There is a dangerous trap that many people can fall into as their knowledge of the Bible increases. This trap is subtle because it slowly turns a good thing — like a strong desire to study and know the Scriptures — into something that can harden our heart and blind our eyes to what God is doing right in front of us. Right knowledge does not always lead to the right response. You can know precisely what God has said and yet still fail to see what he is doing.
Therefore, we would be wise to check ourselves and make sure that we are not currently caught in this trap or even walking towards it. This was a trap that seemed to plague most of the religious establishment in first century Jerusalem, and it is something that we see in the stories of Jesus’ birth.
In Matthew 2, we are told about things that took place in the first few years of Jesus’ life, and we are given three different responses to the announcement of his birth. In looking at these three different responses, we can see how Matthew demonstrates that right knowledge does not always lead to the right response.
The Curious Caravan
The first response is the most popular which is the response of the wise men from the east. This caravan of ancient Near-Eastern astrologers had discerned from the stars that a great new king had been born in the land of Judea. Most of the ancient world viewed astrology from the east as a superior source of understanding and knowledge, and so these great “scientists” of the ancient world traveled over eight-hundred miles to the city of Jerusalem looking for this new king. But much like the science of our own day, their knowledge had pointed them in the right direction, but it wasn’t quite enough to get them where they wanted to go. The stars had guided them towards Jesus; but it was the Scriptures that actually got them to Jesus.
The Paranoid King
The second response that Matthew records is the easiest to understand which is the response of Herod the king. Herod was a puppet king who was given power over Judea by the higher Roman authority. He enjoyed his elite position in the Roman empire and was notorious for violently suppressing any potential opposition to his position and power. He was troubled by the wise men’s inquiry about a new king that had been born in the region, and so he calls together a religious counsel meeting to find out exactly where the promised Messiah of ancient prophecy was supposed to be born. Like many people today, the prospect of Jesus as a King was a clear threat to the life that he preferred to live, and so his reaction was to go on the offensive and do whatever he had to do in order to get rid of this threat.
The Religious Establishment
The last response that we see is the response of the scribes and priests. And this is the response that is the most interesting to me personally. These are the Bible experts who study and teach the Scriptures for a living. These scribes and priests were brought together and asked by the king of Judea where the Messiah was supposed to be born because there were some foreign astrologers in town who believed that the Jewish Messiah had recently been born nearby. These scribes and priests quote Scripture and tell the king that the that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, but then they do nothing else!
So the foreign astrologers are told the prophesied location of the Messiah, and they immediately begin to head in that direction searching for Jesus. The town of Bethlehem is only six miles away, and yet the scribes and priests make no effort to investigate what these foreigners have just traveled over eight-hundred miles to see! This is the irony that Matthew wants us to see: These men with a wealth of Biblical knowledge were still blind to what God was doing right in front of them.
So let’s learn the lesson that Matthew teaches us in these stories. Right knowledge does not always lead to the right response. You can know precisely what God has said and yet still fail to see what he is doing. May we possess a strong desire to study the Scriptures, but let’s make sure we are supplementing that desire with a humble heart that never stops searching for Jesus.