Pointless is a television programme beloved by an average of 3.6 million viewers who tune in every day. I’m not sure if it is the less intellectual, or more intellectual, BBC answer to Countdown, or just something completely different.
I’m not going to waste any more of your time discussing the merits of television programmes. However, as I was about to preach the Sunday sermon, I had this thought that I have since refined a bit.
If a Pointless question was to name all the characters in the nativity stories, would one character or one set of characters have a zero score? Undoubtedly, Jesus, Mary and Joseph would score very highly. Shepherds would be right up there too. No-one could forget the kings from the East. Angels? Probably. The innkeeper might get a mention. And it is hard to believe that Herod could be overlooked.
One group that, sadly, might return a pointless score are the chief priests and teachers of the law.
I say sadly, because with all the knowledge they had they should have been right in the thick of things. They should have been the first to the manger in Bethlehem. They had more inside knowledge than anyone else, with the exception of Joseph and Mary. They didn’t have angelic visitations, like the shepherds, or stars in the sky like the wise men. They had the scriptures. And it is clear from Matthew 2 that they understood how to interpret the Messianic prophecies.
How come they missed out?
We are not told. Three possible reasons suggest themselves.
Firstly, it is possible that they had given in to a climate of fear.
Verse 3 of Matthew 2 says that Herod was disturbed and all of Jerusalem with him when he heard from the Magi that a king had been born. Everyone was afraid, because they knew how Herod would react to any potential threat to his throne: with unrestrained violence. Verses 16-18 of the same chapter prove that they had a right to be fearful.
When we give in to fear, there is a real possibility that we miss out on what God is doing.
Push against fear! Don’t let it pin you down and hem you in.
Secondly, there is a real possibility that not only the religious leaders of the nation but the nation as a whole had experienced a collapse of hope.
These religious leaders lived through an era that ancient historians describe as the fourth major crisis of the Jewish people. That period saw the land of Israel occupied by the Romans, with Herod reigning as a kind of puppet king.
The prophets had prophesied that Messiah would come. That God would restore His people and bring His kingdom. Instead, the nation had experienced a series of crises ever since the return from Babylon. And Roman occupation was just the latest.
It is easier to believe that hope had been seriously damaged than to believe that it stilled fuelled the religious life of the people or their religious leaders.
When we lose hope, or when hope becomes damaged, it can breed a cautious approach to God. It can dampen expectation. Don’t let your hope collapse!
Finally, it’s very possible that the religious leaders had become just too comfortable.
They had status. They had the temple. They had the synagogue. They had carved out an important and influential corner in the life of Israel. Why did they need to leave the capital to go and check out some spiritual speculation that these gentile magi were promoting?
Sometimes we miss out on what God is doing because we don’t want to leave the comfort of the safe religious world we have designed for ourselves.
The chief priests and teachers of the law did not have to travel to the ends of the earth to be part of what God was doing; it was happening just six miles down the road. And neither do you have to travel to the ends of the earth to be part of what God is doing, because He is working all around you and wants to work through you.
It’s sad that people who knew so much missed out on so much. And it would be sadder still if we didn’t learn from their experience.