The Need To Be Wise As Snakes

Text: Matthew 2:13-23

In the name of Jesus. Amen.


If you want to understand politics and leadership, there are two simple words that capture it all – power and control. 


Now, obviously, this is the negative side of politics and leadership, for as you know, good leaders go the way of servant-hood and suffering for those whom they lead. But those who let the old Adam have its way? Well, with them, it is pretty easy to spot - power and control. 


Take, for instance, King Herod in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew. When he heard from the Magi that a child had been born – a child that was the king of the Jews – well, King Herod freaked out. He freaked out because if Jesus was the king of the Jews, then that meant a loss of power and control for Herod.  


And so, as you know, King Herod went the way of protecting King Herod. He went the way of protecting his power and control. So, when he visited with the Wise Men from the East, King Herod pretended to be just as pious and devout as they were. King Herod said to the Magi, 


“Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word, and I will join you at once in your worship of this new king of the Jews.”  


Yeah, right – spoken like a crooked politician! King Herod had no interest in laying his power and control down. But instead, he wanted to know exactly where this child was so that he might kill the child.  


Dear friends, later on in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  In other words, we Christians are called to be upright and without bitterness. We are not to be the ones creating chaos in this world through manipulation, deceit, and bloodshed. We are to be as inoffensive and simple as possible, not calling attention to ourselves. We are to be harmless as the doves. However, keep in mind that this does not mean that we Christians should be foolish and naïve. Frankly, too often, we Christians are naïve and obtuse to the problems in the world. 

Sure the 8th Commandment calls us to put the best construction on everyone around us; however, the 8th Commandment does not mean that we are to be dumb as a doorpost - naïve to the dangers and deceit around us. Putting the best construction on someone is simply that – putting the best construction on them. But again, this does not mean that we are to be fools. And so, this is why Jesus calls us Christians to be as cunning as a snake. Keep in mind that snakes are aware of their surrounding. They know when to retreat into their shelters to protect their head from being cut off. They know how to move through the brush with silence. And so, we Christians are called by Jesus to be wise to the realities of life. We are called to be diligently aware of the threats around us. We are to be aware of the old Adam in others.   


The Magi were warned in a dream about Herod’s thirst for power and control – that he was not so pious after all. And so, being wise as snakes, the Magi did not return back home to the east by stopping by to say good-bye to King Herod. They did not report the identity and location of the Christ child to King Herod as they swung by Herod’s palace to pick up warm homemade cookies for their road trip home. No, they left for their own country by another road. 


To the point, everyone knew how King Herod operated. When Jesus was born, not only did Herod freak out, but the people did too, for they knew that Herod was capable of terrible things. They knew that his wrath could pour out on everyone. 


This is why we pray for our leaders and politicians. We know that the road breaks two different ways for those in leadership. Either our leaders go the way of servant-hood and suffering (doing what is right for those they lead), or they go the way of power and control (doing what is best for themselves).  


Since you and I are to be innocent as doves and wise of snakes, we are fully aware that the old Adam often gets the best of those in leadership. We know that the thirst for power and control is so big that the threat of losing power and control can do wicked things in the minds of leaders. For example, when Herod realized that the Magi were wise as snakes and evaded him, he was enraged. Now, Herod was not a little upset, but he was filled with boiling blood so that his wrath exploded everywhere, resulting in him having a bunch of babies slaughtered in Bethlehem.  


You see, this is the danger of being in leadership. Once the appetite for power and control are satisfied, corrupt leaders will go to any length to keep their power and control – even by inflicting death upon others. 


And so, what this all means is that you and I must repent of the many times that we fail to be wise as snakes with respect to those in leadership. This world that we live in is not a pleasant walk on a beach but a vale of tears where mankind is infected with depravity and hatred of the Gospel. We must repent of being foolish and naïve. We are called to put the best construction on our leaders while also honoring them according to the 4th Commandment but not at the expense of failing to be wise as serpents. We must always pay attention, to be cunning as a snake – awake and aware of the times when those in leadership go the way of power and control instead of servant-hood and suffering.  


But we also need to repent of the many times that we too go the way of power and control. You see, the thirst for power and control is not exclusive with leaders, but it is a part of all of us, for we love to build and uphold our little kingdoms. As it goes with Herod, it goes with sinners like you and me.  We love to put ourselves first and subordinate others underneath us. Our sin corrupts us, and we thirst for power, control, greed, and selfishness, thinking that these things supposedly help build our little empires. But in the end, our little empires do not last. We can’t take our little thrones to our graves. And regardless how powerful we are in life, we all end up six-feet-under the ground together. Indeed, it is easy to let our old Adam have its way and for us to try and enhance our thrones and kingdoms by stomping on others to keep power and control. But in the end, when we do this, we not only hurt everyone else around us, but we damn ourselves to the pits of hell.  


Lord, have mercy on you and especially me. 


Dear friends, just think if the Lord had acted this way. That Christmas long ago, “God could have come with terrible power and slain Herod and all like him. But if He [slaughtered] everyone prepared to put themselves first, there would be none of us left. [Therefore, the Lord] came the way of love, which knows that we are not made better by force. . . . Force deals only with the outside of a person. [However,] when God came [He] came to save us from sin. [He came to save us from ourselves. He came to save us from our love for power and control. And as He came to save us,] He used no force but love – love that brought Him to a stinking stable and a cruel cross.”[1]


Dear Baptized Saints, “Jesus did not put Himself first. [He did not seek power and control for Himself.] He was there for us. [He was there for you.] His whole life was such action of love [- servant-hood and sacrifice for you and me]. . . . He lived the life that is expected of us, and He died the death that was coming to us for our sin.”[2]  He did this to be our servant. He did this to be our sacrifice. He did this to give us His kingdom. He did this to strengthen us by His power. He did this to possess us and keep us steadfast in His might.  


May Herod’s spirit of power and control die in us today; may Christ grant us a spirit of sacrifice and servant-hood as we are continually served by Christ in His blessed Word and Sacraments.  


In the name of Jesus. Amen


 [1] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 326-327.

[2] Ibid.

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