Summary: This telling of the birth of Christ is a mixture of narrative and historical facts. My prayer is that it blesses you.
Many of us know the “Christmas Story” oh so well. And no, I’m talking about the one with the “Red rider BB gun”.
That “Christmas Story” is very humorous and it’s a lot of fun to watch.
But there was nothing humorous about what happened in Bethlehem and the neighboring villages as a result of the first Christmas - the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And if video had been available, we would cringe and perhaps even cover our eyes at the blood that was shed because of that first Christmas.
And we see this in Matthew 2.
(1) Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.
(2) Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
The wise men have come to Bethlehem to honor the new born king of the Jews. Many scholars believe they were astrologers from Persia, Babylonia and Arabia. They sought information from Herod the Great, who was king at the time. Herod was a man whose objectives were very simple: to get as much power, glory, and pleasure for himself as was humanly possible and would not hesitate to kill anyone who got in his way.
One of his first actions as king was to order the deaths of 45 members of the Jewish law-making body, the Sanhedrin, allegedly for opposing his appointment to the position by Rome.
He also ruthlessly and systematically exterminated members of his own family, including his wife Marianne, and his two sons Alexander and Aristobulus. Only five days before his own death, he ordered the execution of Antipater, the son who would naturally have succeeded him.
This was the maniacal, blood thirty, mentally unstable tyrant that the wise men approached seeking information about the new born king of the Jews.
The news of a new born king does not sit well with Herod. The idea that his own position might be threatened – even by a new born baby – was not something he would tolerate.
(3) When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled , and all Jerusalem with him.
Herod quickly convenes a meeting with all of the chief priests and the scribes. There is a look in his eyes. They had seen it before and people died. “Did you know about this? Did you know that a king would be born right here under my nose? Did you? Tell me where he was born. Now!”
They tell him about the Old Testament prophesies that foretold of a prince coming out of Bethlehem of Judea who would govern Israel. “But my lord, we didn’t know when these prophesies would be fulfilled or even if they were true.” Liars. All of them. They knew but they also knew Herod. A man prone to jealousy. A man who saw conspiracy everywhere. A man who trusted no one.
After learning that the prophets had foretold the birth of a king to govern Israel and where the king would be born, Herod has a private meeting with the wise men without the religious leaders and without his advisors. He couldn’t risk word getting out that he agreed to acknowledging the rights of a new king, especially since he plans to murder him once he finds out who he is and where he is.
So, he gives the wise men his blessing to seek the child. He also gives them an instruction - “When you find the young child bring me the news personally. I want to worship the new king too,” says the man who has killed all of his potential rivals.
You know the story.
The wise men find the young child, who is now about two years old with Joseph and Mary in their house in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. They bring the type of gifts ambassadors from other nations or countries would bring to gain the favor of a king – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, well, it speaks for itself. It represents royalty and nobility. Frankincense was used in sacrificial offerings and worship because of the aroma it produces when it is burned. Myrrh was valuable because of its aromatic qualities and was used in perfuming ointments and as an anesthetic for pain.
When it is time for the wise men to leave, their intentios, initially are to return to Herod with information about the child’s whereabouts. But in verse 12 we read “And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”
Do you see the phrase “being warned”? It means “to give a response to one who asks or consults.” It implies that the wise men asked God if they should return to Herod or go home.