We often place a lot of
emphasis in the gospels of Matthew and Luke on the
events leading up to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
It is quite interesting, moreover, to observe what
happened in those days after the birth of Jesus.
There is good evidence
that Jesus was born in 5 B.C. in the town of
Bethlehem while Herod was still living (Matthew
2:1-6). The death of Herod the Great occurred in 4
B.C., a short time after an eclipse of the noon. The
modern calendar of dating B.C. and A.D. was
developed by Dionysius Exiguus. His calculations are
off by about four years. So Christ was not born at 0
years, but about B.C. 4 or 5.
From the context of
Matthew chapter two and secular history, Jesus was
born in the closing months of Herod the Great's
reign and He returned from Egypt soon after Herod's
death (vv. 19-23). It is probably impossible to be
more specific as to the time of Jesus' birth. The
important thing is it is well documented in history.
His birth took place at a specific time and place
during the reign of Herod the Great in Judea.
Joseph and Mary were both
of Davidic descent, whose native city was Bethlehem
(1 Sam. 17:12). The prophet Micah had foretold the
birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). It
was in Bethlehem, David's city that the Jews
expected David's greater Son to be born; it was
there that they expected God's Anointed One to come
into the world.
The little town of
Bethlehem was located six miles south of Jerusalem
in a fertile area of Judah. It was also called
Ephratah or Ephrath. Bethlehem means House of Bread.
The town sat on a 2500 foot ridge. It was here in a
cave near the village that that Justin Martyr (c.
A.D. 150) said Jesus was born.
The exact place in
Bethlehem where Jesus was born cannot be known, but
we do know He was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Many
people had come from various parts of the densely
populated land to enroll for taxation. Mary and
Joseph turned into a Caravanserai or kind of
oriental inn to spend the night. There was no room
in the compartments, now crowded to capacity, so
they were obliged to look for a place of protection
in the open courtyard.
In the open court Mary
brought forth her son and cradled Him in a manger.
Angels announced to some
shepherds the arrival of the Messiah. "But the angel
said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring
you good news of great joy which will be for all the
people; for today in the city of David there has
been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby
wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' And
suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude
of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory
to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men
with whom He is pleased'" (Luke 2:10-14, NASB 1995).
These angels were
celebrating the birth of the Son of God. Jesus the
Messiah was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb
of Mary, a Jewish virgin. There is no other way to
explain His life.
Jesus was Mary's "first
born" meaning she had other children born to her and
Joseph. The Gospels tell us Jesus had four younger
half-brothers and at least two half-sisters. The
virgin birth does not obligate us to accept the
teaching regarding an immaculate conception or a
perpetual virginity of Mary. "Is not this the
carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and
His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where
then did this man get all these things?" (Matthew
DEDICATION OF JESUS IN
THE TEMPLE (Luke 2:21-38)
The circumcision of
He was circumcised eight
days later according to the law of the Covenant
(Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3). This made Him a member of
the covenant nation Israel. He was named and he
became "a son of the law" (Gal. 4:4). "And when
eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His
name was then called Jesus, the name given by the
angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when
the days for their purification according to the law
of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to
Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord" (Luke 2:21-22,
The purification of
Luke takes us back to the
Mosaic Law and the purification of the parents and
redemption of the first born son that took place
forty-one days after the birth (Lev. 12:6). Every
first-born Jewish male had to be consecrated for
special service for the priesthood according to
Exodus 13:2. However, after God set apart the tribe
of Levi as the priestly tribe, the first born son in
the other tribes were redeemed from this obligation
by the payment of five shekels which amounted to
about five dollars U.S. (Num. 8). This
purification actually consisted of two offerings.
The offering for Levitical defilement attached to
the beginning of life, and the burnt offering for
restoration of communion with God. Before Mary could
participate in the ceremony of the redemption of her
son she had to complete the purification ceremony
and be ceremonially clean.
of the Law
Mary presented Jesus to
God (Lk. 2:22). With the payment of the five shekels
the child was presented to the priest in recognition
of God's ownership. The priest pronounced two
blessings, one in thanksgiving for the law of
redemption and for the gift of the first born son.
The important thing is
that the parents of Jesus observed all of the
requirements of the Law. Jesus came not to destroy
the Law but fulfill the Law and its commandments.
Blessings of Simon
Imagine the sense of
fulfillment in the hearts of Simon and Anna when
they laid eyes on Jesus and held Him in their arms
(Lk. 2:25-35). They were prepared by a devout
life of prayer and meditation to be the recipients
of the most glorious message of the revelation of
God to mankind. They reverently expected the coming
of the Messiah.
The Holy Spirit had
revealed to this aged man that he would not die
until he should see the Lord's Anointed. He came
into the Court of the Gentiles under the influence
of the Holy Spirit just as Mary and Joseph entered
to present Jesus to the priest. He took the child
into his arms and blessed God, "Now Lord, You are
releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your
salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence
of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the
Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke
The Messianic hope had
arrived in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. He
was "the consolation of Israel."
There was also a
prophetic message to Mary in the blessing. Simeon
blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold,
this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of
many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— and a
sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that
thoughts from many hearts may be revealed" (Luke
2:34-35). Simeon had immersed himself in the great
Messianic prophecies and types and this gave him
spiritual insight into the suffering Redeemer.
There would be no
escaping the fact that this child would be a
stumbling block to many who were seeking a political
Messiah-King (Matt. 21:44; 1 Cor. 1:23; Isa. 8:14; 1
Pet. 2:16f; Rom. 9:33; Acts 4:11; Rom. 11:25). He
would also be the magnet of the ages and the "rise
of many in Israel" (Rom. 6:4, 9; Eph. 2:6). Though
her heart would be "amazed at the things which were
being said about Him" she would also experience the
Thracian javelin in her own soul (v. 35; cf. John
Another Old Testament
saint waiting the redemption of Israel was Anna. She
was probably standing nearby listening to the words
of Simon and she burst out with repeated
thanksgiving to God. "At that very moment she came
up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to
speak of Him to all those who were looking for the
redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). God has a
nucleus of prepared saints waiting for the Messiah.
WISE MEN WORSHIP
CHRIST (Matt. 2:1-23)
After the birth of Jesus,
Mary and Joseph were probably staying for some time
in Bethlehem. After the presentation of Jesus in the
Temple the writer Matthew gives us "one of the
strongest proofs of His Messiahship." It is the
coming of Gentiles and the "premonitions of this
greatest event of world history." "Now after Jesus
was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod
the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem .
. ." (Matthew 2:1). Wise men from Persia or Babylon
saw His special star and went to the beautiful
country that had been home to King David, who was
born in Bethlehem.
Wise men came
looking for the King in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:2)
"Where is He who has been
born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the
east and have come to worship Him" (Matthew 2:2).
"Wise men" came to
worship Jesus from the East, probably Persia (Iran),
Arabian or Babylon who were skilled in philosophy,
medicine and natural science. They studied
astrology, religion and were interpreters of dreams.
It is probably best to translate magoi as
wise men in the good sense of learned astrologers.
Even though it was a sign that led them to
Jerusalem, it was the Scriptures that guided them to
Bethlehem. They conjectured that "His star"
indicated that He had just been born or would be
There is no reason for
assigning these Magi certain names, or to say that
there were three. And, no, their bones were not
found in the fourth century in the Cathedral of
Cologne. To say there were three wise men is an
inference from the three gifts of gold,
frankincense, and myrrh.
Tacitus, Suetonius, and
Josephus bear testimony that a messianic hope
existed at the time in the East. Tacitus had written
of a firm persuasion in the Orient that at this very
time "the East was to grow powerful, and rulers
coming from Judea were to acquire universal empire."
"Where is he who has
been born King of the Jews" (v. 2). Almost at
the same time as Jesus was born we find Augustus,
the Roman Emperor, being hailed as the "Savior of
the World." When Jesus was born, there was an
eagerness of expectation. Men were waiting for
God. It was to a waiting world that Christ
came. The Magi who saw the "star" were seeking the
light of the World.
"His star" (vv. 7,
The Magi saw the star "at
its rising" and then seemed not to have seen it
again for some time until it again appeared and kept
on going in front of them, until it stood over where
the child was. Probably by this time Joseph and Mary
were living in a house in Bethlehem.
The star, seen in its
rising reappears and went ahead of them. "The
luminous wonder was actually moving from north to
south, from Jerusalem to Bethlehem! What a strange
way for a star to behave," says William Hendriksen.
R. C. H. Lenski writes, "The star moved as a guide,
the star arrived, the star stood. It is all
perfectly plain, absolutely miraculous, unlike any
star that ever was." This star actually went ahead
of the wise men until it stood still over the place
where the child was. The star pointed out the very
There are various
scholarly opinions as to the character of the star.
The great astronomer Kepler observed in 1603 A.D. an
unusual conjunction of stars, and found by diligent
search that in 747 A.U.C. or 7 B.C. there was a
similar conjunction three times, of Jupiter and
Saturn in Pisces. In 6 B.C. Mars joined the
conjunction. Kepler therefore placed the birth of
Jesus in 6 B.C. The Chinese astronomical tables
testify to the appearance of an evanescent star,
probably a comet, in February 750 A.U.C. This
trustworthy tale of the Chinese would agree with the
date approximately of the birth of Jesus.
The wise men were
overjoyed when they saw the star one again and they
"rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" (v. 10). "They
shouted joyfully" (NET). The star kept going before
them until it came to the place where the baby was
and then it stood still. This is the same star that
had brought them to the land of Judea, and now they
were reassured by the evidence that the star was
still leading them.
"His star" stands for a
divine arrangement, an extraordinary and special
movement in the stellar spaces designed to lead
these men to the Christ child. It could possibly be
the Shekinah glory of old (cf. Num. 24:17). The star
was "going before them and coming stood above the
place where the child lay."
Walvoord and Zuck write,
"Could it be that 'the star' which the Magi saw and
which led them to a specific house was the Shekinah
glory of God? That same glory had led the children
of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years as a
pillar of fire and cloud. Perhaps this was what they
saw in the East, and for want of a better term they
called it a 'star.' All other efforts to explain
this star are inadequate (such as a conjunction of
Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars; a supernova; a comet;
etc.)" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary).
The whole supernatural
atmosphere of the birth of Christ would favor the
opinion that the star was miraculous because of the
prophecy foretelling the coming of the Messiah. The
star provided supernatural guidance to the house of
Joseph in Bethlehem.
Worship of a pure
We have "come to worship
Him" (v. 2). When they saw Him, they cast themselves
to the ground and worshiped Him. They literally,
"and having fallen they prostrated themselves before
them." They had journeyed far and were now
lost in wonder, love and praise. Do you come
in this room with the expectation of being
overwhelmed with the presence of God? Did you
come this morning expecting to worship Him? In
this Child they see God, and worship Him! In this
little One God has become incarnate.
"Veiled in flesh the
Hail th'Incarnate Deity"
Noble gifts for the
"After coming into the
house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and
they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then,
opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts
of gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Mat. 2:11).
Gold is the gift for a
king. We must always meet Jesus in complete
submission to Him.
Frankincense is the gift
of a priest who opens the way to God for men. Jesus
opened the way to God.
Myrrh is the gift for one
who is to die. Myrrh was used to embalm the bodies
of the dead. Jesus was born in order to die
for our sins.
WARNINGS FROM GOD
The providence of God
intervened to protect the Messiah, and an angel in a
dream warned the Magi not to return to Herod in
Jerusalem, but depart to their own country. It may
well be that Joseph and Mary left at the same time
for Egypt. Herod, the Idumean King, had so much
blood on his hands that he would spare no effort to
destroy the Messiah. Herod was not a Jew, his father
was an Idumean and his mother an Arabian. He was not
a descendent of King David. He had Edomite blood in
his veins. The "enmity" between Satan and the seed
of the woman was fiercely at work (Gen. 3:15).
God warned the wise
men of Herod's intents (Mat. 2:12).
"And having been warned
by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi
left for their own country by another way."
Herod came to power
because the Romans rewarded him for his help in the
civil wars in Palestine. he ruled from B.C. 47 to B.
C. 4, first as governor in B.C. 47 and then in B.C.
40 he received the title of king. He was a powerful
and efficient ruler and in time would be called
Herod the Great because of his great building
achievements, including the remodeling of the Temple
in Jerusalem, a peace keeper and his generosity to
the Jewish people in time of a fierce famine in B.C.
On the other hand,
history tells us old Herod was a paranoid,
"murderous old man," who killed anyone he thought
would threaten his kingdom. He murdered his wife
Mariamne and her mother Alexandria, his eldest son
Antipater, and two other sons, Alexander and
Aristobulus all because of his wildly insanely
suspicions. Knowing the family, however, his
suspicions were probably justifiable! The Roman
Emperor, Augustus said, "It is safer to be Herod's
pig than Herod's son."
What would Herod do at
the thought of a legitimate Jewish descendent of
King David? The city had a right to be troubled at
the mad man. A genuine descendent of the royal line
of David would definitely bring and end to his
Jerusalem was in an
uproar. They feared this mad man on the
God warned Joseph
"Now when they had gone,
behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a
dream and said, 'Get up! Take the Child and His
mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I
tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child
to destroy Him.' So Joseph got up and took the Child
and His mother while it was still night, and left
for Egypt. He remained there until the death of
Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by
the Lord through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called
My Son'" (Matthew 2:13-15).
Egypt was the nearest
place of safety for Jesus. Herod is going to make a
search for the baby in order to kill Him. Flight was
imperative to save His life. The distance traveled
was about 75 miles. There were more than a million
highly respected and influential Jewish people
living in Egypt at this time.
History tells us Herod
died shortly before Passover in 4 B.C.
The Savior is saved (Mat.
2:19-21). A divine command would come to Joseph in
Egypt, and in obedience he returned to Israel.
This is also a terrible
illustration of what men will do to get rid of Jesus
Christ (Mat. 2:16-18). We hear the sobbing and
wailing of the broken-heated mothers in Bethlehem.
"Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the
magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all
the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its
vicinity, from two years old and under, according to
the time which he had determined from the magi"
From the size of
Bethlehem at the time we estimate that Herod killed
about 20 children. It is likely Josephus made no
mention of this event because there was not a large
number of a child involved. The smaller number
simply did not make the headlines.
Selfish humanism has not
changed over the centuries. If Christ gets in the
way, if sinful men see Christ as someone who is
liable to interfere with their ambitions, or rebuke
their ways, their desire is to eliminate Christ.
This is what is behind the efforts to remove Christ
from Christmas, and anything else about Him in the
"socially correct" and "politically correct,"
tolerate anything but Christianity culture in the
Under the providence of
God Joseph was directed to go to Nazareth to live.
Herod's son Archelaus (v. 22) was Herod's worst son,
and was not reigning in Judea. He possessed all of
the vices and weaknesses of his father and none of
his redeeming qualities. When Archelaus ascended to
the throne of his father he slew 3000 Jews in the
Temple at the Passover and later killed a large
number of Samaritans. In 6 A.D. his territory was
turned over to Roman Procurators.
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
The passage before us is
rich in spiritual principles and applications. The
Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus, was revealed "to the
Jew first, and also to the Gentiles," i.e., His
mother and Joseph, his stepfather, and then to the
foreign magoi. He was revealed to the humble,
ignorant, and the learned, the poor and the rich. He
was revealed to "wise men" by a method suited to
their interests and understanding. The sought Him
out and worshipped Him.
What will you do
Some men react to Jesus
the way Herod did, while others will respond as wise
Will you respond
with hatred and hostility?
Herod was afraid the
child would interfere with his life, his place, his
power, his influence, and his pride. It is a
reaction of hatred and hostility. Christ will not
let them have their way, so they kill Him with
words, attitudes, behaviors.
Do you envy the rich and
famous? Greatness and riches are a perilous
possession for the soul. A little more money or fame
may be your ruin.
Will you respond
Others respond with
indifference. Christ means nothing to them.
Herod appealed to the chief priests and scribes "to
inquire of them where the Christ was to be born" (v.
4). They gave him a ready answer, but they never
went to Bethlehem to worship Him! How tragic that
the very persons who live nearest to the means of
grace are those who neglect them most.
The failure of the Jewish
people to believe was not due to ignorance. They
knew precisely from the Scriptures where the King of
the Jews would be born, but it was the Gentiles who
worshiped Him first. Although they could say
immediately where the Messiah would be born, they
did nothing about the report the wise men gave. No
one seemed to get excited about the birth of the
King of the Jews except some a few Jewish shepherds
and some Gentile star gazers.
Will you bow and
Wise men still worship
Him and desire to lay at the feet of Jesus the
noblest of all gifts -- themselves. When you come to
realize the love of God in Jesus, you should be lost
in wonder, love and praise. Philippians 2:8-11
reads: "For this reason also, God highly exalted
Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above
every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee
will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth, and that every tongue will
confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of
God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
The wise men set their
hearts on Him "that was born King of the Jews" and
never rested until they saw Him and worshipped.
This is encouraging for
us Gentiles. The king of the Jews desires to be our
It is possible for a
person to come, hear the Word of God, come deeply
under conviction and leave without surrendering to
Index to this Series on the Christmas Sermons and