Matthew 2:1-12

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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 when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When 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. “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 shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He 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.”

After 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. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On 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. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Commentary

There are those who would claim that the scriptures are simply a bunch of made up stories. But scripture continues to anchor itself in real history. There really is a place called Bethlehem. There really was a King in Jerusalem during Roman rule named Herod. These are real people, at real times, in real places. This is not like Zeus on Mount Olympus.

It is well established that Herod the Great died in 4 b.c. Therefore, this indicates that Gregorian calendar is off by at least 5 to 7 years. Jesus was born in 5 to 7 b.c. according to the standard dating of the Gregorian calendar.

At Christmas we sing about the magi who came to visit Jesus with the song “We Three Kings.” However, the “Magi” were not kings. They were priests or court advisers, much like Joseph or Daniel in the Babylonian Empire. They were probably from Mesopotamia. This is a region of ancient Babylon. This may also explain why they knew there was a promised King of the Jews.

Additionally, Mathew does not give a number of magi. Recent tradition states the number is three because of the list of gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, three gifts. But this is pure conjecture. One ancient author, Chrysostom, has the number at 14 but this has no better probability of being correct than the number 3. Matthew simply does not tell us.

The interpretation of astrological phenomena signifying the birth of a king is not unique in the ancient world. That may be one of the reasons Herod took this announcement seriously. Herod was also a very paranoid person. He even had his own sons killed because he thought they represented a threat to his kingship.

None-the-less, astrological phenomena accompanied the birth of Jesus. A star from heaven announced that He is a king. His majesty shone in the East, while in Judea, He was not even acknowledged. Notice, the priest and teachers of the law were not even curious enough to go with the magi to Bethlehem. They knew the Messiah would be born in there. But, they seemed more interested in living their daily lives than seeing the Messiah. Therefore, the visit by the magi is not recognition of honor but of dishonor by Jesus’ own people. The heavenly Father chose to use a star and the magi, to show glory to his Son.

God’s grace extended to the Gentiles. God brought the Magi to his Son, as the first-fruits of the Gentiles. A simple star had a powerful effect on the Magi. They rode hundreds of miles on camels. To see a child they believed would be a king. Yet we are cold in our response to Him. Even though He was been reveal to us as Christ the King.

There is little doubt Herod was aware of the stories of a promised King of the Jews. This king would restore their state of affairs and bring the nation to prosperity. Herod had grown up in the Jewish nation and was well aware of its affairs. He undoubtedly saw this as the start of a political uprising. An uprising he could squash before it began.

Not only was Herod troubled but so was all of Jerusalem. The cruelty of Herod is well documented. The people were accustomed to his vengeance. They had grown callous and dreaded a change. It might introduce still greater misery.

Matthew says Herod called all the chief priest. Wasn’t there only one Chief Priest? And wasn’t it a lifetime appointment by God? Yes, but the one of the ways the Romans controlled the people was they did not allow a single chief priest. They appointed one each year. Therefore, there were several who had served or would serve.

At this time God struck Herod with a stupid stick. Why in the world would he leave to people outside of his control to report back information about a pending rebellion? He could have easily sent an escort under the guise of courtesy. This escort could investigate the whole matter, and immediately returned. Instead, Herod tells people he does not know to investigate and report back. Herod concocts a preposterous story. He, a Roman ruler, was going to worship a king of the people the Romans had subjugated. A miracle was affected and God rescued His son from the jaws of a lion.

None of the priest or teachers of the law went with the magi. It may have been because they feared Herod’s cruelty. It may have been indifference. But it displays ingratitude toward God. God has sent them a savior, a king. And they were unwilling to risk anything. They cared less about the grace of God than about a tyrant.

According to Luke 2:7 Jesus was born in a stable. But when the magi arrived Jesus is no longer in a stable. He is now in a house. Additionally, the magi saw “the child” not “the babe.” Therefore the birth of Jesus was 1 to 2 years prior to the maig’s arrival. This is further supported by fact the Herod had all the boys in Bethlehem 2 years and younger killed. (v16)

The magi came upon a peasant child. They came upon a dirty child. They came upon a child who appeared to lack any sign of nobility. Yet, the magi were convinced. This child was of noble birth. This child was a king. They presented the child Jesus with gifts. There can be no doubt that the gifts they brought were the best of their land. It was customary for Persians to bring presents as they paid homage to their kings. Although the wise men could hardly have realized the full symbolic value of their gifts, Matthew records them to demonstrate the fulfillment of Old Testament passages where the Gentiles bring their wealth to Israel’s king. Today our duty is to adore Him in a spiritual manner. This is what He demands. We are to dedicate ourselves and all we have to His service.

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