Scripture reading – Matthew 2

Matthew 2 brings us to a fascinating event in antiquity: The journey of “wise men from the east” who came to Jerusalem (2:1) and enquired, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” (2:2)

Matthew 2

Four centuries of turmoil preceded the birth of Jesus, and the believing Jews waited four hundred years for the prophecies of a coming Messiah to be fulfilled. As a nation, Israel was not at peace. Malachi prophesied the people would suffer God’s judgment for breaking covenant with the LORD, and the Jews had experienced the assault of Greece, followed by the detriment of Rome’s armies. Self-appointed “Messiahs” had come and gone, and Rome crushed Jewish rebellion as swiftly as it began. The children of Israel were oppressed by taxations and the idolatrous ways of Rome.

Still, the Jews waited for their Messiah, and hoped for a 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.

Matthew 2

Matthew 2:1 1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem 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 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, obeyed the decree of Caesar Augustus and journeyed to Bethlehem to be taxed during certain days “because he was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:1-5) Arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph had been unable to find lodging, and the couple sheltered in a stable. There, Mary gave birth to her Son (Luke 2:6-7), whom Joseph 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.

Those “wise men” were probably accompanied by a great caravan of soldiers and servants. Their journey from Persia to Judaea had taken months, and their approach to Jerusalem was known well in advance of their arrival. The presence of a powerful company of Persians, and seeking an infant whom they said was born “King of the Jews” (2:2), troubled King Herod “and all Jerusalem” (2:3).

Herod was a puppet of Rome, an illegitimate monarch, and a usurper to the throne of David. He was an Edomite, despised by the Jews, who lived in constant fear of assassination (having murdered his own sons to eliminate any who might aspire to be king).

The king also feared the displeasure of Rome, and the threat of swift reprisal by Caesar Augusts, the Roman emperor. His 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), Herod dispatched the wise men to that city, and suggested when they found him to send word that he might also worship the new born king (2:4-8).

Matthew 2:9–10 9When they [the wise men] 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 concerning the nature of 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 the wisest of men from the east. The star might have been the shekinah glory of God that guided them across the desert to Bethlehem.

Nevertheless, the star, whatever its nature, 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). Each of their offerings carried a significant meaning. “They presented unto him gifts; gold [a gift fitting of royalty], and frankincense [an incense used in the Temple for sacrifices], and myrrh [a fragrance used in embalming and anointing the body of the dead]” (Matthew 2:11). Those gifts symbolized Christ’s royalty as heir to the throne of David, His sacrifice as the Lamb of God, and His death and burial.

Soon after the wise men departed, Joseph took His young family, and fled to Egypt where they remained until they received the news King Herod was dead (2:12-21; Jeremiah 31:15).

Closing thoughts – Before there was a prophet named Mohammed, and before there was a clash of cultures that warred over religions, there were “wise men” of Persia, who understood a prophecy that a King of the Jews would be born! I wonder if this knowledge of Hebrew prophecies was passed down from the prophet Daniel, for those wise men read in the heavens, the birth announcement of the King of the Jews (2:2).

Friend, the wisest of men still seek Him, and “come to worship” Him (2:2).

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