“When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied” (Matthew 2:4-5).
Sometimes you can know so much that it would be better not to know anything at all.
If this had been an ancient version of the American Bible Challenge, the scribes would have won first place. They instantly knew the answer to Herod’s question.
Who were these chief priests and teachers of the law Herod consulted? They were the best and brightest minds of the day. As professional students of the Torah of God, they studied the Old Testament day and night. They knew the Word of God, loved it, revered it, learned it, debated it, studied it, and memorized it. Some of them had memorized the first five books of the Bible in Hebrew. Others had memorized the Psalms in Hebrew.
When Herod asked where the Christ was to be born, immediately the religious leaders knew the answer, in Bethlehem of Judea because that’s what the prophet Micah had foretold some 700 years earlier.
They knew it by heart.
They didn’t have to look it up.
To use a modern phrase, they didn’t have to use a lifeline. I’m sure one of them must have smiled and said, “I hope the king asks us a hard question next time.”
Education can be a curse if it doesn’t lead to action. You can know so much that you end up doing nothing with the knowledge you have. The Messiah was being born six miles away in Bethlehem, and the scribes didn’t care enough to go and check it out for themselves.
Charles Spurgeon remarks upon the Jewish leaders this way:
Those who should have been leaders were no leaders; they would not even be followers of that which is good, for they had no heart towards Christ.
I underlined the last phrase because the heart is always the issue. If the heart is not right, no amount of religion can save it. If the heart is not right, no amount of Bible knowledge can make up the difference.
Religion, even good religion, even Bible-based religion, can deaden the heart and mind. It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying, “I’m Baptist” or “I’m Catholic” or “I’m Lutheran” or “I’m Presbyterian” or “I’m Brethren” or “I’m Church of Christ” or “I’m Episcopalian,” as if going to heaven is determined by church affiliation. It’s easy for all of us to “play by the rules” of whatever church we attend and keep Christ at arm’s length. As long as Christ remains outside of us, all that he did on the cross is of no value to us. When Jesus is just a theory, he can never be our Savior.
The lesson is clear. Don’t miss Christ this year! Don’t go through this festive season and somehow miss the Son of God.
Don’t be like the scribes.
Be like the shepherds.
Make haste and go to Bethlehem to greet the newborn King!
Forgive us, Lord, for substituting knowledge for true heart devotion to you. May we grow in our love for you today. Amen.
Musical Bonus: In 1866 Benjamin Russell Canby composed a song tracing the life of Christ from his birth to his death and resurrection and even to his second coming. Listen as the Collingsworth Family sings Who is He?.