AND THOU, BETHLEHEM Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity.
As we approach the day on which millions of Christians around the world celebrate the birth of our Savior, I wanted to take the time to contemplate this miracle and what Scripture reveals about this holy event.
We are all familiar with the "Christmas story"; the wise men who traveled from the east to Jerusalem, following the star that would lead them to the birthplace of the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2). But first, they went to Jerusalem to inquire of King Herod where they might find the birthplace of this infant King. Herod then asked all of his scribes and seers and Jewish religious leaders to tell him the location. And within the verses of Matthew, Chapter Two, we read the 700 year-old prophecy by the prophet Micah ... that out of Bethlehem, one of the smallest communities in all of Judea, would come the One who would rule in Israel; and his birth was planned from the beginning of time, for all eternity. It is that child whom we worship this week, and who came to fulfill all the prophecies of King and Ruler of the world; to save mankind from condemnation and sin.
But the story in Matthew 2 is rich with meaning and significance, far beyond the picture of an infant in a manger. For instance, the "wise men" were no ordinary sojourners. And there were likely more than the traditional three we have come to accept. The word “Magi,” comes from the Latinized form of the Greek word magoi, transliterated from the Persian for a "select sect of priests." (Our words “magic” and "magician" come from the same root.) So, did you know that these "Wise Men" or "Maji" were very likely Persian priests? Makes sense, when we read in Scripture that they "traveled from the east."
Furthermore, the ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. After some Magi, who had been attached to the Median court, proved to be experts in the interpretation of dreams, Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia. So, being experts in dreams, we can assume that they had received dreams, or visions, about this "King of the Jews", and perhaps received instructions to follow a great star to his birthplace.
(AS AN ASIDE, remember that during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, Daniel was made "chief of the magicians", because of his ability to correctly interpret dreams -- all received from divine revelations. In the subsequent Persian Empire, King Darius appointed Daniel, a Jew, over the previously hereditary Median priesthood because of these same astonishing "revelations". Could it be that Daniel entrusted a messianic vision (to be announced in due time by a 'star') to a secret sect of the Magi for its eventual fulfillment more than 500 years later? Is that the reason that these Magi were looking for the Star and knew what it meant?)
Also, it was very likely that the sudden appearance of a large group of Magi -- probably traveling with every imaginable oriental pageantry, and accompanied by a cavalry escort to insure their safe penetration into Roman territory -- would have certainly alarmed Herod and the populace of Jerusalem. Their request of Herod as to the whereabouts of one “who has been born King of the Jews” would have been an insult to him. After all, he was a non-Jew who had conspired and bribed his way into that office. The arrival of the Jewish King, or Messiah, was a direct threat to his power!
Have you ever wondered why Herod inquired "diligently" (meticulously) of the Magi as to what time the star appeared? Consulting his scribes, Herod discovered from the prophecies in the Old Testament that the Promised One, the Messiah, would be born in Bethlehem. In particular, the prophecy of Daniel, which was written 537 years earlier, predicted that the arrival of the Jewish Messiah would occur exactly 173,880 days from the time a legal decree would be given to the Jews to completely rebuild Jerusalem (Dan. 9:25). Herod's scribes knew that this decree was actually, and specifically, declared by King Artaxerxes on March 14, 445 B.C.! So Herod was well aware that the countdown was nearing zero, and he instructed the Magi to visit the child and then report back to him.
But, then we read in Matthew 2:12, that the Magi were warned by God "in a dream" not to return to Herod. And so we see the supernatural protection of the Divine child who would be born to become Savior of the world!
This miracle of the Savior's birth was predicted through ancient prophecies and surrounded with great symbology. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were also prophetic, speaking of our Lord’s roles of king, priest, and savior. Gold speaks of the divine ... the ark of the covenant was overlaid in gold; Christ tells us (the Church at Laodicea) to buy refined gold from Him so that we may be rich in our faith; gold signifies his Kingship.
Frankincense was a spice used in the priestly duties; it was expensive (spoke of a costly sacrifice), and it was a pleasing aroma to God. Frankincense is a symbol of holiness and righteousness. The gift of frankincense to the Christ child was symbolic of His willingness to become a sacrifice, wholly giving Himself up for our sakes.
Myrrh was an embalming ointment, made from an Eastern spice, and it signified His death. Myrrh symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction. The baby Jesus would grow to suffer greatly as a man, and would pay the ultimate price when He gave His life on the cross for all who would believe in Him.
By now, we should see that the ceremonial offerings by the Magi at the birth of the Christ child are about more than the mere giving of gifts. So we must ask ourselves this ... what does this holiday truly mean to us? Has it been reduced to the buying and giving of gifts? Or can you see all the true miracles that it represents ... the fulfilling of ancient prophecies of a Messiah King of Israel; God appearing in the flesh through a miraculous conception; and how God worked through the gifts from men of foreign religions to show us the divine nature of a humble baby born in the remote regions of Judea.
This is truly a holy season, and my prayer for each of you, is that this coming week you can contemplate how much Jehovah God loves us -- that He was willing to send His Divine Son as a defenseless baby into the world to show us the way to reconcile with Him. May you perceive the majesty, the sacrifice, and the hope that this precious child personifies. And may we strive to hear the multitude of angels that sang that day, and praised God, saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
Thank you to the teachings of Dr. Chuck Missler for the historical knowledge about the Magi.