4

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary,
his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him.
Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts:
gold, frankincense, myrrh.
Matthew 2:11

A Star Speaks

Magi

Last night I had a dream—at least I think it was a dream. An angel stood before me and told me not to trust Herod, but to leave without passing back through Jerusalem.

In days past, my nation, Babylon, took captive many people from many places. Most of the people we conquered were content to be alive and, over time, assimilated to our culture. I don’t suppose anyone liked slavery or living in foreign lands. But our king in those days, Nebuchadnezzar, would have our captives evaluated. He believed it was a waste to put great minds in the fields or strong bodies in the counting house. People were not as likely to revolt if they were capable in their occupations.

You’re probably wondering who I am and what I’m doing here in Bethlehem.  Some call my sect stargazers; some think we’re magicians. In reality, we’re students—students of the wisdom we’ve gleaned from the cultures we have conquered.

When I finished my apprenticeship about five years back, I took on the writings from a peculiar people, the Hebrews.

The strange thing about these Jews is that they would never assimilate. They never became Babylonians—not even Babylonian captives. They were Jews and only Jews. They kept their customs and their ways. They dressed alike and stayed together. There were some, of course, who intermarried and some who left the worship of their God. Some even mixed their religions with others in our massive melting pot of culture. But most Hebrews held tight to their traditions and to their God.

One notable Hebrew captive was a young man named Belteshazzar. His Hebrew name was Daniel. I call him “the dreamer.” He and a few of his fellow Jews rose to places of great influence in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. He was a seer. He could read dreams and was able to see into the future. He often spoke of a coming messiah revealed in the Hebrew writings. This deliverer would come to release captive Israel. He spoke of a king for the Jews who would come when the time was right.

One night about two years ago, a new star appeared in the heavens. We called it a star, but it was unlike any we’d studied before. Most of the other stars circled the night sky, but this star was always right overhead. We observed it for a few weeks, and there it stood every clear night, shining bright and strong.

We began calculations to determine what it might be and what it might mean, and everything pointed to Israel.

We brought this information to our nation’s leadership. They wanted nothing to do with a king born in the land now occupied by the Romans. Our day had past, and Rome was a force far beyond our grasp.

My fellow astronomers and I began to look to others to support a journey to see what this star meant. As we told of the ancient stories of a king born in Jerusalem and sent from the Hebrew God, many listened. There were many who still held to the religion of the Hebrews.

They donated supplies for our journey and gifts for this king—most notably gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It took a few months more to gather enough support to make the nine-hundred-mile journey. By the time we were ready to travel, we had not only accumulated much to offer this new king, but we’d gathered quite a following.

We decided to take the route used by Israel when they made the trek back to their land. 450 years ago, Ezra led many Hebrews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and their temple. Rather than heading straight across the desert toward the star, we traveled northeast along the Euphrates and then south along the Jordan River.

We arrived in Jerusalem three days ago and met with Herod and his counselors. They directed us to Bethlehem. He offered us a handsome reward if we returned and guided him to this young king. I see now that he was plotting to destroy the child and this threat to his own reign.

Yesterday, after almost two years of planning and travel, we met with this child king. I was beginning to fear that the whole thing was a huge mistake, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Bethlehem. We asked around, yet no one knew of a boy king. We stopped and considered the star once more as evening approached. It seemed to be guiding us. I can’t explain how we knew, but we followed this guide right to the house where Jesus was staying.

We knocked on the door. The man who greeted us seemed unsure what to make of our foreign garb and the entourage that followed after us. I was not sure what to say either. My heart raced.

“Is this the home of the King?” I asked, unable to contain my excitement.

When I said it, I saw the tension leave his face.

“You must mean the child, Jesus. Wait here,” he replied.

I could see that the home was far too small to welcome our company, so we waited without while the man of the house left us. Moments later, he returned with a couple and their young child.

“This is Joseph of Nazareth and his wife, Mary, and her child, Jesus.”

Mary’s eyes grew when she saw our troupe, and she drew Jesus behind Joseph.

“What business do you have with us?” Joseph said.

I then fell to one knee as I looked upon the child. He looked like any other Hebrew boy, but there was something different in the air. I sensed a calm flowing out of the house. The curious boy peeked around Joseph’s legs and stared at us, his little head cocked. I’m sure we looked strange to these Jews, with our camels and colorful robes.

“We have come to pay homage to the One born King of the Jews. Is this the child? Is this the One the prophets foretold, the One called Emanuel?” I said.

“Yes,” Mary said. “His name is Jesus, and His miraculous birth was foretold by our prophets for hundreds of years.”

“We have come to worship this Messiah of the Jews with gifts from our nation.”

Then we presented our many gifts. The gold we carried made a fitting offering for a king and the frankincense a worthy homage to a holy man. The myrrh was a curiosity to me, because it was so melancholy. Yes, it was a precious and costly gift, but it spoke of death, which did not seem a fitting gift for child or king.

Our gifts accepted, the young couple took us into town to find a place for our party to stay the night. The inn was full but offered to let us rest in their stable. Before they left us for the night, Mary told me this was the place of the child’s birth.

How could it be that One so important, foreseen for centuries, could be born in such lowly surroundings and to such common people? Their house was tiny, and there were no attendants or servants to care for Him. This child of peace and grace should be in Jerusalem, in the great palace there.

It was as I slept in the hay that I had the dream. A man—an angel perhaps—stood before me and warned me not to return to Herod, but to go home another way. We returned to the house the next morning and told the couple of my dream. Some wanted to stay in Bethlehem and serve the young king, but his parents insisted we go, for our safety and theirs.

There is something within me that does not want to leave. This place has a hold on me. The child has captured my imagination. I don’t want to leave, but how can I stay?

What will become of this young king?

~~~

To read the original story, see Matthew 2:1-12.

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2015

Encounters With Jesus - Available Now
Encounters With Jesus - Available Now

The story above is a chapter from my book Encounters With Jesus, which is a compilation of forty such stories. It takes you from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.

You can get your copy today in paperback or kindle on Amazon.If you want both you can get the Kindle version for only 99c when you buy the paperback on Amazon.

4

Before you read this encounter, I want to tell you this is not your normal pleasant Christmas tale. This is a piece of the Christmas story we don't hear often. But as I read Matthew 2:18, I was moved by the horror that accompanied Christ's birth and childhood. As Isaiah foretold, the bright and shining light would come into gross darkness. Christ's world was a world of darkness which He penetrated with unmatched brilliance.

By Angelo Visconti (1829 - 1861) (Italian) (painter, Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH,
WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING,
RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN;
AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED,
BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.

Matthew 2:18

Captain of the King’s Secret Police

Herod is a cruel man. I’ve never thought of myself that way. I just do as I’m told. But these days—I can’t look in the mirror—he has turned me into a monster.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done my share of killing in the king service. I’ve turned a blind eye to indiscretions. More than once I’ve lied for him before the temple authorities. They love Herod’s results, but just don’t have the stomach for his methods. When it comes to tactics, Herod figures the less they know the better.

About eight years ago, Ovidius, the king’s right hand, recruited me out of the Roman garrison here in Jerusalem. He had heard of my reputation as a brawler among the ranks. In the past my foul temper cost me many a promotion, but in Herod’s service, my brutality is rewarded handsomely.

I moved through the ranks of the kings secret service, until about a year ago I was placed at the head of his primary unit. Ovidius gives us the dirty jobs, where silence is required and conscience forbidden.

About six weeks ago some foreigners came through Jerusalem asking about a child born nearby they thought might be the king of the Jews. They started asking around at the temple, but soon ended up in King Herod’s court.

My station, when the king receives visitors in his Jerusalem palace, is behind him and slightly to his left. I’m alway armed and ready to deal with any threat to the king’s life.

Three of these strangers in there garish costumes were admitted to the throne room. There were probably twenty more in their party. By the look of them, they had been traveling for some time. They looked road worn and tired. They traveled with more than a dozen camels and other live stock as well. It made a spectacle on the streets of Jerusalem.

The spokesman for this band of travelers told a fantastic tale about following a star, and their search for this special child—this king of the Jews. They had apparently read some ancient prophecies about a Jewish deliverer coming to set His people free from oppression.

At the words “king of the Jews” I saw Herod twitch. I knew even without seeing his face that he was formulating a plan.

These visitors asked the king if he had heard of such a child.

Herod sent a runner and summoned the temple scribes. The scribes spent their days in the ancient writings. They transcribed them letter for letter and them proofed them repetedly to ensure their accuracy. If anyone would know the details of those Hebrew fairy tales it would be those scroll lovers.

As soon as the spokesman for the Babylonian star-gazer posed his question, the scribes huddled together and started muttering about this scripture and that. One turned to the runner and instructed him to bring back a few volumes from the archives.

In short order they were pouring over the writings four or five of the old prophets from centuries gone by. They spread these scrolls over the kings tables and pour through passage after passage.

After most of the afternoon had passed they seemed to come to a consensus. The chief scribe looked up and announced, “Bethlehem.” The one to his left read:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”

When Herod heard this he said,

“That’s it, Bethlehem. I must go and worship this king too.” Turning to me he continued, “When these men have found their king, bring them back to me. We’ll see to it that all Jerusalem worships this young Messiah.”

He had no intention of worshiping a child. He had no intention of giving up his throne to anyone. I heard his voice slide into the tone he used so his words would lull the listener into trust as he prepared his betrayal. These wisemen were about to learn a lesson they would not forget. We would let them find this baby king and then kill the lot of them, and that was just fine with me. I had no use for these outsiders.

That was ten days ago, and they never returned. The next thing I knew the king called me into this private chamber.

“Why didn’t you have them followed?” Herod’s tone was threatening. “We’ve lost them, and the baby king lives on.”

I knew the look in his eye, and the tone of his voice. He was about to kill, and for the first time, I thought it might be me. “How are you going to fix this? How will you find this king? I want the body of this child in my chamber tonight.”

“How can I know who this king is? If I brought you the body of every boy in Bethlehem you still couldn’t be sure you killed the right boy!”

“Perfect—do it—do it today!” he screamed.

“Do what?” I asked, but I was afraid I knew.

“Kill them all! How long did they say they were following that star? Was it two years? Kill every boy, two and under, in Bethlehem—in the whole county. Take whomever you need. I want it done today. If you miss one of them it will be your head.”

I can’t even tell you how much threatening it took to get my men to carry out this atrocity. Many men deserted, and a I had to kill two of them just to get the others to follow my orders. I took three units, and we surrounded the area. We blocked every road leading in or out of the region. Then we invaded, house by house. No explanations were giving—no reason for our presence. In every house where we found a male child we left a weeping mother. These Jews believe in big families. Hardly a home was without one sacrifice to the kings wrath, and in many there were two and even three. Soon the sound of the wailing filled the streets as the blood ran and the horror spread.

While we did it, while we—I killed these untainted little ones, I felt like I was not in my own body. I couldn’t kill like this. I wouldn’t do it. My own code would never allow for such action. And yet, here I was, not only doing it, but demanding that my men carry out this horrific campaign against a peaceable nations children.

I can no longer sleep. My hands are covered in the blood of hundreds of innocents . When I reported to Herod what we had done, he actually chuckled. That was when I realized he had turned me into a monster. I can’t live with this any longer. I must find a way to get away from this guilt—this shame.

~~~

To read the original story, see Matthew 2:13-18 and Micah 5:2.

===

If you appreciate these first person accounts from the gospels, you can find forty more in my book Encounters With Jesus. There are a few others in the Encounters tab as well.

I pray you have a great advent season and that you allow the light that Herod tried to extinguish to shine in and through your life.

cropped-BenHeadshot.jpgBlessing,

Keep shining.

Ben

5

It’s almost Christmas and I am prepping to preach on the 28th about the wise men. It’s probably the most miss-told part of the Christmas story. Sometimes I wonder if folks take the time to read the Bible account at all, by the way we tell this story. But I’m not here to rant today. I simply going to align a few facts to the only gospel account we have of these folks.

Spoiler Alert - The following may make you want to go out and get new Christmas cards.

So here are 6 myths about the wise men that we should re-think.

Myth 1: The wise men worshiped at the manger. In fact the wise men showed up after the birth of Christ, and met Him “in the house” (Matthew 2:11)

Myth 2: The wise men worshipped baby Jesus. In fact they showed up as much as two years after the birth of Christ. Herod asks very pointedly when the star appeared, and then later kills all the children in Bethlehem under the age of two. In the account in Matthew 2:8 Jesus is referred to as a child, not an infant, or baby, as He is in Luke 2:12.

Myth 3 & 4: They were kings from the orient. They were probably not from what we would now call Asia and were not kings. The famous Christmas carol calls them Kings of Orient, but this word ‘magi’ refers to they kind of folks Daniel and his friends met in Babylon. In fact the word is not a Greek word, but more likely Babylonian in origin, and points back to a word used by Jeremiah to describe Nebuchadnezzar’s chief councilors. The only other time the word shows up in the New Testament is in Acts 13 where Barnabas and Saul (Paul) meet Elymas the magician.

My guess (yes - guess) is that they were students or scholars of astronomy or perhaps students of religions from Babylon who would have studied the history of Israel from documents that nation stole when they raided the temple, and from wisdom gleaned when Daniel was put in charge of the lot of them during his captivity.

Myth 5: There were likely more than three in the party that traveled to Israel. We get three because there are three gifts enumerated, but we really don’t get a number. Even if they came in on camels dressed like we dress our kids in Christmas pageants, they probably would not have stirred the whole city up. If however a caravan of dozens or even hundreds descended on Jerusalem, it may have put the city in a bit of an uproar.

Myth 6: If they came from the east (vs 1) and they saw the star in the east (vs 2) they didn’t follow the star to Jerusalem. My guess (yep - there I go again) is that they discerned from their learning that this star was the star had something to do with Israel, so they went to Jerusalem. There they learned they needed to go to Bethlehem and in Bethlehem the star did guide them.

Hey - I could be wrong about all of this, but I encourage you to read the account found in the pages of your Bible (or at BlueLetterBible.com) and check it out for yourself. I don’t begrudge anyone a Christmas pageant, but the true story has plenty of drama and mystery without making stuff up.

Here’s the story from Matthew 2 in the NASB - enjoy - if you still can.

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

6 ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,
ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;
FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER
WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

Hope I didn't break Christmas for you.

BenHave a great holiday!

Walk in the light.

Ben

3

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary,
his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him.
Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts:
gold, frankincense, myrrh.
Matthew 2:11

A Star Speaks

Magi

Last night I had a dream—at least I think it was a dream. An angel stood before me and told me not to trust Herod, but to leave without passing back through Jerusalem.

In days past, my nation, Babylon, took captive many people from many places. Most of the people we conquered were content to be alive and, over time, assimilated to our culture. I don’t suppose anyone liked slavery or living in foreign lands. But our king in those days, Nebuchadnezzar, would have our captives evaluated. He believed it was a waste to put great minds in the fields or strong bodies in the counting house. People were not as likely to revolt if they were capable in their occupations.

You’re probably wondering who I am and what I’m doing here in Bethlehem.  Some call my sect stargazers; some think we’re magicians. In reality, we’re students—students of the wisdom we’ve gleaned from the cultures we have conquered.

When I finished my apprenticeship about five years back, I took on the writings from a peculiar people, the Hebrews.

The strange thing about these Jews is that they would never assimilate. They never became Babylonians—not even Babylonian captives. They were Jews and only Jews. They kept their customs and their ways. They dressed alike and stayed together. There were some, of course, who intermarried and some who left the worship of their God. Some even mixed their religions with others in our massive melting pot of culture. But most Hebrews held tight to their traditions and to their God.

One notable Hebrew captive was a young man named Belteshazzar. His Hebrew name was Daniel. I call him “the dreamer.” He and a few of his fellow Jews rose to places of great influence in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. He was a seer. He could read dreams and was able to see into the future. He often spoke of a coming messiah revealed in the Hebrew writings. This deliverer would come to release captive Israel. He spoke of a king for the Jews who would come when the time was right.

One night about two years ago, a new star appeared in the heavens. We called it a star, but it was unlike any we’d studied before. Most of the other stars circled the night sky, but this star was always right overhead. We observed it for a few weeks, and there it stood every clear night, shining bright and strong.

We began calculations to determine what it might be and what it might mean, and everything pointed to Israel.

We brought this information to our nation’s leadership. They wanted nothing to do with a king born in the land now occupied by the Romans. Our day had past, and Rome was a force far beyond our grasp.

My fellow astronomers and I began to look to others to support a journey to see what this star meant. As we told of the ancient stories of a king born in Jerusalem and sent from the Hebrew God, many listened. There were many who still held to the religion of the Hebrews.

They donated supplies for our journey and gifts for this king—most notably gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It took a few months more to gather enough support to make the nine-hundred-mile journey. By the time we were ready to travel, we had not only accumulated much to offer this new king, but we’d gathered quite a following.

We decided to take the route used by Israel when they made the trek back to their land. 450 years ago, Ezra led many Hebrews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and their temple. Rather than heading straight across the desert toward the star, we traveled northeast along the Euphrates and then south along the Jordan River.

We arrived in Jerusalem three days ago and met with Herod and his counselors. They directed us to Bethlehem. He offered us a handsome reward if we returned and guided him to this young king. I see now that he was plotting to destroy the child and this threat to his own reign.

Yesterday, after almost two years of planning and travel, we met with this child king. I was beginning to fear that the whole thing was a huge mistake, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Bethlehem. We asked around, yet no one knew of a boy king. We stopped and considered the star once more as evening approached. It seemed to be guiding us. I can’t explain how we knew, but we followed this guide right to the house where Jesus was staying.

We knocked on the door. The man who greeted us seemed unsure what to make of our foreign garb and the entourage that followed after us. I was not sure what to say either. My heart raced.

“Is this the home of the King?” I asked, unable to contain my excitement.

When I said it, I saw the tension leave his face.

“You must mean the child, Jesus. Wait here,” he replied.

I could see that the home was far too small to welcome our company, so we waited without while the man of the house left us. Moments later, he returned with a couple and their young child.

“This is Joseph of Nazareth and his wife, Mary, and her child, Jesus.”

Mary’s eyes grew when she saw our troupe, and she drew Jesus behind Joseph.

“What business do you have with us?” Joseph said.

I then fell to one knee as I looked upon the child. He looked like any other Hebrew boy, but there was something different in the air. I sensed a calm flowing out of the house. The curious boy peeked around Joseph’s legs and stared at us, his little head cocked. I’m sure we looked strange to these Jews, with our camels and colorful robes.

“We have come to pay homage to the One born King of the Jews. Is this the child? Is this the One the prophets foretold, the One called Emanuel?” I said.

“Yes,” Mary said. “His name is Jesus, and His miraculous birth was foretold by our prophets for hundreds of years.”

“We have come to worship this Messiah of the Jews with gifts from our nation.”

Then we presented our many gifts. The gold we carried made a fitting offering for a king and the frankincense a worthy homage to a holy man. The myrrh was a curiosity to me, because it was so melancholy. Yes, it was a precious and costly gift, but it spoke of death, which did not seem a fitting gift for child or king.

Our gifts accepted, the young couple took us into town to find a place for our party to stay the night. The inn was full but offered to let us rest in their stable. Before they left us for the night, Mary told me this was the place of the child’s birth.

How could it be that One so important, foreseen for centuries, could be born in such lowly surroundings and to such common people? Their house was tiny, and there were no attendants or servants to care for Him. This child of peace and grace should be in Jerusalem, in the great palace there.

It was as I slept in the hay that I had the dream. A man—an angel perhaps—stood before me and warned me not to return to Herod, but to go home another way. We returned to the house the next morning and told the couple of my dream. Some wanted to stay in Bethlehem and serve the young king, but his parents insisted we go, for our safety and theirs.

There is something within me that does not want to leave. This place has a hold on me. The child has captured my imagination. I don’t want to leave, but how can I stay?

What will become of this young king?

~~~

To read the original story, see Matthew 2:1-12.

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2015

Encounters With Jesus - Available Now
Encounters With Jesus - Available Now

The story above is a chapter from my book Encounters With Jesus, which is a compilation of forty such stories. It takes the reader from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.

You can get your copy today in paperback or kindle on Amazon, or for your Nook at BN.com If you want both you can get the Kindle version for only 99c when you buy the paperback on Amazon.