The Christmas story is a story about a king and full of kings who have opinions about this newborn king. We commonly sing about the Magi who visit Jesus as the "3 Kings" or "3 Wisemen." They come to visit Jesus with a set of unusual gifts. We also cannot forget the evil King Herod who seeks to kill the newborn baby Jesus. There's also a third king that we less often talk about, but is mentioned and that is Caesar, who rules even over Herod. The implications for the birth of Jesus, the newborn King, can be seen in the lives of these kings in the Christmas story. The kings force us to ask ourselves who do we worship... who is our king?
When Luke writes the Christmas narrative he includes a small detail that highly influences the way we read about the social climate in which Jesus was born. In Luke 2:1 he writes, "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree..." Jesus was born during the time of Caesar Augustus, what implications does that have for us as we worship this baby? On an inscription of the decree of the Provinical Assembly of Asia it is written:
"The most divine Caesar...Augustus, whom being sent to us and our descendants as a Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order; and having become manifest, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times...in surpassing all the benefactors who preceded him..., and whereas, finally, the birthday of the god has been for the whole world the beginning of good news concerning him."
Jesus shows up on the scene and forces people to decide, do we worship Caesar Augustus or do we worship Jesus? Caesar, at the time of Jesus' birth is celebrated as a Savior whose birth is the beginning of good news...sound familiar? Jesus' birth directly opposes what is being pushed by Caesar; Jesus is forcing people to choose who do they worship. Who, or what, do you worship this Christmas?
King Herod is the ruler of the people of Israel and under the authority of the caesars. While Herod ruled as king, he ruled ruthlessly. He was a king who massacred thousands of jews, while also believing that he was divinely chosen to be the king of the people. He built altars and statues all over to worship Caesar, who claimed to be God. In a Jewish land following God, Herod built altars and statues to worship Caesar as God. Herod has given his life to ruthlessly ruling as king under the authority of Caesar and honoring him with all his decisions as King. Herod had monstrous power and used it to build projects that is beyond even most modern technology all to worship Caesar.
And then a baby is born.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” - Matthew 2:1-2
It is not shocking that Herod responds by trying to kill baby Jesus; it is exactly how he always responded to threats of his power. Suspicion led to the murder of his own family, ordering his wife to be killed and his sons to be murdered. It is not surprising that a baby being born who is called "King of the Jews" is a threat. Herod is forced to question, am I the king or is this baby the king?
The magi didn't worship Herod as king. They didn't worship Caesar as Lord. Instead they came to worship the baby Jesus as king and lord, and they worshipped him with three unusual gifts for a baby.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. - Matthew 2:11
Gold. A gift worthy of a king. A gift that would threaten all that Herod believed in. Frankincense, an incense. A gift that would symbolize Jesus role as our priest. And the most unusual gift of all for a baby, Myrrh. A gift that was often used for embalming when people die. A gift given because Jesus was born to die. Three gifts that all celebrate that there is something special about this baby; that he is a different kind of king than Herod and that the good news of Jesus is different than the good news of Caesar.
Three different kings. One that claims to be Lord. One that claims to be king. And a group that doesn't believe that the other two statements are true, but instead go to worship a baby. A baby that has been born and is a new King. A King who brings about a new Kingdom for all people. And a baby that has been born to be our Savior and to really bring the good news.
Photo Credit: Jordon