The Christmas That Keeps Repeating Itself

Norbert Lieth

In the story of Jesus’ birth as told by Matthew, we are confronted with three reactions that still repeat to this day: 1. Faith, 2. Consternation, and 3. Indifference. A spiritual reflection for our lives.

We read about the first reaction, faith, in Matthew 2:1-2: “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.”

We see here that whoever believes, comes. What actually brought the wise men from the East to Israel, to have a personal encounter with the King of the Jews? It wasn’t primarily the star, which was a visible aftereffect of that reason. The truth of Jesus’ birth is the real reason. We read twice, “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea … Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east.” They weren’t seeking the star, but Jesus.

Jesus came—and that’s why we can come!

The wise men’s belief that Jesus had been born led them to Bethlehem. The star as a visible sign was certainly an encouragement. It articulates the truth that anyone can come to Jesus, because He is! Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

This story repeats today: we know the gospel, and we have the Bible. But it’s living faith that Jesus is, faith that He will always let us come and pray to Him.

Whoever believes also goes without a star to guide him. It’s very encouraging, and a testimony, that the wise men from the East didn’t raise so much as one glimmer of doubt. What about us? Do we really believe that He is? Then why do we come so little? And why do we pray so halfheartedly? And why do we doubt again and again? Do we only come to Jesus when we see signs or when we happen to be in the right mood?

Although it remains a mystery how they came, we know that the wise men weren’t led to Israel and Bethlehem by the star. That’s a false assumption. In truth, they were led by faith. The Bible expressly states, “for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” And the star only reappeared once they were already in Jerusalem and en route to Bethlehem: “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” (Matt 2:9).

The wise men moved toward Israel and sought the King, even without the star’s direction, simply because they believed that He was. Do we also believe without signs? Do we believe blindly? Do we set off on the path and remain on it, even when we no longer see anything?

Whoever believes is led despite the enemy’s interference. This is evident in Matthew 2:8-9: “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 stood over where the young child was.”

The wise men firmly believed that Jesus had been born, and came to Jerusalem. They had almost reached their goal. But at this point, Herod and the scribes intervened as enemies of God. Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem, but with false motives. Still, God sent them the star again, and it led them precisely to where Jesus was.

The enemy can stand in the way of the believer, but the Lord retains the victory and leads His child past the finish line. Despite all obstacles, we remain under His guidance.

The Lord could have led the wise men directly to Bethlehem, since they were already so close. Why didn’t He? Why did He allow that irritation? Because the enemy’s stealth should be exposed! Perhaps He did it for just that reason, to give us spiritual help in order to encourage us: “My dear child, the enemy strikes out just before the finish line, to lure you into a trap. Realize that I’m not always in the ‘capital city of Jerusalem,’ among the great, the strong, the crowds, like people expect. No, because in the small and inconspicuous, in the weak, in ‘Bethlehem’ My strength is proven. If you just believe, I will never abandon you to the enemy’s control, but lead you to My goal! In the meantime, don’t be discouraged by annoyances, even if the ‘star’ isn’t shining for you. I’m leading you!”

Faith leads us to wherever Jesus is. The wise men were also led to the very spot where the child was, and no further. Jesus is the path of our faith, the content of our faith, and the goal of our faith. Faith is what connects us to Jesus. The believer will always be where He is. The wise men’s destination was Jesus, the King of the Jews, so they couldn’t go astray. God grants success to the sincere!

The sun rises for those who believe: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matt 2:10). “Exceeding great joy” is the goal of all faith: “So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might…” (Judges 5:31).

We can already experience on this earth how the one who believes is not put to shame and is always encouraged. Joy pervades him, and he has deep peace because he walks with Jesus. When the gates of heaven open to us—when we see Him who loved us and saved us, the Sun of righteousness in all His eternal splendor—then we’ve reached the aim of our faith. God will “do a new thing” and there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” Hallelujah!

Whoever believes sees more: “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” (Matt 2:11).

It doesn’t say that the wise men saw “Mary his mother with the young child,” but “the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him.” The believer always looks to the aim of salvation, and never beyond it. “And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only” (Matt 17:8).

The eyes of faith are unclouded toward Jesus, who is our mediator and our entire salvation. But the believer also sees that in his relationship with Jesus, there is only complete devotion, and nothing can be held back from Him. Are we opening our lives and our treasures to Him? Does He possess our life as a complete offering?

Whoever believes goes in new ways: “And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way” (Matt 2:12).

The believer places himself under God’s guidance and no longer lives by the world’s “rules.” He lets the Lord specify the direction, and does His will. He no longer follows the old paths that he had before, but goes in new ways. Romans 12:2 urges, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Had the men from the East not obeyed God’s command, they would have encountered Herod again and unconsciously become agents of Christ’s enemy. It would have been a journey against Jesus. When we walk the path of this world, we’re walking the path of enmity against God. “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Phil 3:18-19).

Psalm 119:1-3, on the other hand, says, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.” On the path of obedience to the faith, we are led in new, blessed, and beautiful ways and remain under God’s guidance.

In Matthew 2:3, we see the second reaction to Jesus Christ. “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

Herod the Great was an Idumaean and was appointed as ruler in Judea by the Roman Senate. He descended from Esau and, it is believed, converted to Judaism only in pretense. On the one hand, he was considered a capable man, as he had enhanced Jerusalem’s splendor like no other. His buildings were unsurpassed. He converted the Temple of Zerubbabel into an unparalleled masterpiece: the Herodian temple was considered one of the wonders of the world. The Talmud states, “Whoever has not seen Herod’s Temple has not seen a beautiful building in his life.” So Herod did something for Jewish worship. On the other hand, Herod was a cruel and jealous tyrant, incorrigible and uncontrollable, who saw a rival in everything and everyone. Hardly a day went by without executions. He killed two of his brothers-in-law, his own wife Mariamne, and two of his sons. Five days before his death, he had many arrested and ordered their executions for the day of his death, just to ensure that the country would truly mourn. He was possessed by fear of losing power, and built huge structures throughout the country as monuments.

When Herod heard that the King of the Jews had been born, he was terrified, and all Jerusalem with him. For him, it was the natural response to kill the children in Bethlehem.

Why was Herod distraught? Only out of concern for his throne! He saw Jesus as a rival. Anyone who is unwilling to descend from the throne of his heart to let Jesus rule there, will always live in fear. Any news of someone else’s blessing will upset him, because jealousy and envy, not Jesus, govern his heart. A jealous person always sees others as competitors.

Isn’t it frightening that a man who was so involved in developing Jerusalem and building a huge temple for Jewish worship, wasn’t sufficiently infused by Judaism to give his own life to God? He himself had no insight into Scripture, so he had to call the scribes. In spite of numerous religious acts, his heart remained a den of thieves. How many “Christians” labor for God’s kingdom, without Christ Himself penetrating their hearts!

How can we test ourselves to determine whether a “Herod” or Christ reigns in our hearts? In a word, secretly. We read in Matthew 2:7 (CSB), “Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men…” People who are dishonest will always do things via the back door or secretly. This kind of person is always concerned with his independent existence. He can’t be open and honest. Because he only pursues his own goals, he won’t step into the light of his own free will. “Christians” who act in secret or pull the strings from backstage are very dangerous for the kingdom of God. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:2:

“But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (KJV). Or, “Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful things, not acting deceitfully or distorting the word of God, but commending ourselves before God to everyone’s conscience by an open display of the truth” (CSB).

That’s why Herod’s ulterior motives were so cruel: He showed the wise men the right direction to Bethlehem, and pretended that he wanted to pay homage to the child, even though he only had plans for murder: “The Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and send forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men” (Matt 2:16).

Not only Herod himself, but all of Jerusalem was distraught with him: “…he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Many in Israel were awaiting the Messiah. The people could have been happy, but were instead dismayed. Why? Because they didn’t desire change and were content with tradition. It was also because they were afraid of a bloodbath, and the Romans’ power. The people apparently trusted them more than the almighty God. They always wanted God to intervene against the Romans, their hated enemies, but not in this way!

Mankind is living in a self-satisfied Christianity, routinely participating in Christian traditions. We’re oppressed by the enemy and want change, but not through the name of Jesus. When someone speaks concretely about Jesus (that is, why He came, who He is, and what He wants), many are upset. Those who content themselves with what they have and are, and do not want to be changed, will be dismayed when the Spirit of God meets them to create something new.

The third reaction to the Lord Jesus is indifference: “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” (Matt 2:4-6).

The scribes were tasked with making copies of the holy Scriptures, and faithfully watching over every letter of the Old Testament. They had to ensure that the laws, including those passed down orally, were strictly adhered to. They also wrote commentaries on the Old Testament.

They were instructed in God’s Word like no one else. They knew the prophetic Word and believed in it, but not in its fulfillment, because they had no personal relationship with it. Although they dealt with God’s Word religiously, traditionally, and professionally, they remained terribly indifferent to its fulfillment. Ironically, the stronghold of piety in Jerusalem was disinterested in Jesus’ birth, to which so many prophecies pointed. Knowledge of Scripture does not mean knowledge of God. It became clear at the birth of Jesus that the scribes and Pharisees, although nominally pious, were in fact spiritually dead. They, who were obliged to be the first with Jesus, were the ones who didn’t even go.

It becomes tragically clear that the chief priests and scribes had never sought out the Lord Jesus. The mystery of the Lord was closed off to them, because they neither feared nor sought Him. Isn’t it terrifying that they, the most pious people of all, remained in the same spiritual darkness as the godless Herod?

So, being with Jesus isn’t about knowing, talking, and accomplishing a lot. Rather, it’s a matter of letting go and coming to Him! “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” (Matt 2:10-11).

Come to Jesus too, and worship Him, for He has done everything for you in His incarnation and on the cross at Calvary!

Midnight Call - 12/2019

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