Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” …And Herod 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.”
(Matthew 2:1-2, 8)
Herod, who lived at the heart of David’s city where the temple of God was always in full view, sought the newborn king. But not so that he could worship him, like he said. No, it was the Magi who were from far away, from the east, away form Jerusalem who came to worship him in truth. Herod wanted Jesus dead because he was a rival power.
We see this theme often in the New Testament. Those who should be closest to God are often furthest from him; and it is those who look the furthest from him who are nearest the kingdom.
The reason is often that those who look like they are far from God—the Gentiles, the beggars, the sinners—are often more aware of their failures than are those at the top. The successful ones look like good people by comparison. They’re not so bad. They’ve got their lives together. Of course, it’s not true. It just looks like it on the outside. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day—the Pharisees and scribes—their behavior was upstanding and moral. But their hearts were hard. They had no compassion or love for anyone but themselves. They did not reflect the character of God. Jesus called them white-washed tombs—beautiful on the outside, but full of death and uncleanness on the inside.
But they couldn’t see what was in their hearts. They were so successful and so moral compared to all the other people, who could have anything to accuse them of? That’s why when Jesus called on them to repent and chided them, they were shocked. They didn’t know what to make of him. And that’s also why the sinners and tax-collectors flocked to him. You see, because they knew that they were sinners, they were ready to receive his gracious word.
It’s easy for those who go to church on the regular and read our Bibles regularly (especially ministers!) to compare themselves to other people, and think, “I’m not doing so bad.” But that’s is proof that sin crouches at the door ready to destroy you. We are all alike sinners in need of God’s grace. But only those who stay in touch with the reality of our sin are prepared to receive anew his grace, his forgiveness.
We must beware when we find ourselves looking around and comparing our godliness to others. We will not be judged by how we compare to others, but by how we compare to God’s law. And in the light of his law, we are all sinners. Only that reality will keep us looking to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Only then can we worship him in spirit and in truth.
Father, forgive me when I look at others and feel good about myself. My pride does not honor you. Humble me, Lord, and teach me to live on the grace that you provide. Help me to find rediscover the joy of my salvation.