For many, Christmas evokes memories of childhood joy, opening gifts and feasting with family. Favorite family recipes, a break from school, the gathering of family and friends or the exchanging of gifts – we all look at this holiday and time of year through a set of personal lenses. However, if we take our view of the birth of Christ and his early years strictly from the pages of the Bible, we see that they were couched within political intrigue, murderous plots, acts of genocidal rage, state intelligence activities, issues of immigration and covert border crossings, a visiting delegation of foreign dignitaries and the census and tax decrees of an empire. As we approach the holidays, it is time for a new angle of sight into how the Word of God describes the birth of Christ.
Many believers are alarmed that “Christ is being taken out of Christmas”, and some insist on saying “Merry Christmas” even though the phrase “Happy Holidays” is also based on recognizing the setting aside of days which commemorated Divine events – holy-days. Regardless of your take on the verbiage, it is hard not to be conscious of the fact that what is engineered and purported to be a Christian holiday is much more about intense consumerism and corporate profits than about the values of Christ.
Moving past the obvious errors and extremes of consumerism, there are many that may not be as aware of the reality that the emphasis of Christ being birthed into the earth was not simply an act of individual salvation but a violent clash of kingdoms. It is a tradition in many households to gather around the Christmas tree and read the opening words of Matthew’s gospel during the holiday season. But let us take this well known passage quoted often in December and look at it for what it really is: a clash of Kingdoms.
Matthew 2:1-6 (NIV)
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 6 '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 be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
Matthew describes a drama which unfolded in a political and social context. The narrative opens with the empire conducting a census and levying a special tax upon the colonies (Luke 1:21), an exercise intended not just to raise revenue from the province but as a way for Rome to conduct political surveillance of a potentially dissident colony. The first Christmas wasn’t about days off of work, gifts under a tree or jingle bells – it was defined by nations and kingdoms posturing themselves on the international field.
Politics and the Church
After Rome declared a census, the local politician in Palestine who was loyal to Caesar, Herod, got involved also. His first action was to gather the leaders of the church and ask them for the location of the birth of Christ, and Matthew records they provided this without reservation. This is a church which had a complete lack of discernment; they are so blind, unaware and spiritually dull that they willingly participated in a political process that resulted in a bloody assault against the Kingdom of God! We must wonder: where was the insight of the Church regarding this fresh new Divine initiative being birthed into the earth? Weren’t they aware that a new move of God was at hand and required their participation? Did they have no discernment regarding the true nature of Herod’s request for information? How could they be so complicit in Herod’s evil plot?
Certainly the political leadership knew of this newly born King and took His presence very seriously indeed. Herod’s response was political at its core; inherently competitive and wicked. When Herod asked where the Christ was to be born, the church quickly acquiesced and gave him intelligence for his murderous plot. Politicians who feign piety but whose true motivation is to extend their own political influence have always existed and apparently they have always been able to dupe that segment of the church that is enamored with carnal power. Perhaps these church leaders were happy that the political power structure was asking their opinion, or maybe they chose to believe Herod’s actions were the beginning of a national revival that would begin in the highest levels of government? I am only speculating here since we are not told, although it wouldn’t be surprising if this was the case since these things can be seen in the church down through history and up to the present day. This is a church that makes it clear that we need a reformation in the earth!
Whatever the churches shortcomings, Herod initiated a multi-layered operation against Christ by using standard systems of statecraft that we can recognize, including:
A Need to Know Basis. Matthew 2:7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star appeared. The clandestine meeting was restricted to only those who needed to be involved in the discussion, and the limiting of information ensured that few would see into the king’s true intentions. This was a clandestine operation managed very carefully by Herod, who told the Magi only what he wanted them to know. He withheld his true intention, which was to murder Christ.
Syncretism. Matthew 2:8 He (Herod) sent them to Bethlehem and said. Syncretism is a word that means a mixture of things that are opposed, and we see this mixture when Herod tried to use the wise men for his political purposes. His arrogance is manifest when he joined his purposes (seeking to find and murder the child) to the divine mission of the men from the East. Politicians from all sides of the aisle commonly engage in this unholy mixture, and the church has so diluted the message of the Kingdom of God that many have come to believe that “God and country” are one. However, the Magi went to Bethlehem not out of obedience to Herod but because they had spiritual sight and were sent by God.
Disinformation. Matthew 2:8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." Herod lied about his true intentions, which is called disinformation when it is a deliberate attempt by the state to deceive. Herod told the men that he wanted to go and worship Christ when in fact his intention was to have the child murdered. The release of disinformation seeks to obfuscate in order to cloak true intentions and therefore to produce wrong action on the part of others.
State Surveillance. Matthew 2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. The return of the wise men by a different route was done to evade the surveillance mechanisms Herod had ordered so that they would not be followed and coerced to give up the location of the Christ. This dream was part of God’s intelligence apparatus which outmaneuvered Herod (and the devilish source of his human actions) at every front.
Genocide. Matthew 2:16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Herod used the power of his security forces (army & police) to conduct state sponsored genocide, something predicted by Jeremiah 700 years before when the prophet looked into the spirit realm and heard the sound of Rachel weeping and lamenting for her children, but unable to be comforted because they were no more (Jeremiah 31:15).
Herod had in fact not been outwitted by the Magi, he was not aware that he was matching wits with the Eternal God. Herod was being used as a pawn by the power of darkness, which sought to abort the purposes of God from coming into the earth. The birth of Christ was a bold strike against the Kingdom of darkness, which responded with various schemes and mechanisms. God provided prophetic insight to His people in the earth in order for them to outmaneuver darkness. They were able to move the purposes of God towards completion because they were connected to the Lord and their actions in the earth were piloted from another realm. We will look at that prophetic intelligence in the next issue.
Some Thoughts for Consideration
These insights into the first Christmas provide food for thought:
- We need a new angle of sight into the Word of God. The Scriptures have always been true, but in the times in which we live when God’s Kingdom is becoming rampant upon the earth we must have a new angle of sight and understanding into the Word of God. Seeing the Bible as simply a plan for individual salvation is to strip it of all of its richness, and this limited view has produced a people in the earth who are narrow and too limited. We can look to the Word of God for answers about sin and salvation, but it is also filled with insight regarding economic principles, political leadership and international relations to name a few. Having a more comprehensive view empowers us to understand what God is doing in the nations.
- God is involved in the Nations. Political and economic drama unfolded at Christ’s birth as God moved in the nations of the earth. Just as God shook systems and nations then, He is presently at work, destabilizing nations and systems for “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken-that is, created things-so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb 12:26-28). Things being shaken around us must result in increased thankfulness and worship of God in our own hearts – we are comforted and strengthened when all that surrounds us falls apart.
- God works in the Darkness. Reading this increases my faith in God’s Sovereignty over the all things, even wicked actions and gross darkness. Isaiah declared “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things” (Isa 45:7). God directed Caesar and Herod, and he superintended the series of events around the birth of His Son which not only brought salvation to all of mankind but also destabilized nations and Kingdoms. Herod murdered all male children two and under, but God was still majestically working His purpose in the earth. Even when political leadership in our day makes gross errors and devalues human life, God is moving His purpose forward.