A Light to the Nations

A Light to the Nations by GLENN PACKIAM for Christianity Today

Read Matthew 2:1–12.

Who is the Good News for? When we get deals and offers in the mail, they sometimes call their sale or promotion a “friends and family” special. Some things are too good to keep to yourself, but they’re also too radical to open up to everyone. This marketing approach highlights how we’re conditioned to think that if something is exclusive—if we somehow have insider status—it’s valuable. And conversely, if it’s universal, it’s not.

That’s what makes the birth of Jesus so shockingly revolutionary. It is the best news the world could receive: God had come to save his people! But this salvation was not just for the people with whom God had made a covenant. It was for everyone—all people, in all places, at all times.

We see an early glimpse of this in Matthew 2 and the contrast it draws between King Herod and the true Messiah, King Jesus. Herod infamously rose to power through political opportunism and brutality. When word was going around that a new king of the Jews was born in Bethlehem, Herod would do everything in his power—including killing innocent babies (vv. 13–18)—to protect the power he had schemed to gain.

But where Herod’s story is about a rise to power, Jesus’ is about a descent from power. There in the manger was the one who “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,” who “emptied himself” for us (Phil. 2:6–7, NRSV). Where Herod lied and murdered to keep people away, Jesus in his infancy and early life was already drawing people near.

And not just some people, or even just God’s covenant people. Matthew tells us about Magi—astrologers or philosophers or men of wisdom—who came from afar, bearing gifts for this child. The worship these non-Jewish visitors offered Israel’s Messiah as they bowed down before him signals the expansive scope of God’s promise. The Christ child would be “a light for the Gentiles” so that God’s “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 42:6; 49:6). In this scene from Jesus’ early childhood, we see the global reach of the gospel: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isa. 60:3).

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