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The birth of Jesus Part 2

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The Annunciation

(Luke 1:26-38)

 It started as a normal day for Mary, up with the dawn feeding animals, cleaning out stalls, putting down fresh straw and gathering eggs, her normal daily chores.  She loved the little animal shelter.  It was a place she could be by herself away from the hustle and bustle of her busy family, if only for a little while.  She was lost in her own little world dreaming about her fiancé Joseph and their up and coming wedding.  She was kneeling, her back to the doorway, checking a hen’s nest for eggs.  Suddenly a brilliant light filled the dim stall she was kneeling in making it as bright as day.  Startled, she looked over her shoulder and nearly jumped out of her sandals. A man was standing there.  She swiftly turned and stood nearly slinging the eggs from her basket.   Her free hand flew to her chest and she gasped in surprise as she realized two things at once.  First, she didn’t know this man.  Second, she realized this was no ordinary man. He was tall, well built, his hair bound by a golden band, his brown eyes radiating compassion and kindness. His clothes were sparkling white trimmed in gold and his skin glowed like polished bronze.  Her heart leaped in her chest and began pounding like a drum. Her hands and body began to tremble from head to toe as she felt a hot and cold flash racing throughout her body in numbing waves. Yet, she he stood frozen like a statue.

Mary knew in her heart this was no ordinary situation! Then the man said in a deep majestic voice, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” her head bobbed forward and her jaw dropped.” confused by his greeting.  She’d heard about angels all her life, but never expected to meet one. She was absolutely stunned by what he said next!   Smiling he lifted up his hands toward heaven as if in benediction and said, “Don’t be afraid Mary, my name is Gabriel and you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  God will give Him the throne of His father David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.” She knew the words he’d spoke were a divine blessing, but why would he bless her?  

Mary was shocked!  Her mind whirled at the declaration.  Her eyes wide, she shook her head in disbelief, her heart fluttering like a trapped bird in her chest.   She looked at the ground in confusion as she realized what he’d said, “His name shall be called Jesus which means the Lord Saves! He will be called the Son of the Most HighHis kingdom will never end!  She gasped as comprehension sank in, “The Messiah! He is talking about the Messiah! But how can this be?”  

In bewilderment she looked up at Gabriel and whispered in awe, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel smiled, looked toward heaven with one up raised hand and replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”  Seeing the questioning look on Mary’s face he added as if for confirmation, “Elizabeth your cousin is going to have a child in her old age!  She who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary’s mind raced.  If she'd truly heard what she thought she’d heard, she was to be the mother of the Messiah the Holy One of God.  Every young woman in Israel down through the ages had dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah. She didn’t know what to say. This was incredible. She loved the Lord God of Israel with all her heart and soul.  She lived in absolute obedience to His laws.  Her mind still churning, Mary humbly bowed her head and answered “May it be to me as you have said.” When she looked up the angel was gone.

Then she felt as if she were wrapped in a rainbow of love, peace and joy.  Light glowed around her and her heart thrilled to feel the presence of God.   She felt her heart and soul fill with the Holy Spirit.  Joy filled her soul and she felt herself praising God like never before in her life.  She knew her life had been changed forever.  She would never be able to explain what happened but she knew at that moment she had been touched by God.

Latter when she had time to think about what happened, her mind must have experienced a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts.  Excitement, “I’m going to be the mother of the MessiahFear, What about Joseph? How will he react to this news? Apprehension, how do I tell him? Will he believe me? Then it dawned on her. Legally Joseph could have her stoned since they were legally betrothed (Deuteronomy 22). Disbelief!  Did I really see an angel?

Mary, for a time was caught on the horns of dilemma:

  • She was pregnant before being legally married. 
  • How would her family respond to her being pregnant? 
  • Would they believe her story?  The bonds of family were so tight in those days that what affected one member affected the entire family.
  • How would Joseph react?  She was legally betrothed to Joseph, which in ancient Israel was as binding as if they were already married. 

What she faced:

  • Loss of her family, home if they refused to believe her.
  • Loss of her fiancé Joseph.  What if he refused to believe what the angel told her.
  • Ridicule, the people of Nazareth would turn on her with a vengeance.
  • Death by stoning if Joseph chose to charge her with adultery

The seriousness of Mary’s situation:

To understand Mary’s dilemma read the rules for marriage violations stated in the Law of Moses to get an idea of the dilemma Mary faced:

 If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin. Her father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her.  Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.  If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found,  she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21

If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.  If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.

 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbor, for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

Deuteronomy 22:22-27

Pregnancy out of Wedlock was a serious crime in Israel!

 Knowing all this Mary willing humbly whispered, “May it be to me as you have said.”

This young lady was a woman of faith! Steadfast, rock solid faith that God would protect, take care of and provide for her!  What did she do next?  Luke says “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea.

  • What did she tell her father and mother?  It’s highly unlikely that as a young girl she set out completely on her own on this trip without telling anyone anything.  Did she tell them of the angel’s announcement that their relative Elizabeth who had been barren and was advanced in age was six months pregnant?  That was surefire way of proving the angels pronouncement.  After all she would need her family in this ordeal.
  • What did she say to Joseph? She couldn’t suddenly leave town without telling Joseph where she was going!  It was unthinkable, he was her betrothed spouse!

Mary Visits Elizabeth

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Luke 1:39-56 

Mary’s Song

 Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
   holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
   from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
   just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zechariah for the next three or four months.

We need to talk

Luke 1:18-25

Three months later Mary was with her cousin Elizabeth when she gave birth to a healthy baby boy destined to become the legendary John the Baptist.  Once Elizabeth was able to be up and about and taking care of the baby on her own, Mary began her journey home to Nazareth.  Each step down that long dusty road toward home brought her closer to her dreaded conversation with Joseph.  She had faith God would protect and take care of her and the child she carried.  What deeply concerned her now was how Joseph would react to her news!  The memory of the dramatic appearance of Gabriel and witnessing the miracle of Elizabeth giving birth in her old age strengthened her faith.   But she didn’t know the whole story!  Every step she took now was a step of faith!  She knew God would protect the baby and her.  "But what about Joseph?  Would he believe her incredible story and stand with her?  Or would he reject her?  By law he could accuse her of adultery and have her stoned.  Or, he might simply divorce her quietly and set her aside destroying her reputation!"  Either way, she knew she could lose Joseph and the marriage she’d dreamed and planned for.

Each step seemed heavier and heavier as she walked into a known but unknown futureKnown she was pregnant and the mother of the Messiah.  Unknown was how she would raise this unique child! Alone or with Joseph?  She knew Judaic law.  She knew that even though they were not yet married, they were considered legally bound to each other by their engagement that could only be separated by divorce.  She also knew Joseph had only three options in this situation.   First, and by far the scariest, by law he could accuse her of adultery and have her stoned.   Second, he could quietly divorce her and set her aside destroying her reputation.  Either of these two ways she knew she would lose Joseph and the marriage she'd dreamed and planned for.  Third, and her most eager hope, Joseph could go ahead and marry her and adopt the child as his own.  If only she knew how he would react.

She knew that if Joseph rejected her, and by some miracle she was not stoned, she would still become a public outcast.   The other girls and women at the well would whisper behind her back.  She would become a social leper.  A part of the community, but never a true part of it, always banished to the fringe for life! She would be the girl who got" pregnant" before she was married in a society obsessed with the purity and sanctity of marriage. Each step closer to Nazareth was a step closer to her dreaded meeting with Joseph!  Each step she prayed to the God of Israel to give her wisdom, strength and protection.

Finally the moment arrived and she found herself standing at the open door of Josephs work shop.  She stood with one hand on the door post and looked into the dim interior of the work place. Joseph had his back to her as he sat at his work bench, sanding patiently on a piece of wood.  She watched for a dozen painful heartbeats enjoying watching him work his craft,  yet also knowing she was about to break his heart. How would he believe her? How could she tell him to lessen the blow?

She cautiously glanced around to make sure no one was around then stepped into the cooler shade of the shop. She walked halfway across the room; her hands clasped in front of her and whispered quietly, “Joseph!”  His head jerked up with a cry of joy and exclaimed, “Mary, you're home!”  He quickly set the wood and his sanding block on his bench, and stood up.  His apron, his beard, and his hair were covered in wood chips and dust.  He laughed as he brushed off his apron causing dust to billow up like a cloud filling the air. In the halo of particles, a huge smile on his face, Joseph excitedly stepped forward to embrace her.  He stopped half way, however, as he noticed the serious expression on her face and a strange look of heartache and apprehension in her eyes.  In that same heartbeat he also noticed Mary was wringing her hands nervously.  He stopped mid stride, his face creasing into a frown, and anxiously asked “What’s wrong?”  That’s when he heard those four words every man dreads to hear, “We need to talk!

Joseph listened in stunned disbelief as Mary rapidly spilled out her story.  He felt as if he’d been kicked by a mule and staggered back against his bench.  His eyes filled with pain as he looked first into Mary’s teary eyes, then down to the tiny bump of her stomach that had not been there before.  His heart felt like it was being squeezed in a vice.  Suddenly he discovered he was having a hard time breathing.  He felt as if he were in some kind of hazy fog as he realized he was hearing Mary speaking but he didn’t seem to hear her.  The eyes that came back up to look in to Mary’s eyes were filled with a mixture of confusion, pain, anger, hurt, disbelief and despair.  He shook his head as if to clear the fog that filled his mind and eyes.  Without realizing it, he looked into her eyes for what seemed like an eternity before hoarsely whispering, “How did this happen?” For the second time he listened to the story about the visit of the angel and Elizabeth being pregnant. Mary felt anguish because she knew he was struggling to understand but couldn’t.

He shook his head again after hearing the story the second time and whispered, “It's impossible!”  He stared down and gruffly croaked, “Were you raped?”  Joseph shook his head trying not to think of the other possibility. Mary quietly replied “No!”  She tried desperately to persuade him to believe her while she silently prayed to God to show her how to help ease his torment. Her heart was torn because she knew this was God’s will, yet she also couldn’t bear to see the hurt in Joseph’s eyes.   

Stumbling Joseph pushed past Mary and whispered painfully, “I, I  have to think!”  The next few hours were a blurred agony of feelings for both Mary and Joseph

Mary sat, prayed and wept in Josephs shop for what seemed like an eternity. When Joseph didn’t return, her torment grew. But now she had to also tell her family and that would not be easy either!  Should she just pack up and silently leave her family and her home? Would it be easier for Joseph to move on with his life if he did not have to see her? Would he be one of the ones who would shun her in her village? Or, if he did come to accept her and the baby and take her as his wife, would he be cruel and unforgiving: she had to have faith that God would tell her what to do and that he would give her the strength to do what He willed of her. Quietly, she left Josephs shop with a heavy heart and returned to her home and bed, though she knew she would not find sleep this night.

Joseph half walked, half ran into the hills surrounding Nazareth, his soul a cauldron of torment his mind screaming, “Mary pregnant?”  He felt betrayed, hurt, and humiliated beyond words.  His stomach was twisting in an aching nausea as if someone had stabbed with a dull knife, and was twisting it cruelly. His heart was cold and numb, his soul shredded and torn in a pain he couldn't release.  He prayed, he walked, and he prayed and walked some more pleading with God for wisdom and guidance.  He shouted to the heavens, "Mary's story seems impossible, beyond belief!"  Yet, his mind screamed, "Mary is not the type who would lie or deceive!”  As he looked up to heaven, his heart torn, he shouted, “What should I do?

For hours he walked, prayed and thought.  The options were simple, he could accuse her of adultery in front of witnesses and she would be taken out and stoned.  The image of the angry men of Nazareth savagely hurling rocks at the delicate and tiny Mary nauseated him.  His mind and soul cringed in horror just at the thought of Mary being stoned. He shook his head and whispered, "I don't even want to think about that!"  

He could divorce her, again in front of witnesses, and then quietly send her away. Or, he could marry her and claim the child as his own.  Yet, everything he’d ever been taught rejected that!  As a righteous man he could not condone the sin of adultery!  For hours he wrestled with his dilemma.  Finally, in the darkness of night he made his decision.  He loved Mary, and could not, would not consider allowing her to be stoned. No he thought, “I will divorce her quietly in the morning and send her away.  Then he wearily staggered home and collapsed on his bed. For what seemed an eternity he tossed and turned miserably on his pallet, his mind filled with mental and emotional torment.  Even though he had made his decision his soul still felt shredded and  his heart felt like a black cold void.  Finally, he fell into an exhausted sleep. 

Just before dawn he saw in a dream a point of light coming toward to him.  He heard a distant voice of someone calling him, “Joseph, Joseph.”  He watched in fascination as the light grew closer and closer till it took on the shape of a giant man glowing like one of the stars of the night. In his mind he knew he was dreaming and realized this was no usual dream. It all seemed so vivid, so real. His heart told him he was looking at the angel Mary had described.  The angel smiled and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means, “God with us.” 

Joseph was stunned; the angel knew him by name and knew he was from the lineage of King David.    Suddenly his eyes were opened to the prophecies’ he’d studied all his life.  As the angel words sifted through his mental fog of exhaustion and anguish, realization of what the angel was saying began to ring like a bell in his soul, “He's talking about the Messiah!” He heard as if from a distance, the angels say, “You are to give him the name Yeshua (Jesus) which meant “Savior. But the words, “Conceived by the Holy Spirit!” shook him to the core.  If this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit that meant the boy would be the Son of God!  Awe begin to wash over his soul as the angel explained the most puzzling of all the prophecies concerning the Messiah, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means, “God with us. (Isaiah 7:14).”  Suddenly the anguish and pain of Josephs soul melted away and  he felt incredible peace and joy fill his soul. "Mary had been faithful to him!  His mind race as he thought, "If Mary is going to be the mother of the Messiah and he was supposed to marry Mary.  That meant he, Joseph a humble carpenter was being given the responsibility and honor of being the guardian and adopted father of the Messiah!”

Joseph sat bolt upright on his pallet his heart racing. He felt excitement swell in his soul.  He felt equal parts of incredible joy and fear.  Joy that he would not only have the privilege of witnessing the Messiah in his life. But he would be able to hold him as a baby, to touch his face, feel his little hands wrap around his fingers.  Fear, in that he was the child's protector and teacher an incredible honor and responsibility.   His heart swelled with deep love and a lions protective sense to protect this precious Holy Child at all costs.   He looked out the window and saw the sun peaking up over the horizon.  Mary!  he must get to Mary and tell her the news.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 1:24-25

 

“Taxes”

For a few months life was pleasant as Joseph and Mary learned to live together.  As time flew by Mary grew large with child.  Then one day soldiers came to Nazareth with shattering news.  The emperor has declared that every man is to register for taxes in the city of his ancestors.  I have often wondered, "Why did Mary have to go with Joseph?" In those days it was customary for the girl to give birth at home where she can be taken care of by her parents or in-laws.

Consider this:

  • In the Roman providence of Syria women 12 years and older were required to pay toll taxes.  Therefore Mary who was also a descendant of David may have required to register for the census.

Maybe Mary was also required to travel to Bethlehem with Joseph.  Or maybe she just wanted to be with Joseph.  We don’t know.  What we do know is she made the long difficult trip with him.

Christmas cards often depict the idyllic scene of a very pregnant Mary riding sidesaddle on a donkey, led by Joseph with a star filled night as the background.  But did they travel alone?  Not likely.  Since there were many decedents of King David Joseph and Mary probably traveled in a caravan of family for safety.  In truth we don’t know how Mary traveled to Jerusalem.  We do know the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was around eighty miles of rough country roads spanning rolling hills and wide ravines.  Under normal circumstances a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in that day would have taken at least three to four days of walking about twenty miles a day.  A young girl in advanced months of pregnancy could not have traveled very fast.

  • It is possible Mary may have ridden on a donkey with a padded cushioned pack saddle.  It would have been possible, but not very comfortable for a pregnant woman.  No matter how she sat Mary have would have still felt every sway, dip, bump and jostle of a donkey walking on the rough uneven road. 
  • Mary may have traveled in a cart cushioned with hay.  Yet again, even in a cart with no shocks, and no suspension, pulled by a donkey she would still fill every bump in the road all the way to Bethlehem. 
  • In all probability Mary may have walked a great deal of the way to Bethlehem since people of that day were accustomed to walking long distances.  

However she traveled, the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem would not have been easy for a very pregnant thirteen or fourteen year old girl.  Every day she had to travel ten to twenty miles a day enduring the elements whether hot or cold.  Every evening camp had to be set up, and the family meal prepared over a campfire by the side of the road then the family slept under the stars.  Finally, after many grueling days on the road the caravan reached Bethlehem.  The stage was set, the caste assembled in the greatest story ever told!  Angels by the countless millions hovered unseen waiting with great anticipation for the birth of the King of Kings.

Bethlehem 

The picture of Joseph rushing from door to door, desperately begging for shelter because Mary was in labor tugs at your heart strings.  The tiny little hamlet of Bethlehem was bursting at the seams from the sudden influx of descendants of King David.  Thousands of David’s descendants had traveled to Bethlehem to be counted.  Every Inn, every house was filled to capacity and beyond.  Joseph and Mary probably did go from inn to inn and house to house, looking for a place to stay.

 

One poor harried inn keeper has been portrayed as a villain on the order of Judas Iscariot.  In truth he was more along the lines of a compassionate Good Samaritan.  He realized Mary needed a private place to give birth, instead of a crowded inn.  He offered the small little grotto (cave) behind his inn which offered the perfect solution.  Cleaned up the little cave provided a dry, snug quiet place away from the crowds for Mary to give birth in privacy.  First century tradition describes Mary giving birth to Jesus in a cave used as a stable.  Bethlehem was and is perforated with caves, and were often used as barns or stables.

 

“EMMANUEL”

 

It was a cold chilly night and the world slept in quite solitude, unaware of the dramatic events unfolding that evening.  In the quiet sleepy little town called Bethlehem, in the stall of a cave/stable, a young woman struggled to give birth to her firstborn son.  Out among the rolling hills surrounding Bethlehem shepherds huddled near fires as they watched over their sheep.  In the angelic realms myriads of angels watched in wondrous fascination, waiting for the birth of the child.

Within and without the stable thousands of powerful angelic warriors stood guard with drawn swords while countless angels watched intently.  The air was charged with excitement.  The angelic hosts had witnessed countless millions of births.  But this child was different.  This was the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel.  Anticipation mounted, while angels strained to witness this wondrous event. 

Then through the still of the night the shrill of a baby's cry split the air.  The angelic warriors standing guard turned to face the young woman and snapped to attention.  Then with glorious light flashing around them they knelt, touched their swords to the ground in salute, bowing their heads in holy awe.  Emmanuel (meaning "God with us") had been born.  Throughout the starry sky the Host of Heaven held its breath as they strained to get their first glimpse of God in the flesh born among men. 

Glory in the Highest

From heaven's throne an angel was dispatched to issue the joyous news of the royal birth of the King of Kings.  The angel's destination did not include Caesar Augustus, emperor of the Roman Empire, nor any other earthly king or queen.  Instead streaking across time and space the angel arrived at his destination--the humble camp of a handful of shepherds guarding their sheep outside Bethlehem. 

Out on the dark hillside these shepherds huddled around their campfire.  Suddenly above their camp a brilliant light shattered the darkness of night.  The shepherds froze with absolute terror and shock.  But the angel said, "Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy for all people.  For unto you a child is born, Christ the Lord."  In the heavens above the angelic host could contain its joy no more. The shepherds were once again stunned when suddenly the evening sky burst with light as myriads of angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." 

“So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widelyknown the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them Luke 2:15-20.”

What does the nativity story tell us about the personality of Christ?

  • He could have been born in any one of the great palaces on the face of the earth, yet He was born in a humble stable. 
  • He could have been wrapped in the finest silks and linens yet He was wrapped swaddling cloth. 
  • The announcement of His birth could have been made to kings and queens, yet it was given to simple shepherds. 
  • He could have been raised in the emperor’s palace in Rome with all the benefits, the finest foods, the best clothes, all the perks and privileges of royalty.  Instead He choose to be raised in a poor carpenters home, wearing simple clothes, eating simple foods and being raised in an obscure rural town in a small province of a tiny nation.

Why the announcement to the shepherds? 

Because He was and is the Great Shepherd!  A shepherd knows his sheep by name and each sheep’s individual characteristics.  A shepherd takes care of his sheep, making sure they have plenty of water and food to eat.  If one of the sheep gets sick or hurt it is the shepherd that becomes the doctor that tends to its needs.  If predators threaten the sheep it is the shepherd who protects them.  If one of the sheep becomes lost it is the shepherd that goes out to look for it.

He who holds the highest rank humbled himself to be born in unpretentious circumstances.  And because of His love for man the King of Kings quietly submitted himself to live the life of a common man.  God came down to earth so that He might experience for Himself the struggles and trials common to man. 

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need Hebrews 4:14.”

Wise Men from the East

“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,  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.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
       ‘ 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.’

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 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.”


When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 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.  Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. Matthew 2:1-23 (New King James Version”

Wise men (Magi): The Magi were believed to be from Mesopotamia, or Persia. They were believed to be from the priestly caste and were extremely well educated.  They specialized in medicine, occult mysteries, astronomy/astrology, divination and magic.  They were the counselors of kings, pharaohs and emperors.  Magi were prized for their seeming abilities to predict the future through the study of the stars, divination and the interpretation of dreams.  The bible mentions wise men many times and their dealings with many kings and pharaohs (Daniel 5:7-9, Isaiah 47:13, 2 Kings 21:60. These wise men guided their lives by the movement of the stars and planets.   They were taught from earliest childhood the complex intricacies of astrology.

Astrology is the study of the influence stars and planets have on human lives. The position of the sun, stars, moon and planets at the time of people's birth in the twelve constellations of the zodiac is said to shape each individuals personality, affect their romantic relationships and predict their economic fortunes and the major events of their lives.

 

 Astrology dates before written history, and there is evidence of it all around the globe. The ancients believed that if the gods lived in the heavens, then it made sense to study the heavens for guidance from them.  Over thousands of years the movements of the stars were charted and interpretations of their alignments and movements compiled.  The earliest forms of astrology came from Babylonia, Assyria and Egypt.  Egypt has star charts that go as far back as 4,200 BCE.

 

Studying the movement of the stars was the life's blood and focus of a magus.   In the years preceding the birth of Christ, these men began to see momentous signs and alignments in the stars that captured their attention. While noting alignments of the moon, the planets and the stars they consulted, charts and interpretations of charts, and muttered in amazement.  All their computations and arcane interpretations pointed to something phenomenal about to happen.

 

There have been numerous speculations of what captured the attention of the wise men. For sure, there were multiple astrological alignments in the sky that must have captured their attention.  For example, in:

 7 B.C., the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn aligned in the sign of Pisces (the fishes).

  • Jupiter: known as the “Kings” planet, represented the highest god and ruler of the universe.
  • Saturn: was thought to be the shield or defender of Palestine
  • The constellation of the Pisces (fishes) was associated with Syria and Palestine and represented either epic events or disasters for that region.

 

 

In the Babylonian interpretation of astrology, the planet Jupiter represented “Marduk, “the supreme Babylonian god. Saturn was the "Steady One." The constellation Pisces was associated with Ea, the god of wisdom, life and creation. The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces predicted from the Babylonian's viewpoint, "The end of the old world order and the birth of a new king chosen by God." Some believe that there was a power vacuum in the Middle East, and the people, including the Jews, were looking for a new King that would topple the Roman Empire.

Jupiter encountering Saturn in the sign of fishes to the Magi would have signaled that a cosmic ruler or king was to be born in Palestine at a culmination of history.  ** Notice when the Magi approached King Herod, they asked where they could find the child “born king of the Jews.

 

6 B.C., The near conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn and the planet Mars.  

 

5 B.C., Comet No. 52 (on John William’s list of comets) appeared and was visible for seventy days in March and April near the constellation Capricorn

 

4 B.C., Comet No 53 (on John Williams’s list of comets) appeared in March and April in the constellation of Aquila.

 

Were any of these the star of Bethlehem?  Only God knows.  What we do know is something in the stars captured the attention of the Magi and sent them on a quest that would last several months, possibly even a year of travel.

 

Arrival

When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem they began to ask, “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.”  They didn’t go directly to King Herod because it says, “When King Herod heard this he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.”  Maybe they went to the temple and asked the priest there.  Maybe they asked in the market place, the bible doesn’t say.  It does say that when the king heard what they were asking for he became deeply worried.   And for good reason, he wasn’t the hereditary king of Israel. He’d been appointed king by Rome.  And, for a child to be born king, the old king had to be dead!   Herod was already paranoid that someone would steal his exalted throne.  And suddenly these magi show up and asking, “Where is the new born king of the Jews?” That was not something he wanted to hear.  Jerusalem was buzzing with the news, “There are magi asking around Jerusalem for a child born king of the Jews.”

 

This was exciting news to the people of Jerusalem. The theological scholars at that time all predicted the Messiah could arrive during their lifetime.  Jerusalem was buzzing with excitement.  Herod on the other had decided to be crafty. He called together the chief priest and scribes and asked them where the Messiah was to be born?  They replied, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for it is written by the prophet:


      ‘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.’

When he learned all he needed, Herod dismissed them.   As the priest's and scribes left the chamber, Herod motioned to an aide and instructed him to secretly bring the magi to the palace.  Wouldn't you have loved to sit in on that meeting?  Where the magi nervous?  After all, how do you ask a king, "Where is the newborn king who is going to replace you?"  Seated on his throne, Herod cordially greeted the distinguished scholars warmly as befitted their ranks.   Pretending deep interest, he asked them questions, “Why were they on this quest?  When did the star appear?” Trying to get an idea of how old the young king would be. Herod smiled, nodded his head sagely, and said, “I have heard about the questions you've been asking around Jerusalem.  I too became fascinated and looked into it.  My priests have informed me the Messiah, if that is who you're looking for is to be born in Bethlehem.”   Gesturing grandly Herod asked, “Please, go and search carefully for the child, and when you find Him, bring back word to me, so that I may come and worship Him also.

 

Note.  It's interesting that the scriptures never imply that the chief priests or scribes made any attempt to go find Jesus.  You would have thought they would have been frantic to find the Messiah.  Something to think about!

 


9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

 

These two verses are interesting.  Notice it states that the star went before them, till it came and stood over where Jesus was.  And notice this, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great joy.”  Had the star disappeared for a time?  Was that the reason they stopped in Jerusalem to ask where the newborn king of the Jews was to be found?   Why else would they become excited and then rejoiced when they saw the star?  Was this a normal star?  Some have suggested it was a unique star, an angel, others claim it may have been a column of fire, or the Shekinah glory of God.  Again, only God knows that answer.  Many try to explain the star through nature such as a nova, or a comet.   But consider this; if it was a supernatural star, would that be impossible for the creator of the heavens and the earth? After all, this was an epic watershed moment for earth.  The son of God was born.   What the scriptures do say is that the star stood over the place where Jesus was living.

 

We know it was dark because the wise men were following the star.  Mary and Joseph probably just finished supper when they heard a knock on the door.  Or maybe they heard the braying of camel’s in their yard.  Anyway, imagine their surprise when they opened the door to find a group of rich foreign men in grand silk robes, turbans, and jewels asking them if they had a son?  I wonder if Mary or Joseph blurted, "You guys are not from around here are you?"   What questions did the magi have?  How did they explain what they were doing there?  What did they talk about?

 

Now imagine the look on Mary and Josephs face as these dignified men dropped to their knees, held out their hands in worship, and bowed their heads to the ground to Jesus.  Do ya think Joseph and Mary's mouth dropped open? What happened next must have floored the poor young couple from Nazareth.  The magi presented incredible gifts to their son.

 

  • Gold symbolized His royalty  
  • Frankincense: a valuable fragrant gum resin, burned as incense, symbolized his future priesthood
  • Myrrh: another fragrant resin and very expensive, was used in perfumes, anointing oil, medicine and embalming and was symbolic of his future sacrificial death.

 

Legend suggests there were three "Wise Men", Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, because of the three royal gifts presented to Jesus.  Again the scriptures are silent.  But these rich gifts were a windfall of wealth to the young parents.  How much did they give?  No one knows.  However, these were gifts given to a young king and would have been generous.  That night, satisfied by the completion of their quest, the magi went to sleep in their tents.  But their sleep was troubled.

 

12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

 

No doubt each shared his dreams with the others.  Recognizing a dramatic sign from God, they broke camp and left to return to their country a different way. 

 

 

HERODS RAGE

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Matthew 2:-14

 

That night Joseph had a very vivid disturbing dream. Once again the angel of God spoke to him and warned him of imminent danger to the child.  Joseph woke up in a sweat, his heart pounding and an overwhelming feeling of danger.  He instantly got up, woke up a sleepy Mary and told her about his dream.  The young couple rapidly bundled up the infant Jesus.   With the feeling of extreme anxiety and danger they could not have packed all the belongings the small family had.  In all likelihood they loaded up  some clothing, the gifts of the magi and a few provisions on donkey and in the dark early hours of the night and fled to Egypt, fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. 

 

Remember Joseph had been a poor carpenter.  This is where the gifts of the Wise Men became very timely as it paid for their escape to Egypt.  God had provided for their needs.  I bet if we could go back and ask Joseph and Mary, I bet we would find out that the gold, frankincense and myrrh was exactly enough to pay for food, clothing, and living quarters while Joseph and Mary were in Egypt.  And, there was probably enough money left over to buy new tools for Joseph to start over again as a carpenter when they returned to Nazareth. God knows our exact needs and is faithful to provide them.

 

For several days Herod waited to hear from the wise men. When he discovered that they had outwitted him, he flew into a rage. He screamed angrily for the captain of his guard. Shaking in rage he pointed his finger at the man and shouted, “Take two cohorts and kill every male child in Bethlehem and the surrounding area below the age of two.” The captain of the guard used to the cruel eccentricities of his king, didn’t bat an eye and did an about face and hastened to obey his orders.  Behind him he heard Herod manically screamed, “I will not allow someone else to gain my throne or destroy my dynasty.”

 

That afternoon the young parents of Bethlehem experienced their worst nightmare.  Their lives were shattered as soldiers battered down doors and seized children.  Little girls were left alone but boys under the age of two were coldly dragged outside.  Screaming parents were horrified as their sons were brutally killed in front of them.  How many little boys died that day?  a handful? a hundred?  History does not say.  Some try to say that Herod could not have committed that atrocity.  But remember, this is the same man who had ordered that the instant he died his archers were to massacre senators and national leaders in cold blood so there would be mourning at his death[1].  It was very much in this man’s character to order the deaths of little boys so that he could keep his crown and dynasty intact.  For the next few years Joseph, Mary and Jesus safely lived in Egypt.

 

A new Home in Nazareth

 

“Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.  And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:19-21).”

 

But when Joseph returned to Israel he discovered that Archelaus had inherited his father King Herod's throne and was also  a tyrannical ruler.  Being warned by God in a  dream decided to take his young family out of Archelaus realm to the region of Galilee to a town called Nazareth Matthew 2:1-23).    Why Nazareth?  Did Joseph go to Nazareth specifically to fulfill prophecy?  No, Nazareth was both Joseph and Mary's hometown, that's where their family lived.  But, as in all things God's plan was complete and another of the prophecies concerning the life of the King of Kings was fulfilled.

 

Jesus as a Boy

 

The mists of history obscure the years between the time when Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth. During His childhood and youth, Jesus was probably the most protected child who ever walked on this planet (Psalm 91:9-15, Rev. 12:3-17) with legions of angels protecting Him twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

 

The only clues to what was going on during Jesus childhood is found in Luke summarized Jesus childhood:

 

40. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

 

Luke 2:40

Joseph and Mary quietly settled back into the little town of Nazareth where the mist of time clocked their lives for the next twelve years.

 

….To be continued in “Getting To Know Jesus” by Chuck Pearce



[1] Herod’s sister countermanded that order instantly after her brother’s death.

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