The Magi at Bethlehem
This is a excerpt from an unpublished book by Brad Berglund. It imagines what the wise men would have encountered when they arrived at Bethlehem. The account is purely fictional, but it draws upon the promises that filled the hearts of all who believed when Jesus was born. Enjoy!
That night, the Wise Men and their entourage left Jerusalem through the Gennath Gate. The road to Bethlehem descended into the Himmon Valley and then ascended into the hills to the west of Jerusalem. When they lost sight of the city, the star reappeared in the southern sky. The Wise Men rejoiced, for the miraculous star that guided them was leading them to the promised city. Bethlehem was only a few hours away, and with each new horizon, the light of the star become more intense.
The small town of Bethlehem was engulfed by the light. Night filled the skies all around, but not the town. As they drew near, the light’s source pinpointed one residence. It was a room in an inn. Except for the light, nothing remarkable identified the structure.
As the exact residence came into light, the men from the east dismounted from their camels. Gasper lifted a heavy chest of gold from his belongings and placed it on the ground. Gold seemed fitting to give to a king. Balthazar bore a chest of fine frankincense which he had imported from Arabia. It was a powder which freely and brilliantly gave fragrance to a fire. The Jews in Jerusalem used a special recipe of spices which included incense in their worship. Their altar of incense symbolized the beauty of perpetual prayer to God. Did Balthazar sense the Deity of this child? We do not know. Most puzzling was Melchior’s gift of myrrh. This precious liquid was a perfume which found many uses. It was often used as a spice for life, found often in the oils of purification for royalty. But to the average person, myrrh was used in the embalming process. While the aroma was sweet, its association was not. While being extremely precious, its associations were extremely gloomy to the ordinary man.
They began to walk to the inn where the light resided. When they came within thirty feet of the doorway, a stranger dressed in Shepherds garb approached them from the left side. With joy, he accosted the men.
“Hail! My friends,” the shepherd said. “You appear to be on a mission.”
“We are on a mission,” Gasper said. “We seek the newborn King of the Jews.”
The shepherd was thrown into joyous awe. “How did you know? Did the angels tell you as well?”
“No,” replied Gasper. “No angels – just the light of God’s word and the light of the star.”
“My heart is filled with praise and gratitude to God above.” The shepherd raised his eyes to the heavens. “It is exactly as He said. I testify with Simeon, ‘Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." Luke 2:30-32
When the shepherd finished his moment of praise, he looked upon the silent Wise men and said, “Simeon was a devout man of God in Jerusalem. Whenever he found someone who would listen, he would describe the day this Child was brought into the temple. I have not seen any foreigners before today. But this day, God has brought Gentiles of distinction to His light. Blessed be the God of Israel.”
“We are the first?”
“Yes, but you will not be the last.”
“You speak with great authority, my friend,” observed Melchior.
“I am Shepherd Sam. I was caring for my sheep in the wilderness nearby on the night this Child was born. I heard the angels speak of the birth of this child. We were told that the baby would be found wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. As unusual as that was, we found Him precisely as they described. Since that day, I have told all who would hear about what the angels said and God’s special gift.”
“Do many come to see him?”
“Not really. For some reason, the testimony of a shepherd does not impress people. It causes me to wonder why God has chosen to reveal His plan to those whom society considers to be insignificant. The testimony of others in power would be more readily received, like a Rabbi or a key member of the Sanhedrin. In fact, I expected to see members of the Sanhedrin coming to worship the child, not foreign magi. Nevertheless, even your coming fits the promises of the prophets.”
“Where do you find that?” asked Balthazar.
“The prophet Isaiah spoke of Messiah’s arrival. He spoke of Gentiles coming and bearing gifts; he spoke of you. Hear His words:
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. … The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.” Isa 60:3, 6
When the words gold and incense fell from the lips of Shepherd Sam, Balthazar and Gasper stared at each other in amazement. The irony of the situation did not escape Melchior who laughed aloud and said to the two, “How much time did you give when you chose your gifts. It appears the God of heaven had chosen them for you.”
“Yes,” replied Shepherd Sam, “and you followed His light to this very spot. The glow upon the inn is new this night. I have seen nothing like it until now. The light of Messiah rests there as promised.”
“Is there more?”
“Oh, yes. The fact that this light shines in Bethlehem is highly significant:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2
“Yes, that is the prophecy that Herod’s spiritual advisors gave to him.”
“You mean, that they know of Bethlehem, but they do not come,” asked Shepherd Sam.
“That is correct,” said Gasper.
“Then it is not ignorance that keeps them from this place. They know His place, and they know He has arrived.”
“No, from what I gathered, they appeared not to know He has come. In fact, our questions seemed to perplex them.”
“Again, that makes no sense,” replied Shepherd Sam. “Zechariah’s prophecy was anything but private. I can understand how some would dismiss the words of shepherds and the words of an old man in the temple, but how can they ignore what the officiating priest said when surrounded by miracles and what Wise men from the east have told them?”
“Who is this Zechariah,” asked Balthazar.
“Zechariah was an elderly officiating priest at the temple when an angel appeared to him in the midst of performing his duties. He was told that he and his wife would give birth to their first son. This seemed incredible because his wife was well past the child-bearing years. This happened in the past to other people of faith, but why would it happen to them when they had given up. Zechariah was kept from speaking throughout the entire pregnancy, but God was filling his mind with a comprehension of the wisdom of God. When the time came to name the child, Zechariah indicated by writing that the boy was to be named John. Instantly, words returned to his mouth, and that which had been bottled up inside flowed out like the Jordan River in flood season:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.” Luke 1:68-80
The shepherd continued, “This child in Bethlehem was preceded by a miraculous child in Jerusalem – a forerunner. Both the prophets Isaiah and Malachi said that this would be. It could not be much clearer:
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.” Mal 3:1
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” Isa 40:3-5
The shepherd mused for a moment. “The sign of the forerunner is not enough to bring this people to Bethlehem. I am guessing that the Jewish people will wait until the voice of the forerunner can be heard. This is disappointing, but it is consistent with the prophets.”
“You appear to be an expert in your Holy Scriptures,” observed Gaspar. “Are shepherds usually allowed to study as you have?”
“Most shepherds do not. However, the events of recent days have drawn me to seek out a rabbi nearby. He and I have begun to look at the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets in a new light. As a general rule the Pharisees search the Scriptures for new insight into how to live, expecting to merit eternal life. I have discovered that these Scriptures testify to one who is come to give us life. The coming one would have a fore-runner, and Zechariah’s son fits the bill.”
Melchior observed, “Surely this one, John, had a miraculous birth. Was their anything remarkable about the birth of this Child of Bethlehem?”
Shepherd Sam was stunned by the question, “What are you asking? You followed the light. I heard the angels. …”
Melchior realized that he was misunderstood. “No, I understand the miracles that preceded and accompanied His birth. But is there anything special about His birth. No doubt dozens of baby boys are born in Bethlehem each year. Why is He special?”
Shepherd Sam was still stunned. “Is it possible that you do not know, that you came looking for a King but not for Immanuel?”
“Who is Immanuel?” asked Melchior.
At this very moment, Shepherd Sam was filled with awe and amazement. His meeting with these men was no accident. God’s providence had placed him in the place where the life and death of another man’s soul hung upon each word that came from his mouth. He stood in a line of humble servants of God who were given the task of proclaiming the word of life to one who was in no way their peer. Both Joseph and Daniel stood before the kings of their day with the task of being ambassadors to one who had no knowledge. Years into the future, God would call an ordinary evangelist to open the gospel to a member of Ethiopia’s royalty, and one named Paul would stand before all manner of royalty and fearlessly proclaim the gospel. God had indeed chosen the weak things to confound the mighty.
Shepherd Sam knew that he had no power in himself and in his own words. As Nehemiah did, he prayed a silent prayer within his heart. Royalty was asking questions, and he had the answers.
“Israel is looking for a leader, like Moses, to deliver them from Rome, but there is a greater and more enduring tyrant that rules their soul. Many are looking for that special king who has been promised of old – He whose lineage traces itself back to David and whose kingdom has no end. Isaiah spoke of him:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” Isa 9:6-7
“From the moment He claims His rightful place, no time period and no nation will be exempt from His rule. These words are of great encouragement to this people. The idea that the King of the Jews would be telling everyone else what to do is quite emboldening. Let me speak clearly. God said that in Abraham, all families of the earth would be blessed. It is clear that all people will not be blessed. Those who reject His rule will be cast away. Any who seeks to approach God in any other way will be disappointed.
“The political realities of His kingdom are very exclusive. As has always been the case in Israel, individual faith is critical, but the path to God has always been singular. While one can find a synagogue wherever a sufficient number of seekers reside, there has always been but one temple in Israel. That one temple has but one door. Those seeking peace with God may enter, but only one group, the priests, are allowed access into the holy place. Within that inner wall resides the Holy of Holies. Once per year, only one person, the High Priest, is allowed to enter and sprinkle the sacrificial blood upon the Mercy Seat of God. There is only one mediator who stands between God and the people.”
Shepherd Sam paused to take a breath. He continued, “What this nation fails to realize is that Messiah is no mere man. Again, I cite from the prophet Isaiah:
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isa 7:14
“The kingly credentials for this child are without dispute. He is indeed the Son of David. But he is blessed with credentials that no human being has ever had. He is of true human seed through His mother (Gen 3:14-15), but He is of the seed of deity. His father is not from this earth; His father is the God of heaven.”
Now the wise men were astounded. That which came from the lips of Shepherd Sam was incomprehensible. “What exactly are you saying?”
“This child is born of a virgin.”
“How can this be?”
“That is precisely what His parents asked. His mother, a chaste young woman heard this message from Gabriel, an angel of God. He told her that the Holy Spirit of God would energize her womb. The child to be born would have no human father. Of course, you can imagine what people would say. Even her espoused husband, Joseph, did not take the news very well. He could not comprehend Mary acting in any dishonorable way, and yet he was not able to accept her testimony. God appeared unto him in a dream and assured him that as unreasonable as this sounded, the child was indeed conceived of God. Joseph then finalized the matter and received her as his wife, but he refused to have any sexual intercourse until the birth of the child. The child is not Joseph’s seed, it is God’s seed. How can this be? With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
“So are you saying that human flesh and Deity are residing in one being?” asked Balthazar.
“That is exactly what I am saying. Human flesh and Holy God are in one, and that one dwells among us, Immanuel.”
The Wise men began to tremble. “Could this be Balthazar’s stone?” mused Melchior.
“Who is Balthazar?” asked the shepherd.
“My name is Balthazar,” one of the Magi answered. “But the Balthazar my friend speaks of was a great prophet in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. His Hebrew name was Daniel. I am named after the one who both revealed the dream of a great image and gave its meaning. It was he that described how four nations would control the Jews. After the fourth, a stone of divine origin would crush these and form an eternal and universal kingdom.”
“That kingdom is God’s kingdom,” Gaspar declared.
“And this child is God in the flesh,” Melchior reasoned.
“We cannot be here. We must flee,” Balthazar spoke with urgency.
“But why?” asked Shepherd Sam.
“He is holy God. But we are sinful flesh,” Balthazar declared.
“As am I,” Shepherd Sam said in comfort. “The angel and the dream gave both Mary and Joseph the name of this child. His name is Jesus, which means, ‘Jehovah saves.’ A Holy God could never be approached by sinful flesh. But God has provided for salvation to be found in this Child and in Him alone.”
“But how can we enter into His presence and worship Him?”
“The high priest in the temple could not approach without a thorough cleansing, both physically and spiritually. You must repent of your sin. You cannot come into His presence with every abomination of your past. Cry out, ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ He did not turn me away when I came to Him; neither will he turn you away. Do not allow pride to get in the way. David said:
“Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar. Ps 51:14-19
“Your gifts will be received if your heart is bowed by the glory and graciousness of Immanuel.”
The Wise men conferred among themselves. They had come seeking a King, and only a king. They now discovered that they were in the vicinity of Immanuel. The gifts they planned to offer were intended for another human being, but now they were being deposited before God Himself. Wonder and terror filled their hearts as they realized their own sinful condition. Yet faith said that Immanuel was not only God, but He was also Savior.
“Shepherd Sam, we repent of our sin. We enter into this holy place with clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24:3-4), not because we are without sin, but because we believe, by faith, that salvation is possible in Immanuel. It is a joy to serve Him as the King of kings, but it is a greater joy to know Him as the one who redeems from sin. We came seeking for a lot less, but we are amazed that God has given to us much more than we ever imagined.”
Joy filled the souls of Balthazar, Melchior, and Gasper while tears flowed down their faces. Shepherd Sam burst out into a Psalm of praise:
“… He will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly. Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase. Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.” Ps 85:8-13