By Dennis G. Allan
No more significant birth has ever occurred. The arrival of the Messiah in that humble setting in Bethlehem was an event which paved the way for the most radical and beneficial changes this world has ever seen. Those today who hold even a semblance of respect for the Savior look back to that scene of his birth with adoration for the babe who was born to die for us all. But how would we have reacted to the arrival of God among men if we had been alive when he was born?
Perhaps most of us place ourselves in biblical settings with grand imaginations that we would have risen above the multitudes in unwavering displays of faith. But then, even the sharply criticized scribes and Pharisees had such exalted ideas of themselves (Matt. 23:30). The accounts in Matthew and Luke of the varied reactions to the newly-arrived Messiah may be just the mirrors we need to see ourselves. Consider those who greeted the Savior.
Shepherds: Honest and Humble Seekers (Luke 2:8-20)
God sent angelic messengers, not to Augustus or Herod, not to the rich and powerful, but to lowly shepherds. The revelation of God evoked action in this audience of honest and humble men. They eagerly went to the Lord and immediately began spreading the good news. Though Jesus grew in every way (Luke 2:52), he never outgrew such basic audiences of simple and sincere people. His followers were largely the poor peasants so often despised and ignored by the “religious” people of the day. As we scatter the precious seed that produces disciples of the Lord, we must be careful not to overlook the very ones who are most likely to respond. God sent his angels to the poor and plain; he sends us, his modern messengers, to the same people today. Though human prejudices may be limited by social, economic and racial boundaries, the power of God knows no such barriers (Rom. 1:14-16).
Simeon: One Who Would Not Rest Until He Found The Christ (Luke 2:25-35)
What a grand description of the single-minded purpose of Simeon’s life: “this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel” (v. 25). God assured such a seeker that he would live to see the Christ (v. 26). Only when that divine promise was fulfilled at the temple was Simeon able to “depart in peace” (v. 29). Simeon’s visage is reflected in the faces of those diligent seekers who will not stop short of the truth that sets men free. The Simeons of all ages realize that life without Christ is incomplete. The Spirit’s assurance to Simeon is echoed by Jesus to others who search tirelessly for truth: “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:8).
Anna: Devoted Servant Who Shared The News (Luke 2:36-38)
In Anna we see a portrait of one of the sweetest images on earth – an aged saint whose life has been devoted to the service of God. Hours spent at the feet or alongside the beds of affliction of such soldiers are never wasted, for we see even in the face of death the grace and character molded through long years of dedication and submission to the Master. Anna was such a servant, but her tour of duty on this earth had not yet reached its end. It was not her manner to retire to a place of ease while someone younger took over, but even at the advanced age “she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (v. 38). From Anna we can learn to pursue a life of tireless service as people who truly “love to tell the story.”
Eastern Magi: Seekers From Afar (Matthew 2:1-12)
Whether because of the mysteries surrounding the men or the unique means by which they were drawn to Christ, the magi are among the most intriguing of those who greeted the Saviour. Our closest view of this order of men is probably to be found in Daniel, where the astrologers and sorcerers were put to shame when compared to those who trust was in genuine revelation from God. Yet even such false and inadequate religions could be used by God to point men in the right direction. The magi looked to nature, and God pointed them to Scripture, which pointed them to Christ. Without the revelation of the word of God, these men could not quite reach the King who had been born to save men. Other passages demonstrate the wisdom of the Lord in bringing men from “afar” to the full revelation of Truth (consider Psa. 19; Rom. 1:16-20; Acts 17:24-31).
When placed alongside the others who came to Christ (shepherds, Simeon and Anna), it is clear that the magi had a greater distance to come to reach Christ (both geographically and religiously). The same contrasts are apparent today. Some of those we encounter are relatively close in that they already believe in God and acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures. Others are further away, unsure about the Bible and even the existence of God. Some, like the magi, appear content with inadequate and empty religious systems. It is our job to offer to all these people an avenue from where they are to Christ. It may mean simply giving book, chapter and verse, or it may require a thorough and patient presentation of evidences for God and the inspiration of the Bible. God has provided the tools; we must use them as ably as possible.
Herod: One Who Would Not Yield (Matthew 2:3-18)
Renowned for his violence and paranoia, Herod was troubled at the news of the Christ (v. 3). He was uneasy about the very thought of being compelled to change and yield power to another. Open admission of his attitude toward the Son of God would carry some risks, however, so Herod feigned a desire to worship and honor Jesus (v. 8). Herod eventually displayed his true colors when he made a full-scale attempt to destroy Jesus (v. 16).
Herod is, in many respects, a well-polished mirror of the attitudes of many toward Christ. He is typical of those who are troubled by the gospel, uneasy about anything that would require them to change. Such people, like Herod, may appear to serve Christ while actually only putting on an act for other men to see. Instead of viewing Jesus as the Saviour who can lead them to liberty and glory, they see him as a threat who will dethrone them from proud positions in life. Just as Herod sought to kill Jesus, such people today drive nails into his hands by treating his sacrifice as useless and vain (Heb. 6:6b; 10:28-29).
The Multitude: Indifferent Toward Jesus
There were others who had opportunity to greet Jesus those who walked past as Joseph and Mary made their way to the temple in Jerusalem; those who lived in the same neighborhood as Jesus grew up; even his own relatives who traveled in the same company on those treks to Jerusalem for the feasts. The vast multitude who thus encountered Jesus simple passed him without notice. To them, he was just the carpenter’s son from up the street. His presence, which had the power to draw meaning from their mangled lives, was treated as ordinary and insignificant.
Is the multitude of our time any better? Is Jesus allowed the opportunity to transform the lives of men and women, or is he passed with hardly a moment’s serious consideration?
How Shall We Greet The Savior?
We did not live in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. We did not hear the voices of the heavenly host or the outcry of the mothers whose babies were slaughtered. We did not see his star in the east, nor hear the arresting words of Simeon. Yet we must determine how we will greet the Saviour. Will it be as the humble shepherd? As Simeon the seeker? As devoted Anna? As the magi who were satisfied only when they reached Christ? Or, will our greeting be like the paranoid and threatened salutation of Herod, or the apathetic disregard of the populace? How do you greet Jesus?
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 19, pp. 577, 599
October 1, 1987