|Matthew 2:13-18||Read Online|
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise mean.
—Matthew 2:16 (HCSB)
Stories may be the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for communicating timeless, profound truths. Jesus’ parables are certainly the greatest testimony for this claim. But the great creative minds of history have also supplied us with adventures and characters that dig deep into our hearts and stir our affections, from Homer’s epic narrative of the Trojan War to George Lucas’ epic myth called Star Wars.
Growing up, and even to this day, my favorite is without a doubt the medieval legend of Robin Hood. Over the centuries, this character has been painted and re-painted—first, as a commoner, and then centuries later as an aristocrat. He was a skilled archer, a friend of the poor, the leader of his band of Merry Men, and the people's outlaw, spearheading a program of wealth redistribution (in the shallower, modern readings).
It wasn’t until recently, while watching my favorite adaptation, the 1938 Errol Flynn version, for maybe the hundredth time, that I considered a different, richer interpretation of the story.
Though he’s unquestionably the title character, Robin of Locksley may actually be the “everyman” archetype in the story. And the protagonist and the antagonist are actually King Richard, the True King, and Prince John, who has temporarily usurped the throne in Richard’s absence.
Demonstrating that one can be heroic without being the Hero, Robin pledges his allegiance, in word and deed, to the King Richard while continually defying and subverting the reign of Prince John until the True King returns. Admittedly, it’s not a perfect illustration, but it’s one that I was reminded of while reading the second chapter of Matthew.
The picture that his Gospel presents is that of Christ the King. Throughout the Old Testament, messianic prophecies forecast Him as a King—and not just a king, but the King of Kings.
In verse one of Matthew’s Gospel, He’s introduced as the Son of David, echoing Isaiah’s foretelling that “He will reign on the throne of David” (Isaiah 9:7). He’s the “star that will come from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17), and we read in Daniel 7 that His kingdom will include all people, all nations and all languages.
After worshiping the Christ Child, the incarnation of the True King, the Magi return to the East, defying Herod’s request to return and inform him of the child’s identity and whereabouts. With his clever deceptions exposed, Herod's attitude turns to irrational rage.
During his reign, it’s said Herod murdered numerous members of his own family, including his wife and two of his sons, revealing the lengths he was willing to go just keep his grip on the throne. At the height of his fury, and in an ultimate act of desperation, he ordered that all the male children of Bethlehem two years and under be killed.
Unbeknownst to Herod, the Christ Child, Joseph, and Mary were safely on their way to Egypt, having been warned of his intentions by a messenger of the Lord.
He was a cruel tyrant, turned insane by power and made capable of unspeakable horrors. But we must not forget that Herod isn’t the bad guy in this story. He was merely a pawn who died an agonizing, hopeless death. He was used up and discarded by the real antagonist, the Adversary and ruler of this world—a ruler that acknowledges with his own desperation that he isn’t the true King.
While he’s been granted dominion over this world, we must not be troubled, because the throne isn’t, nor will it ever be, his. In fact, he has nothing of his own, so he must destroy or pervert what the true King has made.
He promises freedom, but what he delivers is slavery. He cleverly wraps wretchedness in a beautiful disguise. And he offers power and worldly riches which he passes off as wealth. But his ultimate, decisive defeat was heralded by the advent of the true King, Jesus Christ. He arrived in a helpless form, into meager means, and in the most specific of places to confirm, in word and deed, His identity and to proclaim His kingdom.
As we seek the true King, we live in victory for He rendered sin and death powerless. By our allegiance, we subvert the kingdom of this world.
When the Father of lies attempts to deceive, our Light exposes his pretense. When the Tempter offers us power, truth reminds us that power is what you frantically grasp for in the absence of real authority. And when the Murderer destroys, we mournfully pick up the pieces and rebuild. We serve a King who mourns with us.
- Both the Magi and Herod reacted to the birth of Jesus in very different ways. In what ways can we see those same reactions being demonstrated in the world today?
- We can find it easy to demonize other human beings when they’re really just sacrificial pawns of the one who lives to grieve the Lord. Is it possible to hate the atrocities mankind commits while reorienting our hatred to where it belongs—on the prince and ruler of this world?
- Our King promises (and delivers) Joy and Peace, while the false king can, however skillfully, only offer happiness and security. What are some other true promises—and their inferior counterfeits—that Christians and non-Christians alike can be so easily tempted with?
- In what ways can we better identify and resist the offers of our great enemy, Satan, and affirm our allegiance to Christ, the True King?