The other night in family devotions we read from John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, published by Desiring God. The reading focused on the theme of resistance to Jesus and highlighted two demonstrations of resistance in the Christmas story as narrated in Matthew 2. King Herod embodies the first kind of resistance that demonstrates itself in violent opposition to Jesus. Herod sought to kill the Christ Child and put an end to any potential rival. The chief priests and scribes embody the other kind of resistance in their amazing indifference to the birth announcement delivered by the magi from the East. Though the scribes were biblical experts and able to quickly identify the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah, and though the priests were in charge of the religious life of Israel, all of which anticipated their coming Redeemer, neither of these groups showed any interest in the reported birth in Bethlehem, and neither investigated the report any further.
As we sat around our dinner table, we talked about these two forms of resistance, observing that in our particular situation, the resistance we most often face is that of indifference to Jesus Christ. While not facing life-threatening opposition to Jesus, we do find ourselves surrounded by a general sense of carelessness regarding him. Jesus just doesn’t matter to many people. It’s not that they don’t think he existed or is important, it’s just that he’s not much different from the multitude of heroic figures from television and movies that fill the minds of a media-saturated culture. Though Jesus is a major player in the religious world, he is little more than a mental icon tucked away in the religious compartment of peoples’ personal lives only to be brought out when convenient. Indifference is a tough barrier to break through: people who know about Jesus, even true things about Jesus, claim to admire him, but beyond that are indifferent to him. I wonder if one reason churches across our land are having such an insignificant spiritual impact is because of the number of priests and scribes sitting in the pews. Indifference to Jesus is a subtle form of resistance, but resistance just the same.
As we continued to talk after dinner about the resistance present in the Christmas story, we remembered the fact that though we are not confronted with it, the resistance of outright opposition to Jesus exists in many places in our world. In that sense King Herod is alive and well embodied in those who will to go to any lengths to prevent the name of Jesus Christ from being spoken and to stop the spread of the his gospel. I showed my family this picture of a follower of Jesus Christ named Doui. He was a pastor in the Central African Republic who recently was killed by those who oppose Christianity and would like to rid their region of Christians. I met Doui five years ago when I was in that country and had the opportunity to preach and teach God’s Word to Central African pastors for two weeks. Doui was among that number of brothers in Christ who sat in the classroom for hours diligently taking notes. Since he was one of the better English speakers in the class, he helped with some of the translating for other students, and he and I were able to personally interact more easily because there was no language barrier. Doui worked hard to support his family in addition to shepherding a church. Opposition to Christ ended his earthly life, but ushered him into the presence of his Savior. I include his picture as a tribute to his faithfulness to the Lord and to the care of his congregation, as well as to serve as a reminder that violent opposition to Christ still exists.
King Herod, the chief priests, and the scribes are still around this Christmas. There is still an active and open Christmas resistance. Don’t get hung up on the resistance to December 25th traditions and slogans. See it for what it really is: “Light came into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The encouraging thing to remember in the face of resistance is that light overcomes darkness. The Child in the manger was stronger than the king on the throne and wiser than the religious authorities of his day. He will win!