Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “‘ And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'”
I took a class on the Gospel of Matthew back in seminary at Gordon-Conwell from a guy named Roy Ciampa. It was a great course. I specifically remember the day, early in the course, when we covered this first section of Matthew chapter 2. What struck me was the commentary on verse 3.
When you study the history of King Herod (Herod the Great in this text), it is not surprising that he “was troubled” at the news of a new king being born to the Jews. He was a possessive, vicious, despotic ruler who was hungry for power and legacy. He was the self-proclaimed “king of the Jews,” and he wasn’t going to allow anyone else to rip this title from him. What is surprising and disturbing about verse 3 is not that Herod was upset, but that “all Jerusalem” was also distressed at this news. What is clear here is that there is something wrong in Jerusalem.
If you need confirmation of that fact, just read verses 4-6. Who did Herod call when he was troubled? He summoned the chief priests and scribes of the people, the religious rulers of Jerusalem. And when he sought to ascertain the identity and location of this threat to his throne, this little infant whose head he wanted to chop off, the religious leaders obliged. Those first three words in verse 5 should trouble us: “they told him.” Herod didn’t need to patronize the religious leaders in the way he did the wise men a few verses later, feigning his desire to go and worship at this baby’s cradle-side. He just asked them for the location to send his death squads, and they willingly told him.
There is nothing in this text to lead us to believe that the religious leaders were anything but willing and forthcoming in giving Herod the information he wanted on his rival. And I think it’s safe to say that verse 3 confirms it for us. There was something nefarious afoot in old Jerusalem, so much so that the news of the Messiah being born was met with opposition rather than jubilation.
Fast-forward 33 years from this text and you arrive at Mark chapters 11-13. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the same religious establishment that was “troubled” at the news of his birth sought to stand toe to toe with him as he approached his death. There were a number of Issues present in this city, its religious identity, and its leadership, and the dirty laundry was about to be aired.
As Jesus confronts the religious establishment in these texts, the gospel of Mark confronts us as readers to examine the issues of stale religion in our own lives. Religion always competes with gospel, and these chapters in Mark will tear down religion within our hearts, making way for the good news of Jesus.
Join us this summer at LifePoint as we work out some Issues.