Someone recently commented that manger scenes and songs about the Baby Jesus don’t pose the same sort of threat as other Christian topics do. After all, what could be more appealing than a cuddly infant full of childlike innocence? The story Luke narrates lends itself to sentimental Christmas cards and adorable Sunday School pageants that often cause the most secular eye to moisten just a bit. It seems like these days there’s always “room at the inn” for Baby Jesus.
The Jesus Who calls out sin and commands repentance isn’t quite as lovable to the world. Good Friday and Easter Sunday don’t receive anywhere near the attention that we give Christmas, even though those two holidays celebrate the heart of the Gospel message. Unlike Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Sunday confront us with our sin as well as with Christ’s authority as the risen Savior and Lord. Therefore, Christmas feels much safer, focusing on “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”
The sentimentality of the Christmas story, however, gets upset by Matthew, as he writes about the Magi who journey from the East searching for the newly born king of the Jews (please read Matthew 2:1-18). Obviously, I can’t quote the entire passage here. And even if I could, I prefer not to bog myself down in a discussion of the Magi themselves. Rather, I want to concentrate on King Herod and his terror at the announcement that a king of the Jews had been born near Jerusalem.
Verse 3 records Herod’s initial reaction when the Magi announced that they had come to worship the newly born king of the Jews:
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (NASSB95)
I don’t really know why the whole city was troubled, but I do know that Herod clung tightly to his title of king of the Jews. Let me quote part of an article in GotQuestions.org that explains his maniacal terror of losing the throne:
Despite his brilliant and ambitious building projects, Herod the Great had a dark side that showed itself in the events of Matthew 2 and in other historical events. He always feared potential rivals. He had his wife’s brother Aristobulus, the high priest, drowned in the swimming pool in his palace. He put to death 46 members of the Sanhedrin. He killed his mother-in-law. He also had his wife Mariamne murdered along with two of their sons, as he considered them potential rivals with legitimate claim to the throne because of their Hasmonean lineage. (Herod had ten wives in all and many other children who did not have Hasmonean blood.) Augustus Caesar is reported to have said, “It is better to be Herod’s dog than one of his children.” When placed in this context, the incident in Matthew 2 does not seem out of character.https://www.gotquestions.org/Herod-the-Great.html
Clearly, then, an entourage of learned men from the East claiming that they had seen a star representing the king of the Jews posed quite a threat to an already paranoid Herod. As the narrative continues, we see his attempts to find and eliminate his new Rival (Matthew 2:8, Matthew 2:13). His obsession with destroying his infant Rival extended to such an extreme that he ordered the genocide of all males under the age of two (Matthew 2:16). Images of a Holy Child filled this king with such fear that warm fuzzy feelings towards any baby flew out the window.
It’s obvious, of course, that Herod feared losing his power. It’s less obvious that people today run from images of Jesus that point to His authority over us. As long as we can keep Him in some idealized manger where He can sleep in heavenly peace, we’re happy to come adore Him. But once He grows up to expose our sin and claim that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6), He threatens us in the same way as He threatened Herod. And unless His Holy Spirit turns our hearts to Him, we fight hard to retain our imagined authority over our lives. We strive to destroy every hint that He replaces us as sovereign rulers over ourselves.
Herod’s jealous mania wasn’t an allegory, I’m sorry to say. In reading Matthew 2, we absolutely must remember that we’re reading an historical account of a brutal egomaniac who tried to murder the King of kings in His infancy. But as we rightly condemn Herod, it might be good to examine ourselves a little. Maybe Baby Jesus doesn’t seem like much of a threat, but are we comfortable when He deposes us from our self-made thrones? If Baby Jesus threatened Herod, does the ascended Christ of Revelation 1:12-16 cause you to tremble?