Sunday School Lesson for Grades 3-6
Christmas: Lesson 4
A Star, A Search, and a Celebration
Teacher’s Notes: For many of us, this has been a busy, exciting, wonderful week celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas. Today’s lesson is going to continue our look at the Savior’s birth, as we read the story of the wisemen, and their search for the Christ-child after seeing His star. And as we look at the gifts they brought to the baby-King, we’re going to also talk about what we might consider giving the Lord, as gifts from us, today.
Have you ever heard the old expression “It’s better to give than to receive?” Did anyone find that to be true this Christmas? Would anyone like to share about a gift they gave someone else this year?
It is fun to get new things. But like the expression says, there’s something really special about giving a gift to someone else, and watching their eyes light up as they open the gift…especially if it was something you spent a lot of time looking for, or perhaps even something you made, yourself.
In this week’s lesson, we’re going to read about a group of men who wanted to give some very special gifts to a very special person… “the King of the Jews.” But when they arrived for the expected celebration, these men found the guest of honor a little harder to locate than they would have thought.
But the Heavenly Father was the one who had sent their very special invitation. And He made sure that these guests found the One they were seeking, in a little house in Bethlehem. Today, we’re going to find out who these special guests were, what their unique invitation looked like, and what they found when they arrived in Israel’s capital city, looking for the baby King.
But first, did any of you make a list of what you wanted for Christmas this year? Did you know that the Bible has several verses that are God’s requests from us? Today’s memory verse is one of those. Let’s take a look, right now, at what you might consider giving your Heavenly Father as a gift this year:
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Romans 12:1
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for this wonderful time of year, when we remember the birth of Your Son, Jesus. Help each one here to remember, this week, that Jesus is the reason we have been celebrating. And help us also to see that there are gifts we can be giving back to Him. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: A Star, a Search, and a Celebration (from Matthew 2 )
(the sign – a star)
Those of you who were with us last week may remember that we talked about birthday parties, and what we do to prepare for them. One of those things was sending out invitations.
When Jesus was born, there were several invitations that were sent to draw people to worship the newborn King of Kings. Mary and Joseph received an invitation to go to Bethlehem…the city where it was prophesied that Jesus would be born. Does anyone remember who was responsible for that invitation? (the Roman ruler, Caesar Augustus)
An innkeeper received an invitation to be part of the festivities. But he told Mary and Joseph that he didn’t have any room. They were allowed to stay in the stable, though. So at least Jesus didn’t have to be born out on the street.
Then, there were shepherds in a field who got a personal invitation from a choir of angels. Does anyone recall what the shepherds did when they heard the news of the baby in a manger? (they went straight to Bethlehem to find Him)
Well, there was another group of people who also received an invitation to Jesus’ celebration. And their invitation didn’t come in a decree from Rome, or an announcement from angels. This one came as a sign in the sky. Let’s see who was there, what they saw, and what they did:
1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
There is a traditional Christmas carol that identifies these men as kings from the Orient. This is generally based in the fact that they brought with them very expensive gifts (which we’ll look at later). But our Scripture passage only identifies them as “wise men.” Regardless of their occupation, this group of men saw something that caught their attention, enough that they immediately responded to its invitation. They saw a star that must have been unlike any they had seen before, because they were convinced that it meant a king had been born in Jerusalem.
Notice, too, that they didn’t think it was just any old king. This one was worthy of their traveling a great distance. We’ll see later that Jesus is referred to as a “young child” and not a baby, suggesting that if the wise men left as soon as they saw the star, their journey must have taken them a year or more. And they didn’t just come to see him…they came to worship Him. So they must have somehow known this child was someone very special. In fact, one scholar has suggested that the gifts the wise men brought “were fit to be given not just to a king but to God.”(*)
So, like the shepherds, how did the wise men respond to their invitation to meet Christ? (they left what they were doing, and went to find Him) What about you? God invites you to come and meet His Son, Jesus Christ, and make Him part of your life. Have you responded to that invitation by inviting Jesus to be your Savior? Or have you, instead, responded like the innkeeper: no room in your life for Jesus? God puts the invitation right there for us, in His Word. But He will not force us to accept it. It’s up to us to decide what each of us will do with our invitation.
Well, as the wise men followed the star (their personal invitation from God), they came to the city of Jerusalem. The Bible does not tell us that this is where the star led them…only that they saw a star that led them to believe “the king of the Jews” had been born. In fact, we’ll see in a moment that the star must not have been there for their entire trip, because they are going to rejoice when they see it again, later. Which would lead us to believe it wasn’t there the entire time.
So why do you think the wise men went to the city of Jerusalem? (because that is where the Jewish kings lived) And what do you think they expected to have happen when they arrived to pay homage to the new king, in Jerusalem? (perhaps a great party to celebrate their coming to see the future king)
But what they found, or didn’t find, when they arrived in Jerusalem was probably very confusing. They were certain that the star meant “a king of the Jews” had been born. But let’s see what the reaction was, in Jerusalem, when they arrived at the king’s palace and announced the reason they had come.
3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
There was not a great deal of celebration at the wise men’s arrival. In fact, verse three tells us that not only was Herod “troubled,” (and that word in the Greek means he was all stirred up, or agitated) by the request of the wise men to see the new king; but the entire city was stirred up by the announcement. None of them knew anything about a new king having been born.
But don’t miss Herod’s name for this baby they were seeking. In verse 4, he refers to the newborn as “Christ.” Why would Herod think that the child the wise men were seeking was the Christ spoken of in Old Testament prophecy? (allow the students to consider possible sources) Perhaps he had been taught some of these prophecies, himself. Or perhaps when he gathered his advisors together, they suggested that this might be the One the wise men were looking for. Regardless of the source, Herod’s conclusion was that his advisors should inform him as to where “Christ should be born.”
So Herod’s chief priests and scribes, those who would best know the old prophecies, informed Herod that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. Listen to their response:
5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
Do you suppose that these advisors had to be excused from Herod’s presence, to go look up where Jesus was to be born? Or do you think they were already familiar with the prophecies, and immediately had an answer for Herod? We’re not told which is the case. But notice that Herod did not doubt their facts. He took them right to the wise men, along with a request of his own.
7Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
If there’s anyone here who has not heard this account of the wise men before, you might be impressed with Herod’s reaction: that he would want the opportunity to meet this Savior (that is what the name “Christ” means) for himself, so that he might worship Him, too. But don’t let yourself get to liking Herod too much. We’re going to see a very different side of him in just a moment. But in the meantime, let’s continue on with the wise men, as they resume their search – heading for the town of Bethlehem.
Now, while Bethlehem is not a terribly large town, how do you suppose the wise men would know where to start looking for Jesus? What would you have done if you were there, with them? (perhaps go to the local place of worship where He would have been dedicated, or to the local market to ask about local families with a son born about the time they saw the star; or maybe they would have to go house to house, knocking on doors, hoping to find the right family).
But the wise men didn’t have to do any of these things because God had a great surprise for them.
9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
The wise men were excited! God had, once again, revealed that special star to them, and left absolutely no doubt where Jesus was. He wanted to be sure they found the right house, with the right family of the right Child…Jesus Christ. Did you know it’s the same for us today? God wants each of us to know His Son, too. Perhaps that’s why you’re here today, to find Jesus, the Son of God, and make Him part of your life. If that’s true of you, don’t leave today without getting to know Him personally.
Now, what do you think the people of Bethlehem thought when they saw this band of people stop at the house of Mary and Joseph? There are some who speculate that because travel could be very dangerous in those days, especially when traveling with such expensive cargo, that the wise men were probably accompanied by a band of men to protect them, perhaps hundreds of men. It was probably quite unusual for such a troop to stop in such a little town. Do you think they might have been afraid? Do you think people were sticking their heads out of their windows to see what was going on? Maybe they gathered in the streets to see what the commotion was about.
Whatever the townspeople’s reaction was, apparently Mary and Joseph were not afraid to invite them into their home.
11And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
Now it was finally time for the grand celebration the wise men had come all that way for. And as they were finally able to lay eyes on the child-King, they fell down and worshipped the Christ-child, then brought out and laid before Him their precious gifts. There are many scholars who’ve speculated about the meanings behind the gifts that were chosen. But many of them agree that gold was a gift often given to kings. So the gold was an acknowledgement of Jesus as the King of Kings. Frankincense was incense often used by priests in the temple worship. And there are many verses that speak about Jesus’ role as the Christians’ High Priest. So the incense would be fitting for Him. And finally, myrrh was usually used in preparing dead bodies for burial. So the myrrh is seen as a prophetic symbol of Jesus’ suffering and death.
Whatever the reason for the choices in gifts, these were all very precious items. And therefore demonstrated the great respect these men had for this young Child. And that is the reason many cultures exchange gifts as part of their Christmas celebrations; in memory of the gifts given to Jesus, by the wise men.
Now that the wise men had seen the Christ-child for themselves, and worshipped Him, it was time for them to return home. Does anyone remember what Herod had asked them to do on their way? Yes, he asked them to return to Jerusalem, and let him know what (or Who) they had found in Bethlehem. Why did he say he wanted that information? (so he could go to Bethlehem, himself, to also worship Him) How many of you think that was the real reason Herod wanted to know where Jesus was? Let’s see what our Scripture passage says about Herod’s real intentions:
12And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
13And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
14When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
15And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
16Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
17Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,
18In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
19But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
20Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.
21And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
23And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
Had Herod wanted to go to Bethlehem to worship Jesus? What was his real plan? (to kill Jesus, so He wouldn’t be a threat to his throne) Satan would have loved nothing more than to see Jesus die at the hands of Herod, rather than living out the plan of the Heavenly Father, to live a sinless life then die on the cross for our sins. But God was protecting His beloved Son. What do these verses tell us that the wise men did? (went home another way)
And what did God tell Joseph that he needed to do? (take Jesus and Mary to Egypt till it was safe to come back) God even used this situation, that Satan, no doubt, meant for evil, to fulfill two more prophecies concerning the Messiah: that He would be called out of Egypt, and that He would be a Nazarene.
God always brings circumstances around to complete His plans. He did it for His Son, Jesus, for Mary and Joseph…and He does it for us, today. He allowed all of the difficulties that occurred in the life of Jesus, because they fulfilled a purpose in His plan.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen that many prophecies were fulfilled to prove that Jesus was, indeed, the promised Messiah. And so the shepherds who found him in the manger worshipped Him. The wise men found Him in His home in Bethlehem; and they, too, worshipped Him.
The final thought for our lesson today is this: have you found Jesus? And if so, did you turn Him away, telling Him there was no room? Or did you open your heart and worship Him as the Savior that God had promised to send into the world, to save us from our sins. You will never meet anyone more important. And you will never be faced with a more important choice. Will you follow the example of the wise men, and worship Jesus, the Savior, today? Let’s take a moment right now and worship Him in prayer as we close today’s lesson.
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, You are the sovereign Lord of the universe. Yet You loved us enough to put an incredible plan in motion to bring our sinful souls to You; You sent Your only-begotten Son into the world, knowing that some would worship, but many more would say, “Sorry, no room here.” But You also knew that all of that would lead Your Son to the cross, where He would pay the penalty for our sins. So, Lord, as we have looked at the story of those who came and worshipped, let it be an inspiration to us to come to you with worshipful hearts, too; ready to give all that we are, as living sacrifices, to You. For we pray in the name of Jesus, Your precious Son who came for us. Amen.
Christmas has already arrived, and the New Year will begin next week. Many take this time to reflect on what they have done in the past year, and consider what changes they might make in the new one.
In light of our lesson today, having looked at the gifts of the wise men, perhaps each of us could really take this week’s memory verse to heart. (review Romans 12:1) We could consider what gift we might present to our Heavenly Father this year; perhaps as a New Year’s resolution. What He asks, in Romans 12:1, is for us to present to Him our bodies, as living sacrifices. That means that we would give ourselves to God completely, to do and be whatever He wants. Are you ready to make that commitment to Him, today? (this would be a great opportunity to invite the students to make a new commitment to God, to be what He wants them to be, this year. Perhaps you could take a moment and lead your class in a prayer of commitment that they could repeat with you, either out loud or silently, if God is moving their hearts to do so.)
“Have You Any Room for Jesus”
Have you any room for Jesus,
He who bore your load of sin?
As He knocks and asks admission,
Sinner, will you let Him in?
Room for Jesus, King of glory!
Hasten now, His word obey;
Swing the heart’s door widely open,
Bid Him enter while you may.
Fill in the Blanks
True or False