And the Government will be On His Shoulders

Reading: Matthew 2

In America, we just finished our political season that comes every 4 years. Sure, we have smaller ones every 2 years, but those pale in comparison to our presidential election cycle, which now lasts 1½ years, raises blood pressure, is filled with rhetoric, and has increasingly disappointing results. The only thing easy to find agreement on is that we are all glad that it is over. That said, what I am about to say may surprise you, offend you, or even cause you to think I’m out of my mind.

The Christmas story – the story children perform in plays, the story read on Charlie Brown Christmas, the one which we build our nativity sets around, that Christmas story – is a political message and in order to understand the story, we really have to understand it as such.

The Christmas story is a political message and in order to understand the story, we really have to understand it as such.

Just when you thought the political season was over, now it appears someone (namely me) is trying to ruin Christmas by involving politics in it. And I am… involving politics in it. However, not the politics of the United States, nor the politics of the Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, or any other party (though there is relevance to all these). But I am not trying to ruin your Christmas. So allow me to explain.

A Political Message

To understand what I am saying we must establish a definition of politics. It’s a word we all use, but many have a hard time giving a precise definition. Even Dictionary.com has a difficult time defining it. All their definitions of political used the word politics, and all their definitions of politics used the word political – circular definitions.

Politics, as I am using it, has to do with how we or others think government should be run, or how we or others actually run government. Politics has to do with who is in charge, and how justice will or will not be achieved in the affairs of man. Politics, as much as we hate them, have to do with whether you have a peaceful life or a life filled with hostilities; a life in which you experience justice or injustice; a life in which you are oppressed or free.

The Christmas story is a political message and in order to understand the story, we really have to understand it as such.

That is what I am saying, so why am I saying it? Let’s back up to Matthew 1:1.

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…

The very first thing recorded about Jesus in our New Testaments is that He is the Messiah (or Christ, depending on translation), the Son of David. Messiah or Christ means, “anointed one” and it picks up on the fact that the kings of Israel were anointed for that office. So the Messiah, to the Jewish mind, was the king… the then coming king who will rule over God’s people. We read of it in Isaiah 9:6-7.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

The coming messiah was to be politically involved. He was to have the government on his shoulders. He was to uphold it with justice and righteousness. Calling Jesus the son of David refers to the fact that He is the rightful heir to the throne of David… meaning king! But it gets bigger.

The story of Herod and the Wise men – the Magi, the killing of the boys in Bethlehem and vicinity, even the account of the star rising at his birth, these all carry a potent political message.

The Christmas story is all about a struggle for power, a struggle over who will rule the people. It was more volatile than even the 2016 Presidential election.

Our familiarity with this story might explain why this point is often missed. Let’s look again.

First we are told that it was during the time of King Herod, immediately followed by two questions. First the question from the Magi: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) They are asking the current king of the Jews where his replacement has been born. And not just his replacement (since there are no term-limits for kings) but from the opposition party (since the only party structure was family line).

Next they mention his birth in connection with the rising of a star, which gives added weight to the threat against Herod and his throne. Accounts of stars rising at the birth of great rulers were not uncommon, so the message is clear to Herod! Which explains why in Matthew 2:3, the response is an immediate disturbance in the force, to use Star Wars terminology. The rebellion against the empire has begun. The rebellion forces have begun to gather. (At least this captures the sense in which Herod took it.)

The question of the Magi leads Herod to ask the very same question, with only slightly different words. They asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” Herod asks (Matthew 2:4), “where the messiah was to be born.” Since, as I’ve already mentioned, messiah means the one anointed to be king (specifically in the line of David), He is asking about where the true King of Israel was to be born, the coming King.

In the answer given by the wise men of Judah (all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law), they keep rubbing in the fact that this one to be born is Herod’s replacement as they quote scripture.

But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. (Matthew 2:6)

Herod’s designs on killing Jesus are politically motivated. He is striving to remain in office. At some point after the Magi leave Herod they are warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, which only infuriates him all the more. In his fury, he gives orders to kill the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. Herod’s political calculations make Watergate seem like child’s play.

After Herod dies, when Joseph returns to the land of Israel, because he hears that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there so he diverts to Galilee. From first to last this chapter tied to political motivations and is about a changing tide of political fortunes.

A final point could be made. If you are tempted to think, “Sure that is the Christmas story as Matthew shares it, but Luke’s account with Shepherds is definitely a-political,” you should note that Luke drives home the same point with only a different nuance.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (Luke 2:1)

Caesar Augustus, meaning Exalted Caesar, who was given the title, prince of peace, because of the claim that under his leadership Rome entered an era of peace (that lasted 200 years). However it was a peace that was kept at the end of a sword under an iron fist. Then we are given the well known message from the angels: “on earth peace to those on who his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Jesus came as a King, not in merely as a challenger to the would be king of the Jews, but as a challenger to the would be ruler of the world.

The confession that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9) was a direct challenge to “Caesar is Lord.” To confess, “Jesus is Lord” was not merely to repeat words in a prayer, but to swear allegiance to Him. It had political implications about who was indeed the One to whom we look for peace and justice, the One we bow our knee to in both worship and obedience. The belief that God raised Him from the dead is a belief that He now reigns seated at the right hand of the Father over all the earth (Romans 1:4).

The Christmas story is a political message and in order to truly understand the story, we have to understand it as such. It is a political message, but is this political message a pertinent message?

A Pertinent Message

 

What relevance does this have to Americans approaching 2017, coming off one of the most bizarre presidential elections of our nation’s short history?

What about separation of church and state?

Some might agree that the Christmas story was political, but that that isn’t relevant because in America we have a separation of church and state, so there is nothing political about the Gospel today! This idea of separation of church and state, whatever its original intention was, has created a false dichotomy between our spiritual life and our political life. This leads even well meaning Christians to think that somehow justice and peace can be attained apart the rule, or governance of Jesus Christ. It’s a vain pursuit. In fact, to think this way is not only to think in an un-Christian way, but to think in a way that opposes the rule and claims of Jesus Christ over our lives.

Some might object that Jesus rules over a spiritual kingdom and, when we are talking politics, we are talking about an earthly kingdom. True enough, but if by that one means to say that the two don’t have anything to do with each other, he or she would be badly mistaken. It is true that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this earth, but He did teach His followers to pray, “Your Kingdom come in earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) So the kingdom of heaven is not a kingdom that is disconnected from this earthly kingdom, it is a kingdom which is intended to rule over this kingdom.

Don’t worry I am not talking about theocracy in the sense that a bunch of religious fanatics get to rule over rest of the people on the planet. That is usually monstrous. But I am talking about theocracy in the sense that the only way this world can experience true peace and justice, is through the rule of God in Jesus Christ. If you have placed your hope in either political party, expecting them to bring justice or peace, might I encourage you that your hope is misplaced.

Americans don’t have a king!

Some may think this isn’t relevant to us as Americans, with our democracy, since we don’t have a king. And that is true… we don’t have a king, we have many kings.

Ours is a government of the people, and by the people, which means we the people are the final source of authority. The battle between kings and kingdoms is a battle between whether Christ will be king or whether we will retain our supposed right as self-directing kings of our own lives. Our political party of choice (however we perceive them) are merely projections of ourselves into a collective. They are a group version of how we would rule.

In America it isn’t Herod who seeks to kill the Christ because Christ threatens his throne, it is the individual who seeks to kill Him because Christ threatens one’s self-rule!

Whether you are weary of the political process, or whether, like many on each side of the political aisle, you are weary because of the burdens of life, because of injustice or hostilities, in the coming of Christ a weary world rejoices. Why? Because Jesus is the true Prince of Peace, the true exalted Ruler of he world, the true Ruler who will shepherd God’s people into green pastures! The Christmas message calls us to set our hopes for peace and justice on Christ and His kingdom. Neither an election, nor a revolution will bring the peace and justice people long for. Only one government can… and of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end (Isaiah 9:7).

The Christmas message is a political message that claims that Jesus is the rightful king over your life – instead of YOU! We have either bowed our knee to His Lordship over us, or we are in one way or another trying to snuff Him out of our lives.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Jerry

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