“They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
What does it look like to live like the Scriptures are true? In the church today there is much talk about the authority and reliability of the Bible. That’s been the case for much of the last century. There is a whole industry of folks who are committed to defending the Bible as absolutely true. That’s not necessarily a bad thing by any means, but defending the truthfulness of the Scriptures and living our lives as if they really were true are two different things.
In first century Judea, there were no groups like the Scribes and Pharisees who had committed their lives to the notion that the Scriptures were true. Their whole identities were wrapped up in understanding, preserving, and, most of all, obeying them.
One of the other ideas that was powerfully potent then was the hope for God’s Messiah. Everyone—including these guys—were anxiously watching and waiting for Him to come so He could overthrow Rome and bring them back to the glory days of His ancestor David.
Generally speaking, the hopes for the Messiah were shaped by the Scriptures. Certainly they had grown from there a bit, but the basic ideas were rooted there. Now, they didn’t see the passages about the Messiah in quite the same way we do as our views are shaped by the New Testament authors and the fact that He has already come, but they were generally Scriptural all the same. From this interaction between King Herod and the Jewish religious leaders we know that they even knew where He was going to be born. If they knew that, though, why wasn’t there any effort to do anything about it?
What I mean is this: If the religious leaders knew the Messiah was going to be born in Bethlehem and they both really believed He was coming and wanted Him to come, why wasn’t there a whole priestly industry committed to tracking down and interviewing every woman they could find who had ever given birth in Bethlehem along with a group assigned to have a conversation with every pregnant woman who came through the city’s gates? Wouldn’t that make sense?
Better yet, why do we not have any record of them responding to Herod’s unusual inquiry by sending a group to Bethlehem to check out what was going on before He could do anything about it? Now, something like that could certainly have been lost to history, or maybe they did, missed Mary somehow, and the effort was lost, but if Matthew had gotten the insider knowledge about this secret conversation between Herod and the religious leaders, certainly he would have also heard if they had done anything like this about it.
It seems that although they understood what the Scriptures meant, they weren’t really all that committed to doing anything meaningful about some of them. Or perhaps this: They had so bought into a certain idea about the Messiah’s coming, that they didn’t really believe all the things the Scriptures said about Him. Maybe they didn’t really believe He was going to be born in Bethlehem but told Herod about this prophecy in order to send him on a wild goose chase. Either way, they don’t seem to have really taken this particular passage as seriously as they could have.
So again, what does it look like to take the Scriptures seriously? Believing them to be true is one thing, but if we don’t follow through and live like they are true, what good does that do for us? Living like the Scriptures are true means adjusting our lives in light of them. It means obeying them. It means changing what we do based on what they say. If we’re not going to do that, why bother with them? The religious leaders of the Jews missed Jesus because they didn’t really take the Scriptures as seriously as they should have. Let’s not make the same mistake.