As I read the Christmas story in the Gospels for the umpteenth time, it dawns on me that there are basically four groups of people who totally missed out on the first Christmas. John 1:11-13 provides commentary on this sad state of affairs: “He came into His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God — who were born, not of blood, nor of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The same types of people who did not receive him and missed out on the first Christmas are still with us today — and missing out on the greatest message the world has ever known.
1. The religious experts.
Matthew 2:4 says that when the wise men came into Jerusalem looking for the Messiah, Herod assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people, [and] he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet…’ ” Then they quoted Micah 5:2, which says that the new king of Israel would be born in Bethlehem.
They were in Jerusalem. Bethlehem was just about 6 miles away. Did any of them get off their rear ends and march 6 miles down the road to see the Messiah? No. They did not care. Their religion was good enough for them.
Notice, these were the priests and scribes — the ones who led Israel in worship and copied the scriptures. They were wrapped up in the duties of their religion, but they did not care that God was actually fulfilling Scripture and visiting their planet as a baby.
Don’t we have the same group today? People sing their carols and know all the Bible stories, but at the end of the day they are trusting their traditions, their connections, their efforts, their ancestry, and their obedience to rituals and ceremonies, but they are not looking for a real living relationship with a Savior who can actually save. The religious crowd missed out.
2. The political leaders.
Caesar Augustus had all the power, or so he thought. Herod was obsessed with keeping the little bit of power he had. Both men participated in God’s plan through the census by setting in motion the series of events that would one day lead to the downfall of pagan Rome.
Some 300 years later, the Roman Emperor Constantine would profess faith in Christ and declare Christianity to be a legal religion. Of course, Augustus did not know any of that. He had no interest in the backwater nation of Israel. He and his Senate couldn’t care less about prophecies of a Messiah. But in the days of Augustus, God visited our planet — not in glorious Rome or sophisticated Athens, but in the little town of Bethlehem.
Herod, of course, was the major political leader in Israel — a client king appointed by Rome and upheld by Roman might. Herod was actually visited by wise men from the East who wanted to know where the Messiah was. (I know, according to Matthew 1:11 the visit of the wise men was probably several months after the birth of Christ; Jesus is described as a child living in a house and not as an infant in a manger. Nevertheless, most of us conflate the story of the wise men with the Christmas story.)
So, all the political movers and shakers (Herod and maybe the Jewish Sanhedrin) had to do was have a change of heart and go visit the new Messiah with the wise men. But most politicians are not known for their humility or spiritual piety, and Herod wound up declaring war on the Messiah and slaughtering children instead.
Herod died one day — and went out into eternity, unprotected by a Savior. What is Herod thinking now about his decision? Herod and his political class certainly missed out.
Here is Peter Ustinov portraying the evil Herod in the movie “Jesus of Nazareth”:
3. The busy people.
I don’t know exactly how else to phrase this. What else do you call the rank and file who simply have no room for Jesus? At the end of Luke 2:7 comes the phrase, “…there was no room for them in the inn.”
In the village of Bethlehem, how many inns were there? I can hardly imagine Bethlehem overflowing with motels. So a young couple arrives and the wife is obviously about to give birth. NO ONE stops to say, “Hey lady, you look like you’re about to give birth! We have room in our house!” Imagine that. No one stops to help.
The text does not say that there were any helpful people saying, “Joseph, over in the stable … there’s a manger. Not all that clean, but at least it’s a place for you.” No, no one bothers to help them.
Why? Everyone was too busy. Too wrapped up in themselves. Too distracted with other “more important” things. “He came into His own, and His own received Him not…”
Do we see ourselves as “too busy” for spiritual truth today? Have the “so important” affairs of the day crowded out your heart and there is no room for what the Messiah offers us?
This might surprise some of us. As I was thinking about the Christmas story, I was wondering about Mary and Joseph’s family. Where were their parents, and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins? Where was the family network? You mean to tell me that a young couple was sent almost 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, while Mary is nine months pregnant … ALONE? Well, where is there any mention of anyone in their family accompanying them?
This leads me to believe that even Mary and Joseph might have had dysfunctional families. Family can let you down. We all know this, right? So, when family lets you down, remember that Mary and Joseph did not have any family members with them either … and they had to face their trials alone (humanly speaking; of course the Lord was with them).
Couldn’t some of their family had gone with them? If they had, they would have been there for the first Christmas, and shared in all the wonder and joy.
John 1:11 tells us the sad story that the Savior of the world came into His own creation, and His own people would not receive Him. Fortunately, the rest of the passage goes on to tell us that to those who did receive Him (like the unlikely shepherds and the mysterious wise men), He gave the right to become the children of God.
So, this Christmas, will you be like the groups of people who ignored Jesus the Messiah, or will you run to Him, welcome Him, receive Him, and worship Him?