How long would it take to walk six miles?
If you are in good shape, you could walk it in a couple of hours. If the terrain is relatively flat, you could easily cover six miles in an afternoon.
That's not much of a hike.
If you wanted to walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, it's only six miles so you could start in the morning and be there in the afternoon.
If you ever visit the Holy Land, you'll see what I mean. The land of Israel is tiny compared to the United States. The whole country is only about 8500 square miles. That's roughly the size of New Jersey and only a bit smaller than Vermont. From Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south is only 150 miles. For those of us who are used to thinking about the distance between, say, Miami and Seattle, visiting the Holy Land forces us to adopt an entirely different way of thinking. On a typical tour, you may wake up in Caesarea on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and end up next to the Sea of Galilee that evening. In between you might visit Mt. Carmel, Megiddo, Nazareth and Cana. Along the way you'll pass by the sites of many of the Old Testament events. And it's very typical to start at the Sea of Galilee, visit Capernaum, the Mount of the Beatitudes, Korazin, Jericho and end the day in Jerusalem. It's a full day but not because of the distance. The visitor to the land of the Bible soon realizes that most of the key events took place within 100 miles of Jerusalem.
One of the most important events took place six miles from Jerusalem.
Two thousand years ago there was not much there. Bethlehem was indeed a "little town" as described in the familiar Christmas carol by Phillips Brooks. Although well-known as the birthplace of King David, the town itself was home to perhaps 200 permanent residents. Because it was close to Jerusalem, we can assume that the various inns and guesthouses were full of pilgrims making their way to and from Jerusalem and on their way to various ancestral hometowns to pay the census tax required by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-3).
Just hold this thought in your mind. Jerusalem and Bethlehem were next-door neighbors, the first a large city and the second a tiny hamlet that would not normally be a major destination. Bethlehem in that day was a place you stayed on your way to the big city. You spent the night in Bethlehem and the next day you walked six miles to Jerusalem.
Six miles. That's not very far.
Against that backdrop we read Matthew's account of the coming of the Magi:
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." When 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 Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "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 2:1-6).
So many questions come to mind when we read this:
Who were the Magi?
Where did they come from?
How far did they journey?
How many Magi came to Jerusalem?
What was the "star" they saw in the east?
How did they know what it meant?
How did it lead them?
Why did they come to worship the "king of the Jews"?
Why was the whole city disturbed?
I want to focus on just one question that the text doesn't entirely answer:
Why didn't the Jewish leaders go to Bethlehem?
It was so close. Only six miles away.
If they knew that the Messiah was to be born there, why didn't they go and check it out for themselves?
The Magi knew so little, came so far, and gave so much.
The teachers of the law knew so much, were so near, and did so little.
You can read the rest of the message online.