From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.
Devotional Text: Matthew 2:3-6
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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 16, 2017, and this is Day 14 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band’s version of the 19th century English Christmas carol “See, Amid the Winter’s Snow.” It appears on their 2012 album The Best of Maddy Prior & the Carnival Band: A Christmas Caper. Our scripture once again comes from Matthew chapter 2:3-6:
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Yesterday I talked about Herod’s response to the birth of God’s Son in Matthew chapter 2—which was hostility, jealousy, fear, insecurity—ending in unspeakable violence. Today I want to look at response we see from the chief priests and scribes: which is, indifference. After all, notice what Matthew tells us in in verse 3: “When Herod the king heard this”—in other words, when he heard about the birth of a rival “king of the Jews”—“he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” And all Jerusalem with him.
In other words, the magi’s quest for the Messiah wasn’t a secret. Everyone was hearing about it! Everyone was talking about it. Especially the chief priests and the scribes, who were the experts when it came to the Bible. They were the ones who talked to Herod and the magi, and told them that scripture prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
So naturally these men—these Bible scholars, these theologians, these believers in God’s Word—would jump at the chance to go to Bethlehem and see the newborn king. Right?
Wrong… Whereas these magi—these Gentiles, these pagans, these outsiders—traveled 700 miles west from the Persian Gulf to Judea for the sake of Christ, these “insiders”—the ones who already believed in the Bible—weren’t willing to travel seven miles south to Bethlehem to see Christ! Shouldn’t they have been excited and overwhelmed with joy? Surely nothing would have been more important than getting down to Bethlehem to see if what the magi said was really true. How is it possible that they would stay home? How is it possible that nothing in their lives would change in response to the birth of the newborn king?
But when we consider our own lives, do we really have to wonder?
Tim Keller pastors a church in perhaps the most secular, least Christian, most godless place imaginable in our country: in New York City, in Manhattan. And to his credit, he’s had great success reaching young people in their twenties and thirties with an uncompromising gospel message. But he said in a sermon once that people have often come up to him over the years and said, “I would consider following Jesus, but not if it means…” And then they give him a list of the conditions that Jesus will have to meet before they’ll follow him.
And when I read this last year, I thought, “In my twelve years of pastoral ministry—whether it was in Forsyth, Georgia, or in Alpharetta, or in Hampton, or anywhere in between—I have never had a single person person come up to me and say that they would consider following Jesus if. That’s never happened down here in the Bible Belt. Why?
Because down here nearly everyone believes that they’re already following Jesus! And yet, for most people—like the Bible scholars in today’s scripture—the message of Christmas leaves their lives mostly unchanged. Like the Bible scholars in today’s scripture—who believe the Bible—they are indifferent.
What about us? What difference does the birth of God’s Son Jesus make in our life right now? How is our life different today because Christ was born? Is it different? Or have we grown so comfortable with the story, so familiar with the story, that it no longer moves us?
If so, pray right now that the Lord will enable you to hear this story in a profound new way during this season.