I’ve always been interested in the Kings and Queens of England.
Growing up in England, I had a genealogy on the wall of my room that followed the succession of the throne of England from Alfred of Wessex to Queen Elizabeth II.
You probably don’t know much about the Kings of England–and possibly you don’t particularly care–but one of the interesting things about the line of monarchs is that they rarely go straight.
Actually, that’s true for all of us.
All of our family trees have strange twists and turns in them. It’s part of what makes the holidays so special, right?
Well, these twists and turns come to have really big significance when you’re talking about who gets to rule a nation or an empire.
And the twists and turns that take place in the line of kings and queens often come about for a couple of reasons. The first is that a king fails to have, in the old days, it was a son.
Well, if the king doesn’t have a son then he has no one to inherit the throne and the throne will move to the next branch of the family. Maybe the king’s brother or sister has a son and he can ascend to the throne.
The second reason is if the king has too many sons. Perhaps he doesn’t have a son with his wife, but he has a bunch of other sons with other women. It happened all the time.
These illegitimate children were sent off to monasteries to get them out of the way, btw. That way they couldn’t interfere with the family’s plan for who’d be the next monarch.
Well, if you have several children of the king with varying women and no legitimate child then these other children can make a claim to the throne. And, in some respects, the biggest thing a claimant to the throne needed was popular support.
It gets even more fun when you consider that somewhere like the United Kingdom is actually three nations–two kingdoms, England and Scotland, and a principality, Wales–under a single monarch, today, but centuries ago there were separate holders of the thrones.
Charles Edward Stuart–also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie–claimed the thrones of England and Scotland.
He’s also known as “the young pretender.” He was a pretender because even though he had a claim to the throne, others had a stronger claim.
And across the history of nations there are individuals who have claimed the throne who have had questionable right to it.
They’re called “pretenders” or “usurpers” because they’re pretending to be something they aren’t in reality or they’re attempting to stop the legitimate monarch from sitting on the throne.
The story of the Magi is a story of a true king and a pretender.
Herod the Pretender
The first main character we meet is a Herod. Herod was a false king. He was a usurper, a pretender.
Herod was a ruler that the Roman Empire allowed to be King because he was committed to looking after their interests and playing by their rules.
He was from southern Israel near what is modern day Jordan and Egypt. There’s some disagreement on whether Herod practiced the Jewish faith. Some say he did; others claim it was just a fabrication for the benefit of the Judeans.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod was old and wiley. You know the sort. The sort of political player who, at 70 years of age, knew all the best ways to get rid of enemies and competitors.
He’d spent his life gathering power from the Romans and extracting wealth from the Jews. He had no intention of being compromised by the birth of a Messiah, a real “King of the Jews.”
You see, the Jews themselves *hated* Herod. They knew he was not their king and that had clawed his way onto the throne by power and by violence. And he planned on staying there till the very end.
Sometimes people on the “outside” of a situation can see things more clearly than those close to the situation. That’s part of the reason why you called me as your transitional pastor. I can see things that you yourselves cannot see because you’re so close and invested in the life and ministry of this fine church.
The Jews had been expecting a Messiah for ages. Given that God’s deliverance of Israel in the past had included parting the Red Sea, sending plagues upon Egypt, sending food from heaven, and guiding them by means of a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day, you really can’t blame the Jews for being caught off guard by the birth of a child in Bethlehem.
And yet, the Magi–these strange figures who travel from afar to greet the new-born king–seemed to be completely aware of something that the jews themselves were confused about.
Jesus is often confusing. God’s ways are often perplexing. And its largely because of our own lack of attention or our own wrong assumptions that we miss how He is working.
What little we know of the Magi, tells us that they were priests from the ancient Kingdom of Persia, modern day Iran. They read the sky–that is, the stars–and learned from them that there was a new King of the Jews.
In what might be called by some a slightly indelicate move, it appears these Persian priests show up at Herod’s door and ask for this replacement. Well, that’s awkward.
You don’t have to be a historical scholar to realize how Herod received the news. He checks with his advisors and they tell him that there is evidence that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.
Not good news for Herod. So, he comes up with a plan.
- When a pretender is on the throne, he won’t part with it without a fight.
- Pretenders always get others to do the dirty work for them.
- When you discover a Herod go as far in the opposite direction as you can.
Jesus the Always King
Jesus is the true King. He sits on the throne and he was born to it. Anyone else who sits on Jesus’ throne is just an imposter and a pretender.
Anyone else on the throne is bad news.
A throne is a seat for one. Only one can sit on it. Throne’s aren’t for sharing.
When we let someone other than Jesus sit on the throne then we commit spiritual treason. We allow a usurper to take our savior’s place and it will not end well.
The Main To Do
- In 2021 let your only resolution be to let Jesus be the only one who sits on the throne of your life.
Why It Matters
- A pretender will always let you down.
- A pretender doesn’t care who gets hurt.
- A pretender will tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear.
- A pretender always is always looking out for number one, and when he or she discovers that you can’t help him get what he wants, he’ll throw you under a bus as quick as can be.