Last year around Christmas I was enjoying with my then four-year old a beautiful book which retold the life of Jesus. It featured on every page, paintings by pre-renaissance master Giotto from his Scrovegni Chapel. We were flipping through and came upon the Massacre of the Innocents. This disturbing scene (a pile of dead babies) was difficult to explain to my little one. We quickly moved past it but later it gave me pause and caused me to question:
Why did Matthew record this account? That is, other than the obvious that it really happened in history. But what does it tell us about Jesus, the Christmas story, and the Gospel? Quite simply, it is that when God came into the world to rescue it – He was resisted. As it was then, it is so today.
He Was Resisted. King Herod, puppet king of the Roman Empire, is the great villain of the Christmas account. He was asked by the wise men where the king of the Jews was to be found. He, being the false king of the Jews, was afraid and enraged. He resisted this coming king by ordering the slaughter of all potential candidates for the title in the region. In doing so, Herod knew something that many Christians are not even fully aware of: that this Baby was a king and His life/rule would have bearing on the entire world. He was not some mere administrator of a personal and private spirituality. Herod certainly didn’t know everything about Jesus but he did know that. And whatever else, Herod knew that he was against it.
He Is Resisted. But is God coming into the world resisted today? Again, it is often those resisting Christianity who understand more about it -in one sense- than many of those committed to it. Many know that Christianity comes as a package, a Gospel arriving alongside a Great Moral Tradition. It involves views on human dignity, abortion, poverty, justice, marriage, sexual ethics, what to do with your money, and so much more. Some aspects of this may grate on us. Other aspects may grate on others. But what is often sensed is that accepting Jesus means submitting to a worldview which may put us at odds with the surrounding culture or with our own pre-held views. He comes as a king. And his rule is demanding and counter-cultural, which is why it is also resisted today.
Stop Resisting. Even Christians can resist, although they may do it more subtly. When Christ is made into a candy machine (we get what we want), or a jukebox (he says what we like), or a butler (he serves us with no demands) than we, like Herod, are also resisting the full expanse of what Christ is. He is King of the world. When he is diminished in any way, when the public nature of the Gospel is muted, he is resisted. So no matter what we believe, whether skeptical or committed Christian, we need to understand fully the implications of his lordship. Understand, wrestle with, and then lay down our resistance.