As Christmas approaches, many people’s attention will be drawn to the image of Jesus in His infancy. Yet it is easy for many in today’s secular society, and even in the church, to pay lip service to the birth of Jesus when in reality they do not want to recognize who He truly is: our Saviour and Creator (Matthew 1:21; Colossians 1:16).
In Matthew’s Gospel, after the birth of Jesus (2:1), we are presented with three responses to the one who had been born King of the Jews.
The first people Matthew introduces us to after Christ’s birth are the “wise men from the East” (Matthew 2:1). The wise men, or Magi, had come to worship the child (verse 11) Jesus, after following “His star in the East” (verse 2). These wise men were probably pagan astrologers,1 perhaps from Babylon or Persia. The Bible forbids astrology (Deuteronomy 4:19); however, for this unique event in human history, the God who created the heavens chose to reveal Himself in the very place He knew these pagans would be looking. Nevertheless, the supernatural guidance of the star could only take the wise men so far. They needed to ask those who had been given God’s special revelation, in the Scriptures, for the place of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:2).
Interestingly, it was neither the religious leaders nor the king who came to worship Jesus, but pagans.
Herod the Great ruled Israel and Judah under the authority of Rome from around 37–4 BC and considered himself king of the Jews. However, in learning of the birth of another king, Herod sought to deceive the wise men (2:8), seeing Jesus as a potential threat to his throne. In Herod’s mind there was no room for two kings, which is why he sought to kill Jesus (verse 16). In doing this Herod acts like another ruler and oppressor of God’s people (see Exodus 1:16–22).
Just like Herod, some people today see Jesus as a threat to their political power; and rather than seeing their need for a saviour, they simply want to get rid of Jesus and those who follow Him.
When Herod did not know where this King was to be born, he called on those who did: the Jewish chief priests and scribes (Matthew 2:4). Even though the religious experts knew that the promised Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (verses 5–6; cf. Micah 5:2), they did not go to see Him. Bethlehem was only about six miles from Jerusalem, but, unlike the wise men, the religious leaders could not be bothered to make that short journey. In fact, it was the next generation of religious leaders who, like Herod, saw Jesus as a threat to their power and had Him put to death (Matthew 26:3–5, 57–59, 66).
It was not the pagans, who knew very little about the coming Messiah, that were indifferent to Jesus but those who were considered experts in the Scriptures. There are many people today who know the Scriptures, yet, when it comes to the identity of Jesus, they are indifferent to Him. Having the right information without being transformed by it is simply not enough.
The true response to the identity of Jesus was that of the wise men, who recognized Him as King, bowed down in worship before Him, and presented Him with their gifts (Matthew 2:11).
We also must keep in mind that this great event of the Saviour’s birth climaxes at His death on the Cross and ends with an empty tomb (Matthew 27:45–50, 28:1–10). As Christians, we don’t worship just a baby in manger but a risen King who has conquered sin and death and is now seated on His throne (Matthew 26:64).