Tuesday, 10 December 2013


It is often wrongly assumed that conflict is aroused when someone says or does something that irritates another. Either he is abrupt or otherwise nasty, or he behaves in a particularly unacceptable manner. In each case, the other person is offended, and conflict is provoked. This is not true in principle, however. In practice, it often is the case, given the fallenness of human nature. Yet, care must be taken when applying this principle to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When the accounts of the incarnation of Jesus Christ are examined in Matthew, Luke and John, a recurring trend may be discerned. At the time of His birth in Bethlehem of Judea, a tremendous uproar was created in neighbouring Jerusalem when King Herod heard of the arrival of a new "King". The royal Baby had just been born, had neither said nor done anything, yet His very presence in the nation caused intense opposition against Him. Herod knew that a new King being born in his jurisdiction heralded the end of his own sinful reign over the Jews. This amounted to nothing less than a massive threat to his throne and to his personal sovereignty. His security had now been undermined and his position of leadership on the verge of toppling. The king's wicked lifestyle was challenged by the arrival this Child's presence in Bethlehem. And what made matters worse was the fact that King Herod had not even known of the birth, nor that such a birth was to have taken place! The very secrecy of the birth of God's Son threw him into mental turmoil and anguish. What was happening? Matthew makes it abundantly clear that Herod's nerves were seriously frayed,(2:13).

But not only was Herod, and no doubt his political advisers, greatly alarmed at the news of the Saviour's birth, so also was all Jerusalem,(v.3). The entire city was thrown into turmoil at the news. The inhabitants of Jerusalem was in the main Jewish, and of all people they ought to have rejoiced at the word of the Messiah's birth. But they did not! They too were disturbed, very upset, troubled. The verb, ϵταραχθη, is aorist, and is in the passive voice, indicating that this was something that had happened to them. The root verb, ταρασσω, is a Homeric term, means that "to shake something out of inertia and throw it into confusion, i.e, to disturb, to upset, to confound, to agitate.[1] The Old Testament (LXX) on the whole uses this word in the usual Greek sense. The word is used in the New Testament of troubling the waters, (Jn.5:4,7), and in the passive sense, is always used negatively, connoting emotional disturbance: to become terrified, afraid, overawed. The Synoptics use the infinitive, ταρασσομαι, only five times, always with this meaning, and that two of the five are found in the nativity narratives, (Mt.2:3; 14:26; Mk.6:50; Lk.1:12; 24:38).In every case the reference is to an emotional shock which is brought about not by human action, but by the action of God. This is important, because the birth of the Messiah was nothing if not divine action, divine intervention. Herod's heart, and the heart's of the people of Jerusalem experienced the reality of internal commotion when God became flesh in the Person of His Son. And when a person is churned up inside, there arises a bitterness that issues in the desire for revenge, leading in turn in the lust for murder; thus conflict is born.

In Herod's case, the conflict came about because his own sinfulness was being exposed by the presence of God's holy Son. His was primarily an inner conflict. He was not at peace with himself, therefore he could not be at peace with others, especially rivals. The absence of inner peace and the disunity of heart that he experienced are explicable only in terms of his being a rebel against Almighty God. His own personal history, coupled as it necessarily was with that of his forebears, did not make for pleasant thinking. His guilt stared him in the face. Sin was alive and well in Herod's life.

Here we can draw the conclusion that our Lord did not have to say or do anything to have a far–reaching effect upon those around him. His presence alone stirred up conflict. He was different to those around him, and this difference exerted its own influence upon their thinking. His presence in Bethlehem was a mighty challenge to all who lived there, and to everything they did. Most of all, perhaps, it launched the greatest challenge to the religion which they had embraced, or had not embraced as the case may be. The Jewish religion spoke of the coming of the Messiah, God's Anointed One, to Bethlehem in Judea. That entire religious system was a pointer to its fulfilment in the Person of the promised Messiah. Consequently, the Jews ought to have been awaiting the Messiah, and to have expected His arrival amongst them at any time. But alas, they themselves did not know the time of His appearing, nor receive Him when He did in fact come, Jn.1:11,12. He was rejected by His own people. And where there is rejection of God's Son and Gospel, there necessarily will be conflict.

[1]   NIDNTT, Ed. Colin Brown, Exeter, 1978, Vol.3, p.709. The noun, ταραχος, connotes agitation, confusion, tumult.