Monday, December 23, 2013

The Wise Shepherd-King of Bethlehem

The origin of Christmas celebration in the month of December is not actually Bible based.  The exhibition of the manger scene of Christ’s birth either by model figures or by live enactments during the Christmas season has been a tradition or practice for many centuries.  This manger scene is popularly called as nativity scene comprising of some animals like sheep, cows, and donkeys etc., a few angels, a few shepherds and three wise men worshipping the baby Jesus lying in a manger looked upon by Mary and Joseph.

Through this special blog post, I would like to invite you to join with me in reliving the happenings on the day Jesus Christ was born on this earth based on the Biblical record.  I personally benefited from this study when the Lord directed me to study on the wise men of the east and the shepherds of Bethlehem. 

In the Holy Bible, details on the event of Jesus birth have been recorded in only two Gospels of the New Testament.  The emphasis here is not on the prophecies about the birth of Christ or the Messiah, the savior of all mankind, but happenings around his birth as recorded in the Books of Matthew and Luke.   

 In the first book of the New Testament that is the Gospel according to Matthew, the first and second chapters elaborate the genealogy and the birth of Jesus Christ.  Though this book is the first in the New Testament, with regard to Jesus’ birth mentioned in Chapter 2 it does not describe the nativity scene that happens on the day Jesus was born into this world.  The visit of the wise men or the astrologers of the east did not happen on the night Jesus was born, but it happened several months later. Let me explain it to you through the Bible verses, but before that we will see the recording in the Gospel according to Luke in regards to the birth of Jesus.       

The birth of Jesus happened around the time the first census was taken as ordered by the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. During this time, every individual needs to register themselves in their home town.  So, Joseph belonging to the house of King David travels from his town Nazareth to his home town Bethlehem along with his married, virgin YET pregnant wife, Mary. She is nearing her expected date of delivery.  It is a common belief that Joseph and Mary did not get a room for stay in the inn or lodge or hotels, so they accommodated themselves in a stable or livestock room.  According the archaeological studies, about 2000 years ago, Israeli homes had guest rooms indicated by the Greek word “Kataluma.”  This is the Greek term that is used in Luke 2:7 that is mistranslated into English as inn.  A typical house in Bethlehem has this design based on the studies.

By seeing this design and by the term Kataluma, we understand that Joseph and Mary spent their stay in Bethlehem in a home, most probably in a relative’s home.  In that home, due to rush of the non-residents to the home town, the guest room is fully occupied and there is no space for Baby Jesus to be laid.  Mary, the mother of Jesus wraps the baby with clothes and places the child in the manger or the trough carved out of a stone filled with straw as cushion, which is usually kept as a feeding slot for the animals.  (Please see the picture)
Now in that neighborhood, there are some shepherds in an open field watching over their flock. An angel stands by them and they are frightened by the glory and the brightness around them.  As you all aware, the angel gives them good news about the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the savior of the mankind, in the town of David and gives them a sign that the baby will be wrapped in clothes and laid in a manger.  The angel did not directly tell the name of the place but gives the historic clue to the birthplace of Christ. Jewish shepherds are well-taught regarding their ancestors according to their customs and traditions.  They figure out that the town of David is Bethlehem and decide to go there. After searching in many houses and places in Bethlehem, they find the house in which a baby wrapped in clothes being placed in a cattle feeding trough or the manger.
The visit of the shepherds happened on the same night that Jesus was born.  The important point is, the shepherds were the only ones, outside the family of Joseph and Mary, chosen by God himself to be informed of the good news of His Son’s birth into this world.
Joseph and Mary stay in Bethlehem for more than 33 days and leave for Jerusalem for the purification ceremony of Mary and for baby dedication.  Then from Jerusalem they return to their home at Nazareth.  All these are recorded in Luke chapter 2.  Please go over the bible passages.
Now, the event of the wise men visiting the child Jesus is recorded in the Book of Matthew chapter 2. Let me just summarize the event here. While the baby Jesus is growing up in Nazareth, the non-Jewish, gentile, astrologers or the wise men from the Persian or the Babylonian region notices a unique STAR indicating the birth of the divine king of the Jews at the time of Jesus’ birth.  This group, of not just 3 in number, begin their travel along with the gifts to the King towards Jerusalem, the city where King Herod is located. After traveling for nearly several hundreds of miles and several days of traveling, they reach King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem.  The wise men assumed that the Divine and Extraordinary Baby who is destined as the king of the Jews would be born in a palace.  King Herod learns from the wise men that a king is born for the Jews and he is so disturbed and upset by the news.  Herod tries to find out the truth of the matter.  In the mean time, the news spreads all over Jerusalem and all are troubled as well.  He assembles the chief priests and the learned men of the Law and inquires them about the king of the Jews. They open up the scriptures and quote Micah 5:2, and tell the King Herod that it is written that the king of the Jews will be born in Bethlehem. Then King Herod calls the wise men secretly and gets to know from them the exact time of the appearance of the Star that marked the birth of the king.  Also, he directs them to go to Bethlehem and search for the baby and once they find the baby to let him know as well, so that he could also go and worship the baby. But God knows the intention of King Herod that he does not want to worship the baby but to kill the baby fearing that the baby would supplant him. After the wise men step out of the palace, the very same Star becomes visible to them again in the sky and begins to move ahead of them as a guide.  This Star leads the wise men in the opposite direction of Bethlehem towards Nazareth.  Please see the map for more clarity. 

After traveling for some days again, they reach Nazareth being led by the Star.  The Star leads them exactly to the house of Joseph and Mary and stops over their house. Now, Jesus is grown up a bit and is now called as child. On seeing the Child, without doubting the Divinity and Royalty of the Child because of the simple home instead of a palace, the wise men fall prostate before Him and worship Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Though these wise men were not so wise to pin point the birthplace of Jesus, they are truly wise to follow the divine guidance, which enabled them to worship the Lord with due reverence and honor.  Again, the wise men proved their wisdom by strictly following divine instruction to not to return to King Herod.  These wise men took a different route to return to their country. 

In conclusion, the visit of the shepherds and visit of the wise men from the east are not the events of the same day or night, but they are several days to several months apart. It is not understood how they got merged in the nativity scene.  Also, as clarified earlier in this article, Jesus was not born in a stable but in a home in Bethlehem.  Also, the star did not lead the wise men on the night of Jesus’ birth to Bethlehem but the star led them to Nazareth several months after Jesus’ birth.

With regards to the two important visitors, the shepherds and the wise men, let us do a bit of reasoning based on the scriptures. Shepherds were the first the heaven chose to share the good news of the birth of the Savior. God is very purposeful in choosing the recipient of the message of joy. He does not do anything shallow or meaningless.  The prophecy regarding our Savior Jesus Christ can be read in Micah 5:2 & 4

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.”  

Also Ezekiel 34:23
23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.

The prophecies indicate that the Ruler will arise from Bethlehem who will shepherd the Israelites. As New Testament believers we are spiritual Israelites. (If you would click this hypertext word, it would take you to the clarification).  This Ruler will not just Lord over His subjects or His people, but will be like a shepherd who risks his own life for the safety and security of his flock, who is concerned to meet the needs of them, like feeding them with adequate food and leading them to still waters and green pastures.  A ruler will have to be served, but the shepherd serves the flock. I believe with all humility that the heaven wanted to highlight this wonderful functional personality of Jesus being the Shepherd, and henceforth chose to announce the birth of Jesus first to a group of shepherds who were sincerely watching over their flock in the open field.  The Heaven did not choose the religious heads, the learned men of the law or the scribes, or the teachers of the Law or the religious followers of the Mosaic Law or a king or anybody else, but the simple shepherds.
 Jesus said in John 10
 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,
15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.
18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
When we read through these verses, we can understand the personality of Jesus Christ, our Shepherd.  He has cared for us risking His own life on the cross.  He has the power and strength to deliver us from the enemy.  He is not a hired hand but He is the owner of His flock.  That means we belong to Him.  He gives us the sense of belongingness.  He knows us meaning He understands us thoroughly and gives us the privilege of knowing Him as well.  He goes out of the way to bring the flock into His fold.  He has full authority over His life and our lives, and no one can do anything to Him or to us without His permission.  Wow, what a Shepherd He is!! How aptly the Lord has chosen the shepherds to be His first visitors. 

The second important group chosen by God is the group of wise men.  These are non-Jewish, gentile group of wise men who were genuine and sincere in their pursuit of the Divine King.  The Lord Jesus Christ is the true, wise King.  Jesus is the wisdom, redemption and sanctification.  The wise at heart will always seek this wise King. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. The wisdom of Jesus was astounding throughout the Gospels.  No one was ever able to blame Him openly.  He questioned their questions and shut their mouths.  He could read their minds.  He is the wiser One above the wisest King Solomon because He was the One who gave the  wisdom to Solomon.  His Wisdom surpasses the wisdom of the world.  If our heart is genuine and sincere in pursuing God, we shall surely find this Wise King irrespective of any religious or cultural background. If you would receive this King as your Lord and Savior and enter into a living relationship with Him, your life will not be the same.  One encounter with this King will cause you to take a different route altogether. 

 Jesus is the good shepherd and the guiding star who leads us by the right way.  Like a shepherd He lead us tenderly, lovingly, faithfully safe guarding us every time.  He laid down His life on the cross and took it back with all authority.  He possesses all authority in the heaven and earth and grants us freedom from satan, sin, sickness, bondage, and pain.  He has come to give us life and life in abundance.  He is the wise God and King knowing the past, present, and future.  He guides us with His wisdom like the star that appeared to the wise men of the east.  If we are wise, we will surely enter into a living and loving relationship with this King of kings and Lord of lords to live a life that is conscience of His glorious presence in our lives that will trump the value of all other things in this world.

Joy to the world
The Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and heaven and nature sing

He rules the world
With truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders and wonders of His love!!

Hope this post has clarified some things about the birth of Jesus Christ and the nativity scene as well as highlighted certain personalities of our Lord Jesus Christ.   I believe this has blessed you in a way the Lord has wanted.  Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments on this article.

Bonus to this message, here is a song in praise of the Wonderful Shepherd-King, What a Savior!!

Written By: Shanta S. Daniel
[Copyright@ Permission is granted to duplicate this article in its entirety, but only without additions, alterations or omissions of any kind, including the author and ministry name at the end] 
 God Bless you!!

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