3 Ways People Responded to the News of Jesus’ Birth in Matthew’s Gospel—and What It Means for You Today
Christmas is a wonderful time with all the joys of family and friends, festivities, and fantastic food. The grandeur and celebration that surround this holiday is fitting as it commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Yet, the Christmas story isn’t just about Jesus. His birth impacts all our lives now just as it did two thousand years ago for the first people who heard of his birth. The Christmas account in the second chapter of Matthew showcases three groups of people and how the birth of Jesus revealed their hearts and teaches us today how Jesus’ life should affect ours.
1. Earnest Outsiders
Matthew 2 tells of unorthodox searchers for the child Jesus. “Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem” (Matt. 2:1). First of all, these “wise men” were not from the people of Israel; they were considered outsiders, and their knowledge of the Scriptures may have been limited. Their vocations were also taboo in Israel (cf.1 Sam. 28:9). In Daniel 2, they were referred to as magicians and lumped together with those interested in reading stars, understanding dreams, and those interested in the occult. These men looked to natural phenomena to enlighten difficult situations.
Yet, God opened their minds to recognize the cosmic sign he had sent to declare the birth of his Son. These magi, steeped as they were in their Eastern ways, were enlightened by God’s grace to see the sign pointing to God’s love; and once their eyes were opened, they were determined to find the King of the Jews—even if it meant entering a city and posing questions to a blood thirsty tyrant. The cosmic sign only took them so far. They had to ask questions and learn from the Scriptures so that they might encounter, bow down, and worship the King.
2. Apathetic Insiders
Unlike the earnest outsiders seeking answers, boldly pursuing the good news in order to worship the King, the priests and scribes of Israel were apathetic insiders who did nothing when they heard the good news that the King of the Jews was born. The chief priests and scribes were religious leaders in Israel. They had the Jewish scriptures and they knew them well. The people of Israel had been waiting for their King for years, and yet, the chief priests and scribes did not even voluntarily do any research when they heard that he was born. They inquired about the details of the new king at the request of Herod. Their apathy is astounding.
These are the people who were chosen by God to be his special people—who were to be on the lookout for God’s redemption in a great prophesied king. Yet they barely stirred themselves. Instead of feeling excitement and anticipation, they were troubled by the news (Matt. 2:3). Why is this? Perhaps they were concerned that their comfortable lives would be disturbed by this new king. Perhaps they worried that if they were to pledge allegiance to him, Herod would have their heads. In fact, this is what the chief priests admit later in the Gospel of John when they decide to kill Jesus (cf. John 11:48-49). They chose to side with the worldly powers that be, rather than stand with and suffer for the King sent to save them.
3. Worldly Powers
Herod the Great is a destructive figure. He was troubled by the news of this new King of the Jews (Matt. 2:3) and made a move to do something about it. He was even willing to learn from the religious leaders a little about this king and aided the wise men in their search (Matt. 2:4). Yet, he did so with intent to destroy the child king. This is worldly power on display. It does not bow the knee to King Jesus, but seeks to use any means to make war against him (cf. Ps. 2). Herod pretended he would pay homage to Jesus, but this was simply a ploy to get close enough to slay the child (Matt. 2:13). The world and its powers want nothing to do with the King Jesus. They do not seek to bend the knee and worship him. Ultimately, they would rather destroy him—and those loyal to him—and live as if they are the king. The world will go to great lengths to do this:
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matt. 2:16).
Jesus and You
How do we respond to this Jesus, the King? Do you consider yourself an outsider to Christianity, the church, and the family of God? Perhaps you are curious and see something about Jesus that interests you. Look to the Scriptures to find out more about who Jesus is and the joy and peace he brings to his people. Search diligently like the wise men to know Jesus, the Savior King.
Are you a Christian who is so familiar with Christianity that the good news of Jesus, your king no longer strongly affects you? Have you become comfortable with the status quo of the world? Perhaps worldly comforts are dulling your senses and hindering you from a determined, whole hearted pursuit of Christ, your Savior. Perhaps you are frightened by the Herods of the world, and what an open allegiance to Christ might entail for your work, family, or social life.
For those curious on the outside and those troubled on the inside, Matthew gives great encouragement and comfort:
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matt. 2:10-11)
If the wise men experienced great joy when they saw the star leading them to the child Jesus, what greater joy must they have felt when they saw the King of the Jews. They were so overcome that they “fell down and worshipped him,” and then offered him their treasures. As you read Matthew’s account, you can sense the jubilation of the scene. This is the celebration of a heart touched by the life of Jesus Christ: joy, worship, and gift giving. As you consider Jesus this Christmas season, meditate on this story. Whether you are an “outsider” or “insider,” draw near to Jesus Christ the King and the salvation he offers, and rejoice and be wise.
a Magus, a (Persian [SNyberg, D. Rel. d. alten Iran ’38], then also Babylonian) wise man and priest, who was expert in astrology, interpretation of dreams and various other occult arts - BDAG 609