One of the great themes of the Christmas stories found in Matthew and Luke is the geographical movement of those called to come and worship the newborn King of the Jews. There are two distinct groups called and who come to Jesus; and there one distinct group, which serves as a foil, by not being called, nor coming to the baby in a manger.
The Bethlehem area shepherds were the first to receive the news of Christ the Lord being born in the city of David (Lk 2:11). They received a supernatural angelic encounter to prompt their visit to the One who would later identify Himself as “the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11).” It is a blessing bestowed to such a class of peasants that God would summon them. They were called, and they came.
The shepherds brought nothing with them but their presence. Here is the often overlooked gift of holy day gatherings, today. Family and friends may travel across town or across country to be together on significant days of the year. Ideally, this gathering is a beautiful gift exchange, like the first Christmas. God had given His indescribable gift (2 Cor 9:15), and the shepherds came to Jesus’ birthday party with nothing but the tales of a supernatural announcement, heralded to them by a host of angels (Lk 2:8–14). This angelic word, delivered by poor shepherds, must have been a great encouragement to Joseph and Mary for, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (Lk 2:19).”
The magi serve as the second distinct group to visit Jesus near the time of His birth (Mt 2). Whereas the shepherds were poor peasants bringing only their presence, the magi were wealthy educated men, who brought expensive gifts to Bethlehem from far away.
The magi from the east received the gift of a supernatural sign, which called them to the village just a few miles south of Jerusalem. The Persians and the Chinese were the astronomers of Jesus’ day. The ethnicity of the magi is not known, but to observe the stars and receive a message from the heavens was their tale to tell. A special star appeared in the western sky. Education did not mean atheism in those days, and supernatural phenomenon was not something to scoff at in arrogance.
Their purpose was clearly stated, “For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him (Mt 2:2).” Their knowledge of this baby’s identity was limited to “king of the Jews (Mt 2:2),” but how privileged we are to know so much more of His identity. They acted in sacrificial mode, with what limited knowledge they possessed. They suffered the cost of travel, time, and expensive gifts. How much should we offer the fullness of our lives, as a living sacrifice to worship the King (Rom 12:1)? They were called, and they came.
In a dark world of unbelief and twisted false faiths, the stories of God calling His people compel us to thanksgiving for His call to us (Rom 8:30). God shows no partiality (Dt 10:17). Rich and poor were invited. Educated and uneducated were summoned. Some came from nearby fields, and others came from fields afar. Some had gifts and others did not. Although Matthew only tells us of the intrigue surrounding the departure of the magi from the presence of Jesus (Mt 2:12), Luke’s account of the shepherd’s return is encouraging, “And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them (Lk 2:20).” Called out people, who come to Jesus, are never disappointed.
The third distinct group were those who heard the news from the magi, “And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him (Mt 2:3).” Many hear the name and the stories of Jesus, but the essential test is how one responds to the good news. When Herod the Great, King of Israel, heard from a credible source that the King of the Jews had been born, it must have panicked the notoriously paranoid ruler of Israel. The child born was not of his blood line nor was He born into Herod’s house.
Simply having knowledge of the existence of Jesus is not enough for one to experience the wonder of the birth of the Savior. Today, many people go through the pleasant motions of holidays. It is a nice change of pace. There is good food, good parties, and good gifts. Like children, who know there is going to be a piñata at the party, many show up to Jesus’ birthday party each year for what they can get for themselves.
We learn from the first birthday party goers that you can bring a gift…or not, but you will only leave with the Spirit, which is the gift of God. This is unacceptable to most people, and despite innumerable invitations to come and worship the King, they do not think He has anything of value to give them. They do not know the gift of God, nor the One who gives it (Jn 4:10).
Shepherds and magi departed with nothing materially worthy, an insight to be shared with lying prosperity preachers, today. These charlatans invite people to come and worship Jesus, under the guise of the visitor getting rich. They themselves then steal the gold brought by the people and feed themselves on rich delicacies (Ezek 34). The people go home with nothing. They do not even receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. When they question the emptiness, the false prosperity apostle tells them to bring more gold. Woe to the pastor, who poses as a prophet and apostle to fleece God’s sheep for his own gain (Mt 7:22).
Both the shepherds and magi, like everyone else called to worship King Jesus, have the good gift of knowing they were called and received into the presence of the King of glory. This is a beautiful picture of the salvation our Savior brought into the world. People are invited to come to Jesus for the sole purpose of entering into His glorious presence. It is enough. The foretaste of heaven is the token pledge of God’s indwelling presence, within those called and who come to Jesus. The shepherds returned to their flocks with the same economic status in which they arrived. The magi returned to their homelands with the same economic status in which they arrived. They both returned, however, with a greater knowledge and personal experience of Jesus Christ, a gift they would treasure for the rest of their lives and into eternity.
In summary, we have three brief profiles of people in relationship to Jesus Christ. Shepherds represent a class of people most kings would never receive. Magi represent those who humble themselves by sacrificing things accumulated in this world. They embraced the privilege of losing all, for the sake of entering Christ the King’s presence. King Herod and the people of Jerusalem represent those who have an agenda in conflict with God’s agenda. Jesus poses a threat to the proud, who refuse to come and worship Him because they know He is the King of kings.
In conclusion, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s message of salvation. The Gospel call goes out to all people. Some respond in humble adoration, and their joy is observed in their praising and glorifying God for Jesus’ birth. Others respond with resistance and even hostility. Their darkness remains with the ominous expectation of their pending judgment. May we heed the call to come to King Jesus Christ this Christmas, and may we delight in His presence, which is the best present God has ever given.
David E. Norczyk
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
December 23, 2020