Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Some claim scripture is a work of fiction. But scripture anchors itself in real history and geography. There is a place called Bethlehem. The Romans did rule over Israel. There was a man named Herod. He did rule in Jerusalem as a king.
The Scripture relates real people, at real times, in real places. This is like a Greek or Roman myth. The people of the Bible are not like Zeus on Mount Olympus.
It is well established that Herod the Great died in 4 b.c. That means Jesus was born in 5 to 7 b.c. So the Gregorian calendar is off by at least 5 to 7 years.
At Christmas, we sing about the magi who came to visit Jesus. We sing, “We Three Kings.” But, the “Magi” were not kings. They were priests or court advisers. Court adviser is the role played by Joseph and Daniel.
These magi, in all probability, were from Mesopotamia. This is a region of ancient Babylon. That explains why they knew there was a promised King of the Jews. They learned it from the Jews during the Jews’ captivity.
We don’t know the actual number of magi. Matthew does not give us the number of magi. Tradition states three. This is because Matthew lists three types of gifts. There were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But three is conjecture. One ancient author, Chrysostom, said there were 14. But this is no better guess than 3. We don’t know. Matthew does not tell us.
In the ancient world, it was common to interpret astrological phenomena as the birth of a king. That may be one of the reasons Herod took this announcement seriously. Herod was also paranoid by nature. He even had his own sons killed because he thought they represented a threat to his kingship.
But astrological phenomena accompanied the birth of Jesus. A star from heaven announced that He is a king. His majesty shone in the East. But in Judea, He was not even acknowledged. Note, the priests, and teachers of the law were not even curious enough to go with the magi to Bethlehem. They knew the Messiah would be born there. But, they seemed more interested in living their daily lives than seeing the Messiah. So, the solo visit by the magi is not a recognition of honor. It is disrespect. They ignore their own king. They let foreigners honor their king more than they were willing to do. 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. They wanted to see the child. They knew this was a special child. Yet we too are cold in our response to Him. Despite the fact, we know he is Christ the King.
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 prosperity. Herod had grown up in the Jewish nation and was well aware of its affairs. There can be no doubt he saw this as the start of a political uprising. An uprising he needed to squash before it began.
The news troubled Herod. It also troubled all Jerusalem. Herod’s cruelty is well documented. The people grew accustomed to his vengeance. They had dreaded change. It often introduced greater misery.
Matthew says Herod called all the chief priests. Wasn’t there only one Chief Priest? And wasn’t it a lifetime appointment by God? Yes, but Roman did not allow a single chief priest. This was one of the ways the Romans controlled the people. They appointed a new chief priest each year. So, there were several who had served or would serve.
It looks like God struck Herod with a stupid stick. Why let the magi go by themselves? He could have at least sent a palace representative. Instead, he let a group of people with no loyalty to him go wander around Judea alone. He trusted them to come back and report to him.
Herod could have sent an escort under the guise of courtesy. This escort could investigate the whole matter and immediately returned. Instead, Herod tells the magi he does not know to go investigate. Then they are to report back. Herod concocts a preposterous story. He, a Roman ruler, was going to worship a king of the people the Romans had subjugated. This is a special kind of stupid. God rescued His son from the jaws of a lion through Herod’s incompetence.
None of the priests 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 Go\d’s grace than a tyrant rant
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.” This is because Jesus’ birth was 1 to 2 years before the magi’s arrival. This is further supported by the fact Herod had all the boys in Bethlehem 2 years and younger killed. (v16)
The magi came upon a peasant child. They came upon a child who played in the dirt so he was dirty. They came upon a child who appeared to lack any sign of nobility. Yet, the magi knew. This child was of noble birth. This child was a king. They presented the child Jesus with gifts. There can be no doubt 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. The magi did not realize the symbolic value of their gifts. They demonstrated the fulfillment of Old Testament passages. The passages where the Gentiles bring their wealth to Israel’s king. Today our duty is to adore Him. This is what He demands. We are to dedicate ourselves and all we have to His service.