Religious rebels against God

View of Bethlehem
View of Bethlehem

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. Mt. 2:4

The Chief Priests and Scribes

These represented the Jewish religious leaders of the day. The “chief priests” are a reference to the current high priest and all who previously occupied that position (Herod – contrary to the law – went through high priests like my children go through shoes). They were Sadducees and held the positions of power in the Jewish religion. The “scribes” consisted mainly of Pharisees. Their job was not so much copying the law as it was teaching it, and so they were also “lawyers” or experts in the Law of Moses. Whereas the Sadducees tended to get along with the Romans, the Pharisees did not, and they both barely tolerated each other (though Herod was on bad terms with each). It’s possible, as Carson suggests, that Herod consulted both these groups to insure he wasn’t getting bad information. “If the Pharisees and Sadducees barely spoke to one another, there was less likelihood of collusion.”[1]

Of the three groups we are considering (Herod, the religious leaders, and the Magi), this group is both the most puzzling and the most troubling. These were Biblical experts whom Herod consulted to find out the place of Christ’s birth. They answer without qualification: it is Bethlehem (2:3-6). Matthew, in reporting what they said to Herod, gives a free quotation of Micah 5:2 with 2 Samuel 5:2 tacked on the end. They understood that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem and that he was the Son of David.

But that is the last you hear of these experts. You would think that, hearing the story of the Magi announcing the birth of the Christ, they would rush with them to worship the new-born king. Instead, they do nothing. These men who spent their entire lives studying the Scripture are content to remain in Jerusalem apparently unmoved while these enigmatic Gentile soothsayers are sent to search out the king of the Jews. These men, whose jobs orbited around the worship of the true God, did not care to accompany the Magi to worship his Christ. They weren't even curious! J. C. Ryle was right when he wrote, “How often the very people who live nearest to the means of grace are those who neglect them most!”[5]

That’s the puzzling part. But the troubling part is that we are so much like them. Here in the West, where we are so blessed to have the Bible in our own language, and probably several copies on our shelves (how many collecting dust?), we are also so often cursed to do so little with the knowledge that we have. We may have a lot of knowledge about the Bible, but the real question is: what are we doing with it?

Though I never want to give the impression that Bible knowledge is bad, it is simply not enough to have a great knowledge of the Bible. In any case, knowledge by itself is not faith. Faith takes the knowledge of God’s word and does something with it. As Paul would put it to the Galatians, faith works by love (Gal. 5:6). True faith takes the vision of God and of Christ in the Bible and turns it to worship. And that is what these religious leaders were lacking. What about you?

Whereas Herod openly rejected the Christ, these men quietly ignored him. But in the end, whether openly or discreetly, rejection is rejection. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (Jn. 1:10-12). May we be among those who receive the King of kings.

[1] D. A. Carson, Matthew 1-12 (EBC: 1995), p. 87.

By: Jeremiah Bass