“Now the birth of Jesus was on this wise.1” Here we are nearing Christmas and the narrative is all about the birth of Christ. My Sunday School lesson plan brought me to this subject. Anyone familiar with the stories found in Matthew and Luke knows there are some interesting details and seeming contradictions. So it was time to roll up my sleeves and to get to work. I, for one, don’t want to be a poor student—I want to decern the truth rightly.2 So here is the story as I see it.
Things Set In Motion.
Not counting the conception accounts, the first things that happened were the proclamation from Herod, and the star appearing to the wise men in the east. These two things needed to take place in order for Joseph and Mary, and the wise men to end up in Bethlehem at the correct time. The star needed to appear to the wise men in time for them to make preparations to take the journey and for the length of the journey. Many believe the wise men arrived much later after Jesus was born. I do not think that is so. Matthew says, “when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there came three wise men.3” It does not say sometime after Jesus was born. Herod asked the wise men when the star appears. We don’t know, but reason would tell us it had been sometime before they reached Jerusalem, because of the reasons I previously stated.
Joseph and Mary Head To Bethlehem
The proclamation sent the two poor young people on a journey while Mary was toward the end of her pregnancy. When they arrived in Bethlehem, we find that there was no room for the couple in the inn. Here is where tradition has muddled the story. Tradition has made us think that the inn was a boarding house or hotel of sorts. I do not believe the scripture supports this. There is no evidence of that being true. I will give you plenty of scripture to show that this meant a guest-chamber in someone’s home. It is the Greek word “kataluma,” and it is found two other places in the New Testament, and it speaks of the guest-chamber in a home.
And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? Mark 14:14
And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? Luke 22:11
More noteworthy is Luke because it is in his writing we find this word used twice, and in verse twenty-two, it clearly describes it as being in a house. If Luke wanted us to understand this as a regular inn, He would have used the word “pandocheion.” When Luke records the parable of the Good Samaritan, he tells us that the man was placed in a “pandocheion” which means a paid lodging place. If you take the time to study the Old Testament, you will find where people compelled travelers to come inside a person’s home to lodge for the night. This was the custom of the day. Matthew states the wise men found Jesus in a house.4 Houses in Jesus’ day and some parts of the world still have a place for animals to be brought in at night to protect them from wild animals. Theologians believe this is what Jesus was referring to when He told the self-righteous they were hypocrites because they loosed their ox and led them to water on the Sabbath. In other words, they brought them out of the stall of the home to drink outside.
Who Came First?
Did the shepherds or the wise men come first? Who knows? One thing we do know is these shepherds were special. These were the ones who kept watch over the Temple Sheep. The ones raised for the sacrifices. It fitted that the angels came to these because Jesus was the perfect sacrificial lamb. In the same context that Micah states that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, he said the proclamation would be to the tower flock or the tower that watches over the flock.
8 And thou, O tower of the flock,
the strong hold of the daughter of Zion,
unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion;
the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.
The wise men had to arrive fairly close to the birth of Christ because Luke tells us after the thirty days of fulfilling the law of purification, Joseph and Mary headed back to their home town.
39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. Luke 2:39
Many assume it was much later because Herod wanted all the children killed which were two years and under. Think for a moment, though. Herod did not know when the child was born; he only knew when the star first appeared to the wise men. When the wise men met Herod, they had no idea when Jesus was born; they only knew when the star appeared. So if you were going to kill the potential ruler baby, you would have to have a tolerance of time. Don’t you think two years should cover it?
The Flight to Egypt
Matthew does not say where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were when they were told to flee to Egypt. It does seem reasonable they were still in Bethlehem because when they were told it was okay to come back, they were told not to stay in Judea and go to Galilee. However, it could be that Jesus was not safe even in Nazareth because if Herod got word of Jesus was there, it could have been trouble as well. It does seem clear from Luke, it was after Mary’s purification time when they were going to head back home.
I hope this has been a blessing for you. I also wish it has given you some thoughts on the story of the Birth of Christ. Knowing the truth will lead to greater faith.
1 Matthew 1:18
2 1 Timothy 2:15
3 Matthew 2:1
4 Matthew 2:11