The Humble, Holy, and Wise Witnesses of Christ

January: Matthew 2; Luke 2

Jesus Christ was born in the humblest of circumstances, yet he was the king of all Israel and the Creator of the world. From the moment of his birth, Jesus’ life would symbolize the perfect covenant path for all to follow. Israelite children were salted and swaddled with the practical reason of cleaning, disinfection, and providing warmth and security. Both of these practices were also symbolic that the baby was a child of the covenant. Ezekiel commented on how Jerusalem must not have been salted and swaddled as a baby since the people of Jerusalem were not covenant keepers: “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast both thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.”[i]

Swaddling could symbolize a parent’s loving care, the healing of a broken limb, and the future death of the Savior since the swaddling clothes would look similar to the burial cloths wrapped around a dead body. Swaddling was also a way to keep the baby straight and secure. From infancy, the Savior was our example of following the straight covenant path.

The children of covenant Israel had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah for millennia and this humble birth was very different than the coming they were expecting. They were looking for a Savior from their oppressive Roman rulers – to become a free and sovereign nation once more. The Savior himself emphasized the need and power of witnesses in every book of scripture: In Matthew, the Lord declared: “…[I]n the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”[ii] Humble, holy, and wise witnesses knew, from the moment of Christ’s birth, that he was the Messiah that they had been waiting for.[iii]

Humble Witnesses

The shepherds were humble witnesses of the Savior’s birth. Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish-Christian scholar wrote about Jesus as the Messiah. He speculated that there was a tower called “Migdal Eder” or the “watch-tower of the flock” where priestly shepherds looked for stray sheep that would be then sacrificed at the Jerusalem Temple. These sheep were destined for sacrifice, and priestly shepherds watched over them. The herald angel announced the birth and the attendant angels burst forth in song proclaiming the “announcement of the Kingdom coming.”[iv] These shepherds would take these sheep to the Temple in Jerusalem where they would readily tell others about the miracle they had seen on their “night of wonder.” Edersheim wrote:

It seems of deepest significance, almost like the fulfillment of type, that those shepherds who first heard tidings of the Saviour’s birth, who first listened to angels’ praises, were watching flocks destined to be offered as sacrifices in the Temple. There was the type and here the reality. At all times Bethlehem was among ‘the least’ in Judah—so small that the Rabbis do not even refer to it in detail. The small village-inn was over-crowded, and the guests from Nazareth found shelter only in the stable, whose manger became the cradle of the King of Israel. It was here that those who tended the sacrificial flocks, heaven-directed, found the Divine Babe-significantly the first to see Him, to believe, and to adore. But this is not all. It is when we remember that presently these shepherds would be in the Temple, meet those who came thither to worship and to sacrifice, that we perceive the full significance of what otherwise would have seemed scarcely worthwhile noticing in connection with humble shepherds.”

Mary and Joseph were also humble witnesses. Their poverty was illustrated by their sacrificing of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons rather than a lamb when coming to the temple after the Savior’s birth. In Leviticus 5:7, the Mosaic law allows for those who are not able to pay for or bring a lamb to the sacrifice they can substitute it for a less expensive offering. As Joseph and Mary listened to the witnesses prophesying of the Savior’s mission, they “marveled at those things which were spoken of him.”[v]  

Holy Witnesses

Joseph and Mary met other witnesses at the temple. These holy witnesses were Simeon and Anna who were temple workers of faith and devotion. The Lord revealed to righteous Simeon that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. When he saw the baby Jesus, Simeon took him in his arms and blessed God and prophesied that the baby would be: “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”[vi] Anna was a widow who had only been married for seven years when her husband died and she was a widow for 84 years (whether that was her age or she had been widowed that long does not matter – she was really old either way). She served God continually with fasting and prayer always attending the temple. She also witnessed that this babe would bring redemption to Jerusalem.[vii]

These holy witnesses received their understanding of who this young child was through their attendance in the temple. The temple points us to Christ and reveals to us His ministry and His covenantal relationship with us. We, too, can become His holy witnesses as we attend the temple and become Saviors on Mount Zion by doing the temple work for our kindred dead.

Wise Witnesses

The wisemen brought Herod into the story of the Savior’s birth. He is the antagonist to the steadfast, trusted followers of the star. Edersheim also speculated that these men could have been part of the Medes and Persians where a large Jewish diaspora lived. He also speculates that these men might have come from Arabia since from “120 B.C. to the sixth century of our era, the kings of Yemen professed the Jewish faith.”[viii]

Herod, as the wicked and foolish villain, kills all the babies in the small village of Bethlehem. The recording of this heinous crime is not found in any historical records during Herod’s reign which may seem strange. Yet, Edersheim estimated that the small town of Bethlehem had a population of only 1,000 to 2,000 and a very high infant mortality rate. He estimated an annual birth rate of about thirty and the number of baby boys killed probably not being more than twenty.[ix] Edersheim is quick to point out: “But the deed was none the less atrocious; and these infants may justly be regarded as the ‘protomartyrs,’ the first witnesses of Christ.”[x] Their deaths are a significant reminder of all those martyrs who have died in defense of their Savior.

Latter-day Witnesses

Witnesses are also necessary to preach and establish His gospel in these latter days. The Savior told Oliver Cowdery through the Prophet Joseph Smith: “And now, behold, I give unto you, and also unto my servant Joseph, the keys of this gift [of translation] which shall bring to light this ministry; and in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”[xi]

Pres. Oaks taught us that as we contemplate the birth of the Savior, we should “remember that we are all children of a Father in Heaven, who gave his Only Begotten Son that all would be redeemed from death, and who has offered the blessings of salvation and exaltation to all mankind on the same conditions.” As we become witnesses of the Savior, President Oaks reminded us to “eliminate arrogance and provocation, to subdue criticism, to practice patience, and to de-emphasize difference among people. We have the incentive to extend sincere fellowship to all persons, those who are and those who are not of our faith.”[xii]


[i] Ezekiel 16:4

[ii] Matthew 18:16. See also Deuteronomy 17:6, 2 Corinthians 13:1; Ether 5:4; D&C 128:3.

[iii] Pres. Oaks talked about these witnesses in the 2022 First presidency Christmas Devotional.

[iv] Edersheim, Life and Times, 133.

[v] Luke 2:33

[vi] Luke 2:32

[vii] Luke 2:38

[viii] Edersheim, Jesus the Messiah, 1.204.

[ix] Millet, 149. (Edersheim, Jesus the Messiah, 1:214-215).

[x] Edersheim, Jesus the Messiah, 1:214-215

[xi] D&C 6:28

[xii] A Summary of the 2022 First Presidency Christmas Devotional, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/2022-first-presidency-christmas-devotional-summary.

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