“Evil Is Not King, Jesus Is”
The birth of Jesus did not happen in a vacuum. There were already powers in place that were not open to sharing their authority. In Rome was Caesar and in Judea was his puppet king Herod.
From all accounts Herod was a basket case. His paranoia was legendary, especially given the fact that he had several of his sons murdered to head off any power grab by a potential heir. As many Jews would say, “It would be better to be Herod’s pig (an unclean animal for the Jews) than it would to be his son.”
It’s understandable then that when word reached Herod from the magi from the east about a “newborn king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), he “was disturbed.” That’s putting it mildly. Herod was most likely beside himself at their inquiry about the new king’s location.
A quick search of the Scriptures by the chief priests and teachers of the law (soon to be antagonists of Jesus themselves!) revealed that Bethlehem was the promised birthplace. Herod then dispatched the magi to check out the possibilities and report back to him so that he too might go and worship the newborn king (Matthew 2:8). But after locating the Christ child and acknowledging Him with gifts fit for royalty, they returned to their country by another way and did not follow up with Herod.
When Herod learned that the magi had deceived him, he took matters into his own hands, issuing an edict that would result in the killing of all boys in Bethlehem two years of age and under. Granted, Bethlehem was not a large place at the time and the number of such boys would have been small, but regardless of the number, the rage of Herod shows the inexcusable brutality of the times.
Fortunately, Joseph had been warned in a second dream to take Mary and Jesus and escape into Egypt until Herod no longer ruled the land. This departure sets the stage for an important theme in Matthew’s gospel: Jesus is a “new Moses,” and as Moses emerged from Egypt to deliver God’s people from a brutal Pharaoh, so Jesus would come from the same country to redeem his people in similar fashion.
When Herod died, Joseph and Mary returned to Israel, only not back to Bethlehem because of angelic counsel in yet another dream, but this time to Nazareth, which would become the hometown of Jesus. Joseph’s obedience to God’s direction plays no small part in Jesus being able to escape despotic clutches until He grows up and is physically and spiritually prepared to take them on as God will empower Him to do.
What may seem to be evil’s intent to frustrate God’s redemptive purposes utterly fails. Joseph’s obedience makes it possible for good to prevail. As we consider God’s direction in our own lives, may we see how our obedience might also stymie evil’s aims in our day and extend God’s redemptive purposes in the same way.
Matthew 2 (ESV):
1 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.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.