Reactions to the Birth of Christ

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2 NIV).

During this Christmas season, our granddaughter, who is almost three, learned the first stanza of the Christmas hymn “We Three Kings”. I think we all rejoice when young children can use their voices to sing the praises of the King of kings. It is always good to sing praises to the Lord, especially when we sing about one of the important events in the history of redemption.

When a child sings, it is interesting to listen carefully to their words, since they usually vary from the actual words of the song. When Elise sings this carol, she says, “We five kings….” We smile at her artistic license in departing from the traditional text. She makes no change to the Biblical texts in the number of kings (actually Magi), since Matthew only refers to them in the plural without counting them. Her devotion to singing to the Great King is an example to us all.

So now let us turn our minds to worship and consider four reactions to Christ’s birth. One of the key words in our text is the word “worship”. Let’s look at the people mentioned in the text and see how many of them desired to worship Jesus Christ the Lord.

Many people were disturbed (2:1-3). The source of much of this disruption came from King Herod. When an oppressive ruler is stirred up about something, others have reason for concern. King Herod had murdered his wife, three sons, a mother-in-law, a brother-in-law, an uncle, and many others. He would tolerate no opposition from anyone under his authority. Nor would he allow any potential rival to his throne to live.

The people of Jerusalem were caught up in the unrest. With a man like Herod in power, the people would be very concerned about what might happen from the appearance of these visitors with their scary question. What might Herod do? Who might get caught by his suspicious inquisition? Yes, the people had sufficient reason to be troubled. Did they pray for God’s protection from the king’s cruelty? Did hope arise in their hearts because of this news of a newborn? We do not know. None of them appear to have had any public interest in the birth of a Messiah. Fear ruled over worship. We need to show hope to a troubled world, because we know that God’s King has been born.

Religious scholars were disinterested (2:4-6). They knew the facts about the promised Messiah. They knew what God had said through the prophet Micah some seven hundred years before. They certainly knew the other prophecies about the Messiah that were written by David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel, too. To men well taught in the Law and the Prophets, this was an easy question.

Yet they lacked a zeal for discovery. All Jerusalem was buzzing over the inquiry of the Magi. They should have wondered what was happening when the Gentile king ruling over them asked about their Messiah. But they were not stirred to pursue these matters. They knew a lot, but they lacked any deep, life-changing interest. So it is with many religious people. Perhaps they will have heard or will hear later the story of Christmas. But will they seek to know its meaning? Will they strive to know more about the newborn King? We ought to model the right kind of interest, rather than being content with correct information that the Savior was born over two thousand years ago.

King Herod was deceitful (2:7-8). He played the religious game carefully. He did not want to arouse speculation about the coming of the Messiah among the people. So he had to act quietly. He did not want to make the Magi suspicious before he gained some more information about how to identify the newborn King. Clearly, he was unaware of the nature of the star, inferring that it was simply some mumbo jumbo of astrologers. For this reason, he pretended to be a devout worshiper of the Lord.

His intent was far from worship of the Messiah. The sequel to this account shows what Herod intended. It was murder. Let us stay far away from his spirit. Let us love God’s peace.

The Magi were delighted (2:9-12).

  • They acted on the information they had received. It was meager compared to the riches of God’s word that we now have. But they made a long journey that cost them money, hardship, and time in order to find the baby King.
  • They rejoiced when they saw the star. They experienced God leading them when no one else could or would. It is not certain what this star was, but it was clearly special, since it led them to the house where Jesus was.
  • They worshiped and honored the baby king. Filled with joy, they gave him rich gifts. In response to God’s great gift of his Son, have you given him yourself? He wants you most of all. He welcomes you to know his surpassing greatness and love.

We should not be surprised when we encounter different reactions to Christ and Christmas. Besides the above mentioned, people may react in other ways. Most people are mired in the responses of unbelief, regardless of their form. They have been part of the human situation since the first Christmas.

In this account we learn anew how God can supply for his people in surprising ways. In this text we see a few of them: a star for the Magi, gifts for the young family, which will help them during their escape to Egypt, and dreams to provide a special warning for the Magi and to give Joseph direction to protect his family. God is active in our lives, whether or not we recognize him.

God’s love is seen in his willingness to send his Son to be the Savior of sinners. God sent his Son to save oppressors and the oppressed, the disinterested and those ready to listen, the deceivers and the deceived, those far off and those who are near. It matters not who we are and what we’ve done, Christ was born to save people like us. How deeply are you interested in the birth of Jesus? Yes, you are reading this post when you could be wasting your life on frivolity. Obviously, you have some kind of interest. But that isn’t the question. Are you interested enough to dig deeper, to learn more? Or have you grown too accustomed to these words to be stirred by them?

Grace and peace, David