only one chief priest ordained at a time so, in reality, this could have included not only the current chief priest but also so of his predecessors. The priesthood had become something of a political office and sometimes they were disposed of at the whim of the local governor. These men were responsible for the service and maintenance of the temple. As such, they were important figures in Jewish life and could actually only come from one family. The scribes were the lawyers. They were professionals who devoted their time to the study of the law. In short, Herod called together the religious and judicial leaders of the nation in his haste to find out where his rival was born.
The fact that he was able to find any of these men should come as a surprise to us. They had just heard the news that the star announcing the birth of the Messiah had been seen by the magi. They knew the scriptures. If anyone in the city of Jerusalem should have been running to greet the Lord, it should have been these men. Instead, we find them having been assembled by this godless, evil man to assist him in his attempt to find the Messiah. They were able to do this with no trouble at all. Quite simply, scripture records that they said to him “In Bethlehem of Judea” and they noted that it was written by the prophet. They quoted the substance of the prophecy. Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. They also recognized the source of the prophecy was the revelation of God through His prophet. These guys could have made 100 on a Bible pop quiz. If they were on Jeopardy and the category was “Old Testament” and they hit the daily double, they could confidently say “I’ll bet all of it, Alex.” They knew, in a head knowledge kind of way, everything that a person needed to know to understand the significance of the birth of Christ. Instead of seeking Him our, they were indifferent. They were content to be called as consultants to this Gentile king who they hated rather than welcome their one, true King.
They even go so far as to quote from the Old Testament to substantiate their claim. In my day job, I’m an auditor. That is an accountant that has specialized in the task of telling other accountants how to do their jobs. Basically, when an auditee presents me with information, I never take their word for it. I always look for corroborating evidence. In a sense, that is what these men do here. They quote from Micah 5:2. We see in their quotation that is recorded in Matthew 2:6 that they knew the humble beginnings of the Messiah (You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah.) They also know from Scripture the character of the Messiah. They quote that the Messiah shall be a Ruler. The word ruler translates the Greek word hegeomai which means leader and has the sense of royalty. However, even though He would be the Messiah and would rule with a rod of iron, as noted in Revelation 19:15, He would be tender and compassionate with his subjects. These men further quoted that this Ruler would shepherd My people, Israel. We know that in the book of John, Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd in chapter 10 and David proudly proclaimed that the Lord was his Shepherd in the 23rd Psalm. There is no more selfless, tireless kind of caretaker than a shepherd and that is exactly the kind of Messiah that was revealed in this prophecy.
These men knew all these things. They knew where He was to be born and, after the visit of the magi, they knew when He was born. Instead of going to look for Him, they remained in their lofty positions of power and influence in Jerusalem. Friends, let us pay careful attention to this. A person can know a lot about Jesus and the Bible and be lost as a goose. I would dare say there may well be some very well educated theologians that go straight into Hell and not all of them may be liberals. It isn’t head knowledge that saves a man or a woman but a real relationship with Jesus Christ. These men, by their indifference to the Messiah, prove their lack of a true faith in God.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.