When Prince William and his bride had a baby, it was on the cover of every newspaper and magazine. The fame and glamour of the royal couple make them fascinating. What is interesting is that they don’t actually have a lot of real power or influence. They are figureheads that represent a fading monarchy. If the Bible is at all true, and I believe it is, the way the all-powerful God of the universe works is very different. When His Son was born, it was to a blue collar family living in a village. And to reduce the situation even more, He orchestrated the events of history so that Joseph and Mary would have His child in a stable, far from their home and family. No palace, no glamour, no accolades from the world. Yet full of the beauty, humility, and dignity of a loving couple dedicated to protecting their precious newborn. These are the values of the Lord. And the Most High God sent His angels into the night sky to declare the wonder and goodness of this amazing new stage in God’s plan to rescue humanity from our terrible devastation.
When the census was over, Mary and Joseph decided to stay in Bethlehem with their infant child instead of returning to Galilee. They found a regular home to live in and began their lives as a young couple. Imagine those first two years as they held and fed and burped and changed the Son of God. The deepest mystery in history joined with the simplest delights of life.
Meanwhile, the ruthless King Herod was reigning in Jerusalem only a few miles away. He ruled over the whole region of Judea. He was not the rightful king of Israel. He did not come from the line of David. He kept his power by pleasing the leaders of Rome who dominated the Jewish people through their military might. Herod often secured his grip of power over them through cruel force and oppression. His evil thirst for control was so thorough and malicious that he killed one of his own wives and their two sons. He was so famous for his brutality that Caesar Augustus himself said, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.” The Jewish people saw and heard rumors of these horrors and shivered. How unlike their God! Everything about Herod violated the good, protective laws of their Lord’s perfect Word. How unlike the coming Messiah was he! The righteous of Israel cried out for and awaited their deliverance more intensely as Herod continued his evil rule.
One day, a strange caravan of men descended on the city of Jerusalem. They were a group of Magi, members of a priestly caste in the land of Persia. They carried themselves well with the stately dignity and honor of nobility. Jerusalem was a thousand-mile journey for them and by the time they arrived, they had traveled for many months. They brought servants and guards and attendants with them, along with supplies of food and treasure. Their arrival made all of the elite men and women of Jerusalem take notice. Imagine how intrigued they were to learn that the noble men had come on that long, arduous journey to ask a question of King Herod.
For you see, the Magi were great scholars. They studied the stars and science and medicine, and probably magic, too. Many months before when they were still far off in their homeland they had seen a new star rise in the night sky. Its coming told them that a mighty king had been born to the Jewish people. So they went to the king who ruled Israel and asked him where this Child could be found. The Magi had journeyed all those miles to worship Him.
Imagine! The nations were already seeking to bow down before this Savior, this Lord and King! Would the king of Israel do the same?
The Magi assumed that Herod would know who the Baby was. But angels and dreams and revelations had not come to this terrible man. They came to virgin girls and carpenters and widows who prayed. The heralds of the true King of Israel came to poor shepherds and devoted old men. They were the honored ones of His kingdom. And now the message of the Messiah’s coming had appeared in a star to foreigners from a distant land. It was to people such as these that the Messianic King was revealed in glory, not to wretched rulers who oppressed their people.
The news of a newborn king made Herod worry. This Child was a threat to his power! When word spread among the people of Jerusalem about the One the Magi were looking for, they were troubled, too. For you see, the religious leaders and priests were not on the same search as the Magi. They had no real interest in the King of God’s great promises. They had made themselves friends with King Herod. In turn, Herod had rebuilt their Temple. Their positions of control and influence depended on his favor, and they had put their trust in it. They knew that if King Herod fell to another King, they might go with him.
The coming of the Magi could have been a great awakening for these religious leaders. Just as wise old Simeon and Anna rejoiced at the sight of the Savior, they could have been filled with joy at the unfolding of God’s plan. It could have called them back to the great hope of their Scripture. It could have sent them on a great search for their Messiah! Would they realign themselves with God? Would they seek His favor above all else? Or would they continue in their alliance with Herod’s corruption and greed? The silence of Scripture is deafening. It says nothing of anyone in Jerusalem joining the Magi on their quest.
Herod was not even remotely faithful to the Lord, either. But he knew there were prophecies in Scripture that told about a coming Messiah who would reign as King. Could the Child the Magi were looking for be the One? Herod called together the chief priests of the Temple and the teachers who knew the law of God. He asked them where the Christ Child was supposed to be born. They told him that He would come to Bethlehem in Judea, just six miles away from the walls of Jerusalem. Then they quoted verses from the prophet Micah:
“‘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’”
The Magi had their answer. They knew exactly where to go. The only problem was that Herod knew, too! He didn’t like the idea of this Child Ruler, so he came up with a diabolical plan. He called the Magi back to him in secret and asked them when the star had first appeared. He wanted to know how old the Child might be. Then he sent them to Bethlehem to find the boy. He 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.’” How gentle and reverent this Herod must have seemed! But in his heart he was bent on destroying this Messiah, who the prophets said would sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem.
Did he really believe he could stop the prophecies of God from coming true? Herod was a fool, but he was a dangerous fool. Would the wise men find the Child? Would they lead this evil king to His doorstep?
Imagine the dark night as the Magi made their way down the slopes of the hills that surround Jerusalem. As they drew nearer to the small town of Bethlehem, the star they saw in the east reappeared and went before them as a guide. They rejoiced at the return and reassurance of this brilliant, cosmic sign. God was ordering the universe to point the way to this Child!
The star stopped just above the place where Jesus lived. What must it have been like when they came into Joseph’s humble house and saw the Child with Mary. Finally they had found the One they had come so far to see! Were they filled with overwhelming delight and fierce joy? Here was the One they had travelled so far to see! In their rapturous excitement, they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they began to unpack their beautiful presents of kingly treasures. It was far more than anything Mary or Joseph had ever been given or even seen before! The Magi presented them with gifts befitting a royal child, the Son of the High King of Heaven. They brought out shimmering gold and the richest incense and myrrh. They were absolutely certain that this Child was the King they were searching for!
Yet the Magi had changed their minds about another king. They had been warned in a dream of Herod’s treacherous ways. They would not tell Herod what they had found in Bethlehem! Imagine their shock when they realized what they had already told Herod! They knew they could not go back to Jerusalem, so they stole away by another route. What discussions they must have had about their remarkable quest as they slowly made their way home. And what they must have told their people about the place the star lead them, the evil king, and the Heir to the throne.
We Three Kings