Lessons from the Savior’s Birth
“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, 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. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 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. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 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. 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 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. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.” Matthew 2:1-12
The first to take notice of and come to Christ after his birth were the shepherds, who heard of him by the angel of the Lord (Luke 2:8-20). After that, Simeon and Anna saw him in the temple and spoke of him by the Spirit of God, telling all who would hear who he is and what he had come to accomplish (Luke 2:21-40). Then, for nearly two whole years, no one else took notice of the fact that God had come into the world in human flesh! Apparently no one in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, or all of Judea believed the messages Simeon and Anna had declared or the word of Joseph and Mary concerning the Christ of God. Then, about two years after the birth of our Savior, “wise men came from the east to Jerusalem, saying, where is he that is born King of the Jews?” Let us carefully observe the spiritual lessons conveyed to us in this inspired record of the visit of the wise men who came to Jerusalem seeking Christ.
The history of these wise men and their visit to our Savior, like everything else in Holy Scripture, is recorded for our learning and our comfort and hope as we seek to glorify our God in this world (Rom. 15:4).
The first thing that strikes me as I read Matthew 2 is the fact that the Book, the Word of God, must be as it claims an inspired Book, a Book written by the very finger of God. This one chapter is Matthew’s complete account of our Savior’s infancy. Mark and John tell us nothing, and Luke tells us very little about it.
Why do Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us so little about our Savior’s infancy and childhood? Surely, this lack of information places a stamp of inspiration upon their writings. What they wrote was not their word, but God’s. Had they written only as men giving the record of a man highly esteemed by them, there would have been much more recorded about the Savior’s earliest years. What biographer has ever failed to do so, when those who could supply the information were at hand?
If the Gospel writers did not write “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21), they could not have restrained themselves from giving us greater details about the holy childhood of the “holy child Jesus.” The ancient Jews placed great importance upon childhood. They had eight different words to mark its various stages of development, ranging from conception to adulthood. For Matthew, who was a Jew and wrote specifically to identify Christ to his own countrymen, to omit everything about our Savior’s infancy and childhood, except what we have in these twenty-three verses, is remarkable. His silence cannot be explained by anything except the fact that he wrote this Gospel narrative by divine inspiration.
Lest any should think I am making a fanciful stretch to demonstrate an evidence of the fact that the Word of God is just that — THE WORD Of GOD, inspired and inerrant, it should be noted those things which have been written about Jesus of Nazareth by other men confirmed it. Such writings (ancient and modern) are filled with speculations about his childhood. Mathew, Mark, and Luke, writing by divine inspiration, tell only enough to demonstrate that this man is the Christ promised and prophesied of in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Second, let us realize that every Old Testament prophecy concerning the advent of the Messiah has been precisely fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, in every detail. Let anyone honestly study the Old Testament Scriptures in which the person, advent, and accomplishments of the Messiah are foretold and then study the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, and he will be forced to acknowledge this fact — Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of whom Moses and the prophets spoke (John 1:45).
The Old Testament tailors a garment that will fit only one man. Find that man and you will have found the Christ of God, the Messiah. In this passage only one thing is mentioned in this regard. But this one fact of fulfilled prophecy is sufficient to demonstrate the point I am making. — According to the Old Testament Scriptures, Messiah must be born in Bethlehem of Judea prior to the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem — “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2).
The Jews fully expected the Messiah to be born at Bethlehem (Matt. 2:4-6; John 7:41-42). But Joseph and Mary were not residents of Bethlehem at the time she conceived or at the time she gave birth to the Lord Jesus. They were living in Galilee, in the city of Nazareth at the time (Luke 2:4). Yet, the Scripture must be fulfilled. Messiah must be born at Bethlehem.
So God, who directs the thoughts of the king’s heart (Pro. 21:1), moved Caesar Augustus to make a decree requiring that every man return to his hometown to pay his taxes (Luke 2:1-4). To my knowledge no such decree had ever been made before and none after. It was an absurd thing to do. But the scriptures must be fulfilled. Thus, while Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem to pay taxes, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, was born (Matt. 2:1; Luke 2:4-7).
John Gill writes, “Bethlehem signifies the house of bread, and in it was born, as an ancient writer observes, the Bread which comes down from heaven: and it may also signify the house of flesh, and to it the allusion may be in 2 Timothy 3:16, “God was manifest in the flesh.”
In the light of this one fact, only one who is a willfully blind and willfully ignorant fool would deny that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Christ of God, the Savior of the world.
Third, we see here that our Savior has many “hidden ones” (Ps. 83:3) in the earth. We sometimes foolishly imagine that we know all that God is doing in the world and that we either know or know about all his people in the world. But nothing could be more absurd and further from the truth.
Here the Holy Spirit tells us of wise men who came from somewhere in the east to worship the Son of God. We know no more about their lives than we do of Melchizedek, Jethro, or Job. But they were the servants of God. Even so it is today. Our God and Savior has a people scattered throughout the earth who serve him faithfully, who are altogether unknown to us; but their names are in the book of life. We need to constantly remind ourselves of this fact. We sometimes think the earth is barren because our own gardens are fruitless, but it is not so.
The grace of God is not limited to certain races, tied to certain places, or restricted to certain families (Rev. 5:9). We know that God has an appointed means of grace by which he save his elect (Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:23; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). But he does not always act openly and obviously. He sometimes hides the means he uses and only shows us the result of his work.
Sinners, like these wise men, are sometimes born of God in the dark places of the earth and made wise unto salvation. No doubt there are some traveling to heaven now of whom the church and the world know nothing. They are the Lord’s “hidden ones” They know Christ, and Christ knows them, and nothing else really matters! We must never imagine that God has left himself without a witness anywhere (Rom. 11:1-5). We must never attempt to measure the length and breadth of God’s kingdom by our own yardstick. And we must never imagine that God is not working because we do not see him work, or that our labor is in vain because we do not see its fruit (1 Cor. 15:58; Isa. 55:11).
Fourth, this passage demonstrates, as the scriptures constantly teach, that the least likely are often the most likely objects of God’s saving grace. The word here translated, “wise men”, would be better translated, “magi.” It is almost always used in a bad sense in the Scriptures. It refers to pagan astrologers, soothsayers, sorcerers, magicians, wizards, and fortunetellers. We are not told who these men were, or where they lived, or how they learned of Christ, only that they were from the east. Perhaps they had learned to expect Christ from the ten tribes who were once carried away into captivity. Maybe some prophet had passed through their land expounding the words of Isaiah, or Daniel, or David. We simply do not know. But, as Matthew Poole wrote, “These were the first fruits of the Gentiles owning Christ as King of the Jews, whilst he came among his own, and they received him not; nor do I know anything more worthy of our observation concerning them.”
God often passes by those who have, but neglect, the greatest privileges and opportunities, and saves those who seem to be beyond the reach of mercy (Luke 4:25-27). We would have thought the scribes and Pharisees, those men so learned in the facts of Scripture and religion, would have been the first to go down to Bethlehem as soon as the Savior’s birth was rumored; but it was not so (John 1:11).
It is a sad fact, but a fact often confirmed by experience, that the hardest people on earth to reach with the gospel are gospel hardened rebels (2 Cor. 2:14-16). Those who neglect the privileges and opportunities set before them to hear the gospel and learn of God court reprobation and judgment (Pro. 1:23-33).
God graciously saves those who are esteemed by men to be the least likely candidates for mercy (1 Sam. 16:1-12; 1 Cor. 1:26-30). He passed by self-righteous Pharisees and self-complacent scribes, and saved some pagan magicians from a far eastern land.
Here is a fifth lesson that must not be overlooked. — Many have heads full of knowledge whose hearts are altogether void of grace. When King Herod asked the chief priests and scribes where Christ should be born, they answered him immediately, demonstrating an accurate knowledge of the letter of the scriptures (vv. 4-6). They knew where Christ was to be born; but they never went to Bethlehem to seek him! Their heads were full; but their hearts were empty. What a sad condition! The wise intellectual foolishly imagines that if he stores the barn of his brain with knowledge he has won God’s salvation, never realizing that “The Lord looketh upon the heart!” Great knowledge is good; but grace is better. Knowledge alone saves no one. It is grace that carries men and women to glory. The Pharisees had knowledge, but no grace. Judas had knowledge, but no grace. Demas had knowledge, but no grace. Diotrephes had knowledge, but no grace. Knowledge, no matter how accurate, that does not reach, and change, and rule the heart with grace is useless, damning knowledge!
Sixth, we are here reminded that faith in Christ always shows itself by works. — “Faith worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6). — “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:18). Faith in Christ is more than mental assent to facts, doctrines, and propositions. Faith is a principle of life. These wise men are set before us as striking examples of faith.
They believed God’s Word without any outward evidence to support it. They trusted Christ, though they had never seen him. They believed him and came to him, though the scribes and Pharisees believed him not. They trusted Christ and worshipped him as their God, Savior, and King when he was a baby on Mary’s knees! There was no halo over his head. There were no signs or miracles to convince them. They had nothing but the naked Word of God and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Yet, when they saw the Christ, they fell down and worshipped him (not Mary, but him) as their Savior and their God (v.11). We read of no greater faith in all the Bible than this. Blessed are those people who thus believe God, who dare to take God at his Word (without evidence) and walk accordingly!
Believing God’s Word concerning his Son, these wise men were diligent in seeking him. They had made up their minds that they would go to Jerusalem to see him “that was born king of the Jews;” and they never rested until they had seen him.
And when they came to worship Christ, they brought prepared gifts of worship, praise, and gratitude to him. C. H. Spurgeon wrote, “These choice offerings, especially the gold, would help Joseph and Mary to provide for the Royal Child, who was so soon to be exiled. God brought providers from the far East to supply the needs of his Son. Remember, Omnipotence has servants everywhere. Before the babe starts for Egypt, Oriental sages must pay his charges.” — All who worship Christ consecrate their substance to him, and worship him with sacrifices of love and gratitude. Such worship requires faith (Pro. 3:9-10).
Seventh, we have in this passage a demonstration of that which ought to make our hearts rejoice. — Our heavenly Father rules all things in providence to accomplish his purpose of grace (Rom. 8:28-30; 11:33-36). He made a star to guide these chosen men to Christ the Savior (Rev. 1:20). He moved Caesar Augustus to make his decree concerning taxation. He prevented Herod from following these men to Bethlehem. He provided what Joseph and Mary needed to flee to Egypt. He warned these men in a dream not to return to their own country through Jerusalem.
As he cared for Joseph and Mary, his servants, and our Savior who came into the world as his righteous Servant, so God’s servants in this world are the objects of his special and unceasing care. All who are his are the apple of his eye. You may safely cast all your care upon him, for “he careth for you!”
These are the lessons the Holy Spirit here teaches us by recording this brief event in the history of these wise men and their Savior.