The popular Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are” is most likely inaccurate for two reasons: the visitors probably weren’t rulers of nations, nor are they likely to have come from what we think of as the Orient, eastern Asia.
The Kings or “Magi” were most probably Zoroastrian astrologers who were advisers to the rulers of the Parthian Empire (Iran and Iraq), Rome’s rival to the east at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. These highly educated men believed in a cosmic struggle of Good and Evil and that a savior would eventually come to restore the world by getting rid of the evil one. Their founder, Zoroaster, may have been a contemporary of Daniel and the other Jewish scholars who were held in captivity in Babylon, almost 600 years earlier. Zoroaster, and his followers in succeeding centuries, would have known about Judaism and would have studied its sacred texts.
Therefore, when an alignment of stars led them to believe that they were seeing a sign that indicated the birth of a Jewish King, some (we don’t know how many but probably many more than three) traveled to Jerusalem to pay tribute to the newborn royalty. Since Herod, the current King didn’t have a baby, and was very worried that a usurper was in his land, he asked his own priests about a future King of the Jews and learned that the scriptures said he was to be been born in Bethlehem, a town six miles from the palace in Jerusalem.
Rather than stir up trouble with his Iranian guests, Herod sent them to Bethlehem to find the “baby king” and report back to him, ostensibly to go and worship this child. When the Magi didn’t return, Herod, who had nearly lost his life and family to Parthians 30 years earlier, did not pursue the Magi and demand the information he wanted. He didn’t order their capture and punishment for their disobedience despite his proclivity for killing anyone who challenged his authority. He took it upon himself to handle the “problem” of having a new king in his land.
Herod ordered the murder of all the baby boys under two years of age, who lived in and around Bethlehem. Since Jesus and his parents must have still been in Bethlehem when the decree was announced because they were warned by an angel to immediately leave for Egypt. There they remained refugees for months or maybe years before returning to Joseph’s home town of Nazareth, almost 100 miles north of Bethlehem.
We read nothing more of the “kings” from Parthia, but will never forget their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the King of Kings.
In a world where daily headlines shout bad news 24/7, there remains one story that is not just good news, but the best news for all of mankind for all time. That good news of Christmas dates back to the creation of the world by God and the creation of man, the only creature who was made in God’s image. God intended that the man and woman he created, Adam and Eve, and all of their offspring, would live in perfect harmony with Him. In this ideal world, humans would enjoy perfect fellowship with God by obeying His commands which would, in turn, allow them to experience perfect joy.
The problem is that man rebelled against God, breaking the fellowship and learning that what men and women thought would be freedom, turned into slavery to sin. That brought all the negative consequences that humans experience today–the bad news that that assaults us from without and the pain, suffering, broken relationships, lack of peace and death from within. This is the natural result of breaking fellowship with a perfect God who could not be in fellowship with imperfect humans. Their sins separated them forever from God and ensured that they would suffer throughout eternity for their continued rebellion from God. This is where the Good News breaks through.
God loved his creation so much that he provided a way for men and women to be rescued from the consequences of their sin. God asked his son, Jesus, to take on the sin of all mankind–a substitute sacrifice that would be acceptable to God. Jesus acceped the task, leaving the glory of his father in heaven to come to earth as a baby, live among sinful men, lay down his life on a Roman cross, rise from earthly death, and return to his fathers side.
Jesus, the baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, did all this so that that those who willingly accepted his substitutionary sacrifice might have their relationship to God restored. That brings with it the promise of an eternal life free of the consequences of sin. That’s the good news of Christmas, because Christmas is the celebration of the arrival of Jesus on earth in the form of a human. It’s the celebration of a life that culminates in death on a cross where the sins of all men and women–past, present and future–are paid for by the shedding of Jesus’ blood allowing us to be redeemed through the subsequent resurrection of Jesus.
What does God expect us to do with this knowledge that Jesus died in our place so we can be saved from God’s wrath against our sins? He expects us to accept the sacrifice of His son Jesus, turn away from our sin, and have faith that we will experience peace in this life and an eternity of contentment with Him. Christmas is a celebration of this good news, “For unto you a Savior is born who is Christ the Lord.” The final question is, have you believed it and accepted Jesus as your Savior? It is the most important decision a person ever makes.
If you would like to learn more about how you can enter into a relationship with the eternal God who sent his son, Jesus, we encourage you to read our blogpost: How does one become a Christian?
The winter celebration of the birth of Christ dates first appears on a Roman calendar in 336 AD, centuries after the event took place. Scholars believe that there may have been an attempt to co-opt an existing pagan festival that marked the coming of the light after the shortest day of the year. Clues in the Bible suggest another time of year because shepherds would not likely be in the fields with sheep during the cold winter. Some scholars suggest a spring birth when lambs would have been in the fields with their mothers. Others identify fall, perhaps September as the likely month of birth. If the latter, the celebration on December 25th could mark the moment that light entered the world when God entered Mary’s womb.
When we celebrate is not nearly as important as why we celebrate. Since the beginning of time, God created mankind in his image so that he could commune with them, to let them enjoy a perfect world communicating with the creator of everything. When man and woman broke the covenant with God, the perfect world fell apart as evil reared its head and brought death and destruction to all that had been right.
A penalty had to be paid for the violation of God, and He knew that only a perfect sacrifice could atone for the great injustice of all men and women–past, present and future. God knew that the only perfect sacrifice would be himself, in the form of his son, Jesus, who was born to die. We celebrate the coming of God to be our savior and redeemer.
The baby in the manger grew up to be the sacrificial lamb for all of humankind. He died in our place that we may be pardoned and be returned to a right relationship with God. Therefore, while we celebrate the arrival of a baby born of a virgin, the true celebration is that of the birth of a savior who would provide the gateway for us to be restored to a right relationship with the almighty God of the universe.
If you would like to learn more about how you can enter into a relationship with the eternal God, we encourage you to read our blog post: How does one become a Christian?
The Bible explains what is known as the virgin birth. She became pregnant not through a man, but through a supernatural act of God.
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”Matthew 1:18-19
As a follower of the law, Joseph could divorce his wife for any cause, but he couldn’t divorce someone to whom he was not married. Therefore we have to look more closely at the customs of the times and the meaning of the words used to describe this situation. Betrothal, translated here as “pledged to be married”, describes a legal agreement joining two people. This is quite different from what we today call an engagement because once betrothed, neither of the two could back out. A betrothal could only be broken by death or divorce. That they had “not come together” reflected a custom of the time that a pledged couple would remain apart for a period of time–often until a room is added to the home of the groom’s family to which the groom would ultimately bring his bride. That they did “not come together” also suggests that they were not intimate up until this time, that’s why the birth of Jesus is described as a virgin birth or a conception without the seed of a man.
Would Mary’s pregnancy cause her to be marginalized or even result in her being stoned for adultery? No. Not unless Joseph were to publicly proclaim that he was not the father of the child in her womb.
“But as he considered these things (Mary’s pregnancy), behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”Matthew 1:20-21
This miraculous virgin birth of a savior would prove to be a pivotal turning point in the history of mankind. Joseph, would forever be known as a man who listened to God and was faithful to both his wife and the law.
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”Matthew 1:22-25
Are you prepared to have an encounter with God that will help you discover the truth of His existence? Click on our post: How does one become a Christian?