Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret is a Oprah-backed bestseller self-help book. Here’s a short excerpt from it’s introduction:
“...You are god in a physical body. You are spirit in flesh. you are eternal life expressed itself as you. you are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator. You are creating the creation of you on this planet. The earth turns on its orbit, for you. The oceans ebb and flow, for you. The birds sing, for you. The sun rises and it sets, for you. The stars come out for you. Every beautiful thing you see, everything wondrous is all there for you. take a look around. None of it can exist if not for you…You are the master of the universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of life, and now, you know the secret.”
Most of us read it and readily reject it as yet another farcical strain of New Age nonsense. However, there’s something about its self-empowerment that still draws some part of us to some of it. The truth is that we enjoy thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe - don’t our actions, thoughts, and emotions convey that? This is troubling news, especially if you are a Christian. For it means that Christmas carols that sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come Let earth receive her King” cannot be sung with full gusto. If Jesus is king, then we are not, and how can that be a joyful thing for us? Today’s passage tackles this problem head on. Read on to find out why the advent of Jesus the King is joyful news!
(A) True wisdom: worshipping the True King (Matt 2:1-2)
Matthew begins his account with specific geographical and chronological details about the events after Jesus’ birth. We learn that Jesus’ birth took place in Bethlehem, and wise men from the East were looking for Him in Jerusalem (geographical). We also learn that this took place during the days of Herod the king (chronological). It immediately follows that Matthew wants us to be certain of the event’s historicity. This was no mere fable. These were real people, in real places, at a real point of time in history.
But this account is also more than a historiographical venture. If we pay attention to who King Herod was, we begin to see the literary significance of the events and characters: Herod the Great was a famous ruler. He had overthrown the previous kings, was awarded His kingship by the Roman senate, and found support from Caesar Augustus. He was famous for his architectural accomplishments, and also his ability to contain the rebellious Jews. But his success was built on brutal despotism, which will we learn of shortly. This knowledge helps us to see that Herod the king is being set up as a foil against Jesus the true king. Hence, we should pay close attention to the contrast between these characters as the chapter unfolds.
We also learn that wise men from the east came to Jerusalem. Much has been speculated about these wise men. Many traditions think of them as 3 kings. Some even trace their lineage to specific regions. History also tells us that these wise men, or magi, were savvy and knowledgeable power figures who often held political office. In this account, they also seem to be familiar with astrological practices. However, Matthew’s focus is not the gifts that they bring, their political savviness, or their vast knowledge. Instead, their wisdom is found in the fact that they knew they had to worship Jesus. Consider the most powerful and knowledgeable figures you know. Oftentimes, we find that they are wrapped up in their own power - proud and unwilling to submit to another. But these wise men are not like that. They are truly wise, for they know that Jesus’ coming was a call to worship.
This is not just a distant account of antiquated practices. We may live in a post-religious age, but all of us still worship. David Foster Wallace, an accredited American author, famously remarked,
“There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships…If you worship money and things- if they are where you tap real meaning in life- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. Worship power-you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart-you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.”
He was spot on. Since everyone worships, the question changed from “Do you worship?” to “What and why do you worship?” If you are a Christian today, does your life reflect your worship of Jesus? If you are not a Christian, what do you worship, and how has it been treating you? The Bible tells us that true wisdom is seen in worshipping the true King, for He is worthy of all worship.
(B) Earthly rule: insecure, irresponsible, and irreverent (Matt 2:3-4)
To better understand what’s problematic with every form of worship that is directed away from Jesus, let’s consider what happens after the wise men begin their questioning.
We are told that Herod was troubled (Matt 2:3), and the people with him. Herod was a tyrannical ruler who worshipped power, and the people feared him more than they trusted God (c.f. Matt 2:16-18).
The chief priests and scribes were also mentioned (Matt 2:5) and they reacted to the wise men’s words by pointing to Scripture. The chief priests and scribes - shepherds of the people - knew things about Scripture and knew things about God. But they did neither knew Scripture nor God truly. Because of that, the people suffered (cf. Eze 34:1-6, Matt 23).
This reveals the power problem that exists in earthly rule. We see that Herod was troubled because even though he was king, he worshipped the power and the position it gave him. But the power and position he worshipped only led him to insecurity and evil, as he terrorised the people under his rule and ordered the slaughter of the innocents (Matt 2:16-18). The people were troubled, for they feared Herod more than they trusted God! Matthew does not tell us too much about the people, but their reaction tells us that something of their hope and worship of their God had been diminished. Much of the people’s problem can be attributed to the chief priests and scribes. We see that they were incredibly familiar with Scripture, which is God’s word. Instead of teaching God’s people to look to God and trust in Him, other parts of the Bible tell us that they were focused on caring for themselves and their interests (Eze 34:1-6, Matt 23). The people’s response to Herod’s rage indicts the chief priests and scribes of their crime - God’s people were sheep under corrupt shepherds.
If you are a church leader, or one in a position of power today, then consider this a grave warning. The shepherds of God’s people have a weighty and privileged responsibility. What is your church gathering around, and what is it most hopeful and excited for? Political advocacy? Events? New music styles? As good as these things may be, every leader has to ask themselves whether they are pointing God’s people towards a great vision of Jesus, that they might trust, hope, and delight in Him whatever the circumstances. If you are a church-goer, you are not exempt from scrutiny either! How are you caring for your church leaders and encouraging them? Do you hold them accountable against God’s Word? Does your participation in church edify and build up the body? Or is church just another consumer choice that you make on Sunday mornings and Friday nights?
There is yet another frightening revelation from this account. The life of the chief priests and scribes show us that you can know many great things about the Bible and God, but not know the Bible and God. For all of us who enjoy going for Bible studies and knowing more of God, that’s a great thing that we should rejoice in. But let us never mistake information for relationship. God calls us to know Him personally. Do you know God today?
3 other accounts in the Bible tell us something important about this power problem:
The birth of the problem (Gen 3:1-6) — The power-problem begins when we overturn God’s authority to assert our own.
The problem (political) (1 Sam 8:1-9) — The power problem manifests itself as we reject God’s rule to assert human rule in a bid to be masters over our circumstances.
The problem (universal) (Rom 1:21-25) — The power problem is in every human heart. The Bible calls it sin. And it is a glory-robbing problem.
The Genesis 3 account shows us that the roots of this power problem begin when we assert our rule over God’s. Eve’s rejection and perversion of God’s words was not a mere dietary choice - it was a power play. Mankind’s desire and judgment was elevated over God’s. 1 Sam 8:1-9 then shows us that this problem stays with God’s people. Instead of trusting in God, they clamour for a king. This political manifestation of the power problem reflects a deeper desire to be in control of our immediate circumstances. It reflects a deeper perversion that lusts for the tainted security the rest of the world has in created things. This thread of thought is fleshed out clearly by Paul in Rom 1:21-25, which tells us that we have exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling moral man and birds and animals and creeping things. We have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.
This is a very scary thing. For it tells us that the roots of this power problem is found in the trenches of our hearts. We are under the curse of sin, where we glory in the things that do not deserve glory, and place our hope in fickle matters. Isn’t this true of the systems we operate in? Inasmuch as human systems can be structurally problematic, an equal, if not greater, part of the problem lies in the fact that humans operate it! We seize this power for ourselves and seek to consolidate, manipulate, and abuse it. We see this even at the more general level, where the power that we have in our words, thoughts, and actions are often used at the expense of another.
Friends, the Bible does not simply call this an exercise of autonomy. It calls this sin. As long as something other than God sits on the throne of your heart, you are denying Him, in opposition against Him, and robbing Him of His glory. For this reason, the Bible tells us also that the worst effects of our idolatry, which is setting up false kings on our heart’s throne, is not just the harm that it creates for ourselves and the people around it. It is the wrath of God it places us under - God is resolutely opposed to all sin and idolatry, and He will not share His glory with another. And for as long as something other than God sits on the throne of your heart, the words of the Christmas carol will never be true for you. Jesus’ coming cannot be a joyful thing.
Earthly rule is insecure, irresponsible, and irreverent. Unlike the wise men, it is marked by self-worship instead of wise worship. How then does Jesus meet this problem?
(C) Godly rule: Jesus the True Shepherd leads His people and defines His kingdom (Matt 2:5-6)
Let’s begin by exploring who Jesus really is. V5-6 quote the prophet Micah, and an examination of the original text shows us something stunning. The shepherd that Micah refers to is no ordinary shepherd! Micah 5:2 tells us that "his coming is from of old, from ancient days.” The chief priests and scribes conveniently leave this out to suit their political purposes, but do you see the significance of this verse?
It tells us that the words of Ezekiel 34 and Micah 5 are true. It tells us that God is true to His word and His promises. For God Himself comes down and associates Himself with sinful man to be their shepherd. What sort of shepherd is He? He is a shepherd that promises to be their peace (Micah 2:5), and to lovingly care for them - to seek the lost, strengthen the weak, and bring them justice (Eze 34:11-16). He even promises to grant them eternal life that they may never perish (Jn 10:28)!
How can this be so if God’s wrath is upon us all? The answer is sobering and yet worthy of all worship. Jesus comes as the True Shepherd, not just to lead His people and restore Godly rule, but also to lay down His life for them so that the wrath of God might no longer be upon them. Friends, the truth of life in a fallen world is that power has corrupted, does corrupt, and will corrupt. We will be disappointed, and we will be disappointments. Even the best of our church leaders will fail us.
But Jesus shows us that life from above has broken into our sinful world. He shows us that power can be and has been used to restore rather than ravage. Even more shockingly, the One who holds all power sacrifices Himself so that you and I might know what true life is. The world has known no greater love than this.
This is why the words of the Christmas carol ring true! There is great joy for the world. Not just because our earthly problems have been met, but because Jesus has come to make His blessings known far as the curse is found. The curse of sin that binds our hearts has been defeated. We are finally brought into a right relationship with God, and there can actually be a lasting, eternal, and effectual hope for our world.
If this is the Saviour that your life is hidden in, then what does your life look like practically? Remember the words of v6: “…you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by non means least among the rulers of Judah…”
They reflect God’s pattern for redemption. The things that the world esteems as foolish and lowly will be used to bring low the things that the world esteems as wise and mighty. God uses the humble, the broken, and the neglected not merely because they see their absolute need for Him, but also so that every grounds for boasting may be removed. As John Piper puts it, we get all the joy, and He gets all the glory.
This is the sort of kingdom that has room for the girl with down’s syndrome that cannot procure gainful employment in today’s society. It is the sort of kingdom for the ones who, like the magi, although esteemed great by the world, knows the lowliness of their hearts and long to worship the true king. It is the sort of kingdom for the high functioning, high achieving scholar who recognises that something deeper is needed. It is the sort of kingdom that has room for every sinner who longs to be saved.
Do our churches reflect that? Do the people we respect and esteem reflect that? The meritocracy that we are brought up in can be a dangerous thing, for it often leads us to measure others by meritocratic standards. Friends, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our churches and our church lives reflected something of this beautiful truth - that God calls the lowly, the needy, and the despised to Himself? What would your church life and your social interactions look like if this were true for you?
There is one more point of application. We often think of application as objectives that we have to meet, and goals that we have to achieve. Consider the following instead:
If Jesus is truly King of your life, then you are more secure and fulfilled than you could ever be elsewhere. For the God who sees our sin and yet loves us by laying down His life for us rules and reigns in majestic glory and power. The words of Psalm 23 are now true for us. Because Jesus is our shepherd, we will not want, for we will dwell with Him forever. As much as we eagerly wait for Jesus’ return, let us rest and rejoice in Him.