Responses To Jesus’ Birth

In Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ (Matt. 1:18-2:23) there are at least 4 different people or groups of people who respond, in one way or another, to the news of His birth.

Herod
Herod’s response was one of hostility and fear. Herod was a cruel and extremely jealous ruler. Actually, jealous is an understatement. He was downright paranoid. He lived for power and authority, and he removed any threats to his rule without hesitation. In fact, he had his wife and 2 of his sons executed, because he had suspicions about their loyalty. When he heard reports that there were magi from the east in Jerusalem, inquiring about a new “king of the Jews,” he was immediately troubled. This sounded like a threat to his authority, and Herod was determined to eliminate anything that threatened his power and authority as king. So, Herod began plotting how he could destroy this newly born king.
There are lots of people, today, who are somewhat like Herod in their response to Jesus Christ. Christ represents a threat to their rule and authority – not over an earthly kingdom, but over their own lives. They understand the implications of the title, “King of the Jews” and the title, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” They treasure their “independence”. They have no problem with a god who promises blessings and worldly favors in exchange for money or other tokens of allegiance. They have a big problem with One Who claims absolute, sovereign Lordship over all creation and demands that they submit their wills to His will. So, they want nothing to do with the Jesus of Scripture. Oh, some of these folks will pay homage to another Jesus – the Jesus who is portrayed as a good man who lived an exemplary life and showed us all how we should care about each other and do good to other people. But they have no tolerance for the Lord Jesus Christ, the Sovereign Lord of glory who comes to take His rightful place on the throne of their lives. Ironically, these very people, who are so bent on maintaining their “freedom” actually never experience real freedom. Instead, they spend their lives enslaved to their own sin. They never know the freedom and joy that comes from One who was, “Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”

Chief Priests and Scribes
When Herod had heard all the talk about this “King of the Jews” being born, he gathered the chief priests and scribes for a conference. The chief priests were the members of the High Priestly family, and were in charge of worship in the temple. The scribes were men who devoted themselves to the detailed study of the Old Testament Scriptures. These were the religious leaders of Israel. That’s why Herod turned to them for answers. Incredibly, their response to Jesus’ birth was one of indifference. They had the exact answer Herod was looking for. They didn’t even have to have a consultation to discuss it. This was an easy one for them. “In Bethlehem of Judea…” I’m fairly certain they then quoted the scripture from memory. Then they went about their business. They, apparently, had little interest in finding the child themselves. For all the knowledge they had, these guys apparently were not waiting, expectantly and longingly, for the Messiah to be born so that they could find Him and worship Him. Why was that? Maybe, for one thing, they were quite comfortable in their lives without a Messiah. They probably had no real sense of a need for something more. They were content with their great knowledge of scripture and their religious works. They were confident that they were children of Abraham, and if anyone was going to go to heaven, surely it would be them.
I think the chief priests and scribes are not so unlike many religious people today who treat Jesus Christ with an attitude of careless indifference. These are folks who enjoy Christmas and may even call themselves “Christians.” Yet, when it comes down to everyday life, Christ makes little practical difference in their lives. They know about Him, but they do not have a sense of their deep need for Him. They don’t live to worship and please Him. They are not making any serious effort to get to know Him better, because they are content and comfortable and confident with the amount of “religion” that they have. These are the religious people of whom Jesus said,
Mt 15:7-8: 7“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.”

General Populace of Jerusalem
Their response was one of oblivion. They were, for the most part, willfully oblivious to the momentous event that took place in the city of Bethlehem. When the magi came, inquiring about the king who was born and informing folks that they had seen His star in the east, people didn’t pack bags and head for Bethlehem. They, apparently, went on with life as usual. Other than the visit from the magi, it seems as if most would have had no inkling of what had happened. By the way, this situation sets the pattern for Matthew’s whole gospel. The Jewish people, as a whole, never came to grasp the real significance of who Jesus was and what He came to do, while many outsiders like the magi and the Roman centurion of Matt. 8 would eagerly receive Jesus with a simple faith.
Maybe folks in Jerusalem were just too busy and preoccupied with all the activities of their lives to take much notice of Jesus’ birth. In fact, like Herod, they were troubled about the news of this birth (verse 3). They were troubled because Herod was troubled, and that meant their lives could be unduly interrupted soon. They were troubled by anything that would upset the status quo.
Many of us, in America, are like the people of Jerusalem – too busy and preoccupied with our earthly activities to take much notice of Jesus.

The magi
Their response was two-fold. First, they sought out Jesus. They were not content to just have the knowledge that a great king had been born in Judea. They set out on a long and costly journey to actually see this new king. They also were not satisfied to wait until the boy had become a man. As Matthew Henry stated, “They might have said, ‘If such a prince be born, we shall hear of him shortly in our own country, and it will be time enough then to pay our homage to him.’ But so impatient were they to be better acquainted with him, that they took a long journey on purpose to enquire after him.”1 What a contrast with the indifference of the religious leaders and the common people in Jerusalem!
Out of all the characters in this story, they were certainly the least likely candidates to take such a sincere interest in the King of the Jews. They were pagan Gentiles who lived in a country far removed from the Land of Israel. It would seem that they should have had the least incentive to care about a Jewish baby, and they certainly had the least opportunity to know about Jesus. It is quite possible that at least some of their knowledge was passed on from the days when Daniel and his companions were in the royal courts of Babylon. They may have had knowledge of the ancient prophecy uttered by Balaam in Num. 24, “As star shall rise from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel….” Whatever sources of knowledge they had that led them to recognize this star and what it signified, they certainly did not have the rich heritage and the great privileges of the people of Israel. Yet, they were the ones who journeyed for months, at great personal cost, so that they could find the newborn King and worship Him.
And that is the second aspect of their response. They worshiped Him. I don’t know how much these men really understood about who Jesus was and what He had come to do, but they did understand the right way to come to Him. They worshiped Him. They bowed down, indicating their submission to His Lordship, and they gave Him their most precious gifts, indicating that He was worthy of the highest worship and honor.

Which of these people most resemble you in your attitude toward Jesus Christ? Are you like Herod – afraid that Jesus will interfere with your “self-rule” over your own life?
Are you like the religious leaders in Jerusalem, who were so contented with their religion and knowledge that they didn’t feel they had a need for a personal encounter with the Messiah and Savior of the world?
Are you like the residents of Jerusalem – just too busy with the all-consuming activities of life for Jesus to make any real difference to you?
Are you like the magi – bowing down to Jesus Christ and offering all that you have to Him in glad worship and submission because you realize who He is and that He is more precious to you than anything else?
May God grant us the grace to be like those wise men, who traveled so far to see and to worship the King of kings.

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