9: Worship and Murder in Bethlehem
It was evening when the wise men left Jerusalem. The sun had already set, and darkness was creeping across the fields. Before them, in the night sky to the south, a bright star shone in silent majesty. It was the same star that the wise men had seen when they were in their own land. Now they saw it again—in the land of the Jews. The star went before them and hovered above the place where they could find the child.
Joyfully they hastened to Bethlehem. It did not take them long to find the house at which Mary and Joseph were staying.
They went inside, and there they found the child for whom they had made this long journey. They found the child in a modest house cradled in the arms of an ordinary woman without money or title. Could that child be the young king?
It was God who had led them to this child; therefore they believed. Those wise, powerful men kneeled before the child and honored Him. They offered the simple child their royal gifts—gold, incense and myrrh. They laid the shining gold and costly spices at the child's feet as tokens of their esteem.
Then they were happy. Not because their clever calculations had proven correct, for with calculations alone they would never have found the child. They were happy because a great light had begun to shine in their hearts, the Light of which aged Simeon had sung. They were happy because they had found the Savior of the world.
That night God spoke to the wise men. He commanded them, in a dream, not to go back to Herod. They obeyed gladly and went home along a different route. They no longer had their gifts with them, but they took back a greater treasure—the peace and joy in their hearts.
Back in Jerusalem, Herod was almost consumed with anxiety. He waited in vain for the wise men to return. He was beside himself with rage when he finally realized that they had deceived him.
He would not allow the young king born in Bethlehem to escape him! Herod would still be the victor!
Quickly he sent his soldiers to the quiet town of Bethlehem. He ordered them to kill all little boys two years old and younger. The hated child would surely die, he reasoned. It was not that long ago that the wise men had first seen that strange star in the sky.
Herod's cruel soldiers obeyed, for they were not much better than their wicked master. A great cry went up in Bethlehem as the soldiers went about their murderous work, their swords red with blood. Herod didn't care about the pain suffered by the mothers in Bethlehem. He had just committed the most horrible, desperate act of his life, but he laughed and was at ease. He thought only of himself. He had won the battle, he believed. Now the cruel king on David's throne in Jerusalem could be sure of his power again.
Soon God knocked the blood-stained sword from Herod's filthy hand. Herod died of a horrible disease. There was no one on earth to punish him for his misdeeds. He had to face the One who avenges the innocent blood that is shed on earth.
The children of Bethlehem who had been murdered so cruelly were better off than Herod. They were snatched from their mother's arms mercilessly, but God's fatherly arms received them. They were in God's care. They were the first people on earth permitted to give their lives for King Jesus. They were martyrs.
One day Jesus would give His life for them. He was not dead—not at all! How could foolish Herod have thought that he could win his battle against the Messiah? When his soldiers marched into Bethlehem with their swords drawn, the baby Jesus was not there. He was far away, where He would be safe. An angel of the Lord had warned Joseph about Herod's plans, and told him to take Mary and the child to Egypt.
While Herod laughed about the murders in Bethlehem, Jesus was cradled in His mother's arms as she rode south on a donkey. Joseph and Mary were able to buy a donkey with gold that the wise men had given them. They traveled to Egypt on that donkey, and continued to live off the gold.
After Herod's death God told them to return to their own land. Joseph did not dare settle in Bethlehem, the city of his fathers. Archelaus, Herod's son, was king, and he was just as godless as his father. Joseph returned to the northern part of the country, to the despised area known as Galilee. He settled as a carpenter in the little city of Nazareth.
There had been no angels singing in Nazareth on the night of Christ's birth. No one from Nazareth had been present in the temple to hear what Simeon and Anna said about Mary's baby. When the people of Nazareth saw little Jesus, they never thought that He might be the Messiah.