Voices of Christmas: The Chief Priests and scribes.

In our last posts, we looked at the three wise men and Herod. Herod didn’t know anything about the Old Testament, so when asked about the birth of the Messiah, he asked those who should know, that is, he called in the experts:  the chief priests and scribes of the people.

To me, these verses are the most somber of all the verses in the Christmas story.  You expect Herod’s reaction to the wise men’s not returning to him and his decree to murder little boys as a result.  He was that evil.  But the chief priests and the scribes?  What do I mean?  Look at the story.  When asked about the birthplace of the Messiah, they answered correctly and immediately, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:  ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel’,” Matthew 2:4-6.  These men didn’t have to look the verses up in the concordance or on their I-Pads.  They knew them.  (And, yes, I know….)

The thing is, knowing the verses and that men had come a long way to find the Messiah, there is no record that these chief priests and scribes ever went to Bethlehem themselves.  There is no record that they themselves ever went looking for the Messiah. Indeed, some thirty-plus years later, their successors were among those most active in seeking to destroy Him.

During His ministry, our Lord tangled with some of these successors Himself.  In John 5, Jesus responds to some who were upset that He had dared to heal the impotent man on the Sabbath, and then had claimed equality with God, v. 18.  In v. 39, He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”  He was talking to the leaders of the Jews, for the ordinary folks didn’t have copies of the Scripture to study for themselves.

Like their predecessors in the time of Herod and the wise men, these men apparently thought the study of Scripture was an end in itself.  Their goal was to know as much about It as possible.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  God places no premium on ignorance.  Indeed, ignorance will only get you lost.  This isn’t to say that apart from Christ, we’re not lost already.  It’s just that only through the Scriptures can we find Him and salvation.

Jesus said as much Himself.  In His response, He continued, “and these are they which testify of Me.”  From Genesis through Malachi, for that’s all they had, the Old Testament testifies of the Lord Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we have to look for some “spiritual” meaning in the words.  The words themselves speak of Him.  If Micah 5:2 prophecies of an actual event in an actual place, then so do all the rest of the Old Testament prophecies.  Granted, there are some things the Old Testament only hints at, for example, “the church.”  However, “the church” neither nullifies, cancels or “fulfills” the Old Testament.  That is reserved for, and will yet be completed by, the Lord Jesus.

For all their knowledge of the Scripture, these scholars Herod called didn’t know the Scripture.  Neither did their successors.  Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 2:8, where, in writing of the hidden wisdom of God, he said, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  Our Lord Himself said to the disciples in John 16:2, “…the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”  This happened in the experience of the early church, and it happens today in the murder of Christians by those of other religions.  It will continue to happen until the Lord comes back.  In the US, we’ve escaped a lot of this persecution through the mercy and providence of God.  Considering how things are going in this country, I’m not sure that our time isn’t coming, if it hasn’t already started.

In John 5:40, our Lord finished His response to those who were persecuting Him, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”

That is the crux of the matter.  We can discuss and argue about “the church,” or baptism, or prophecy, or any of a number of other subjects.  I’ve done so in this blog. We can have all kinds of “degrees” and religious titles:  “Master of Theology,” “Doctor of Theology,” Bishop, Reverend, etc., etc.  I’m not against “education,” and I understand the meaning of the terms “Master” and “Doctor of Theology,” as simply meaning that one has finished a required course of study and graduated.  At the same time, how can anyone really say that they’ve “mastered” the study of God (theology)?

That’s the thing with Bible college and Seminary; they study about the Scripture, not the Scripture itself.  The various papers and theses I had to turn in had to have a certain number of references from other authors.  I could never have simply turned in a paper using only Scripture.  It was really all about what other men said about the Scripture.  And I have nothing against “books;” I have several in my library.  I’ve even written one.  But our main study should be “the Book,” and not just “books.”  “The Book” intends to lead us to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even here, though, we can fall short.  We can discuss the “theology” of the Lord Jesus and miss the point.  Is He God?  Was He virgin-born?  Did He even exist?  And on and on.  And these are important things to know.  But if our study doesn’t bring us to the point of bowing before Him as our Lord and Savior, recognizing our sinfulness and that He’s the only One that can do anything about it, then we’re worse off than if we’d never seen a Bible.

That was the trouble with the chief priests and scribes Herod called.  For all their knowledge, they never came to the Lord Jesus for “life.”

Christmas is four days away.  In a couple of weeks, the tree will be out on the curb, waiting to be picked up by the trash collectors.  The needles will have been swept up from the floor.  The ornaments will be put away for another year.  A lot of the toys will be broken already.  All the food we ate will make itself known on the scale.  Perhaps good and happy memories will be stored in the files of our minds.  The question is, will “the Babe” be stored away with the Nativity set?

Oh, that we might remember and live with and for Him in January and February and July and November, and not just for a few weeks at the end of the year.  If you’ve never particularly thought about sin and salvation, may this time of the year get you to thinking about it.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

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