What is good news for one person may not be readily accepted as good news to another. That was the story of Jesus’ life, and it started with his unlikely birth.
The birth of Messiah should have been headline news — good news —throughout Israel. This moment in history had for centuries been wished for, longed for, hoped for and prayed for. The Messiah was to be justice, love and mercy personified. Any devout Jew would embrace the day when Messiah would come and set an upside-down world right-side up.
The Gospel of Matthew reminds us in the second chapter that Israel already had a ruler, King Herod, a puppet of Rome. When star-guided Magi inquired of the king about the “king of the Jews’” whereabouts so they could worship Him face-to-face, Herod was more than a little bit alarmed. In fact, not only was Herod alarmed, “but all Jerusalem with him” (2:3).
Quickly, Herod received a lesson in prophecy. Summoning the chief priests and teachers of the law, he learned that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem in Judea. At least, that is what the prophets had foretold.
Interestingly, these traveling “wise men” from the east — foreigners — were so excited to see the Messiah for themselves, give Him lavish gifts and worship Him that they traveled internationally until they found Jesus. After that, they obeyed a dream to defy Herod by refusing to return and disclose the child’s whereabouts. Most people lacked the courage to disobey and anger Herod.
Common shepherds, another group of religious outsiders, could hardly stand it when an angel announced Messiah’s birth to them. They were awed at the sight of a whole heavenly spectacle — a choir of angels singing praises above the pasture. Having been told how to find Jesus, they left their sheep, sought out the Christ child and worshiped Him.
These shepherds became the first witnessing group. Luke says they told everyone they could about what they had seen and heard. And everyone they told was amazed by their testimony. It was Good News.
Back in Jerusalem, Herod was so threatened that he ordered a mass infanticide to make sure the Messiah didn’t live long enough to threaten his reign. And the rest of Jerusalem remained alarmed.
Foolish king; foolish people.
Not everyone really wanted Good News when they thought about it. It is hard to step down when you are in charge. Herod and the Jewish leaders didn’t like or respect each other, but they had learned to work well together. Their’s was a symbiotic relationship — all business. It worked pretty well; they had a good thing going. Given a chance to worship the long-promised Messiah, they responded very quickly, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Things haven’t changed that much in the past 2,000 years.
The Good News is still presented in many ways. The Word of Christ bears testimony to His authenticity. The way of Christ is imitated by His followers, motivated by a Messiah who laid down His life for them. And the will of Christ is still for everyone to accept that sacrifice and the life-changing Good News.
Good News is still offered to those who find it a real stumbling block to relinquish earthly control and influence. Good News is still offered to those who may find it hard to repent of sinful ways. Good News is free for the asking to those who are willing to set aside selfish ambitions for the sake of following Christ. Like the Magi and the shepherds, they find themselves in the very presence of Christ, worshiping and following Him.
Some people find it easier to obey the King Herods of the world than to make an uncoerced choice to respond to the sacrificial love of Christ. To do the latter requires a level of honesty and strength — a willingness to admit sinfulness. It requires seeking forgiveness and committing to obey Christ.
To choose Christ is not necessarily to choose an easy path. However, the choice guarantees the presence of Christ in a believer’s life that lasts forever.
The purpose of this column is twofold: (1) to prompt believers to give thanks for the gift of God’s Son and (2) to encourage any reader who may not have the assurance of salvation to consider accepting Christ. That’s the only reason we truly have to celebrate Christmas.
If you haven’t already, I urge you to accept His invitation.