Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:1-2
Even among kings, Jesus was exceptional; men were made kings but He was born a King. In the Nativity story, we see the different attitudes of the dramatis personaes toward the new born King. Interestingly, through the ages, these same attitudes have characterised people’s disposition towards the Lord.
THE WISE MEN
There has been a lot of speculations about who these men were. The Bible doesn’t disclose much about them other than what is relevant to the Nativity story. They came from the East which could have been as far away as Persia (modern day Iran) or even farther to India or China! The least distance they could have done would have been about 750 kilometres but it could also have been more. This was a time when camel was the most popular means of transportation. Their journey must have taken quite an effort.
If when they saw the star was exactly when Jesus was born, then it probably took them nearly two years to get to Jerusalem because at this time Jesus was no longer a ‘Babe’ (Luke 2:16) but a ‘Young Child’ (the shepherds saw Baby Jesus in a manger but the Wise Men saw Him in the house). They came all the way just “to worship Him.” For a while, they seemed to have lost the ‘guidance of the stars’ and went to inquire from King Herod where Jesus was to be born. The ease with which they entered the palace would suggest that these men were of nobility themselves. In any case, astrologers were found in king’s courts and palaces in the ancient world. So, these were not ordinary people yet they still came all the way to worship One who was born King.
Despite the distance they had travelled, they still came with joy to behold the King, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-11).
For these Wise Men, distance was not a barrier, neither was their status, because they recognised that the One they sought was worth their worship. They came with precious gifts that were not only symbolic of the life and ministry of Jesus but may well have paid the bills in the journey to and from Egypt. They were true worshippers.
THE CHIEF PRIESTS AND SCRIBES
These were people knowledgeable about prophetic matters. The Scribes were scholars who could interpret Scriptures. When Herod consulted with them concerning the inquiry of the Wise Men, they immediately pinpointed the relevant Scripture and gave the location where the event will take place. “So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel. ‘” (Matthew 2:5-6).
They knew the promise of Jesus’ coming, they knew the location where He would be born. One would have expected them to be excited that at last the promise of the ages had come to pass. Moreover, Bethlehem was only a few kilometres away from Jerusalem. But unlike the Wise Men who travelled hundreds of kilometres to come to see the King, these ones were not willing to go the short distance to Bethlehem. Their attitude was indifference.
The birth of Jesus occurred when Herod the Great was regent over most of Palestine, including Israel. It was therefore natural for him to have felt threatened by the news of the birth of another king. His initial attitude was pretense: “And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” (Matthew 2:8). When he saw that this did not work, his attitude changed to outright hostility. “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” (Matthew 2:16). Herod was out to eliminate Jesus and was willing to destroy all the new born babies just so that there wouldn’t be another king.
AS IT WAS THEN, SO IT IS NOW
We find these same attitudes in people’s disposition towards Jesus today. In this season and indeed at all times, there are people who will go to any distance, sacrifice anything in the honour of Christ. They are not obsessed about their status and they won’t hold back anything from Him because they realise that whatever they are or have is from the Lord. These are sincere worshippers like the Wise Men. They worship Him with joyfulness and thankfulness.
On the other hand, there are those who won’t be bothered about Jesus, they are indifferent to anything about him. A church might be by the corner of their house but they won’t be found there. They are wilfully impervious to the gospel. Everyone around them may be celebrating the birth of the Messiah but they won’t be bothered by it. They are the modern-day Chief Priests and Scribes and they are everywhere.
There is a growing hostility against anything Christ or Christianity in the world today. While this is normative in most Islamic and non-Christian nations, it is now a worrisome trend in the so-called Christian West. It is the spirit of Herod. It is a spirit that is hostile to Christ and, given the opportunity, would destroy the church. There is a successive attempt to obliterate Christianity from the psyche of the younger generation. That’s why prayer has been outlawed in schools; that’s why people can pray in the name of anything else in public but not the name of Christ; that’s why radical groups would sue to remove any symbol of Christianity from the public space.
You would think that replacing ‘Christ’ in Christmas with an ‘X’ (Xmas) would satisfy them (since many of them are allergic to the name of Christ anyway!) but that won’t do. Now, it must be replaced altogether with ‘Holiday.’ That’s why in this season all you will hear will mostly be ‘happy holidays!’
But try as they may, they would never be able to stamp out the Christian Faith. Christianity has always outlived its adversaries. The message of the angel to Joseph sums it up: “… those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” This has been the testimony of Christianity: those who try to diminish, undermine or destroy it have never succeeded.
As the global church celebrates the coming of the Saviour to the world, which attitude describes you? Would you join the throng of billions across the world who will joyfully and gratefully celebrate His birth and worship His Lordship, or will you be indifferent to Him and the salvation He brought to mankind? If you choose to be hostile to Him now then know for sure that one day, every knee shall bow to Him, whether willingly or by force.