When we hear the Christmas story we will hear of the Magi or kings who travelled to Jerusalem following a star, that somehow they almost seem to have expected. They went to Jerusalem and asked King Herod where the new King of the Jews could be found. How could they have worked all that out from a star?
Those of you who have used my lessons will know about the prophecy of Balaam and how it is thought this prophecy was kept by the people of Mesopotamia so that when the Star appeared, the Magi knew what it might mean.
Herod did not simply dismiss the Magi. He called for those in the Temple to come and explain the Scriptures to him, to see if these gentiles had it right, and the Temple staff said yes they did and the child was to be born in Bethlehem.
Herod then said, “Don’t be daft, it’s all a fairy tale…” er no, he didn’t. He sent the Magi to find the baby and then come and tell him. Perhaps at this point he was hedging. Maybe there was a king born, maybe there wasn’t. But from what the Scriptures said, this was no ordinary king- this was the promised Messiah. So all those temple people would be rushing off to Bethlehem to see the baby too right?
Apparently not. They just went back to the temple and put away the scrolls as though what they had just read, meant nothing. I can’t help wondering how much of their disinterest in the possibility of the Messiah was rooted in the fact that Herod built the temple and the money, power and prestige they had there, came not from God (as far as they were concerned) but from Herod.
Then, when the Magi did not return, Herod had all the toddler and baby boys murdered in a mass slaughter that is just foul. Why bother? I can’t help thinking he did it because he believed; I think Herod believed that the Messiah, the King of the Jews the promised shoot from the stump of Jesse really had been born and it terrified him.
For the Magi, the curses Balaam had promised to pour on Israel had become a blessing not just for Israel but for all the nations, but for Herod, the curse was real as he rejected the blessing.
God said to Israel, “See a place before you life and death, choose life therefore…”