One of the most intriguing questions of the Christmas story to me has always been why were the religious leaders not in Bethlehem waiting for their King, if they knew where and when He was to be born? With this thought in mind, let us read again this portion of the Christmas Story from Matthew’s account.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Mat 2:2 – Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
Mat 2:3 – When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Mat 2:4 – And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
Mat 2:5 – And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
Mat 2:6 – And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
Mat 2:7 – Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
Mat 2:8 – And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
Mat 2:9 – When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
Mat 2:10 -When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
Mat 2:11 – And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Notice that when the wise men found Jesus, the record declares Him to be a “young child.” Herod also referred to him as such. Obviously His Star appeared when He was born and if the wise men started out form Babylon, which is near present day Baghdad, in Iraq, from where many scholars believe they came, it could have taken nearly two years for them to arrive in Jerusalem. You will also notice that their arrival had apparently caused a great stir, because they must have come with all of the pomp and circumstances that great and important men of state receive when they visit other countries, such as ambassadors, representing kings. No doubt these men came representing their king, bringing gifts from him to this new born King. They must have arrived with a great entourage, and train of camels and asses laden with many gifts, such as mentioned when the Queen of Sheba came and brought gifts to King Solomon, for the scriptures says, “that a greater than Solomon is here.” When it says that they brought gold, it doesn’t mean that they brought just a few nuggets. Their Importance commanded an audience with King Herod and no doubt a state dinner with all of the heads of Herod’s Empire that would be invited on such an occasion.
However when it was understood as to why they were there, it brought great consternation to Herod and His court, for these men were talking about a King that had been born, “King of the Jews.” This means that Herod and his dynasty would be replaced. We are now dealing with a serious matter, and it has already spread throughout the city and not only is Herod “troubled”, but all Jerusalem with him. Because when Herod is unhappy and troubled, there is trouble in “River City,” big trouble. They have been through this before, and they know that they are probably in for a great bloodletting of immeasurable magnitude .
But instead of losing his cool, Herod keeps his head, and though his veins course with Arab blood, he along with his lineage having been Jewish converts and himself been circumsised, put on his best religious face and called for the religious leaders, the chief priests and scribes and “demanded of them where Christ should be born.” He knew who this King of the Jews was. He had known from childhood, just as Agrippa had known as Paul confronted him with those piercing words, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.” So this King Herod knew that this “king of the Jews” that they were talking about was this Christ, this Messiah that he had been taught from the Old Testament Prophets that it was Him that must have come, but apparently he couldn’t remember where the prophets said that he was to be born, and he must find Him and He must be dealt with immediately.
And as Paul Harvey said, “Now we know the rest of the story”. It was a beautiful story for the wise men who obeyed Herod by following the Star to Bethlehem, even to the dwelling where the “young child” was as they came and worshipped Him, not Mary, but Him. They brought Him gifts, not Mary, but to Him alone, and returned another way, being warned of God in a dream. The story is always beautiful to those who are wise enough to seek Him. And then Joseph also being warned in a dream took the child and His mother, in obedience to God and fled into Egypt until the danger was past. Of course instead of worshipping the Christ, Herod had all of the babes in Bethlehem slaughtered, that were two years old and younger, which was one of the most cruel acts of wanton, wicked, unprovoked killings by a tyrant known in all of the history of mankind. According to Matthew, this too was the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy in these words, “Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,
Mat 2:18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not” (Jer 31:15).
But the most tragic characters of all in this human tragedy are the religious leaders. The word “demanded” is most interesting. The most important men of the times, but Herod had no respect for them and saw them but vassals to be used as his puppets. Court clerics and palace prelates to be called on when he needed them, not for spiritual help, but for the furtherance of a state purpose, today it would be called, Federal Public Policy. Their answer was immediate and without hesitation, “In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
Mat 2:6 – And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel” (Micah 5:2); (Gen. 49:10).
They said, “Bethlehem”, (the house of bread) is where you will find The Bread of Life. He will be there, about five miles from here, not far. He will be there. His destiny has been to be there ever since the serpent beguiled Eve in the Garden of Eden 4,000 years ago. Ever since God pronounced judgment on the serpent and said, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Ever since that day the world had been waiting, and every pure virgin Jewish girl of the tribe of Judah had hoped that she would be the handmaiden of God, so favored to be the one that should be the fulfillment of that prophecy.
Yes, those Jewish religious leaders knew where The Christ should be born. They knew that he would be of the seed of Abraham, through Isaac and David as foretold by their prophets. According to the prophet Daniel they even knew when He would be born (Dan 9:26). They also knew that he would be called out of Egypt, for it was foretold by the prophet Hosea (Hos. 11:1). They knew that he would enter the Temple, which he did when he was twelve years old (Mal 3:1). But they also knew two other remarkable things. They knew that He would be born of a virgin (Isa 7:14) “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Now just one last question: If these Chief priests, and remember, they were the ones with that controlled the religious destinies of the people, who could cast the lowly out of synagogues, who could pronounce judgment on prostitutes, and anathemas on whom they will, and the scribes, they were the theologians, the dogmatists, the chief professors in the Seminaries, keepers of the Book, the Word of God. Now if they knew the pedigree of the King of the Jews, even that His name would be Immanuel (God with us) and when and where he would be born: THEN WHY WERE THEY IN JERUSALEM? WHY WERE THEY NOT IN BETHLEHEM WAITING FOR HIM?
The scripture says that He is coming again. The first time He came through the birth canal of a Jewish maiden, as a lowly babe in a manger stall, wrapped in swaddling clothes. He came as the Savior, to “Seek and to save that which was lost.” The next time He will return as the King of King’s and Lord of Lord’s as the Judge of all men. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Ph 2:9-11).
Heb 9:28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
If you are not prepared to meet the Lord Jesus Christ when He comes for you either in death or when He comes as the Judge of all men, He has made salvation available to you through the His death on the cross by paying our sin debt. He was buried and after three days He rose again for our justification. The scripture says, “Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
If you know Him as Savior but you are not walking in obedience to Him, this promise is for you:
1Jn 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. been
1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
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Sermon Audio: Dr. Greg Dixon or Indianapolis Baptist Temple