I’ve never had anyone intentionally try to kill me.
But I had a close brush with death years ago on Easter Sunday. Our family was driving along Hwy 287 in Colorado when a driver on a meth-induced joyride swerved into oncoming traffic. His speeding van forced us into a ditch at 55 mph. We narrowly avoided a sign that would have crumpled the front of our old Toyota Sienna and stopped on a long dirt driveway, terrified and panting with adrenaline, but otherwise OK.
A police officer, who witnessed our close call, tried to calm us down saying, “I thought you were done for.” It’s possible he missed the training on victim empathy.
“Meth Guy” was caught and arrested but not for anything premeditative.
And Then There’s Jesus
While my brush with death was more foolishness than malice, I count five times others intentionally tried to kill Jesus, with the fifth being successful.
Apparently, Jesus was attractive to would-be assassins.
But why would this compassionate, good, ethical teacher; revered all over the world by Christians and non-Christians alike, be hated by many in His own day?
From the beginning, the Scriptures show Jesus became the most hunted child in history (or maybe a close second to Baby Yoda).
Herod the “Great”
Herod, the local Roman puppet ruler, tried to end Jesus’s life just as it was beginning. While Jesus was learning to walk and say, “Mama,” Herod took the first crack at eliminating Him. Herod’s attempted manipulation of the wise men to find Jesus proved unsuccessful.
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.
Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
- Matthew 2:16-18, New Living Translation
It’s a Christmas story that does not inspire joy, but sometimes harsh realities reveal the most important truths.
Herod Started a Trend
Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus was the first, but not the last.
Almost immediately after Jesus began to speak publicly, people opposed him:
· The people in Jesus’s own hometown try to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30).
· Jesus uses the ancient name of God for Himself and the people pick up stones to kill Him (John 8:57-59).
· Jesus claims “I am the Father are one.” Once again they try to arrest and stone Him (John 10:30).
· Judas, perhaps disappointed by Jesus’s lack of military aspiration, betrays him (Matthew 26:14-16).
Why Does This Matter?
Jesus is not merely history’s most compassionate and loving person. He is its most controversial.
Mary and Joseph’s baby grew up to make some pretty radical claims:
I am the resurrection and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
Whoever comes to me will never by hungry again.
Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
I am the way the truth and the life.
For those who reduce Jesus to a “good, ethical teacher,” would you hire someone making these claims to teach ethics at a local university? If so, I want my tuition money back.
This Christmas, don’t settle for “Nice Teacher Jesus.”
He didn’t give us that option and it, intellectually, doesn’t make sense given His claim to be God. “Nice teachers don’t claim to be God,” is a good rule-of-thumb to remember.
Jesus wanted His audience to completely embrace or reject, not only his teaching, but his identity as well (and still does). He never encouraged a “soft middle road.” Quite the contrary. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Jesus’s radical claim to be God on earth is why people lined up to get rid of Him. And the all important question of His identity is still supremely relevant today.
Have you truly worked through Jesus’s most important question?
Who do you say I am?
Ironically, the very thing that led to his death, is the key to embracing true life.
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