By Dr. Tim Shaver, HopeNet Board of Directors
It has been my tradition for the past several years to send out a Christmas message based on reflections on what God has been teaching me recently. This is frequently inspired by my involvement in teaching my 5th grade Sunday School class, where I think I learn more than the kids do. I realize as I send this that not everyone may be on the same page with me spiritually, so as usual I give this disclaimer and simply ask that you receive this in the spirit in which it is intended, which is to hopefully serve as a blessing to you.
This year, as I read through a familiar passage in Matthew 2 concerning the visit of the Magi (often called “wise men”), one word jumped out at me. That word was “disturbed.” As the Magi traveled from the east, likely from the land of Persia (modern day Iran), they approached King Herod to ask where this King whose star they visualized in the east was to be born. Matthew 2:3 indicates “When King Herod heard this we was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” We can readily understand why Herod would be disturbed, as he would have perceived any new King to be a threat to him and his position of power. In fact, he was not above killing members of his own family he viewed to be his rivals, kind of like a Kim Jung Un of Palestine. But why was all Jerusalem disturbed along with him? Wasn’t this the fulfillment of hundreds of years of prophecy about a Messiah? Shouldn’t they been have been excited and hopeful instead of “disturbed?”
I’ve seen several explanations offered. One was that those in Jerusalem, knowing the lengths Herod would go to in order to keep his throne secure, may have anticipated that there could be dire consequences for them, as indeed was the case (see Matthew 2:16-18). It could have been that they were alarmed at the big entourage of Magi who had arrived in their city. After all, it was likely NOT just three men that came, as is the tradition, but these men were known to travel in large caravans, and given Israel’s history with Persia, this may have been cause for concern. Reflecting on this further, however, I believe it goes deeper than this.
When I encounter a word in scripture that jumps out at me, I often find it useful to look at that word in the original language. The word rendered “disturbed” or “troubled” in various translations was the Greek word “tarasso,” meaning “fearful and perplexed.” It was the same word used in Matthew 14:26 when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, thinking He was a ghost.
Putting all of this together, I believe that the main reason all of Jerusalem was “disturbed” over hearing of the arrival of the Messiah was that He represented change, and change can be disturbing, even if that change is eventually a good thing. It’s like driving over a rough highway for several miles and then suddenly transitioning to a smooth road that has been repaired. It’s much better, but for a moment it can be unsettling. That’s what Jesus does to our lives. He disturbs us from our comfortable existence. He compels us to love people we don’t want to love, to expend our resources on those less fortunate than us rather than on our own selfish desires, to go out of our way to seek His will and potentially leaving the familiar to venture into the unfamiliar. This Christmas, I’ve received innumerable solicitations from non-profit organizations requesting donations. With finite resources, I obviously cannot respond to all of them, but Christ has disturbed me into at least giving to some of them rather than hoarding all of my resources to myself.
In many ways, the Magi were also disturbed. They likely had cushy lifestyles in their native country, but understanding both the prophetic writings about the Messiah (possibly imparted when Daniel spent time in Persian) and the signs in the sky, they were willing to leave in order to go and worship this Child. They were also willing to expend considerable resources with the gifts they brought Him.
How will Christ disturb you this Christmas season, and how will you respond? Will it be with outrage and retaliation as Herod did? Will it be with fear and reticence like Jerusalem did? Or will it be with joy, anticipation, and worship as the Magi did? This season, I want to wish all of you a very Merry and disturbing Christmas – and I mean that in a good way!