The stories surrounding Jesus birth are simply astonishing. What great lengths God went through to redeem us; amazing, simply amazing!
Each time I examine these incredible accounts of God faithfulness and mercy, I grow stronger and my faith increases.
What is faith anyway?
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Faith is that “certain something” deep within our being that hopes and believes, even when the physical proof is not readily available. It is an amazing thing! Faith; this amazing element, which is as essential to us as the air we breathe, is a gift from God!
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Fascination sets in when I read the story of the three wise men or the three kings, and I wondered about how they acquired the faith and resolve to travel so far to see the outcome of the amazing birth we just celebrated.
Come with me, and let us look into this and see if we can find some answers . . .
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Often in our Christmas scenes, we will see the shepherds along with three wise men, standing around the manger the night that Jesus was born. This description is inaccurate, as we can see by the account in Matthew, that the Magi came well after the birth of Jesus, perhaps as much as a year afterward, and the Bible says they went to a house, not a stable, to see Jesus.
The Bible also does not indicate the number of Magi that came. Tradition says three wise men, or three kings, probably because of the three gifts that are given; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
It is likely that there were more than three Magi, and they would certainly have come with a rather large entourage. The Bible says that King Herod was “disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” We can assume the Magi came with considerable pageantry and pomp; all this, from a country and land, not yet conquered by Caesar.
Magi were more than “wise men.” The word translated to Magi is: magos mag’-os
The original translation of this word meant “Chief Magician” but also had the implication of authority attached to it as well. You could easily infer that the Magi were prominent esteemed scholars, ambassadors, perhaps princes, representing another country or group of countries.
The fact that they came from the East is significant because some scholars believe that they came from the Orient, which would have been the Parthian Empire. The Parthian Empire spanned across most of modern-day China and parts of Russia. It was one area that the Roman Empire was unable to control.
However, a more likely origin of the Magi was from a place a little closer; perhaps modern-day Saudi Arabia or even Iran. The Bible records a visit to King Solomon by a certain Queen of Sheba. She had heard of King Solomon’s wisdom and wealth and she went to visit him.
Solomon had become king of Israel after the death of his father, King David. The Bible records an amazing encounter between Solomon and God . . .
That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”
God had blessed Solomon with exceedingly great wisdom and knowledge. The word about Solomon and all of his riches and wisdom was spreading across the region. The Queen of Sheba heard of this amazing man, his wisdom and wealth, and decided to go and see for herself and meet this man, Solomon.
Here is an excerpt from her encounter with Solomon.
When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind.
Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed.
She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth, you have far exceeded the report I heard.
Indeed, the Bible declares that kings from all over the world would come bearing gifts, seeking an audience with Solomon. It is likely that Solomon would give copies of writings of the time; perhaps he gave scrolls of the scriptures and even copies of his own writings regarding wisdom.
The “Magi” of the countries would be certain to explore those writing with careful attention; after all, the God of Israel was giving such favor and wealth to a single king; perhaps if they could get to know this God, they too would find blessing beyond measure!
Now, going back to the story of Jesus; imagine that you are in Israel, a year out from His birth, and the great census, which in large part had to do with increasing the military strength of Rome. The city of Jerusalem was on the very edge of the Roman Empire, the outback if you will.
Now here comes a large group of prominent princes and men of authority from an empire that Rome had yet to conquer, showing up on your doorstep, looking for the Baby born “King of the Jews.”
Now you can begin to understand why the Bible says; “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” This was a big deal!
The ramifications of another Empire sending these people to your city, could very well mean an invasion was forthcoming, but the idea that they were looking for the One to be the “King of the Jews” was more than Herod could take; he was the current acting King of the Jews!
Herod was the appointed “King” over this region, and if there was another king born, his rule would be in jeopardy; furthermore, Herod knew what Caesar did to those who would allow other “kings” to rule without his direct approval.
We know that Herod pretended to be interested in worshipping the Baby King too, and told the Magi to make a careful search and report to him, which of course they did not!
The Magi; warned in a dream, did not to go back to Jerusalem; but left the region by another route. Herod was furious! In order to make sure that there was no threat to his rule; he ordered the death of every male child up to the age of two.
Now, regarding the Magi, I find it odd, that it was the Magi, who understood the prophecies of the Messiah’s birth, and the Jewish Pharisees, scribes, and priests missed it!
There is only one rather hidden clue concerning the timing of the birth of a Messiah. While the Bible does have many prophecies concerning the birth of Jesus, there is only one obscure verse, which indicates a star would lead the way.
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. . .”
The Magi saw a star and followed it to the location of Jerusalem, which was about 10 miles from Bethlehem. It would only be natural for them to go to Jerusalem and ask the religious authorities where they could visit the Christ Child.
No doubt Herod said to these important powerful representatives, make yourself at home, rest a bit, and I shall return with your answer. The Bible says; “. . . he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.” I would have loved to have been a mouse in that room!
I find it fascinating that those who should have understood what the significance of what the star meant; which by the way was visible not only to the Magi, but to everyone in the hemisphere, missed it . . . I wonder why?
The church of that day was caught up in the political theater; trying hard to please Herod and Caesar and was compromising their faith. The church was so engrossed in the current worldly affairs, that they missed the Birth of the Messiah! Some thirty years later they would miss it again!
The Magi, however, had heard stories of the greatness of the God of Israel. The stories of the God of Israel were revered, and a few of the surrounding kingdoms remembered those stories and made it a part of their tradition to keep an eye on Israel. To watch out for the prophecies concerning the God of Israel, unfortunately, the very keepers of the Law and the Prophets in Israel did not have the same concern.
Thirty years later when the grown-up Son of God began to affect the region once again, the very people who should have recognized Him, did not! Still caught up in the worries of the day; more interested in their self-preservation, their opulent lifestyles, and the illusion of power and fame, they missed the Savior . . . again!
The present-day church, just like the church of Herod’s day, is a caught up in the political drama too; absorbed by the worldliness of our culture; enamored by wealth, and the acquisition of power.
The church was not alert when Jesus was born, and the church was not being watchful when He was among them as an adult; they actually crucified Him! I wonder if the present day church will be on the lookout for His return; Jesus said that most would not . . .
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
The Magi were not Jewish, were not Christians, nor were they any part whatsoever of Israel, they were heathen people; they were sinners looking for the Messiah. In their quest, the Lord directed them to the very One they longed to see; God in His mercy and grace led them forward, showing the way, with a star in the sky.
If you happen to be seeking the God of Israel, do not stop! Keep following, seeking and looking, and the God you seek will lead you! The Old Testament Book of Jeremiah gives a great promise to you:
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD. . .”
The Magi, seeking God with all their heart; found God, and were never the same! If you are seeking to find God . . . you are going to find Him because He wants you to; He has given you the gift; the gift of faith to believe!