I was in Jerusalem to film segments for an upcoming It Is Written TV series about Jesus. I walked the cobblestone streets of the Old City, seeking locations associated with Him. As I searched, I felt the way the Magi must have felt—those so-called wise men from the East who travelled to Jerusalem 2000 years ago in search of the Messiah.
As I walked, I pondered the question the wise men asked the locals: “ ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him’ “ (Matthew 2:2). Their inquiries were disturbing to the establishment, both secular and religious, and caused a tremendous commotion in Jerusalem. Herod, the king, was especially upset to hear about a rival who posed a threat to his throne. In the political climate of the day, as in the countries of the Middle East today, loose talk of alternative power dynasties was enough to incite violent opposition from the ruling authority.
birthplace of the Messiah
So Herod summoned the Jewish religious leaders and demanded to know where this new King, the Messiah, was to be born. At first glance, this seems like an unreasonable request. How were they to know where the Messiah was to be born?
Surprisingly, however, the priests knew just what Herod was asking for and were quickly able to provide him with accurate and totally reliable intelligence.
How could they do that? How were they able to identify the birthplace of the Messiah, the new King?
They were familiar with the writings of the Old Testament— the Bible as they knew it. In fact, they probably recited the answer to the king’s demand from memory. They told him that the Messiah was to be born “ ‘in Bethlehem in Judea,… for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel” ’ ” (Matthew 2:5, 6). They were quoting an ancient prediction made by the prophet Micah (see Micah 5:2) some 700 years earlier.
The Old Testament is replete with fulfilled prophecies that had already been fulfilled and they had no reason to doubt this one would also come to pass. The Christ would be born in Bethlehem.
Now think of this: out of all the millions of places in the world, the Bible pinpointed an insignificant village a few miles from Jerusalem as the birthplace of the Messiah.
Notice that the prophecy specified Bethlehem in Judah. There’s a reason for that. There were two Bethlehems in Israel at that time. One was located in what had been the tribe of Zebulun and the other was located in what had been the tribe of Judah. Had the prophet not specified “Bethlehem in Judah,” the prophecy could have referred to either one.
A fascinating part of this story is that the Messiah’s earthly parents-to-be, Joseph and Mary, weren’t even residents of either Bethlehem. Joseph worked as a carpenter in Nazareth, some 150 kilometres from the Bethlehem in Judah.
Walking or riding by donkey, that’s a four- or five-day trip. And with a woman in Mary’s condition, expecting the birth of her first child, it was a risky journey.
Thus, if you’d been a visitor in Nazareth three weeks before the birth of Jesus and bumped into Mary at the village well, I’m sure you would have expected her child to be born in Nazareth.
So what could possibly take a mother away from home at that late stage in her pregnancy?
an amazing journey
Something remarkable happened that fulfilled Micah’s prophecy exactly as God gave it to him. A decree came from the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, ordering everyone throughout the Roman Empire to return to their original hometown to register in a census. Back then, this was an unsubtle way to collect taxes! The Bible says, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world… . So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David” (Luke 2:1, 4).
It happens that Bethlehem in Judea was Joseph’s hometown, where he was born. Thus, Caesar’s decree required him to register there rather than in Nazareth. This is what brought Mary from Nazareth down to Bethlehem just in time for Jesus to be born. In fact, Jesus was born in a stable on the very night they arrived! Despite the passing of centuries, the Bible’s prediction concerning the birthplace of the Messiah in Bethlehem was fulfilled, thanks to a secular ruler who had no knowledge of the implications of his legislation.
And so it was to Bethlehem that the Magi made their way, arriving some time after the Baby’s birth. And they found the long-awaited Messiah—the new King, who would fulfil the desires and aspirations of people everywhere.
What an amazing sequence of events that combined to fulfil the Bible’s prediction of the Messiah’s birth! And the Old Testament records hundreds of similar prophecies about the Messiah, every one of which was fulfilled in every detail, including His life, death, burial and resurrection. In other words, the life story of the promised Messiah was all written centuries before He was born.
It’s fascinating to examine these Bible predictions and see how only one Person in history fulfils them. There were several other claimants to the title of Messiah at the time but only Jesus fulfils all of them accurately and completely.
There is always room for doubt for those who choose not to believe and room for faith for those who do. The fulfilled prophecies about Jesus give those who’ve never seen Him confidence that He is the Saviour, the promised Redeemer of the human race.
That’s why we can put our trust in Him.
The Bible tells us that when the wise men who had been searching for Jesus found Him, they were overjoyed. They had found their Redeemer, the Saviour of humankind. This is true for everyone who finds Jesus.
And the Christmas season is a good time to contemplate His birth, for as the saying goes, “Wise men still seek Him.”