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Matthew 2:3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

The magi saw a star, then traveled to Jerusalem and started asking around if people know where the king of the Jews had been born. Eventually a king named Herod hears the news. And Herod was troubled.

We should stop right here and highlight the fact that the Bible isn’t fantasy or science-fiction. It’s history. Matthew isn’t talking about Gotham, Tatooine, or the Shire. He’s talking about real places, like Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Places you could visit now if you wanted. And he’s not talking about Bruce Wayne or Luke Skywalker or Frodo Baggins. These are real people, like King Herod.

The Herod in Matthew 2 is the first of several kings in the Bible named Herod. He is often referred to as Herod the Great, the name given to him by an ancient historian named Josephus. We know much about Herod the Great from historical records and archaeological excavations.

We know he was a great builder. He built theaters, aqueducts, racetracks, entertainment venues, an incredible fortress called Masada. But none of those were his greatest achievement. In Matthew 24, a few days before Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples made a comment to Jesus about how beautiful the temple is. That temple was built by none other than Herod the Great.

But Herod the Great was also paranoid and ruthless. We know from historical records that he changed his will six different times based on who he felt he could trust at the moment. He had his wife’s brother killed, then his wife, then his mother-in-law, then three of his own sons. Shortly before his death, he arrested some of the most prominent citizens in Jerusalem and ordered they be executed the moment he died. Why? He wanted people to weep, not celebrate, on the day of his death.

No wonder Herod is troubled. He’s a jealous, paranoid, power-hungry king who’s just learned that a king of the Jews was just born. No wonder the people in Jerusalem are troubled. When Herod is troubled, nobody is safe.

So what’s Herod going to do? Matthew 2:4 continues, and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. Herod wasn’t a Jew, but he knew enough to know the Jews were looking forward to a coming Messiah King. So he gathers all the rabbis and scholars and asks them where the Messiah would be born.

Matthew 2:5-6 continues, They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

They’re loosely quoting Micah 5:2 which says, But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

Now there’s potentially two problems with these Bible teachers in Jerusalem. First, notice what they don’t say. They leave out the final part of the verse, which indicates that the Messiah exists even before He comes from Bethlehem. The Messiah would be God in human flesh. Sometimes what’s most dangerous is not what a Bible teacher says, but what is left unsaid.

But the greater problem with these Bible teachers is what they don’t do. Herod asks them a Bible trivia question, they give the right answer, but they don’t do anything about it. They don’t go to Bethlehem! By the way, Bethlehem was only six miles away from Jerusalem. That’s roughly the same distance as Langley Air Force Base is from the gathering place of Poquoson Baptist Church.

One Bible teacher put it this way: “The Magi knew so little, came so far, and gave so much. The teachers of the law knew so much, were so near, and did so little.” [1]

From Herod and the religious teachers in Jerusalem we observe two sinful approaches to God’s Word. Herod adopts a “me-centered” approach. Herod cares what Scripture says only if it helps him hold onto his power. How often do we do the same thing? How often do we love Jesus only for what He can give us? How often do professing Christians walk away from faith because life gets hard?

On the other hand, the religious leaders adopt a “tadpole approach” to God’s Word. Like a tadpole, these leaders are all head and little else. They know the Bible without knowing the God of the Bible. They see without seeing, hear without hearing and search without finding. How often do we do the same thing? How often do we study God’s Word for its own sake, not for the sake of knowing and loving Jesus?

In one sentence, Jesus condemns both errors. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me” (John 5:39). Scripture is not about you! It’s about Jesus and His glory! Knowing the Scriptures isn’t enough if you don’t know the God of the Scriptures.

So what should we do? We should follow the example of the magi. Matthew 2:7-8 says, Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

The magi hear God’s Word from an unlikely source, from Herod himself. But there response to it is far different from both Herod and the religious leaders. They truly believed God’s Word. They weren’t listening for what they could get. They’re not in this to get but to give. They weren’t listening for the sake of knowledge alone. They didn’t say “OK, cool, he’s in Bethlehem!” then return to where they came from. They kept going.

What about you? Are you hearing God’s Word so you can benefit yourself? Or are you truly seeking to find Jesus there? Are you learning God’s Word like an academic textbook, or are you truly seeking to follow Jesus?