So Caesar gave the command in order to tax the whole world (Lk. 2:1). The star gave the command that magi from the east would voluntarily come, bearing gifts (Mt. 2:11). Augustus won his throne through a great deal of killing at the battle of Actium. The Lord Jesus won His throne at the battle of Golgotha, where He conquered and crushed the devil by dying, and not by killing. The star in the east, the one the wise men followed, was a star that declared a coming kingdom, a kingdom that would never end. This is the kingdom of the true king, before whom the most magnificent kings in the history of the world were but flickering types and shadows.
Note the contrasts. Taxes are coerced from the populace, for kings are afraid that if they weren’t mandatory, then no one would pay them. But the first tribute that came to Jesus was tribute borne by traveling aristocratic foreigners, who were under absolutely no obligation to bring their gifts—other than the internal obligation that God had given them. The difference between these two forms of taxation can also be seen in how these rulers undertake their rule. Augustus insisted that taxes be paid to him. Christ came down to insist that the fundamental payment be made by Him. And because He humbled Himself freely, God saw to it that tribute flowed to Him freely and without coercion.
The star of Bethlehem is therefore the regal emblem of a scepter, a scepter of never-ending glory. That glory is the glory of free grace, which means that we are ruled in liberty. We give in the same way that the wise men did, out of sheer gratitude.
Mickey Goodman writes a fascinating piece:
When a college freshman received a C- on her first test, she literally had a meltdown in class. Sobbing, she texted her mother who called back, demanding to talk to the professorimmediately (he, of course, declined). Another mother accompanied her child on a job interview, then wondered why he didn’t get the job.
A major employer reported that during a job interview, a potential employee told him that she would have his job within 18 months. It didn’t even cross her mind that he had worked 20 years to achieve his goal.
All of us know the feeling of kicking yourself for missing something. Sometimes it’s as simple as going to sleep before the 4th quarter of a football game; other times it’s that you make the conscious choice to one place instead of another – maybe it’s staying at the office instead of being at the ball game or the dance recital – and then knowing immediately that you missed something big. Something important. Of second guessing yourself, over and over again, knowing that you could have made different scheduling choices to be where you ought to have been but you didn’t.
Today you can get Defending Your Faith teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio & video download) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:
- Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt (hardcover)
- Blood Work by Anthony Carter (ePub + MOBI)
- Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson (ePub)
$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.
As Flannery O’Connor put it, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” But a falsehood, as Chesterton notes, is engineered precisely so that the listeners would in fact be able to stomach it. Stomachability is a design feature when it comes to a lie. Who would invent lies that nobody is going to want to believe?
We are not obliged to give famous Christians blind loyalty. We can read their books and enjoy their preaching, and maybe we’ll get weak-kneed if one of them tweets at us. But we don’t owe them anything other than the exhortation Christ gave us to love our neighbours as ourselves. We owe them kindness and consideration, and treatment fitting a brother or sister in the Lord. But we don’t have to follow them, constantly applaud them, or in contrast, constantly castigate them when they do the unthinkable and act like humans. And yes, we should expect them to act with integrity in their dealings, and no, we should not make excuses for them when they do not.
In our celebration of Christmas, we are telling the story of world history. Just as the Fourth of July tells the story of independence from Britain, so Christmas tells the story of our successful war for independence from the devil. Christmas, and all the symbols of it (whether trees, carols, or Handel’s Messiah), are markers, monuments built from stone. They are an Ebenezer—thus far the Lord has helped us.
And practice. We order our lives around the life and accomplishments of Jesus. We do this, not so that we might live like pagans in between our holidays, but rather so that these holidays will mark and bound our lives, lives that are lived in the light of the conquering gospel.
And since we believe that the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, by this celebration we are not only living out our own worldview, we are declaring to unbelievers what the worldview of the entire earth will someday be.