Advent 1 2010:
Jesus, Born to Be the True King for Us
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
What does it mean to have a God who is “for us”? Usually we think God is “over against us.” He is a threatening presence. His majestic holiness is set against our inborn wickedness. What else could the psalmist mean: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1)? The majestic God over against us exposes our filthy sinful state.
In post-modernist style, we say that God is welcome to His opinion, but we don’t look at it that way. We imagine that if we are better than our neighbor (and in our own minds we always are!) we are okay with God. We have “all done the best we can.”
We will sing with gusto of our sin, just as long as we can compare ourselves favorably to our neighbor: “Chief of sinners though I be, I’m just glad you’re worse than me.” However, sin is not measured by nearer and farther, more holy and less holy, better and worse.
The problem here is that the Law is not a relative standard. When we look into the mirror of the Law, we see that we do not meet the perfect standard that was established by God and of which He is the perfect case. We stand condemned, because we cannot gaze into the face of Moses, which reflects only a glimpse of God’s radiant glory. Holy Law sets guilt very firmly over against us. His holiness over against us is shown by the glory of the Law.
But the Christian God is not merely “over against us.” The god who is only over against us would be the god of the Koran. He is that nebulous accusing presence. He is not like the God of the Bible. He would not be the God who is Jesus, born to be the true King for us. The God who is born for us is born to rescue—not condemn; to be merciful—not causing hurt nor harm; to be gracious—not guilt giving.
The Magi are searching for the newborn king. But what king? They seek Him in the palace of Herod, whom Matthew decisively calls “the king.” Where would you look for a king? Of course, in the palace of the king. The Magi knew kings, or at least they thought they did. They were advisors and seers in the royal courts of the east.
Perhaps they expected to get in with with the new king as well as the old one. However, they ought to have known better. They were poor seers and incompetent advisors, because they had not foreseen the reception they would get from old Herod, the king. For Herod, there could be no other king. His grasp on royal power was so iron-fisted that he slaughtered his own flesh and blood whenever he suspected his children of coveting his royal throne. Herod literally had no succession plan.
The Magi were hardly the “wise men” of myth, because they failed to understand the political situation into which they were waltzing. It’s not very wise to speak of another king to one who does not accept any other royal authority, not even in his own family. Foolishly, these Magi were even going to return to Herod as requested. This mistake would’ve cost them their lives. By preceding Herod, they were attracting death to Bethlehem like a corpse attracts flies. They were going to be Herod’s men. They were for the king in Jerusalem. But the true King in Bethlehem was ever for them, as He is for us.
These Magi were hardly “wise men.” They sound more like the old joke about the Supreme Court forbidding nativity scenes in the District of Columbia, because they could find neither a virgin nor three wise men in Washington. The biblical Magi were anything but wise. They were more like the Three Stooges.
So why does the Lord send them this star that leads them to the place where the child was? Magi were representatives of pagan religion as far as the Bible is concerned. They were opponents of the Most High God. These Magi were ignorant of the Messianic promises of the Old Testament. The pet priests of King Herod had to inform them that the new king was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. And despite all our mythology about the three gifts as confessions of divinity, the Magi most likely did not understand that the One to whom they bowed was something more than a potential, and now very much endangered, successor to King Herod.
If they were so incompetent, why does God lead them to be the first Gentiles to look upon the Savior of the world? It is hardly an endorsement for the messianic majesty that such foolish advisers should come to prostrate themselves eastern-style before the newborn King. No earthly king would covet such an honor, not even bloody Herod!
What kind of royal court does this newborn King accept around Him? Poor indeed. He accepts the incompetent, stumbling, pagan Magi. And why? What good could they bring to the situation? What assets could they offer to His royal authority?
The answer is very simple and is tied directly to the kind of King this baby claims to be. He is the God for us. Not we for Him. Like the Magi, we bring nothing to the table. We have no negotiating chips. We offer Him nothing of value.
This is why His name is majestic in all the earth. He humbles Himself to reveal Himself to those who come bringing nothing but their failure. He opens His royal court to those who bring to Him the burden of death. He embraces those who cannot take care of themselves without divine intervention. He seeks and saves those who are lost. A star shall come out of Jacob for those who cannot find their way without the light that He sends. He saves those who were destroyed by the demonic powers by freeing them from their bondage. He saves Gentile Magi like us. He saves us because He is for us.
Our sins are more than just spiritual pitfalls. We are, at heart, Magi, seeking the King in our own way, looking for the King in all the wrong places. Looking in palaces rather than humble shelters. Looking for life where there is only death, and bringing death where there is only the Life. Touting our competence and tooting our own horns.
We are too ignorant even to be embarrassed. We desire to go back and do the bidding of the bloody world, even after the true King has brought us into His majestic presence. Only the warning of the angel will keep us from this: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:4). There is no “getting in good” with the murderous monarchy of the world and having the life that the true King brings. This King, whose name is majestic in all the earth, does not accept any rivals.
He wishes to win us all and all of us. Nothing keeps us from the embrace of His love and compassion. Nothing can separate us from Him. Not Herod. Not all demons. Not all the principalities and powers in heaven and earth. He is King of kings, as no one else ever could be. He gives up the exercise of His royal majesty that He might gather around Himself a court of followers like us. We are no credit to Him. He is all credit to us. He is the God who is for us, not over against us. He is Jesus, born to be King for us.