Matthew 2:1-2 – 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.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, about 6 miles east of Jerusalem. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the world was united under a single government – The Roman Empire.
Judea had been under Roman rule for about 63 years. Herod (or Herod the Great) was named ‘king’ or authority over that region by the Romans. He was in his 34th year of rule when the events of Matthew chapter two take place.
Because of the united Roman Empire, there was easy and free trade between the nations in the empire. There were no travel restrictions between individual nations. The laws were uniform throughout the empire. There was a single, standard language – Greek. All of these circumstances paved the way for the easy and rapid spread of the Gospel throughout the world. It is obvious that God arranged a set of circumstances that were perfect for the birth and ministry of the Savior!
Right now, God is also working behind the scenes in your life! Even when it looks like nothing is happening in your situation, you can be sure God is moving! Look back on some of the major events of your life – can you see where the hand of God was at work?
At the same time that God was miraculously arranging things in the political world, He was also awakening the minds and expectations of people (both Jews and Gentiles) for the coming of a new king. Historians tell us that for many years there was a prevalent expectation regarding the coming of a great king who was to rise from among the Jews. This expectation rested on the content and timing of ancient Messianic prophesies such as Isaiah 9-11 and Daniel 7. Balaam also speaks of it in Numbers 24:17.
Numbers 24:17 – I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…
So here is a good question – If God was stirring up the hearts and minds of people to look for the Messiah, how did they miss him? Specifically, how did the Jewish priests miss him? They were the spiritual leaders of their generation, and it was their job to be diligently looking for the coming of the Messiah, so they could lead others to him.
Well, here is at least part of the problem. They had built up their own expectations of what the Messiah would do, and how he would do it. They were looking for a Messiah King who would immediately reclaim the throne of David, oust the Romans and vindicate the Jewish people. When Jesus came as a humble servant, proclaiming the spiritual kingdom of God, it was diametrically opposed to what they were expecting. Therefore, they had trouble accepting him.
Let’s not make the same mistake. Our generation is looking for the return of Christ. The events leading up to his return may not look like we feel they should. We might be surprised by what God has planned. However, let us be open to the Holy Spirit that we might see the signs of his coming, and lead sinners to his grace before it is too late.
Now, what about those wise men from the east? They likely hailed from either Persia or Arabia. The original Greek word for wise men is ‘magoi’, from which comes our word “magician”. That word had a negative connotation for us; it speaks of trickery or falseness, but that was not the original use of the word. The wise men were men of great learning who devoted themselves to astronomy, religion and medicine. They were highly revered and sought after in their own lands.
They had seen a ‘star’ or more likely a comet, which lead them to the King of the Jews. They had rightly discerned the sign and had come to worship the new King. This is a wonderful glimpse of God revealing himself to the Gentiles. Also, we will see that the gifts they brought financially sustained the family during the coming turbulent times. Thus, God allowed the Gentiles to assist in the mission of the Jewish savior!
Matthew 2:3-4 – 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.
Why do you think Herod was trouble by this news? Well, he had obtained his power through cruelty, wickedness and the death of those who opposed him. He had his own wife as well as some of his sons put to death because he considered them a threat to his throne. Naturally, when he heard that a long awaited King of the Jews had been born, he was jealous and suspicious, because he felt his own throne was in danger. He, like the Jewish priests, was looking for an earthy king, not realizing that Jesus’ first coming was to establish his spiritual kingdom.
Here is the really bizarre part – he asked the religious leaders when God was sending his son to earth, so that he could thwart the plans of God with a deliberate act of hostility. He thought he could fight against God and be victorious. How incredible! Clearly his anger and hatred were interfering with his common sense!
Matthew 2:5-6 – 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 the least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’.
The religious leaders answer Herod with a direct quote from the Old Testament, namely Micah 5:2, which clearly revealed the place of Jesus’ birth, almost 700 years before he was born.
Matthew 2:7-8 – 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.”
Having discovered where the child was, Herod now wishes to know how long ago he was born. Naturally he believes that the star/comet appeared at the birth of the new king. Therefore knowing the exact date of the star/comet would give him a good estimate of the child’s age. He then deceitfully requests that the wise men send him word of the exact location of the child when they find him. As we know, his true motivation is to not to worship the child, but to kill him.
Matthew 2:9-10 – 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.
Eventually, the wise men find the Messiah. This is exactly as we would expect; hundreds of years before this, King David tells us that God reveals himself to those who seek him.
I Chronicles 28:9 – …If you seek him (God), he will be found of you…
The Lord himself proclaims this fact through the prophet Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 29:13 – And you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart.
Keep in mind that these verses are still true. Seek God. Seek his wisdom, his peace, his guidance, his provision, his will and his healing. You will find him!
The unexpected part of this verse is that the wise men went to Bethlehem alone. None of the Jewish priests or scribes cared enough about this event to accompany the wise men on their trip. The wise men had traveled a very great distance to honor the Messiah, but the Jewish people couldn’t be bothered to go to the next town to seek him out. How sad that the Jews would have so little value for the gift of God!
What about you? Are you seeking deeper levels of fellowship with Christ? Or, having obtained salvation, have you stopped seeking him? There are Christians in other countries that go to great lengths to find God and worship him, even risking great persecution. You and I live in a place where we may freely and publicly seek him. Are we doing so?
Matthew 2:11-12 – 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.
When the wise men find Jesus, what do they see? A manly king in the prime of life, living in luxury, surrounded by servants and wealth and all the other trappings of royalty? Because, honestly, it would be easy to worship a king like that. But that is not what they found, is it?
So what did they see? A little child from a poor family living in relative obscurity. Perhaps his face and hands are dirty from playing. Perhaps his hair is a little too long. Maybe he has a tear in his robe. That is a king who is a little bit harder to worship, isn’t it?
Many of us would have hesitated to worship that small child. Our pride would have never allowed us to bow down before one so young. Perhaps his situation was not what we might have expected, and as a result, we would have hesitated to worship.
Yet, this sight in the natural realm did not stop the wise men from seeing or believing that Jesus was divinely appointed to be a king. They did not consider what he was at that point, but what he would one day be. Because they were certain that he would one day be different from how he appeared in the present, they are not ashamed to bow before a mere infant and render to him honor fit for a king in the prime of life.
What kind of honor are you showing our King? In a way, we are in the same circumstance as the wise men – we have not yet seen our King in all his power, splendor and glory. We have hints of it… we have glimpses of it, but no one has seen God in all his glory and lived to tell of it. If God would ever choose to reveal his glory to humans (and we lived), we would have no choice but to fall down on our faces and worship. It would be an automatic response to his glory and power. Indeed, scripture tells us that one day “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).
Until that happens, we have the privilege to serve and worship our King in faith, right now. We should do so with our whole hearts and entire beings. Search the scriptures. Read about God’s honor, his power, his majesty, his mercy and his love. Recall the times he has moved mightily on your behalf. Then, worship him for who he is, for one day you will see it with your own eyes!
The wise men considered Jesus an earthly king and they brought him gifts from the earth – gold, frankincense and myrrh.
As a spiritual son or daughter of Christ, the proper gift for you to bring him is a spiritual one – yourself!
Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Matthew 2:13-15 – Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Egypt is about 60 miles from Bethlehem. It too, was a Roman province; Joseph could take his family there without any special paperwork or restriction. The Greek language was spoken there, as it was in all of Rome. There was a big population of Jews in that place; there were temples and synagogues. This meant that Jesus could be raised Jewish, among his own countrymen, yet be beyond the reach and authority of Herod.
Side Note: Joseph reacted quickly to the dream that God gave him. There is a lesson there – When our direction is clear or has been made plain by God, compliance needs to be speedy. Don’t hesitate and don’t wait – immediately do as God has commanded you!
Matthew 2:16-18 – Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Eventually, Herod figures out that the wise men are not going to return to him. His cruelty and anger boil over, and he decides to kill all the male children in that area that are 2-years-old and under, so he can be sure to eliminate the new King of the Jews.
At that point, Herod was fighting against God himself, and that could only end in his destruction.
Psalms 2:2- The kings of the earth set themselves…against the Lord and against his Anointed … He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them…”I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
Jesus was indeed going to die, but not by the hand of Herod! Jesus was delivered from death on this occasion, so that his ultimate purpose could be fulfilled; namely that he might die for the salvation of all. These innocent martyrs will one day receive justice from the Lord, as will all who give their lives for Christ.
Matthew 2:19-21 – But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
Again, we find God’s leading and direction given to Joseph. Again we find Joseph immediately taking action to leave Egypt and return to Israel.
Matthew 2:22-23 – But when he heart that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Joseph was a good God-fearing, obedient man. Yet, we notice that God did not give Joseph all of his instructions at once. God first told Joseph to return to Israel. Once Joseph had been obedient to this word, then God revealed the next step – to leave the area of Judea and settle in Galilee, specifically in the city of Nazareth.
God often works this way in our lives too. He may prompt you to start a new ministry or a good work, then wait for your obedience before he reveals your next step. This keeps us dependent on God and ensures that we do not veer off course.
So, let me offer you some encouragement: God knows what you will need, even before you know that you need it! He also has the answer already lined up for you! God knew about the threat of Herod before Joseph did. God sent the wise men with gifts which provided the money needed for them to take the journey to Egypt. The next time you find yourself in need, remember this: God has your provision already planned out. Keep your eyes and ears open so that you find it.
Let me offer you some relief: You don’t have to understand the entire plan of God for your life all at once. You don’t have to worry about working it out for yourself. If you will step out in faith and take the first step, as Joseph did, God will then show you the next step to take. While God does expect you to use wisdom and good judgment, he will work out your life and ministry as you look to him for guidance.
Let me offer you some strength: God is never going to leave you wondering what to do. He will speak to you through his word, through prophetic words delivered by other Christians, through the Holy Spirit, through dreams, even through angels, if necessary. You don’t have to wonder what God’s will is. Look to him and he will be found by you!