The Worship of the Wise Men

The Truth About Christmas

by Bob Burridge ©2010

This article continues a series of studies about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The series begins with, Called To Bethlehem. There is also a complete index for all the articles telling The Truth About Christmas.

Part 12 The Worship of the Wise Men

It was only after the wise men left Jerusalem that they were guided by a star. It led them to the very house where our Lord was living.

When they arrived, Matthew 2:11 tells us what they did, “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.”

The word used here for house shows that he was no longer lying in a manger in a shed. The word in the original Greek text is oikia (οικια). It was the common word for a simple family residence. Mary and Joseph were staying in a regular home by this time.

As we saw in the previous article, Jesus was probably about one year old by the time the wise men from the East arrived. The census crowds would have left by then so there would have been space available with relatives who lived in Bethlehem. It is also possible that Joseph was able to do some carpentry and earn enough money to buy a house, or perhaps to build one himself.

The Magoi worshiped Jesus when they found him. By the work of God’s grace on their hearts they recognized him for who he really was. This little toddler, no longer an infant, was the Promised Redeemer. The hope of all the ages was being fulfilled before their eyes.

Like these wise men, the Eastern Magoi, we need to put the worship of Jesus Christ above everything else in our lives. They left their comfortable homes and honored positions in life to make an 800 mile trek to find and worship the new born King of the Jews, the Messiah. They freely gave valuable treasures they could have used to improve their life-style. They could have bought more luxuries, fine clothes, or feasted on lavish meals. But they understood a higher responsibility than serving their own personal comforts.

They humbly submitted themselves to a higher King than the one they served back in the East. They found a better and more self-satisfying investment for their riches than saving up for toys, luxuries, or adventures.

The thing we need to focus on most in or lives is our worship of Christ. Give him your time and resources to see that his work is carried out here on earth. Obey his moral principles, regardless of luring temptations. Be devoted to Sabbath worship with the congregation of which you’re a part. Make sure that your behavior at home, at school, at work, and in the community reflects your gratitude for this greatest gift ever given, ever imagined.

Jesus Christ is the one sought by the truly wise. He’s the one enjoyed by those who trust in him and in all he taught. He’s the Good Shepherd and Lord of all.

Next Study: The Name of Jesus

The Star of the Wise Men

The Truth About Christmas

by Bob Burridge ©2010

This article continues a series of studies about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The series begins with, Called To Bethlehem. There is also a complete index for all the articles telling The Truth About Christmas.

Part 11 The Star of the Wise Men

In Matthew 2:2 we read the account of the wise men who came to worship Jesus, the one born King of the Jews. They came to Jerusalem, not to Bethlehem. Jerusalem was the capital city where they would have expected to find a king. They came to Herod and asked, “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.”

God sent this very special star to bring these men to Jesus. It appeared on the night Jesus was born. Somehow, God used it to reveal to them that the promised King of the Jews had been born. Ages ago, during the Jewish Captivity in Babylon, Daniel the Prophet lived there. He had become one of the Magoi (wise scholars) of Babylon. His influence and teachings were probably passed down in the traditions of those scholars. He would have told about the Promised One, the Messiah, who would be born to the Jews.

Every year poorly informed news broadcasters and newspapers interview astronomers trying to look for some natural explanation for this star that appeared when Jesus was born. From the descriptions we have of its appearance and movement, it could not have been an actual star, a comet, a super-nova, or a conjunction of planets. The natural explanations unbelievers read into the story don’t fit the facts in the Bible.

The original word translated as “star” is aster (αστηρ), which simply means a light in the sky. It was a word sometimes used to describe stars, planets, meteors, comets, or any bright object in the sky.

Notice that the Bible doesn’t say that the star lead them there. They didn’t even come to Bethlehem after they saw it. They went to Jerusalem, a natural place to come looking for a Jewish King. The image of three kings following a star across the deserts is pure fiction. The Bible does not tell the story that way.

It was as they left Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem that the star appeared again and led them. Matthew 2:9-10 says, “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.”

No actual star, meteor, comet ,or conjunction of planets could behave that way. It appeared while they were in the East. Then appeared again almost a year later to guide them south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. It pointed out the actual place where Jesus was living. No natural explanation could account for that. This was a special light sent from God unlike anything we have observed in nature.

There is no star mentioned appearing over Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. The star was seen by the wise men while they were back in the East on that night. It may or may not have been visible from Bethlehem or from Jerusalem on the night of his birth.

It was only after they left Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem that the same supernatural light in the sky guided them to the home where Jesus was then living.

Next Study: The Worship of the Wise Men

The Wise Men

The Truth About Christmas

by Bob Burridge ©2010

This article continues a series of studies about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The series begins with, Called To Bethlehem. There is also a complete index for all the articles telling The Truth About Christmas.

Part 10 The Wise Men

There was the good news about the birth of Christ. Those who were there, the shepherds and family in Bethlehem, were encouraged. They told others about what they saw and heard on that miraculous night.

But there was trouble brewing not far from Bethlehem. About 5 miles to the north, in Jerusalem was the very evil King Herod. His life had been filled with assassinations, murders and violent revenge. When he was just a child, he was permitted to execute the man who killed his father.

By 37 BC Herod used political pressures to get Rome to declare him King of the Jews. To protect his title and power over the Jewish territories …

  • He had 45 Hasmonean Priests killed.
  • He was suspected in the strange bath-tub drowning of Aristobulus III, a potential rival..
  • He killed his wife Mariami soon after he married her.
  • He even had his wife’s mother executed for conspiracy.
  • He feared that his brothers might become competitors so he killed them too.
  • He murdered Costobar, a governor he himself had appointed.
  • Just prior to these events in Matthew he killed his own sons Alexander and Aristobulus.

While he was king, a group of foreign scholarly advisers arrived in Jerusalem. Matthew 2:1 says, “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,”

They’re called wise men in our Bibles. They weren’t kings as the old song goes. That’s based on later mystical writings, not the Bible. The word used here in the original Scriptures is magoi (μαγοι). It means they were scholars, men of science, keepers of ancient knowledge, and very important advisers to the kings. They were experts in astronomy and watched the night skies constantly.

There’s no reason to believe there were three of them. The idea probably comes from the three kinds of gifts they brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It’s like a child saying he got gifts of clothes, toys and DVDs. That doesn’t mean only three people gave him gifts. Historians tell us that when the magoi traveled, they would have a military escort of probably a thousand troops. These were very valuable men and highly respected advisers to kings.

They came from the East, probably Persia, old Babylon, our modern Iraq.

Their message would have been obviously troubling to King Herod. Verse 2 tells us they said, “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.”

Herod was upset about this news of a rival King of the Jews. Verse 3 tells us about his response, “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

It’s no wonder that a man so evil and jealous of his power was troubled. A contingent of eastern Magoi came to Jerusalem, probably with a large military escort, and they were looking for a new-born King over the Jewish people.

Herod probably knew the prophesies about a coming Messianic King. The Rabbis taught that he would be a revolutionary who would overthrow Rome. Herod was appointed by Rome, and took pride in being King of the Jews.

He wanted to know who this rival to his throne was so he called for his advisers. Matthew 2:4-6 says, “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.’ ”

It was the Bible, not the star, that first led them to Bethlehem. The quote comes from Micah 5:2, “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.”

So Herod called these wise men to come to meet with him privately. Matthew 2:7-8, “Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired 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.’ ”

It would have taken these Magoi a while to get to Jerusalem. They had to travel over 800 miles (Roughly the distance between where I live in Central Florida and Washington D.C.). The trip would have required planning and making sure their duties in Babylon were covered while they were away. They would have to camp out along the way, so they needed all the supplies for the trip, and a contingent of military escorts had to be put together. It may have been a year after they saw the star that they arrived in far off Jerusalem.

Later we read of Herod’s plan to slaughter all Bethlehem’s children two years old and younger, so he eliminated all those a year older and a year younger than his intended victim. This fits with Jesus being a toddler about one year old at the time.

So the Savior they found & worshiped likely wasn’t a baby in a manger any more, but a 1-year-old boy. But he was the newborn King of kings and Savior for his people. King Herod died in 4 BC so it was probably about 5 BC that Jesus was born.

Next Study: The Star of the Wise Men

Startled Shepherds

The Truth About Christmas

by Bob Burridge ©2010

This article continues a series of studies about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The series begins with, Called To Bethlehem. There is also a complete index for all the articles telling The Truth About Christmas.

Part 9 Startled Shepherds

Bethlehem was a busy place around the day when Jesus was born. With all the descendants of King David back in their home-town because of the Roman census there were undoubtedly stories to tell, things to catch up on, and opinions to share about current events.

The homes of relatives were likely already filled with other visiting relatives by the time Mary and Joseph arrived. Since there was no room in the family kataluma (the word is translated “guest room” in other places in the New Testament, not “inn”) the young couple from Nazareth probably stayed in one of the shed-like attachments of a family home.

One night while they were there (we don’t really know what time of year, or what time of the night) their baby was born and laid in a manger as his cradle. It was not unusual then to use an unused feeding trough this way.

Undoubtedly news spread fast to all the relatives there since they were living in close quarters. There would have been a lot of congratulations, and probably talk about the nature of his conception. There was no way to send out announcements to those back in Galilee that night, no phones, no e-mail, facebook, or family web-sites. But God intended to get the word out beyond just the family of David gathered in Bethlehem.
The message came to shepherds out in the fields that night. Luke 2:8 “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Shepherds were a common sight in the fields around Bethlehem. During the grazing seasons they sometimes built simple shelters out in the fields for a long term stay.

The life of a shepherd is something few of us have experienced. Then shepherding was a common occupation. God used the shepherd’s work to explain how he takes care of his people, and about how we rely upon our Savior to be our Good Shepherd.

It was an ancient and major industry in Bethlehem, just 5 miles south of Jerusalem. There was a good market for sheep which were sacrificed daily in the temple worship.

Sheep had grazed in those hills for many generations. About 1,000 years earlier the feet of a young shepherd boy named David walked over those fields. One of the best known passages of the Bible is the 23rd Psalm. It was written by that shepherd after he became King over a united Israel. In that Psalm he used his experience with the sheep to explain how the Lord is our Shepherd.

Many hundreds of years after David’s time many families there were still tending sheep on those hills. Out in the fields away from the crowding of the city the shepherds probably talked a lot about all those coming home for the Roman census. There were busy reunions of cousins, brothers, and sisters who that had been scattered over the years.

Certainly they talked some about the politics of the day, how Rome had become so oppressive. They hoped in the Messiah who would come one day to save them. But the Rabbis had confused the ancient promises of the Bible. In the synagogues they were taught that the Messiah would be a great revolutionary who would bring down Rome. They expected that he would restore political power to Israel again and lead them to rule over the Gentiles.

This was likely an ordinary night out on the fields, like hundreds of thousands of nights before then. It was their job to be there. It was their family heritage and business, and they knew it well. They worked under the same constellations of stars and the same moon their ancestor David had seen. The same night skies that lit the fields for Abraham. They are the same lights that display the Creator’s glory in our 21st century night skies.

For the shepherds on that night near Bethlehem, it would have all stared out quite routinely, an ancient set of nightly duties that rarely changed — but this night would be different.
Suddenly the normalcy was broken by the appearance of a messenger sent from heaven. Luke 2:9, “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.’

The picture gets confused by the paintings and illustrations we’re so familiar with today. When heavenly angels appeared to people in the Bible they were often mistaken for mere men. They didn’t hover in the air with wings, halos, and harps.

Our word “angel” comes directly from the Greek word used in the New Testament: angelos (αγγελος). It’s the ordinary word for messenger, someone sent to deliver a message.

For example, that’s what Luke 7:24 calls the messengers sent to Jesus from John the baptist. They are simply called angels, angeloi (αγγελοι). The readers then would have understood what Luke meant. The word angeloi was use for messengers who brought orders to the front lines in battles. When Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:2 the Hebrew word malac (מלאך) was used. That’s the word for “messenger” in Hebrew, and it is the word commonly used for heavenly angels in the Old Testament. We know when the Bible is talking about a non-human spirit messenger because the passage usually tells us that it was a messenger “from heaven”, or words to that effect.

God very rarely sent spirit messengers in human form to deliver his word to humans. There are only a few isolated times in the Bible when that happened.

There’s nothing wrong with drawing God’s angels with wings and halos in art work. It’s the imagery we often use to represent them in book illustrations, paintings, Christmas cards, and figurines. The Bible even uses images like that in describing some of the spirit beings in heaven. But it doesn’t say that angels had physical wings. They were pure spirit beings. When God gave them a physical form to appear as men delivering his message it’s never said that they had wings or halos.

We need to be careful that we don’t miss the main point of their mission by imagining dramatic creatures that would draw the attention to themselves. When they came, the important thing was what God sent them to announce. The spotlight was never on the messenger.

So if the angel appeared to the shepherds as just a man, why were they frightened? The sudden appearing of a man might startle them for a moment. But the main thing that made them uneasy was the overwhelming glory of the Lord around them. God opened their eyes to see his ever-present glory which since man’s fall in Eden is normally suppressed by the fallen soul.

So in Luke 2:10-12 we read that the angel comforted the shepherds, and delivered God’s message. “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

There was good news for them and for “all people”. The Jews were not used to hearing that God’s message of joy reaches out to the Gentiles. Clearly that was always God’s plan. The Jews served an important place as God revealed his covenant of grace. With the coming of the Messiah their special place ended. Now the Israel of God has expanded to be a church of believers from all nations.

The reason for this great joy to all was the birth of the Messiah that night. He was born in Bethlehem, the city of David — just as God’s word had predicted. He came as the Savior, but not to save the Jews from the Roman Emperor, and not just to benefit the Jews alone. He came to save believers of all races from the guilt of sin. He came to restore them to fellowship with God. This baby is the Christ, the Messiah, the Lord who sovereignly rules over all things.

The sign spoken of by the angel was that they would find him in a most humble setting. He would be a baby wrapped up the way babies normally were in those days, and lying in a food trough. This was not the way the Rabbis expected the Messiah to come into the world. The Joy and Peace he would bring wasn’t what most expected then either.

Then a whole “army” of heavenly beings joined the angel. Luke 2:13-14 says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ ”

They appeared suddenly stepping out of the dimension of spirits to be seen by these shepherds. They knew the message they were about to deliver and to these messengers, it was a sure cause for praise. They recognized God’s glory, a wonder greater than anything else imaginable. They declared that the Messiah who was just born will bring Peace. Isaiah 9:6 calls him the Prince of Peace, sar shalom (שַׂר־שָׁלֹֽום).

Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Ruler over and root cause of any real peace that exists among men. By his restraining mercy he keeps men from being as cruel and violent as they could be. This gives us times of safety from harm and crimes. When he removes that restraint and lets sin show itself we see what happens. Fallen people left to themselves will tend to do wicked and selfish things.

It is his saving grace that alone can change the heart into that of a redeemed child of God. If you have faith in Christ, or if your loved ones come to know him as their Savior, then you understand that it is his work in you that brings inner peace to your soul. It is nothing for which you can take credit yourself.

In Christ believers are at peace with God, and find comfort even while they endure trials. In Philippians 4:7 while under Roman arrest for his faith, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

One day those rescued by his grace will be free from all discomforts and attacks of evil. That perfect and eternal peace comes to those who rest their hope in the Prince of Peace. But that peace doesn’t come to everybody. All enjoy moments when they aren’t at war, or victims of crime or of physical discomforts. But even in those times there’s no real lasting peace in the heart or peace with God unless the person is redeemed by grace to lay hold of Christ by faith.

This peace is only promised by God to those transformed by the Redeemer’s work in them. In Romans 5:1 Paul writes, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

Just as suddenly it was quiet again in the hills around Bethlehem. Luke 2:15-16 says, “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”

They reacted with immediate obedience. They didn’t come to the manger just to be observers. They came to worship the one who alone deserves worship. They also had information to deliver, the message from God through the angels. They confirmed what they were told. This baby was the Savior, the Christ who was the Lord.

They understood that as Savior he didn’t come as a political revolutionary. They didn’t need freedom from Rome. They needed to be set free from the chains of sin and the weight of its guilt. And they weren’t going to have to wait until he grew up to become a liberator of oppressed people. He was already their Lord, their master. This was Immanuel, “God with us,” the Savior from their soul’s real bondage.

Their worship wasn’t showy or designed to entertain and whip up emotions. They came humbly as sinners saved by grace to honor the one who came to forgive them and set them free. That’s the way we should come to worship him too. It’s what we should tell others to do as they come to worship him too.

How did they find him? There was no star to guide them at this time. That star didn’t point out where the family of Jesus was until the wise men came from the East, probably many months later. But finding him wouldn’t have been difficult. This was the city of David’s descendants. The relatives of his family were very much aware of Mary and Joseph and the baby. Many people there would have known where they were staying during their time in Bethlehem.
This miraculous event had a lasting effect upon these shepherds of Bethlehem. Luke 2:17-20 says, “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”

The lives of these men were changed forever. The hope they’d heard about since they were children had come to be a reality, and they had witnessed it personally. They were filled with great joy when they came to understand what it all meant. They were also filled with a compelling desire to honor God and to tell others about it.

Mary had a lot to treasure and ponder for the rest of her life too. She had given birth to the one promised to Eve, the mother of the whole human race. This baby is the longed for Messiah that gave hope through the ages. He was the hope of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, and all believers. This little baby she had given birth to and laid in a manger was the Savior, Immanuel, God With Us.

Next Study: The Wise Men

The Birth of Our Savior

The Truth About Christmas

by Bob Burridge ©2010

This article continues a series of studies about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The series begins with, Called To Bethlehem. There is also a complete index for all the articles telling The Truth About Christmas.

Part 8 The Birth of Our Savior

The birth of Jesus was an amazing turning point in the history of the world. It’s easy to let a few traditional pictures get in the way of the point of this story as God tells it in his word. While we love the tender images we see in children’s books and skits about the birth of Christ, it is never good to let them change the actual account given to us in Scripture by the inspiration of the Holy spirit.

The account of his actual birth is found in a very short passage in Luke’s Gospel 2:6-7. “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

In that fore-ordained town the plan of God was about to be fulfilled. But were they there frantically searching for a room in an inn only to be repeatedly turned away by a thoughtless innkeeper? Were they there all alone as two young Jews from the far away province of Nazareth? And where was that manger the baby Jesus slept in on that first night of his birth?

It is popularly believed that Jesus was born on the first night they arrived. The expression, “while they were there” doesn’t fit with that idea. It means that sometime during the days they were in Bethlehem, Mary’s child was born.

There’s no frantic knocking on doors the very night they arrived to find a room. There’s no panic that Mary was in labor and they were still out on the streets. There’s no mention of an innkeeper who callously turned them away. In fact there’s no actual inn if we take God’s word as is speaks for itself.

The word translated as “inn” is the Greek word kataluma (καταλuμα). In the original Koine Greek the word has a wide variety of uses which make it difficult to know for sure what kind of place it was that had no room for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Many people picture it in very modern terms as a boarding house or an old English tavern with rooms upstairs. Of course such ideas are totally out of place in Israel at the time of Christ’s birth.

One common view is that the “inn” was what the Hebrews called a milon or a khan. The oriental khan is a large open court surrounded by vaulted chambers. Along the walls are stone mangers for the animals to feed from. Some times the Khan had a grotto or cave for a stable near the large communal area where the people stayed. The type of Khan that would have existed in such a town as Bethlehem would not likely have had an innkeeper. Those who hold to this view generally say that the communal area would not have been large enough to afford much privacy to a woman giving birth to a child. Therefore, since there was not enough room in the khan they slept in the grotto or stable where Christ was born.

This view sounds attractive, and it does explain many of the statements of the narrative. Yet it is not the only explanation possible. It’s probably not the best explanation.

The word “kataluma” is not only found here in the New Testament. It is also used in 2 other places. Luke himself uses this word in his gospel in chapter 22 verse 11. Here Jesus sends out Peter and John to find a kataluma where they could celebrate the passover. This feast was the famous “last supper” of our Lord. In this context the word kataluma is translated as “guest chamber” or “guest room”. Mark also uses this same word in his account of the last supper. Therefore another more consistent way we could translate the Luke 2:7 passage would be… “She laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the guest room.”

It’s interesting to note also that in Luke 10:34 where Luke does refer to an oriental khan he does not use this Greek word kataluma. Instead he uses another Greek word pandokeion. With this information a whole new picture begins to emerge.

The accommodations for guests in eastern homes at that time would of course vary from house to house. One general layout was quite common in old Israel. Many homes were built of heavy stones and divided into 2 rooms. On the outside of the house was often a stone shed which was entered only from the outside. When guests came one of the 2 rooms in the house became the guest room or kataluma. This room could also be rented out for use to visiting groups or families. This might have been the case with the room used for the last supper. If when Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem the guest room was already in use by other visiting relatives, the best privacy for a woman about to give birth to a child would be available in the stone shed on the side of the house. The shed was normally used as a storage place and might well have contained the manger in which our Lord was laid. The text explains that Jesus was laid in a manger because there was no room in the kataluma.

Mangers make good cradles and are still used for this purpose in many eastern countries today. Donkeys were sometimes kept in the side room. Perhaps this manger was one that had been used to hold feed for those donkeys.

This raises the question of animals. Was Jesus surrounded by animals as he laid in the manger? When reading the Bible record note that no animals are mentioned. Later shepherds are said to have come. But it is pure speculation to project various animals into the story. If this was a khan there may have been horses, camels or donkeys. But if this is a side room of a humble home in Bethlehem few if any animals would actually be present.

As we mentioned earlier in this series of studies, Mary and Joseph would have arrived in Bethlehem to be reunited with their relatives for the taxation. Likely they had traveled with some relatives from Nazareth. It would be strange that if all the others decided to make that long and dangerous trip separately.

Did Mary and Joseph know anyone there in Bethlehem? Of course they did. It was their family’s home town. Aside from this, their parents, grandparents, and all their other relatives had to be there with them too. If they hadn’t come they would have been in defiance of the decree of Rome. Eastern hospitality would required that relatives living there would open their homes to guests whenever possible. Also remember that Mary and Joseph were not strangers to this place. Mary just six months before spent three months living with her cousin Elisabeth near Jerusalem which is only about 5 miles away.

What we have here is a far more beautiful picture than our traditional manger scenes show us. The story preserves the special sanctity of family. The covenant bond of parents and children is integral in the story, and in God’s plan. This isn’t a story about a lone couple on their own in a strange country without family to support them or friends to be near them. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

It was there, with the most extended family gathered around them by God’s providence, that our Redeemer was born.

Next Study: Startled Shepherds

A Surprise for Mary

The Truth About Christmas

by Bob Burridge ©2010

This article continues a series of studies about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The series begins with, Called To Bethlehem. There is also a complete index for all the articles telling The Truth About Christmas.

Part 4 A Surprise for Mary

One of the unexpected events surrounding the birth of our Savior was the announcement of his birth to Mary. This Jewish girl in Nazareth was betrothed to a boy named Joseph, a simple carpenter.

Betrothal was a solemn promise of marriage, much stronger than engagement today. To break a betrothal was like getting a divorce. Usually girls then were married by the time they were about 13 or 14 years old, so Mary was probably younger than we usually picture her: probably 12 to 14 years old.

Like most girls she probably had images in her mind of having a nice normal home. We know from what the Bible tells us that she was a virgin. She lived morally and hadn’t been sexually intimate with anyone yet. Purity was important to her and by God’s grace she had resisted temptation.

Then one day, very unexpectedly, it all changed. A spirit being sent from God appeared to her. It was the angel Gabriel. Luke 1:26-27 tells us the details:

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

No one suspected that God would use a family from Nazareth to bring the Messiah into the world. He was promised to be born in Bethlehem. That was a town not just for shepherds raising sheep for the temple sacrifices a few miles north of there, but also the home of many powerful Priests and Elders of Israel. It was like a suburb to Jerusalem.

But Nazareth? John 1:46 tells us that people commonly asked, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

But it was there that God’s angel came to a common girl named Mary. Luke 1:28-30 records what God would have us to know about this coming of Gabriel.

And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.”

It’s easy to understand how she would be troubled. But Gabriel immediately comforted her. Then he delivered a most unexpected message in verses 31-33.:

“And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

Mary was betrothed, but she wasn’t married yet and had lived morally according to God’s law. But God’s message came with amazing detail. She would have a male child, and she would name him Jesus. What’s more, this child would be called “Son of the Most High.” He would be the Promised One who would reign on the throne of his ancestor David forever. That’s what Nathan the prophet promised to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16.

Since Mary wasn’t told how she would become pregnant she asked a logical question recorded in verse 34, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Was she supposed to marry Joseph right away? Or was this a promise that wouldn’t be fulfilled until some future time?

The answer was more startling that anything she could have imagined. Verse 35 says, ” And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’ ” The Holy Spirit was going to cause her to become pregnant. Supernaturally!

The Bible tells us back in verse 27 that Mary was a virgin. Twice it refers to her using the Greek word, parthenos (παρθενος) which means a young woman before she’s married or sexually active. There would be no doubt that this would be a miraculous conception. The child would be no ordinary human. The corrupted line of Adam would be disrupted. This child would be a true human person, but also the Son of God, not merely the son of a man.

This was quite a flood of information! So the Angel added more evidence of the power of God over conception. He said in verses 36-37,

“And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.”

Her relative Elizabeth was past the age for being able to have children. But she was already six months pregnant. Her son would be John, the one called the “baptizer” who would call Israel back to repentance. He was the one chosen to announce the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.

The evidence supported an important fact: nothing is impossible with God. So Mary humbly submitted to what God said he would do. God has preserved her words for us in verse 38, “Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’ And the angel departed from her.”

Next Study: Comfort for Joseph