Whatever Happened to The People of the Nativity?


Title: Whatever Happened to The People of the Nativity?


Text: Matthew 1:18, Luke 2:8-11, Matthew 1:1-2


Time: December 17th, 2013




As I do every Christmas season, I try to come at the Nativity from many different angles with the hope that it enriches our celebration and remembrance of the birth of Christ.  It’s a challenge to find a new angle or twist on the old Christmas story. Today I’ve decided that I’ll ask and try to answer the question, “Whatever happened to the people of the Nativity?” Or in other words, “Whatever happened to Mary and Joseph. Whatever happened to the shepherds? Whatever happened to the wise men?” Yes, there were other characters in the first Christmas account. For example, there was Herod, who tried to kill Jesus. There was, we assume, an innkeeper who turned Joseph and Mary away, but who may have lent them the use of his stables to stay. And of course, there was the baby Jesus, the Lord Christ himself, of which much is said of at Christmas and other times, rightly so. But today I’d like to only deal with a few of the main characters, not all. If there’s one thing we learn after we study and read the Bible for a while, and that is, we don’t know as much as we wish we knew about what the Bible teaches. We don’t know all we wish we could know about the personalities mentioned in the Bible. And there’s a reason for that. I think the biggest reason is that the Bible gives us the basic and essential things, but not all the details of secondary things. But then again, how big of a book it would be if it contained all the information about everything and everyone it mentions? It would be massive; clearly impractical, for preserving down through the ages, and also, for reading and understanding. As it is, as short or as long as it is, it’s still a challenge just to understand that much. So while we’d love to know more about people, places and things in the Bible, we’d probably be overwhelmed if it tried to explain any more than it has explained. So we are left mostly to guess and speculate. What ever happened to Mary and Joseph of the New Testament? We presume they are now in heaven with the Lord and all the departed Christian souls. But what about the remainder of their earthly life? What happened to them in this life? And then there are the shepherds who were summoned by the angels to visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem that first Christmas night? What became of them after they visited the Christ child? And finally, whatever happed to the magi or wise men? As I’ve mentioned before, we really don’t know there were three of them, although we could guess that number by the three gifts given. But what became of them? These are all interesting questions that I’d like to tackle today during the Christmas season of 2013. Hopefully, by exploring these questions we’ll be informed and encouraged in our Christian faith as well.



First, whatever happened to Mary and Joseph? Matthew 1:18, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” We know all about Mary and Joseph because of the birth of Jesus, but we don’t know very much more about them afterwards. And we know much more about Mary than about Joseph. But whatever became of them? For starters, we know a little more about what happened to Mary because the New Testament tells us. We know, for example, that she was present during the ministry of Jesus, she was present at the crucifixion, and that she participated in the life of the church after the resurrection of Christ. But beyond that, we don’t know much more about her. We have a very strong tradition of what happened to Mary because of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, but how much of is fact, we don’t know. Roman Catholics teach that Mary never died, but when she became old, instead of dying, she ascended into heaven. This is called the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. However, the Bible teaches no such thing; it’s purely tradition, which causes most Protestants to question it. However it’s interesting that even in Catholic Europe, painters could depict the Virgin Mary as dying, as was the case in the 1600 painting by Caravaggio entitled, The Death of the Virgin.” This was before the church had made any dogmatic statement as to the Assumption of Mary. So how did Mary die? We really don’t know for sure. We’re left to speculate. But we know more about Mary than Joseph. How did Joseph die? Again, we don’t know. I’ve talked about this question before in other messages, but as far as I can tell there isn’t even a tradition about how Joseph died. Often pious Christians down through the ages will speculate on things the Bible doesn’t speak about, and after many years these speculations sometimes become traditions that satisfy as answers for people. Well, we don’t even have that in respect to Joseph. We know he was a carpenter, because the New Testament says so in a number of different places. Did he die in a work-related accident? Or did he die of natural causes? We must remember that the life expectancy back then wasn’t very long. Today, with modern medicine people live into their seventies, eighties and nineties, some even past one hundred. But in ancient times it was rare for an adult male to live much past forty or fifty. Any number of sicknesses or illnesses could kill them easily. In all likelihood Joseph died of natural causes sometime before Jesus began his ministry around the age of thirty. If Joseph were around twenty at the birth of Jesus, and he lived long enough to teach Jesus the trade of carpentry, which we presume, then he probably lived into his forties and died before reaching the age of fifty. But again, this is all guesswork. But let’s turn to some other personalities in the Nativity.



Second, whatever happened to the shepherds? Luke 2:8-11, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around then, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” Well, we know the rest of the story. They went to Bethlehem to see the Christ child, and afterwards it says, “when they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. . . The shepherd returned; glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told,” Luke 2:17-18, 20. So while we don’t know what ultimately became of them – we don’t know how they died or what they did long-term, we do know what they did immediately afterwards. The text seems to say that right after seeing the baby Jesus they spread the news of his birth. But whom did they tell? Probably the town’s people of Bethlehem and vicinity. Being that close, they may have even had family and relatives there in the town. They might have lived there themselves. So they spread the word that night immediately. Then, it says, they returned back to their sheep. Why? Because they were shepherds and they were responsible for sheep. Were not the sheep left alone? Or were the animals left with someone else temporarily? If so, the shepherds who stayed missed out on seeing the Christ child. Would they have left the sheep completely alone? Probably not. But it says they returned. Where? Back to tending the sheep, but they weren’t the same after that, because it says they were rejoicing praising God. And that’s the last we hear of them. The last thing that describes them is their praise and worship of God. That’s a nice endnote. But we also would like to know how did their encounter with God through the baby Jesus change them long term. Did any or all of them become more deeply religious? No doubt they all did become more spiritual and more committed to following after God. We don’t know in what spiritual state they were in beforehand, but such an experience probably changed their lives. It would be thirty more years before the baby Jesus would become the man Jesus and begin his ministry, so the shepherds couldn’t just up and join the Jesus movement and follow after Jesus. So what did they do? Probably devoted the rest of their lives to testifying to the Lord and encouraging people to faith. What else could they do? Other than guessing, we just can’t say. What would you have done if you had been a shepherd that first Christmas. More important, what are you doing now, now that you’ve heard the Christmas account? Are you deeply committed to Jesus? Are you a serious follower of Christ?



Third, whatever happened to the magi or wise men? Matthew 1:1-2, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘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.’” We know they were given the location, Bethlehem, and they went there and saw the baby Jesus. Later, they left and traveled back to their own land by a different route. But the question is, “What did they do after they returned to Persia or whatever country they were from in the East?” They were magi or wise men, which could mean a number of different things, ranging from astrologers to philosophers to scientists to royal advisors. So we really don’t know exactly who they were or what they were, and therefore, it’s even hard to imagine what they did after they returned. We do know that finding the baby Jesus had a profound influence on them and that they experienced a powerful, emotional transformation. It says when they saw the star (overhead of Jesus in Bethlehem) “they were overjoyed,” Luke 2:10. My guess is that the whole journey and experience had a profound effect on their lives. Did they go back to life as usual, in whatever they did as magi? Probably not. Remember, before all of this they were mere magi, but afterwards, they were magi with a profound once in a lifetime spiritual encounter and experience with God. Did they tell others about what they experienced? “You betcha,” as they say. Their friends and family probably heard about it over and over again. They may have even become somewhat local celebrities for their successful journey. After all, they called it right; saw the star, followed it with the belief that it represented the birth of an important Jewish king, and lo and behold as it turns out they were correct. But what did they do beside tell people about the experience? We don’t know. Did they give up astrology afterwards and study the Bible? That’s what one early church father thought, that they gave up all astrology, since it could only lead them so far, to Jerusalem, but not to Jesus the Lord; only the prophets of the Hebrew Bible could direct them specifically to the Savior. That would make sense, although there’s no evidence for or against it. I’ve given messages in the past about how human thinking like astrology can only take us so far, but then we need God’s revelation in the Bible to take us the rest of the way to salvation. Maybe the magi gave up being magi and became converts to the God of the Bible. They could have become what became known as proselytes, or gentile converts to the Jewish faith. They could have probably found a nearby Jewish synagogue because after the exile Jews were living everywhere in the lands around Israel, and it wouldn’t have been hard to find a rabbi to teach them the faith. I’d like to believe they did convert to the biblical faith, although again, I cannot verify that. Have you had a spiritual encounter with God? Have you had the born again experience? It’s a reality.



The Bible leaves a lot of gaps in our knowledge concerning the principles actors in the Christmas Nativity event. I’ve not mentioned the animals present around the manger in Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus. We all know what happened to them. They were probably, almost certainly, where they had been before all the commotion occurred. Being dumb beasts they probably weren’t effected in the least; they continued on with their lives as before. Now the really sad thing is that there are many people who at like the dumb beasts of the Nativity scene who continue on as before, as if nothing important had occurred. The animals we can forgive for acting like nothing happened, because, after all, they are dumb animals, lacking in intelligent. But humans who act as if the birth of Christ were no special thing, really can’t be dismissed or given excuse. The birth of Jesus the Savior is a big deal; it’s of supreme importance. In no way should it be minimized. People who dismiss Christmas as nothing, or act like it’s of no real importance to their lives are acting like dumb animals. Now the sad thing is that today, more and more people act as if they can take or leave the Christmas Nativity event. People today act like they’ve got some many other more important things to think about than think about the original Christmas. People are busy making money, buying this or that, going here or there. Many intellectuals think that Christmas is all make believe, while most people today are simply too busy to give it very much of their attention. They use Christmas for their own human purposes, but don’t stop and reflect on its profound meaning. Sadly, most people act like dumb animals in respect to the Nativity. They stand around while the Savior is born, then act bored when asked to take it seriously. Again, like I said before, we can forgive the animals for such an attitude, but every adult should take the time to really appreciate what Christmas really means to them ultimately. Let’s take this Christmas season to see if we can’t help others appreciate the true meaning of Christmas. Most people today are becoming distracted by the clutter of the holiday season, as more and more celebration “idols” are mixed in with the true Christmas holiday. Let’s make a point this year, at our gatherings, in our conversations, to steer people toward the spiritual meaning of the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ. We don’t know what became of Mary and Joseph in life, nor do we know what happened to the shepherds and the magi, but we can determine what becomes of us. Will we celebrate Christmas as a seasonal holiday once a year and then drop it afterwards, or will we let it live with us all year round in spiritual communion with God. Only we can determine that history. 



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