George Washington had several rivals jockeying for his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Horatio Gates and Charles Lee, in particular, were two generals that worked to undermine Washington’s reputation and authority throughout the war.
The mind is a malleable thing, sensitive to outside influences. Waitzkin, in The Art of Learning, talks about how a Soviet player unknowingly interrupted his natural rhythm of thought by tapping a chess piece against the table. The sound was barely audible, yet it caused him to make careless errors at critical moments.
Only when the tactic was explained to him was he able to notice it and counteract it.
Our minds are not immune to outside influences, especially if they are subtle and we aren’t paying much attention. Just what are we putting into our mind? Are we being intentional about it? Are we paying careful attention to what we read and watch and allow to enter our ears? Even a whisper has the potential to alter our behavior.
To be careless in this seems dangerous. In this, we should train to be as wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).
Matthew cites a profound reason as to why the crowds glorified God in Matthew 9:8. After Jesus tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven, he proves it by healing the man. The text then says in verse 8:
But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
The overarching story of the Bible has many themes, structures, and beats, and one of them about God gradually entrusting man with more and more authority and responsibility. Man is initially given dominion over the whole earth and the things therein. After the flood, man gets authority to judge capital crimes, representing authority over his fellow man (Gen. 9:5-7). With post-Exodus Israel, we see men given the responsibility to guard and serve God’s throne-room sanctuary. With Solomon, we see a man given the ability to discern between good and evil, granting as a gift what Adam had prematurely seized in the garden (1 Kings 3:9).
With Jesus, we see this theme reach its climax. It is a big deal that a man has the authority to forgive sins. The Son of Man, our brother, has been invested with this authority. And it is also the climax of this particular section of Matthew. The end of chapter 7 until 9:8 is all about authority.
The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one having authority. (7:29)
The centurion says that he too is a man under authority, comparing himself to Jesus, and that servants and soldiers under him “go” and “come” according to his command. (8:5-9)
Then we get the scene that seems like the climax, the height of Jesus’ authority, when he calms the storm. The disciples marvel at “what kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (8:27) What could be greater than this? Our jaws drop along with the disciples.
But that is not the end nor the pinnacle of this section, as we soon learn. The only place where people glorify God is after Jesus says he has the authority to forgive sins. That is when he is at his most powerful. Cleaning the slate, reconciling people to a holy, righteous God.
And that power is invested in a man.
Yet another thing to add to the wonder of the Incarnation.
Matthew 1:17, after the end of the genealogy, tells us the organization of the preceding text.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
But there are some other interesting textual links. Matthew 1:2 mentions Jacob “the father of Judah and his brothers.” The next time we see a similar phrase, it is in verse 11, where it says “Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers…” The latter specifically says that it was the “time of the deportation to Babylon.” Exile.
And what also happened to Judah and his brothers? They went down to Egypt. It was to escape a famine, but it was still a movement away from the promised land. Exile.
The genealogy concludes with another Jacob, “the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born…” Jesus himself will go into a form of exile. To Egypt first, but then to the grave. But his exile will be the one to end all other exiles.
The ending of the first fourteen generations is also linked thematically, of course, because David undergoes his own exile before he is crowned king. It’s a cycle that repeats…until it doesn’t.
Christmas and infanticide are forever related and linked.
That may sound strange. Christmas is supposed to be a happy occasion. Food, family, and presents are the order of the day. And thoughts about baby Jesus, of course.
The tame, mild baby Jesus who was born in a manger, surrounded by cute, cuddly animals (all who could be at a modern day petting zoo, of course), doted on by his parents, and visited by some dumbfounded shepherds.
This view helps us maintain the sentimentality of the season. Fuzzy feelings and sugar plum thoughts.
But let’s not forget the rest of the story.
The wise men came bearing gifts for a king, intending to give homage. But the ruler of the land, Herod, a bloodthirsty tyrant, became jealous for his own power. He was troubled. And he was right to be troubled.
For make no mistake, the story of Christmas is the story of the first gambit in the last battle of a long war. It is the rightful king coming to take up his throne. The prince who would raise up the lowly, and throw down the prideful. Prideful people just like Herod.
And so Herod had every child under the age of two years old slaughtered. Mass murder. Infanticide. Mothers weeping as their children were stolen from their arms.This is as much a part of the Christmas story as the angels singing “Peace on earth,” but we don’t sing many carols about Rachel weeping for her children.
In a nation like ours that routinely murders its own children as a matter of convenience, it is a part of the story that we can never forget. Bundled up in the Christmas story is a clear picture of why Christmas had to happen in the first place. The world is dark. The world is sinful. The world is begging for light.
When the Bible says Herod was troubled, it also says that all of Jerusalem was troubled with him (Matthew 2:3). Their salvation from tyrants, like Herod, had been born, and yet they sided with the tyrant. They empathized with the man who would kill their children not long after.
It is no different today. Our own Herods nod approvingly as they allow the slaughter of millions of innocents, in numbers that might have made the original Herod blush. And we nod right along with them. We have our excuses. Some of them even sound reasonable, on the surface. But that is par for the course with sin. It always sounds reasonable, right up to the point where it demands your very life, or the life of someone you love.
We think we are an enlightened people. Because science…or something. But we are no better than Herod and his ilk. Perhaps, we are even worse.
Christmas is a time for celebration. So celebrate. But know what you are celebrating: the hope of a final victory of over darkness. A darkness that casually calls for the slaughter of children on a whim. A darkness that still calls for the slaughter of children.
This is the very darkness that Christ stepped down into, so that it would flee like a swarm of cockroaches.
Merry Christmas. And may the light continue to scatter the darkness.