Godly men are not revolutionists: the Lord’s way is regeneration, not revolution.
—Rousas J. Rushdoony Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum
Herod and the Magi
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and are come to worship Him.” When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him (Matt. 2:1-3).
Herod the Great was a brilliant politician, “cunning, ambitious, and bold.” He was also cruel, self-obsessed, and deadly. He was born an Idumean, a descendant of Esau, but he was a formal proselyte to the Jewish faith. So when these sages from the East spoke of a Child “born king of the Jews,” Herod knew exactly what they meant, because their wording was precise. They hadn’t asked for one born “to be king of the Jews”—that might have meant one of Herod’s own sons. No, they had asked for the One who was the rightful king of Israel from the moment of His birth. Herod knew that these Magi were looking for Israel’s promised Messiah. He knew that God’s true King had finally come.
Herod acted in character, of course. He plotted mass murder. Herod sent the Magi to find the Baby and to bring back word of His location, so that, Herod said, “I may come and worship Him also.” The plan almost worked.
The Magi went south, led by the star, and they soon came to Bethlehem, to the very house where the new family had taken up residence. “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (v. 11). But then God intervened: An angel warned the Magi to stay away from Herod. And so they left Judea by another road.
An angel also appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Arise,” he said. “Take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt” (v. 13). And they did.
It didn’t take Herod long to realize the Magi had disappeared. Immediately he ordered his soldiers to descend upon Bethlehem and the nearby villages and to kill any child two or under. There was great weeping that night, but the infant King was on His way to Egypt.
Joseph, the Foster Father
Let’s consider Joseph for a moment. He was a young man, a carpenter, a citizen of a no-account village in Galilee. He was descended from the kings of Judah, but he and his immediate ancestors were barred from the throne by prophecy (Matt. 1:2-16; Jer. 22:30). Joseph was newly married, but imperial census policies had driven him and his wife from their home to the tiny village of Bethlehem. There they would be enrolled in the emperor’s new tax scheme. And there was a further complication: Joseph’s wife, Mary, was already pregnant … and her child was the Son of God.
There were no self-help or how-to books that could speak to Joseph’s situation. Clearly, he should protect this helpless little Baby. But what exactly did that mean?
Judea was under the iron heel of Rome. Not only that, but an impostor messiah, a mad man and true monster, was on the Judean throne. The emperor and his puppet king would both be a threat to the Child. The imperial bureaucracy and the Roman legions were both enemies of God and His Christ. What should be Joseph’s first concern?
Imperial taxation was obviously a pressing issue. Joseph could have started a tax revolt in the name of the newborn King. But nothing of that sort could go very far while Roman legions occupied Judea. Should Joseph organize a militia? Or a band of vigilantes to pick off the Roman soldiers and bureaucrats one at a time? The Romans were foreign invaders, after all.
Apparently, Joseph never considered any of this. When the tax decree came, he meekly obeyed and went to Bethlehem. When the angel said, “Flee,” he fled. He ran from the soldiers and he led his family into exile in a pagan land.
The Way of the Cross
Joseph was hardly the poster child for a grassroots political revolution. His primary concerns were obedience to God and the care and protection of his family. Even when Herod was dead, and the holy family was able to return to Palestine, Joseph did nothing other than trust God and pursue his calling as a husband, foster father, and carpenter. No rock throwing, no burning buildings, no rabble rousing, no seditious tracts, no assassination plots.
Of course, when Jesus came of age, He likewise rejected the way of the Zealot and the revolutionary. And so it was written of Him in the prophets:
He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth (Isa. 42:2-3).
Rather than embracing violence, Jesus embraced and communicated truth. Sometimes He preached to great crowds; often He taught in homes or small groups. And while He did suggest to his inner circle that they should arm themselves … He never taught civil disobedience; He never drew a sword himself; He never ordered an assassination. When the soldiers came to arrest Him, when Jewish and Roman courts put Him on trial, He submitted . . . even when his life was on the line.
Jesus came into the world to die in the place of guilty sinners. He came to die and rise again. He called His disciples to follow Him in the way of the cross. “If any man will come after me,” He said, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23). He promised His disciples trials and persecution: “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” He said. But He added, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Thy Kingdom Come
Upon His resurrection from the dead, Jesus claimed all power in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18). He had the power to cast down His enemies, to drown them in fire, to blow them away like dust. He did none of these things. Instead, He sent His Church out into the world to bear witness to the truth, to proclaim the Gospel of His death and resurrection, to preach redemption through grace. He commissioned His Church to preach regeneration rather than revolution. The words of His commission are these:
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matt. 28:18-20).
The power is in God’s grace… His standard and His truth… which included all that Jesus commanded. This is the message of Christmas and of its carols. Isaac Watts knew this message well:
Joy To The World
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders, of his love.
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne
O Holy Night
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
Jesus came to save the world (John 3:17). He came to save both individuals and nations. And yes… civil governments must still bear the sword. Fathers must still protect their homes and families from the violence of wicked men. But these are God-given roles as well as God-regulated roles. As much as they are needed, the sword and the gun can’t and don’t change human hearts … they can’t bring Christ’s Kingdom to earth.
The Kingdom comes through grace and truth, through the good news of redemption in Christ who was born in humility, meekness, and love. All other roads … personal or social … lead to ruin.
For Further Reading:
Alfred Edersheim, The History of the Jewish Nation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979 rpt. of 3rd ed.)
Junius Brutus, A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants (Edmonton, AB: Still Waters Revival Books, 1989 ).