Meet Nadir, a fictional 10-year-old who tells his story of seeing the Magi in Jerusalem and the adventure that follows. He learns three lessons of faith from his grandfather, all taken from Matthew 2:1-11.
The text below is the manuscript from a monologue I wrote and delivered for church. It’s written to be presented orally, but it’s available here to read. If you prefer to hear it delivered, click the video below. There is no video presentation, but it does include the Bible text and a few pictures. Merry Christmas!
Matthew 2:1–11 (NIV)
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem
2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6“ ‘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 shepherd my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.
8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
I hate to start so abruptly—I’ll introduce myself in a moment—but the best place to begin this story is to tell you that King Herod—you’ve heard of him?—was insane. He was so determined to remain King and find the Christ child that he ordered the death of all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity age two and under. I was ten at the time, and I didn’t have any brothers age two or under, but I had a cousin, and many of the customers at our bakery had infant sons.
Herod’s order was for Bethlehem and its vicinity. But what did he mean by ‘vicinity’? How far did that extend? One mile? Two miles? Three miles? We lived in Jerusalem and were six miles from Bethlehem, but we lived in Herod’s shadow, so we lived in constant fear.
That’s why Matthew wrote, “When King Herod heard the magi’s question, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” When Herod is angry, no one is safe.
There was a day when this reaction by Herod would have been a surprise. He reigned 33 years, and most of those were years of stability, power, and development. He spent his first ten years fortifying his rule. He was a converted Jew, but we never trusted him. He was an Edomite—from the line of Esau—so he was no friend to the Jews, but Rome liked him because he was good at collecting taxes and quelling uprisings.
But it’s the next season of his reign where he claimed the title Herod the Great. My sister was 4 when she first heard his nickname and thought it was Herod the Grape. So cute — but we quickly corrected her. We didn’t want trouble with the authorities.
These were the years of prosperity and construction. New projects were everywhere.
The Herodium— just south of Jerusalem in the desert of the Judaean Hills. One of Herod’s many fortresses, he built this one on a hill whose summit was a crater rather than a peak. He lived inside with great walls of earth around him. Herod always focused on security.
Masada—one of the most well-known of Herod’s palaces. Spectacular. Rising to the sky and impenetrable—or so we thought. The historian Josephus writes about its fall to the Romans in the year of our Lord (AD) 73. (I think your Netflix has a special on it.)
But Herod’s pièce de ré·sis·tance—his masterwork—was the renovation and expansion of the temple. King Solomon built the first temple nearly 1K years earlier, but 500 years later, the Babylonians destroyed it. After the Persians defeated the Babylonians, Cyrus allowed our people to return to Jerusalem, and under Zerubbabel’s leadership, we built the second temple. It did not have the splendor of Solomon’s Temple, but we again had a place to worship. And nearly 500 years later, Herod made alterations and renovations and expanded it until it was more spectacular than Kings David or Solomon could have imagined.
Herod seemed tame in those first 25 years; he was too busy making a name for himself. But not in his final years. That’s when everything changed. Those years were filled with domestic turmoil, misunderstandings with Rome, and constant threats to his throne. Herod was always on edge. And his ten wives didn’t calm his nerves. In fact, he had his favorite wife and his two sons through his favorite wife killed because he suspected that they wanted to rule the kingdom.
Herod was insane. So when Herod heard of this Christ child, King of the Jews, he lost it. And we lived in fear.
I’m sorry. Forgive me. Your pastor invited me to speak on this beautiful passage from Matthew’s gospel, but it’s difficult to appreciate the beauty without understanding the horrifying context. But Adonai is faithful. All praise to Yeshua.
My name is Nadir, son of Nahir of Jerusalem. I lived many, many years ago. I lived in the years of Jesus of Nazareth. We did not dress like this back then. (Thankfully—too many buttons and zippers. Why socks?) Your pastor was kind enough to lend me some clothes. (Not much fashion sense.)
I was a baker—a master bread maker. I baked the best bread in all of Jerusalem. Ask anyone.
The bakery was our family business. My great, great, great grandfather opened the shop long ago in Jerusalem just inside what today you call the Jaffa Gate—right at the spot where the Christian quarter and the Armenian quarter meet in the Old City.
Not much changed in our shop over the years. I did convince the family to get a new sign. I always wished we’d get a new oven.
I grew up in that bakery, but when Matthew describes this event, I was still a child—not making bread, but I was making deliveries. And one day, in particular, stood out.
I had done about half of my deliveries when I cut through the middle of the crowded market, during its loudest and busiest time. And something strange happened—a hush came upon the crowd—silence. And then, as if Moses were present, the crowd parted. The crowd would have pushed me up against the wall, but I maneuvered my way around the people so I could get to the front. And that’s when I saw them.
It was a caravan that looked like royalty. Armed men surrounded camels carrying large packs of supplies. I saw large, beautifully decorated Arabian horses. On top of each was a well-dressed, stately rider. They looked weathered—tired. I later learned they had been on a long journey—nearly two months. It was clear they had wealth from the way they dressed and the presence of the armed men who accompanied them.
One man, in particular, caught my eye—towards the back. I don’t know why. It might have been the shape of his hat or the color of his clothes—colors I had only seen on the King’s family. I suddenly felt compelled to offer some bread. I grabbed a loaf and held it up as high as I could. The horses were so tall, and I didn’t know if I could reach high enough. But the man signaled to his guard, who took it from me and handed it up to him. He smelled it, and then he nodded at me.
He smiled, too. He liked the bread. I know he did. I just stood there and watched them pass by. And then the crowd pushed me ahead; everyone followed as this caravan traveled to Herod’s palace.
I asked who they were, but no one knew for sure. Some called them “wise men,” some said “magi,” others said “priests.” But over and over, I heard the phrase “from the east…traveling from the east.”
It was amazing. I hurried home and dropped off my bread bag. I hadn’t finished my deliveries, but this was too important. I raced toward the palace, trying to catch up with the crowd. But I stopped and ran back to the store, grabbed my bread bag, and stuffed as many loaves in that I could. My uncle yelled at me for taking from someone else’s order—but I shouted, “it’s for the King!” (I can’t repeat what he shouted back.)
I caught up to the crowd, but, despite my best efforts, I could not get through. It was a thick wall of people, and no one would move. I had an idea. I went to the palace’s side entrance—it’s where I went with our deliveries. Herod’s family loved our bread. (I told you we had the best bread in Jerusalem!)
I walked past the first guard, who nodded at me looking surprised, but the two guards at the next station stopped me. We knew each other, but they asked why I was there—this was not my normal delivery time. I told them, “Didn’t you see? The men from the east are visiting the King. I brought bread.” They whispered some words to one another and waved me on. I ran to the kitchen. The staff was frantic—besides preparing for dinner, they suddenly had a small army they were supposed to feed.
There were baskets of fruits, meats, and cheeses, and lots and lots of wine. I found an empty basket and placed the loaves of bread in it as my mother did at the shop. And then I followed the others.
I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to see these men again and find out who they were and why they were here. But I was stopped. The dining supervisor took my basket and signaled for me to leave.
I was devastated. I would never be closer. Some of the staff saw what happened. They liked me. Every day when I dropped off our bread, they would ask about my family and the bakery. Then they’d remind me to be good and to study the Torah.
Two of them carried a large tray of food together, covered by a cloth that went almost to the ground. They motioned for me to go under the cloth, and then we walked into the dining room together.
Once inside. They had to wait for the dining staff to take the tray from them. The kitchen staff then stood in the corner by the door until requested to bring additional food or drink. It was a room nearly twice this size. One of them nudged me with her foot and whispered to stand in the corner behind the rest of the staff. And that’s where I stayed—the entire time.
The town was still buzzing. You could hear them through the windows.
After some time had passed, one of the royal-looking men spoke: “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Now the dining room was buzzing. Herod’s men had horrified looks; they began talking amongst themselves; some kitchen staff raised their hands in praise. As the room’s volume rose, Herod’s general shouted, “SILENCE! Never ask that question here or anywhere in this region. This is Herod’s kingdom, and he alone is King of the Jews and of all who walk these lands.”
Guess what? The priestly looking, royal men were undeterred. They were not phased at all. “Our question remains. Perhaps your King Herod knows the answer. We will set up camp and await his reply.” And they left. I don’t even think they ate the bread.
The general and all of Herod’s assistants were sent in a variety of directions. Each with a pained look on their faces.
My friends got me safely out of the palace, and by the time I got outside, word had already spread about the men and their question. Some were certain Herod would kill them. I ran home to tell my family all about it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about these men and the star they mentioned.
The shop was empty when I got back. We were still open, and since dinner was approaching, it was usually busy. But everyone was in the streets talking.
I went to my grandfather’s room to tell him about the men. He said he saw them from his window when they passed by and heard others say they were from the east. He said that based on their features, the type of horse they rode, the size of their caravan, and their clothing style, he believed they were from Babylon.
“Babylon?” I knew that was a long way away, so I thought of the furthest distance I could imagine and asked: “Grandfather, isn’t Babylon 100 miles away?
My grandfather shook his head. “600 miles.”
If we wore the Kippah in the first century, it would have flown off.
Then grandfather reviewed with me the story of Daniel. He said that when Daniel was an exile in Babylon, he was in charge of overseeing the education of the Babylonian wise men—the magi. So he would have some influence over what was taught. Knowing Daniel, he would have included the writings of the Hebrew scriptures.
Yeshua taught us to make disciples.
The magi were Daniel’s disciples, and they would have passed these teachings to their disciples. After all, these were prophetic teachings taught to them by Daniel—the very man—who had saved their lives, so it would not be surprising if they continued to teach from the Hebrew scriptures.
As they studied the scriptures, they knew from Moses in Numbers a star would rise; they knew from Micah a ruler would come from Bethlehem; and they knew from Daniel’s prophecies it would take place in at least 490 years. Over the next 500 years, these teachings were passed down, and when enough time had passed, these observant magi noticed what was happening in the heavens. These Gentile Babylonian wise men set off on a six-hundred-mile journey of faith to meet and worship the King of the Jews.
Grandfather taught me — these were men of faith. They did not know what to expect—but they sought a savior.
They didn’t know how long they’d travel, how much it would cost, whether they would ever find this Savior—so many unanswered questions—but they put their fear aside and put their faith in a Savior they longed to worship.
Grandfather asked, “You know why they did these things? Faith demands action—the magi were fearless and sacrificed everything to follow the Lord.”
Grandfather and I heard some commotion on the street. We looked out the window, and people were pointing towards the palace and walking in that direction. I got up and said, “Grandfather, please?!” and looked at him with eyes that begged for permission to go. He asked, “Do you think I would allow you to leave the house at this time with all the commotion outside?” I was heartbroken.
Until he said, “Of course! Go! Run. Just come back and tell me everything.”
He always teased me.
I raced out of the house and didn’t even think about taking bread.
I didn’t even get close to the palace. The crowd was thick, but unlike earlier in the day when the crowd went right up to the palace, this time it stayed back several blocks.
Clearly, Herod heard why the Magi were in town, and he was not happy.
A man hurried from the palace and reported to the crowd, “Herod asked the chief priests and the teachers of the law where the Messiah was to be born.” Someone from the crowd shouted, “Bethlehem!”
“Yes, that’s what the priests said. Bethlehem. But there’s more—Herod called for a meeting with the Magi. They’re meeting right now.”
The crowd gasped. What would happen? Surely the Magi’s guards could not protect them against Herod’s army. I wondered if we would ever see the men on the Arabian horses again.
I waited for more news, but none came. I ran home to update grandfather, and I told him everything. When I mentioned the Magi were meeting with Herod, he told me to hitch the cart to Dorothy. (Dorothy is our donkey.) I asked why, and he said, “Just do it!”
I asked if I could first go back to the palace and get more news. He reached for my hand and said, “Nadir, hitch the cart now.”
Dorothy was eating and did not want to be pulled away from her food, so it took me longer than it should have to hitch the cart. I tied her to the back of the house, threw her some extra food, and then ran towards the palace. But before long, I noticed some of the crowd leaving. My parents even saw me. They waved me over.
“Nadir, many people have seen you near the palace today. And other people have not seen you because they don’t have their bread.”
I tried to change the subject. “Did you hear Herod is meeting with the Magi?”
“Not anymore,” they said. “The meeting is over. Herod sent them to Bethlehem with the instructions, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.'”
I looked up at them: “Herod worships?”
“I don’t think so,” my mother said. And we walked back quietly.
When we got home, Dorothy was now tied to the front of the house. My parents asked why, and I told him of grandfather’s request. I went to untie Dorothy when we heard a noise from the cart.
It was grandfather.
“Abba,” my mother asked, “What are you doing?”
“I have an errand. I need the boy to take me into town.”
My parents tried to explain all the chaos in town and that tomorrow would be better, but grandfather is stubborn.
Once my parents went inside, grandfather told me, “Take Dorothy and lead us to the path heading south.”
“But Grandfather, the town is to the north. Where are we going?”
“We’re going south. Now tell me the latest news.”
I told him what my parents said, and when I mentioned Herod wanted to worship the Messiah, he laughed.
“Grandfather, what’s so funny?”
“What did I teach you earlier about faith?”
“You said that ‘Faith demands action. You said the magi were fearless and sacrificed everything to follow God.'”
“Yes. Faith demands action. The faith of the magi made them fearless, but Herod’s faith is fake. Faith makes us honest with God and one another.”
He then said he believed Herod wanted to kill the Messiah.
“Nadir, worship pretenders fool no one. Never pretend to worship Adonai. You may have days of doubt, and that’s OK. Talk to me about them; even better, talk to Adonai. He knows all, and he’s not afraid of your fears. Faith demands action, so be honest with the Lord. Do not be fake.”
We walked in silence for a while before grandfather offered me some food. “Keep walking, though,” he said. “There’s no time to rest. Walk and eat.”
After a while, I said, “Grandfather, it’s been nearly an hour. Where are we going?”
“Nadir, what is our lesson on faith today?”
“Faith demands action.”
“That’s right. And what did we say about the magi and Herod?”
“The magi are fearless, and Herod’s faith is fake.”
“You are a good student, Nadir. Are you more like the magi or Herod?”
Now, what do I say? I knew what I wanted to say, but grandfather just taught me not to be a fake—to be honest with God, so I couldn’t lie. I loved Adonai. I did. And I believed a Messiah was to come. But why was he taking so long? And I still had so many questions. But I certainly didn’t want to be a fake.
“Grandfather, I want to be fearless but sometimes…”
“You’re not defined by the sometimes,” grandfather interrupted. “Remember, faith demands action. And that’s why we’re going to Bethlehem.”
“Shhh, not so loud. We are not fakes, Nadir. We doubt from time to time, but even at my age, I put my faith in Adonai, and he makes me fearless. But there’s one more lesson we have for today.”
I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t say a thing.
“Grandfather, what is the one thing we still have to do?”
“Faith demands action, Nadir. We will take action when we display our faith.”
And that’s all he would say. We walked and ate and walked some more. It was quiet. And even though the sun went down, it wasn’t dark. A bright star lit the sky, almost as if it was lighting a path directly for us to Bethlehem.
When we arrived in Bethlehem, we had walked 6 miles, and the streets were empty. I asked grandfather where to go, and he said to “follow the light.”
We walked for another minute and then we saw a crowd in front of a house. We saw the horses and camels we had seen with the Magi in Jerusalem.
My grandfather asked for help to get out of the cart, and he told me to bring him in front of the crowd. The crowd was nowhere as thick as in Jerusalem. And when they saw me helping my grandfather, they stepped aside—a benefit of being in the country.
We walked up to the house, and I stood on a rock to peer into the window. “I see the men with the hats and the fancy clothes. They’re bowing before a young boy, seated near his mother and father. The boy just sits there, receiving their praise.” He seemed to be my cousin’s size, so I told grandfather he must be nearly two years old. Next to him were gifts that the men must’ve brought.
It felt like a holy moment, so I got down off the rock and whispered to grandfather, “I feel God is here.” “Help me to my knees,” he said. “But, Grandfather, mother said that’s not good for you.”
“I have to worship the Messiah.”
I knelt beside him. “the Messiah?” I asked.
“Nadir, Messiah has come, just as promised hundreds and hundreds of years ago. The Magi have brought expensive gifts. You and I have nothing to lay at the Lord’s feet except faith, but that’s OK because we have nothing to boast of but his love and grace and mercy we receive by faith alone.
Remember, faith demands action. Faith makes us fearless; faith makes us honest with God and others; and faith causes us to surrender. Let’s surrender our lives to the Messiah.”