Birth of the King

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The birth of Jesus Christ is the most significant event in the history of the world. It has been said that “the hinge of history is on the door of the Bethlehem stable.”

It may seem strange that the Son of God, the divine King of Kings, was born the way He was, when He was, and how He was. But the gulf that exists between sinful man and a holy God is so immense, there is no way for man to approach God even if he wanted to. The only way to bring the creature close to his Creator was for the Creator Himself to breach that gulf and come to the creature. This the Lord did in the Person of His Son. Really, God’s plan for the redemption of mankind, which began with the “Christmas story,” was brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed.

The King is born, Matthew 1:18—25

The story begins with a shocking discovery:

These are the facts concerning the birth of Jesus Christ: His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But while she was still a virgin she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18 TLB)

The KJV says that Mary was “found with child,” although we are never told exactly who “found” her in that condition! Did it become so obvious that her family and her fiance, Joseph, could tell? Or did she fess up to Joseph in private? We don’t know, but what we do know is that Mary knew the truth: her baby was of supernatural origin.

Her delicate condition put her in a precarious position. Mosaic Law cut a pregnant single woman absolutely no slack; she would have been stoned to death. But we tip our hats to Joseph who proved he was stand up guy:

Then Joseph, her fiance, being a man of stern principle, decided to break the engagement but to do it quietly, as he didn’t want to publicly disgrace her. (Matthew 1:19 TLB)

He didn’t want to expose Mary to disgrace or danger, so as far as he was concerned, though he loved this woman dearly, he was willing to “divorce” her on down low. To break an engagement at this time in Judaism amounted to a divorce. Mary, freed from Joseph, would quietly leave town to have her baby and live in exile.

But God had other plans for Joseph:

As he lay awake considering this, he fell into a dream, and saw an angel standing beside him. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “don’t hesitate to take Mary as your wife! For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20 TLB)

In order to prevent a tragic situation from occurring, and in order to fulfill ancient Biblical prophecies, an angel, probably Gabriel, appeared to Joseph as he did to Mary to let Joseph in on the secret. Mary needed to know the truth in order to save her sanity and Joseph needed to know the same truth to save the marriage and to preserve his wife’s reputation in his eyes. She had never been unfaithful to him but had been completely faithful to God. Any husband would love to have a wife as faithful as Mary was!

Let’s pause for a moment. Remember, for some 400 years before the events we are looking at, God had been silent. There were no visions, no prophecies, to miraculous interventions, and certainly no angelic visitations. Though God had never forgotten His people, He was not in close communication with them anymore. But all that changed with the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Consider how many people in the “Christmas story” saw and heard angels! Truly the time for the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy had come:

After I have poured out my rains again, I will pour out my Spirit upon all of you! Your sons and daughters will prophesy; your old men will dream dreams, and your young men see visions. (Joel 2:28 TLB)

Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and others all bear witness to an inescapable fact: the distance between Heaven and Earth was closing fast! The King of Glory was coming and nothing was going to stop Him from coming to us.

Mary’s faith was astounding, but, then, so was Joseph’s. He was in a tight spot to be sure, but he heeded what the angel told him; any fears or misgivings Joseph may have had surrounding Mary and their situation, disappeared. By making Mary his wife, bringing her into his heart and his home, this man, Joseph, would do God’s will, protect his wife and mother of the Lord, be blessed by God in ways we could never comprehend and show himself to be a true descendant of King David.

Martin Luther’s observations on this are invaluable:

It is an honor for the wedded state that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was not born of a simple, unmarried maid but of Mary, who was espoused as a true wife of Joseph, her husband. Our Lord was born of his mother according to the Law in wedlock and honored it with his birth.

Something that Matthew thought was very important was the idea that the events surrounding our Lord’s birth fulfilled Bible prophecy:

This will fulfill God’s message through his prophets… (Matthew 1:22 TLB)

The reason why Matthew points this out is that he wrote his Gospel to fellow Jews—unconverted Jews who needed to understand that what happened during the “first Christmas” fulfilled many things written about in their Scriptures!

The King is sought after, Matthew 2:1—8

Jesus was born in a small town just south of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. That name means “House of Bread,” which is certainly an appropriate name for the birth place of the Bread of Heaven! He was born during the reign of Herod the Great, as he was known in history. During the Babylonian captivity, a race of people known as Idumeans (Edomites), had settled in and taken over the southern part of Judah. By 125 BC, John Hyrcanus, high priest and ruler of the Jewish nation at this time, compelled these Idumeans to be circumcised, thus becoming, at least nominally, Jews. Herod was part of these people, and his religion was at best skin-deep. He was cruel and ruled without conscience.

Into this political atmosphere, Jesus was born and the Magi journeyed:

At about that time some astrologers from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in far-off eastern lands and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1b—2 TLB)

The Living Bible calls these magoi, “magi,” “astrologers.” “Magi” originally referred to priests in Persia and Babylon. As used by Matthew, though, these “wise men” were just that, and they were honorable. In ways we may never understand, these men connected the appearance of new star in the eastern sky with the birth of a new king in Israel. But did these men have in mind an earthly king or the King of Heaven? The word “worship” has reference to bowing down before an earthly ruler and/or before God, so we may never know what was really in the minds of these wonderful visitors from an eastern kingdom.

But we know what was in Herod’s mind:

King Herod was deeply disturbed by their question, and all Jerusalem was filled with rumors. (Matthew 2:3 TLB)

Jerusalem was “filled with rumors,” not because anybody in it saw that strange star, but they heard about what the magi had said. As the rumor mill churned on, Herod became more and more worried. Could it be true? Had a king really been born somewhere in his realm? Would this new king cause his people to turn against him? Like the magi, Herod decided he needed to seek out this king, but for a very different reason:

Then Herod sent a private message to the astrologers, asking them to come to see him; at this meeting he found out from them the exact time when they first saw the star. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him too!” (Matthew 2:7, 8 TLB)

Of course, Herod had no interest in finding the king to worship him! He wanted to kill him—to eliminate the competition.

Time to pause again and think about something. Think about this:

Where is the newborn King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in far-off eastern lands and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2 TLB)

After this interview the astrologers started out again. And look! The star appeared to them again, standing over Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:9 TLB)

We wonder: did these magi lose sight of the star when (or possibly because) they strayed off the road to consult with Herod and the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem? We also wonder if these wise men, instead of seeking human guidance, had just continued on into Bethlehem, would the “slaughter of the innocents” have taken place? Herod may never have known about the birth of Jesus if only these wise men had just kept their eyes on the star. Another good question to ask ourselves is this one: Do we get ourselves (or others) in trouble when we seek out human advice and guidance from the wrong people when should be paying attention to God’s guidance? Let’s keep our eyes on Him and His star!

The King is worshiped, Matthew 2:9—12

The fact that this star “appeared again” shows it was of supernatural origin; this was no ordinary star! It had the ability to appear, disappear, then reappear! These men traveled a great distance for a long time to find this King:

Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. (Matthew 2:11 HCSB)

Most scholars and many translations agree that by now Jesus was a child, not a baby. This young family wasn’t in a manger any longer; Joseph had apparently found and rented a house for them to live in. He was a carpenter, so he could ply his trade anywhere. Scholars think the magi reached them a year after the birth took place! They “worshiped” this young King and gave him gifts of immense value: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts have some significance. Gold, of course, was precious and costly back then as it is today. It was an entirely appropriate gift to give a king. Frankincense was an appropriate gift for a priest because it was used in temple services. And myrrh was something you gave someone who was dying; appropriate for the One who was destined to die for the sins of others. As William Barclay noted:

These three gifts foretold that [Jesus] was to be the true King, the perfect High Priest, and in the end the supreme Savior of men.

Perhaps this is where the tradition of giving others gifts at Christmastime came from. On this, Chuck Swindoll noted:

Some gifts you can give this Christmas are beyond monetary value: Mend a quarrel, dismiss suspicion, tell someone you love them. Give something away—anonymously. Forgive someone who has treated you wrong. Turn away wrath with a soft answer. Visit someone in a nursing home. Apologize if you were wrong. Be especially kind to someone with whom you work. Give as God gave to you in Christ, without obligation, or reservation, or hypocrisy.

These wise men were obedient to God whether they knew it or not and God honored their obedience. He, by means of a dream, warned them not to return to Herod. They may have thought Herod was sincere as they were in his desire to find and worship this young king. But, again, in obedience, they returned home by another route.

These magi; these foreigners, are a picture of the firstfruits of the Gentiles who would come to Christ for salvation. How interesting it is that Matthew begins his Gospel with this visit to Jesus by some Gentile wise men and he closes it with the Great Commission for believers to evangelize the whole world.

The birth of Jesus and all the events and people surrounding it make for an interesting study and show a Divine purpose. Like pieces of an immense puzzle, they give us a glimpse at the intricacies of God’s great redemptive plan.

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