What people were saying about Jesus from His birth—before He preached a sermon, performed a miracle, or stepped on the toes of religious or political leaders—was revealing the truth. I’ve already discussed the words of the Magi and King Herod the Great, but all of these men also interact with another group (Matthew 2:1-6). Matthew calls them “all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law.”
This group was commonly called the Sanhedrin. It was an influential body of 70 + 1 leaders (Numbers 11:16), whose influence was felt in the temple in Jerusalem, in the synagogues in small villages, in King Herod’s throne room, and in the palace of the Roman governors.
Notice that Matthew says “chief priests” in the plural. At the time of the birth of Jesus, Caiaphas was high priest and Annas his father-in-law was the former high priest. In the time of the early church, Annas is again called the high priest (Luke 3:2; John 18:13; Acts 4:6)
Even under the Roman government the Sanhedrin held tremendous power…
- they were experts in the Mosaic law and its application (Matthew 22:35)
- Jesus said, “the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses” (Matthew 23:2 NLT)
- Jesus also said they had storehouses of helpful knowledge (Matthew 13:52)
- they decided who would get to use their authority (Mark 11:27-28; 1:22)
- they were keepers of the traditions and became “indignant” when those traditions weren’t followed (Mark 7:5; Matthew 21:15)
- they were exorcists (Mark 9:14-17; Acts 19:13-14)
- Jesus said these leaders would be instrumental in His death (Matthew 16:21)
- they had their own armed guards and prisons (Mark 14:43; Acts 4:1; 5:18)
- yet they were afraid of the opinions of the people (Luke 22:1-2; Mark 11:31-32)
Jesus said they were “the official interpreters of the law,” yet they oftentimes interpreted the law to benefit themselves.
When Herod asks them where the Messiah is to be born, they quote Micah 5:2 as saying, “a Ruler who will be the Shepherd of My people Israel.” But the word they use for “Ruler” means a leader with authority, or a governor (the same word is used for Joseph in Acts 7:10). Remember Herod’s violent temper and his insane suspicion? The word these religious leaders used gave them an “out.” They were almost saying to Herod, “When the Messiah does come, He will be a governor, which means there’s a good chance that He would report to you.” This “tame” interpretation was an attempt to keep them in the good graces of King Herod the Great
But Micah himself uses the word for “Ruler” that means one with absolute dominion. Jesus will be THE Sovereign King.
After hearing that this long awaited Messiah had finally been born in fulfillment of the prophecies, take a look at their response—
- they said .
- they did . (even though Bethlehem was only 6 miles away!)
But I think this is because they believed themselves to be “in” with Jehovah because they so carefully kept the rules. They didn’t need a Messiah to save them because—in their minds—they believed they were already saved from God’s punishment.
Keeping religious rules doesn’t save anyone.
Honoring age-old traditions doesn’t save anyone.
Only coming to Jesus saves anyone!
A key prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 9:2 says that the Messiah will save us from darkness and shadows. What exactly are these?
The writer of Hebrews tells us that the law and rules are merely shadows of the True Substance. God said through Isaiah that relying on the rules keeps us trapped in meaningless religious traditions. But Jesus came as the Light and as the Substance that set us free. His death and resurrection made it possible for our sins to be forgiven (see Hebrews 10:1-7; Isaiah 1:11-14, 18).
Rules don’t take us into God’s presence, but Jesus does. Not just talking about Jesus, but coming to Jesus as our Savior and Lord.
People will talk about Jesus—even you may talk about Him. That doesn’t do anything. But when we do more than talk—when we come to Him to follow Him as our Ruler and Shepherd—then we find forgiveness and freedom.
Let’s not just talk about Jesus, but let’s be actively obedient!
If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Advent series People Will Talk, you can find those messages by clicking here.