Scripture reading – Matthew 2
Matthew 2 is our assigned Scripture reading, bringing us to a fascinating event in antiquity: The journey of “wise men from the east” who came to Jerusalem (2:1) enquiring, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” (2:2)
Four centuries of turmoil had preceded the birth of Jesus. The Jews had waited four hundred years for the prophecies of a coming Messiah to be fulfilled. The Temple had been rebuilt, the walls of Jerusalem repaired, and Israel was restored in the land God had promised Abraham would be an inheritance of his lineage.
As a nation and people, Israel was not at peace. Malachi had prophesied the people would suffer God’s judgment for breaking covenant with the LORD, and Israel had experienced the assault of Greece that was soon followed by the armies of Rome. Self-appointed “Messiahs” had come and gone, and Jewish rebellions had been swiftly crushed. Israel was oppressed by taxations and the idolatrous ways of Rome.
Still, the Jews waited for their Messiah, a Deliverer, a political Savior, a leader who would cast off the tyranny of Rome, and revive the glory years of Israel as a kingdom. When Christ was born, Israel was looking, waiting, and longing for a Messiah King, and so, we read,
Matthew 2:1 – “1Now when Jesus was born in Beth-lehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.”
Bethlehem of Judaea, had been the birthplace of King David, and was the city where Micah prophesied the Christ child would be born (Micah 5:2). Joseph and Mary, both of whom were of the lineage of David, fulfilling the decree of Caesar Augustus that the people should be registered in their ancestral homelands, had journeyed to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5). Arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph had been unable to find lodging, and the couple sought shelter in a stable where Mary gave birth to her Son (Luke 2:6-7) whom her husband named Jesus (Matthew 1:25).
Weeks, months, and likely as much as two years, passed before “wise men from the east” (2:1) arrived in Jerusalem.
These “wise men” were doubtless attended by a great caravan of soldiers and servants, as the journey from Persia to Judaea would have taken months, and been known well in advance of their arrival in Jerusalem.
The presence of a powerful company of Persians seeking an infant “King of the Jews” (2:2) had been troubling to King Herod (2:3). He was a puppet of Rome, an illegitimate monarch, an Edomite who lived in constant fear of assassination and the swift reprisals of Caesar Augusts, the Roman emperor. Herod’s role was to keep the peace by pacifying the Jews, but also enforcing the laws and taxations required by Rome to maintain its far-flung armies and the lavish lifestyle of the emperor.
The rumor of an infant king, a legitimate heir to David’s throne, was intolerable to a man like Herod. After learning there was a prophecy that foretold the birth of Christ in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), the king dispatched the wise men to the city, suggesting that he would soon follow to worship the new born king (2:4-8). We read,
Matthew 2:9–10 – 9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”
There has been much debate about the star that served as a guiding light for the wise men and led them from the east to the house in Bethlehem where Jesus, His mother, and Joseph lodged (2:11). Perhaps it was a physical star, miraculously employed by God to guide these wisest of men from the east. Or the star might have been the shekinah glory of God that guided them. It matters not; what does matter is that “the star” led the wise men to Jesus, and “when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him” (2:11).
Think about it: Before there was a prophet named Mohammed; before there was a religion called Islam; before there was a clash of cultures divided over religions, there were men of Persia, “wise men” who comprehended a prophecy that a King of the Jews would be born!
Perhaps with the knowledge of prophecies that foretold the birth of a Messiah King and had been passed down from the prophet Daniel, wise men of Persia read in the heavens, the birth announcement of the King of the Jews (2:2).
An infant King whom the wisest of men would “come to worship” (2:2).
Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith