As we enter the Christmas season again, we’re sure to hear the usual platitudes about Jesus in His infancy. Much of the secular world can tolerate and even celebrate Christ as a helpless newborn. They can embrace the humility of His makeshift maternity ward and other familiar imagery from the incarnation—so long as the baby stays in the manger and they’re never forced to deal with the man He became.
But the details of Christ’s life and work cannot be subdivided or sanitized. How you respond to Christ—even in His infancy—sets the course for your eternity. Nothing is more important.
In essence, there are only three ways to respond to Jesus. And all three of them are depicted in the aftermath of His birth, as recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet, ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
In his commentary on that passage, John MacArthur writes:
In this brief text we see examples of the three basic responses that men made to Jesus when He was on earth, and the same three responses that men throughout history have made to the Lord. Some, like Herod, are hostile to Him; some, like the chief priests and scribes, are indifferent to Him; and some, like the magi, worship Him.  John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 1–7 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 24.
This week we’re going to consider all three responses, and how they’re mirrored in the way modern men and women react to Jesus. Today we’ll focus on Herod’s response.
The Paranoid Ruler
In his commentary, John paints a vivid portrait of the man whom Rome had appointed as the king of the Jews:
He was a clever and capable warrior, orator, and diplomat. . . . But Herod was also cruel and merciless. He was incredibly jealous, suspicious, and afraid for his position and power. Fearing his potential threat, he had the high priest Aristobulus, who was his wife Mariamne’s brother, drowned-after which he provided a magnificent funeral where he pretended to weep. He then had Mariamne herself killed, and then her mother and two of his own sons. Five days before his death (about a year after Jesus was born) he had a third son executed.  The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 1–7, 26.
Herod held the title of king, but like any occupying force, he knew his power was always under threat. Clearly, such desperation to maintain authority breeds a maniacal paranoia. Who knows how many people lost their lives because they represented—even tangentially—a supposed threat to Herod’s reign?
It’s little wonder then that the magi’s inquiry concerning the birth of the “King of the Jews” produced such hostility from Israel’s bloodthirsty ruler.
The Deceptive Scheme
John Macarthur describes Herod’s cunning reaction to the news of a potential usurper to his throne:
Herod’s first response to the news of the magi was to gather “together all the chief priests and scribes of the people” and “to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4). Obviously Herod connected the King of the Jews with the Messiah, the Christ. Though Herod was not himself a Jew he knew Jewish beliefs and customs rather well. The current messianic expectations of most Jews at that time was more for a political and military deliverer than a spiritual savior.  The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 1–7, 32.
The magi’s news and the information he gleaned from the Jewish religious leaders set the wheels of his self-defense into motion.
After Herod received the information he wanted from the Jewish leaders, “he secretly called the magi, and ascertained the time the star appeared” (Matthew 2:7). His concern was for the time of the star’s appearance, not its meaning or significance. It was enough for him to know only that the sign pointed to the birth of someone who could be a threat to his own power and position. The time of the star’s appearance would indicate the age of the child who had been born.
Herod then instructed the magi to proceed with their mission and then report their findings to him as they returned home. He hypocritically gave them a good-sounding reason for wanting to know the exact location and identity of the Child-in order that “I too may come and worship Him” (Matthew 2:8).  The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 1–7, 34.
The Violent Campaign
But the ultimate purpose of Herod’s diplomatic maneuvering was nothing less than outright hostility. His murderous streak came once again to the fore:
When the magi, again obedient to the Lord’s leading (Matthew 2:12), did not report to Herod, he ordered his soldiers to slaughter every male child in and around Bethlehem that was under two years of age (Matthew 2:16), in order to guarantee, he thought, the destruction of his rival newborn “King.”  The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 1–7, 34.
But God’s divine purposes are never thwarted. Herod’s deadly devices couldn’t put a dent in Christ’s reign as the King of kings. Instead, Herod went to the grave with a heightened sense of frantic paranoia. In fact, John Macarthur explains that even in death Herod’s wicked self-interest was on vivid display.
One of the greatest evidences of his bloodthirstiness and insane cruelty was having the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem arrested and imprisoned shortly before his death. Because he knew no one would mourn his own death, he gave orders for those prisoners to be executed the moment he died-in order to guarantee that there would be mourning in Jerusalem.  The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 1–7, 26.
Reading that, you’re likely thankful to live in more civilized times. But let’s not forget the fierce violence perpetrated against Christians across much of the rest of the world. Publicly believing in Christ is enough to cost you your job, your home, and even your life in parts of the globe today. In fact, it seems the hostility against God and His people is increasing worldwide, rapidly advancing into countries that ostensibly prize religious freedom.
And even in the relative calm of our Western society, the biblical account of Christ’s birth is still met with aggressive hostility by people who prefer their own self-rule. Like Herod, many today are insecure about the threat Jesus poses to their self-importance and self-determination. They want nothing to do with Christ, and work to stamp out His influence in the world.
You have probably encountered people who attempt to discredit the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Others aggressively work to banish any discussion of Him, His life and death, and any other hint of gospel truth from public discourse. In fact, while it lacks the bloody violence of Herod’s genocide, much of the world today continues in the spirit of his campaign to extinguish Christ’s influence and authority.
This year, be aware that while the unrepentant world may pay begrudging lip service to Christ’s birth, they’re only echoing Herod’s deception. In the end, they want nothing to do with worshipping Christ or acknowledging the truth of His life.
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