Today we remember the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The story of the shepherds to whom the angels announced Christ's birth signified the first manifestation of the Christ to the people of Israel as the Lord had promised. Epiphany signifies the first manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, that is, to people outside of Judaism. This was the fulfillment of the promise of a Savior for all nations.
But not everyone had the same reaction to the Good News of a Savior, neither do they nowadays. Let's examine the contrast between the Magi and King Herod.
The Bible does not say the Magi were kings, as they are sometimes pictured. "Magi", the root of the word, "magic", originally mean a member of tribe of Persian priests. In the first century, the people believed the Magi possessed a high level of esoteric knowledge. In fact, they were the scientists of that era, because of their observations of natural processes. But they also were astrologers, believing that the movements of the stars influenced human affairs on earth. This was not a true belief, yet God used it to bring them to the babe in Bethlehem.
Apparently, the Magi knew something of the messianic prophecies of the Jews. Maybe their ancestors learned of these prophecies from Daniel during the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites or from the "prophet" Balaam when he spoke of the "star of Jacob" (Numbers 24:17). It does not matter, because God worked a miracle, a new star, especially to guid the Magi to the Savior.
What a scandal in Jerusalem when these foreigners gave testimony to a sign of the Messiah unknown to the Jews!
But the king of Judea, Herod the Great was not a Jew. His father was Idumean, his mother an Arab. In one sense, Herod deserved the title, "the Great", as a political and military leader. When he was 25 years old, he was named military governor of Galilee. He advanced in his political career until 37 years before Christ, the Roman senate declared him king over the entire country, a decision that had the support of Marc Antony and Julius Caesar. Herod married Mariamne, a daughter of the Hasmonean family that had ruled in Judea before him. He reigned for 30 years and his sons became tetrarchs over Judea after him. Herod brought many public works projects to completion, the grandest being the renovation of the Temple in Jerusalem.
However, Herod the Great also was a cruel and wicked man. He had 10 wives and he killed the first, Mariamne and three of his sons out of jealousy for his throne. When the Magi told him that the Messiah had been born, Herod did not respond with joy in his heart. There were a couple of reasons for his consternation. The foreigner named king of the Jews by the Romans feared a rival, and the tyrant feared the rival would be more popular with the people than himself. At the same time, Herod knew the prophecies that the Messiah, the true King of the Jews, would judge all the people of Israel and of the world -- and Herod did not have a clean conscience. Nevertheless, he pretended to be happy at the news of our Savior's birth and, in his hypocrisy, tod the Magi that he wanted to see the Child and worship Him, too.
But when the Magi did not return to Jerusalem, Herod's true motives were exposed. By orders from Herod, soldiers killed all the male children of Bethlehem under two years of age, as we recall on the day of the Holy Innocents, December 26. Thank God for the angel that commanded Joseph to take Mary and the child to Egypt to escape Herod's cruelty.
The Magi found Jesus in Bethlehem and worshiped Him with all their hearts and with gifts fit for a king. This is the contrast between the two reactions by unbelievers to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some do not know Whom they seek, and have many false beliefs, but when they see the Savior, they respond with faith and joy. Others pretend to receive the Gospel with joy, but in a short time they show their fear and rage at the idea of worshipping the Lord.
These things have not changed since the first century. And you, what side are you on?
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