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The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Herod

A Difficult Birth, Part 3: The Danger of Christmas

This week I’ve been discussing why the Birth of Jesus was a difficult one, and how we tend to smooth out the rough edges of the Christmas story. But ultimately, it’s a good thing for us that it was a difficult birth, because it helps us to see how to better live our difficult lives.

The first post addressed the element of scandal in Christ’s birth, and yesterday’s post focused on the discomfort of Christmas.

The Danger of Christmas

In those nice Hallmark cards it sure seems like Jesus is plenty safe, but Matthew 2 shows us the danger that was involved in this story. There we learn about the visit of the wise men and there is a lot about the wise men that we don’t know, a lot of things we commonly think of that might not have been true.

Were there three wise men? We don’t know; we often assume that there were three because there were three gifts mentioned, but the Bible doesn’t actually give us the number. Also, if you read carefully, the wise men weren’t there with Jesus right when he was born. Matthew 2.11 says “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother…”, so by the time the wise men saw Jesus, he was no longer in the manger and was instead in a house.

The wise men were from “the east”, probably Babylon or Persia; they would have been astrologers, followers of the stars.

These men come to King Herod in Jerusalem and they ask him, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”

And Herod is troubled by this, because he kinda thought that he was the king of the Jews, and he certainly didn’t want to have any rivals for the throne. In fact we know from history, Herod was actually a pretty terrible guy, and to protect his power, he murdered his own wife, several of his sons, and some other relatives as well. And so it’s no surprise that he wants to eliminate this baby king that had been born.

So Herod brings the chief priests and scribes together in order to learn where the Christ, the Messiah, was supposed to be born, and they point him to Micah 5.2 and say that he’s supposed to be born in Bethlehem.

Then Herod calls the wise men back, encourages them to search for Jesus, and then to return and let him know where He is when they find Him. And the wise men do find Jesus, but they’re warned in a dream not to tell Herod anything, and so they go home a different way. At the same time, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream in Matthew 2.13 and warns him that Herod wants to kill Jesus, so in the middle of the night, Joseph scoops up his wife and infant son, and they flee to Egypt. They leave the country.

At some point, Herod realizes that the wise men aren’t coming back and that they’ve tricked him. Enraged, he decides to kill all the male children in Bethlehem and in the whole surrounding region who are 2 years of age and under, just to make sure.

And so tragedy and heartbreak enters homes all over, as mothers have their baby boys torn from their arms, fathers watch helplessly, and soldiers draw their weapons, carrying out the orders of a murderous madman.

You don’t see all this in the Christmas cards, but the birth of Jesus was a dangerous time.

Danger in Our Lives

Just like we try to smooth over the danger in the Birth of Jesus, a lot of times we try to do that in our lives as well.

To be honest, most of us don’t actually face a lot of danger in our lives. It might be different if you are in the military or serve as a policeman or fireman, but those are careers; rarely do we face danger in the world today for the cause of Christ, unless you’re a missionary (where danger can be a very real thing).

What we do face though, is the reality of living in what is called a post-Christian society. Living in a society like this doesn’t put us in the path of the same kind of life-and-death danger we talked about in conjunction with the birth of Jesus, but it does mean that Christians can face social and perhaps economic fallout for trying to live according to the teachings of the Bible and sharing those teachings with others.

If you’ve followed the Duck Dynasty saga this past week you know exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t want to get off topic here by addressing that issue in detail, but I don’t think there’s any denying that some of teachings of the Bible cause a great deal of backlash with our society today. At times in can be easy for us to feel like we get picked on just for believing what the Bible says.

But I think Christians of the first century would look at the “persecutions” we go through in our country today and kind of chuckle, because it’s nothing like what they had to deal with. At least for now, no one here is in danger of being fed to lions in the Colosseum or being beheaded and having their heads used as lanterns in the emperor’s garden.

And to those Christians, our brothers and sisters of two millennia ago, the writers of the New Testament didn’t tell them to smooth over the dangers of the Christian life:

They didn’t tell them to avoid persecution at all cost…

They didn’t tell them to fight against it…

They didn’t tell them to run to Facebook in protest…

They told them to be ready for it, to be prepared, because it was coming…

These early Christians were reminded that Jesus was persecuted and killed, and that if that happened to Him, then surely His followers could expect to face trials and persecutions as well. And the same goes for us. But if we do face trials and persecutions for the cause of Christ, that’s okay: it’s a sign that we’re doing it right.

Don’t try to avoid the dangers of the Christian life. Don’t run from the persecutions. Be prepared for them, and glorify God when they come. Be a living sacrifice for Him.

Conclusion—A Difficult Birth Indeed

The birth of Jesus—as it really was—was a difficult birth. It doesn’t really fit in a children’s story or on a Christmas card. But for us, that’s good news! It shows us how to live our difficult lives!

The scandal of Jesus’ birth reminds us that we don’t have to fear the scandal in our lives or the sin in the world. Jesus has overcome sin! He wants to take it away from you if you’ll let Him! His blood can cleanse the sin of the world, if we’ll share it!

The discomfort of Jesus’ birth reminds us that comfort is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s not God’s goal for your life. Seek to live a life that is uncomfortably devoted to God!

The danger of Jesus’ birth reminds us of the possibility—nay, the likelihood—that we’ll face trials and persecutions as we strive to follow Jesus. Don’t try to avoid them, don’t fret about them; glorify God through them.

Praise be to God for the oh-so-difficult birth of His Son!

Influence and…Faux Hawks

The Idolatry of Solomon, by Franz Francken II, 1622
Influence is a powerful force—both the influence that we have on other people and the influence that others have on us. This is by no means a new or ground-breaking statement, but it is an idea that was hammered home to me last night in an unusual way.
I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror after taking a shower, when I realized that the way my hair was laying pretty closely resembled a faux hawk. And here’s the shocking part: I caught myself thinking, “You know, that really doesn’t look too bad.” This completely blew me away, because when faux hawks first became popular a couple of years ago, I thought they were irredeemably stupid. I don’t ever remember consciously changing my opinion on the matter, but apparently, seeing one faux hawk after another for the last couple of years gradually influenced me to think of it as a normal and acceptable haircut (Don’t worry, I have since returned to my senses and there is no danger that you will see me sporting a faux hawk—ever.).
This shocking event illustrates an important point about influence—you can gradually, subtly be influenced to completely change the way you think about a certain behavior, practice, or way of life, and it can happen without you even realizing it. Sometimes you might change your mind about something relatively innocent or unimportant (like a hairstyle), but influence can also change us in much more significant (and sometimes negative) ways.
I’m currently reading a book called Sticky Faith, which addresses the alarming rate at which Christian teenagers tend to drop out of the church about the time they graduate from high school. There are a lot of reasons why this happens, but a major one is influence—when teens leave home and move off to college, they are largely freed from the greatest influence in their lives (parents), and are especially susceptible to new influences that they encounter. Often, these new and different influences push them to places where they never thought they would end up—most faithful Christian teenagers don’t plan to go to college, drop out of church, and become involved in a lifestyle of binge-drinking and sexual promiscuity, but it happens as they are influenced to change the way they look at things and to fit in with their surroundings.
Although this phenomenon always seems to be surprising to youth ministers and parents when they witness it in individual cases, it’s really shouldn’t surprise us at all, because the Bible explicitly teaches us that the influences of others can lead us to sin:
  • King Solomon was influenced by his foreign wives and concubines to turn away from following God and build places of worship to idols instead (1 Kings 11.1-13).
  • Herod’s stepdaughter was influenced by her mother to ask that John the Baptist be beheaded (Matthew 14.1-12).
  • In Galatians 2.11-21, Paul describes how certain men had influenced Peter and Barnabas to withdraw from fellowshipping with Gentiles.
  • In 1 Corinthians 15.33, Paul comes right out and says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”
The good news is that influence works both ways—good influences have a lot of power as well:
  • “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.13-16)
  • “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4.12)
  • “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2.12)
Ultimately, when talking about influence, I think it all boils down to a couple of important points:
(1) All of us are susceptible to outside influences, so it is important that we monitor those influences closely. What kind of people do you surround yourself with? What music do you listen to? What movies or TV shows do you watch? If you are a parent, answer those same questions about your children. Don’t be naive—if you surround yourself with bad influences, no matter who you are, they are affecting you negatively.
(2) All of us influence others as well, so it is important that we are aware of the kind of example we are setting. You never know who might be watching you and who might be influenced by what you do. As a youth minister I do a lot of things, but I have long thought that the most important thing I can do is to be a good example of Christian living for the young people I minister to. Certainly I don’t always succeed, but I always try to be aware that I am broadcasting an influence—for good or bad— at all times.

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