The Magi Visit the Messiah
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 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.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 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. 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.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 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.”
9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Jesus has been born, as we saw recorded in Luke, and this at the time of King Herod. Herod is another word for ruler, just like the word Ceasar. There were many Herods, but the one on the throne during Jesus’ infancy was Herod the Great. He was born south of Judea to a wealthy Edomite family. Herod practiced Judaism, as many Edomites and Nabateans had been commingled with the Jews and adopted their customs. These “Judaized” Edomites were not considered Jewish by the dominant Pharisaic tradition, so even though Herod may have considered himself of the Jewish faith, he was not considered Jewish by the observant and nationalist Jews of Judea. Herod was elected by the Roman Senate as “King of the Jews”, and he reigned as governor over them for a total of approximately 37 years. He was known as the king prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition, including the murder of his own family members. Herod wanted respect and rule, even if by force (reference).
Magi was well known to be the name given by the Persians and Chaldees to astrologers and philosophers, and one could concede that these men (the number is not mentioned, only the types of gifts brought) came from Persia. Being astrologers they would have seen the new star in the sky and began to seek out it’s meaning. The fact that they had some desire to follow the star gives credence to the unusualness of it, and the prompting by the Spirit to find out what it meant. The Magi come to Herod and say the one thing that would make him mad: “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.” In verse 3 we read that he was troubled by these words, and all Jerusalem with him. Knowing his background and what he would do to be the best and only ‘King of the Jews’, it is understandable that all of Jerusalem would troubled if Herod was troubled.. it would have only meant evil to come. Being the resourceful king that he was, Herod calls in the people who would have the most knowledge of this future Messiah: the chief priests and teachers of the Law. The passage is recited from Micah 5:2 & 4 and reads:
2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
Because of Herod’s desire to be represented as a Jew and ruler over them, this reading of the ancient texts would have brought great trouble to his mind. For the Jews looking forward to the Messiah they saw a great warrior, one who would overthrow the nation ruling over them (in this case the Romans and their imposed governor, Herod). They did not yet understand that this Messiah would come to die and then only later come back to rule. For all Herod knew, this child would grow up and overthrow his leadership and take his throne, and be the greatest king ever. After they tell the Magi where to look Herod presents them with instructions to bring back news so he, too, can worship.
Verse 9, now knowing the prophecy behind the long journey they had made, unfolds as the star comes to rest above the place were the child was. Matthew does not mention the age of Jesus here, but a journey from the far east could have taken weeks or months, and the star appeared after Jesus’ birth. It is decisive to say that he was older than an infant, and that this was no ordinary star the Magi were following. A miraculous birth to a miraculous savior requires a miraculous announcement and witnesses. Interesting that these witnesses were gentiles – hated by the Jews because of their uncleanness before God, and yet He saw fit to have them be the ones to usher in the great awareness that the Messiah had come.
Even more amazing are the expensive gifts (the choicest products of their land – their first fruits) that they present to this child and his family, who were not well off. They gave gold – a gift fit for a king (and handy to have when one is unknowingly going to depart on a journey to Egypt). They gave frankincense and myrrh – both used for treating ailments of many sorts and also key ingredients when presenting offerings to the Lord in the temple. After they worshiped and gave the Christ their choicest gifts the Magi set off to return to their land. Verse 12 gives us an ominous account that they were warned in a dream to not return to Herod but to go a different way home.
Something to ponder:
- Why weren’t the chief priests and teachers of the Law looking for the child they knew would be born? How is it that some strangers to Judaism knew to search for a king but they didn’t – or was it just that they, like Herod, wanted nothing to do with the actual King?
- Is it important for us to dwell on the how and why of the star? If we believe that God is the author of the Bible and He is something ‘other’ than us, why do we need to have all the answers? Is it possible for God to do something outside of the realm of science?
- Is God limited by our understanding of Him or how He works? The answer is no. Just because we cannot understand a thing doesn’t mean that God can’t do it. If He is God then He is able to do anything He wants – take creation for example. When was the last time you spoke something you could see, touch, and hear into existence?
It’s time for us to stop thinking we have all the answers and to start realizing that there are certain mysteries left out of the Bible so that we can begin to fathom the depth of God. If He had given us all the answers to the great mysteries of life why would we want to seek Him out? This is what deep faith is. Yes, we are given conclusive reasoning behind our faith in the person and work of Christ, the history of our foundational heritage, and even some tidbits of information for what is coming. But we are not privy to the how’s and why’s of it all – and there is a reason for that. He is God and we are not. Let’s give glory and honor where it is due – to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.