Once upon a time there were more than two wise men who studied the stars and used their knowledge along with the stars to predict certain events. One night they saw a star, and after discussing it together at their regular Tuesday night study group they decided that this meaning was that the king of the Jews ha been born. And some of them decided they just had to go.
Chances are they were from Babylon which means they would need to travel over one thousand km to get there. Imagine them telling their friends. You are doing what?! For a star?! These people really believed what they saw, and believed it was worth traveling over a 1000km!.
Here was a king that was worth traveling for. Here was a king that was to be worshipped. Here was a king that that would change the course of history.
Today in this story we look at:
Two kings. Two people. Three reactions.
Who is the king of the Jews? That is the question. In verse one we read that Jesus was born in Bethlehem “during the time of King Herod.” That was a king of the Jews. The question is how did he get there? Was he rightfully the king of the Jews? No. In fact he was not even a Jew, and although brilliant and a great politician he was not born into a royal line. He was one that would get power however he could. Betrayal, murder, lies, bribery. You name it he did it. And he had found through all this plotting to have built up quite a kingdom, not by sacrificing himself but by sacrificing others. For his massive building projects, he inflicted incredible burdens on the people through taxes. He was a shepherd not a tyrant. One who ruled by fear not by love. One who would protect his power and his glory at all cost not one who would give up all glory and power. One who ruled through a web of lies rather then in truth.
He had a reputation for being vengeful and angry when he in any way felt threatened. This is often the case with the world’s dictators. They tend to paranoia. We see this with Hitler of Germany, with Stalin of Russia, with Kim Jung Yung of North Korea or Mugabe when he ruled in Zimbabwe. They have absolute power, and yet feel so vulnerable, and therefore quickly overreact at the slightest hint of danger to there hold on power. That is why all Jerusalem was so disturbed in verse when these wise men come asking for the one born the king of the Jews. They knew that it was very possible Herod would lash out at them. And they feared this man more then they desired the Messiah. Especially after so long a wait.
It was in the time of King Herod that another king was born in Bethlehem – the city of David. The rightful king. The Shepherd king. The one who would lay his life down, who was strong enough to give up all power and glory that were rightfully his, the one whose name is love, who protected the defenseless, whose kingdom was built on truth. Whose kingdom was forever. On whose shoulder the government of the world would rest.
But it was not king Herod looking for the king, or the Jews. But wise men from the east. They come to Jerusalem and ask. “Where is the one who is born the king of the Jews? We saw his tar in the east and have come to worship him.” Wise men come to worship not Herod with his great building projects but the king of the Jews. This would have unsettled that great man greatly. Either they did not know how paranoid Herod was, or they didn’t care, because they show up and start asking, where is he who was born king of the Jews. Unlike Herod who became king through political maneuvering, this man was born into royalty as we learned in chapter one.
Also it is interesting that this title King of the Jews only come forward here and again at the end of the book. Both times on the lips of gentiles. The question would be put to Jesus as the end of his life by another worldly ruler, Pilate. “Are you the king of the Jews?” And it is this title that would be nailed above his head in three languages so that the world – the gentiles might know that the one that hung so helpless was the king of the Jews.
So here we have the two kings. Jesus and Herod. A king from heaven, a king from the earth. The contrast in their lives could not be greater. One lived in fear, ruled through a web of lies, bribes, and oppression, and died bragging that he was a god. The other ruled in love and truth and died with others confessing his divinity. My Kingdom is not of this world. It is the kingdom of heaven that is breaking in upon this world. And the contrast is set up at the very beginning of Matthew already. The one who is form of hold. The other just another power hungry man. Who do you serve? Who are you looking to please? That is the question. Which brings us to our second point.
We hear in verse one that the people that came to worship this king were “Magi from the east.” Foreigners not Israelites. Not the ones that you would expect to be looking for the Messiah. You would expect the Israelites to be on the lookout. But these guys came from the east possibly Babylon where there was still a large contingent of Jewish people which would explain how they had come to know what this star could mean.
How did they know? Well we don’t know for sure. Most likely it was the it was through the prophecy of Balaam Numbers 24:17 that they knew this star was attached with royalty. We read there, ““I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter (ruler) will rise out of Israel.” It is interesting to note that Balaam was not an Israelite either, and he too was from the east. They combined their knowledge of the Jewish OT with their knowledge of the stars and put one and one together.
God uses all of creation to proclaim the birth of his sun. This was a divine act to lead these wise, and they followed this star all the way to Jerusalem and then to the place where the child lay.
They had come a long way, possible well over 1500 km they had carried gifts along with them. It seems like they knew this was no ordinary king. I am sure they didn’t do this with every other king. They must have known there was something unique about this king! It’s amazing that it is these foreign wise men whose eyes were opened to the meaning of this star. And that they acted upon it. How often is the gospel of Jesus Christ not plain before our eyes, and yet we do not act. We make no move. We are too comfortable in life where we are. We are too busy worry about our own little lives, our eyes are shifted downward, earthward, rather than upward, heavenward asking God to lead us to him. O that this announcement would stir Gods own people to action! But alas, that does not happen.
For unlike these wise men who leave their homeland on a long journey, bringing expensive royal gifts the people of God seem completely disinterested. These wise men come to Jerusalem, And they start asking questions. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews, we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Now imagine you’re a king of a country and people start asking questions in the capital city, “where is your king?” while you are ruling that country. It would be, I imagine, quite unsettling. Herod is obviously threatened as we read in verse 3. If there was another king, it would undermine his authority and he did not like that one bit. The kingdom of our Lord is a threat to every worldly kingdom. It means that the people of that kingdom always have a higher allegiance. A higher obedience then simply to any earthly ruler. So it is no surprise that he is disturbed. But what is surprising is that the people are disturbed.
We read in verse 3 “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.”. The people in Jerusalem were probably disturbed because they understood that it would lead to more bloodshed at the hand of Herod. But this reaction shows their ultimate allegiance was not to the Messiah but their own life. Their desire to keep their own life was greater than the desire to worship and see their messiah.
For what do the people of God do when they heard the people as these questions? Nothing. The nations are coming to worship and the people of God seem indifferent. They only help in trying to kill him. Sound Familiar? Matthew here in his introduction is foreshadowing what will follow in the rest of the book all the way to the cross where the religious leaders, and the worlds leaders unite to crucify the Lord of Glory.
We see the exactly the same thing here, except here it is Herod asking for the religious leaders help, and at the end of the story the religious leaders asks for Rome’s help. We read, “When he (Herod) had called together all the people’s chief priests, and teachers of the law he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem, in Judea,” they replied, “for it is written, ‘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 by people Israel.”
It is not the high and powerful place that he comes from. But Bethlehem of all places, not bigger then a thousand people. Not Rome. Not Jerusalem. But Bethlehem. That small little town. But it is the town of king David. What Matthew is doing here is unmistakable. That little town is where the king, the messiah – whose history stretches back to before time, and whose kingdom would be established forever was born. But you Bethlehem are by no means least among the rulers of Judah! Why because out of you will come a ruler – a ruler who does not rule in tyranny, and out of fear. He would be the true shepherd of Israel, just as David. Again and again in these first chapters we have all these strong allusions back to king David. This was the place that Samuel found this young man shepherding sheep, protecting them against lions. It is as if Matthew is trying everything to get the Jews and all of us to see that this man born in Bethlehem was the great son of David, the true shepherds of his people.
Here are the people who are supposed to be the shepherds of Israel announcing the birthplace of the true shepherd. They have all the answers, they know their Bibles. They know. They know their bibles better then they live their bibles. Who are supposed to protect and guard Gods people, and they do nothing with those answers, and the Bible is used to aid this evil tyrant in carrying out his evil plans to murder this king! Their messiah. They use the word to appease him, so that they can save their own skin, never thinking that maybe this messiah would be the one that would deliver them.
It amazing how the people with all the knowledge do not go at least see for themselves the reality of this event. The Bible was right when it said, he came to his own but his own did not recognize him. Maybe they also thought that they could not take these other people, that were not even Jews seriously. They thought they were better. The coming of the king. No impact on me. The coming of the king, no issue for me. The coming of the king? Meh, I have other work to do. Herod Is hostile. The people of God indifferent. What about the Magi?
Let’s take a lesson from them. We have the scriptures, a rich history, the beauty of the confessions, but what are we doing with it. It can be so easy to become lethargic – comfortable – indifferent. Trust me I know. But may we plead then for the Spirit of Christ to open our eyes, renew our spiritual passion to know Christ. Not just to know about him. That every week when we hear the word, that we run again to the Lord Jesus Christ, to worship him and bring him gifts. To learn from those new believers upon which we can so quickly look down, and look up to them, and see how passionately they desire to live for and see Jesus.
The church to can be so indifferent to this news, not doing anything with it. In the end the good news is just good news until you do something about it, and only then does it become good news for you.
After Herod asks the question when the star appears he send them on their way. And no one goes with them. The religious leaders and the rest are but all too indifferent. He sends them on their way and says, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, s that I too may to and worship him.” He wanted to know where this baby was not to worship but to kill. He was hostile. It was a threat to his power.
And so the wise men go on their way to Bethlehem, in obedience to the Scriptures. It’s interesting that even here the star could only get them so far, they needed the holy scriptures. I know there are wise men with inquisitive minds that when start questioning they know there is a God, and then find him in the word of God. The Bible guides them there, and the star brings them to the house. As we read in the text, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way and the star which they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” There over the place of the king the morning star rises. And it says they were over joyed. This is the reaction that you would have expected from the Jews from Gods people.
JOY. Not just joy but mega joy! Joy was spilling over, they could not contain themselves as they stood outside that house. This is a quadruple way of saying they had great joy. One they had joy. 2 they rejoiced with joy. 3. They rejoiced with great joy. 4. They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy! These people had never rejoiced like this before. They had never met the king of nations before. This is what they had come all this way for. This was the moment, they were going to meet the king! The king of the Jews! They had found what they had sought. Seek me and you will find me! There they stood before that place in great anticipation!
We read in verse 11, “On coming to the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worship him.” The child is mentioned before Mary. Why? Because this story is all about the Baby. And worship is the only appropriate response. They don’t worship Mary they worship the infant boy.
They worship. He is God with us. The savior. Then end of the journey for one who comes to seek Jesus is worship. They are not standing. Or applauding. Or waving. I am all for expressing yourself. But I strongly suggest that when we are in the presence of the Lord Jesus, we will to our knees and fall flat. This Baby Is the reason the star was there in the first place, this baby caused the wise men to come from a far land, caused all the commotion in Jerusalem caused Herod’s insecurities. This baby is turning the world upside-down and is not even a year hold yet. For some their world is filled with joy for others it is filed with dread and fear, for many indifferent.
Think about what the Jew would have thought when they read this! Trust me Matthew knew what he was doing. They had traveled maybe over 1200 kilometers to worship who most would think an infant in a small village of Bethlehem, to a poor family. Yet these important men fell down and worshipped, for this infant this baby was the king of kings an Lord of lords. Matthew was awakening his own people, telling his own people of the prophecies! It was gentiles even king from the ends of the earth that would visit this king and fall down and worship.
And only then do these gentiles open their gifts. Reminds me of Psalm 72, “He will rule them from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him with gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. For he will delver the needy who from death. He will rescue them from oppression and from violence and oppression, for precious is their blood in his sight.”
This infant to whom they presented these gifts was worthy of infinitely more for he was their king and savior. This child was Mary’s hope and the hope of the ends of the earth. This Child is the reason we are here. We do not know the exact significance of the gifts. It could be that gold points to his royalty. Frankincense was used by the priest, and could refer to his priestly task, an Myrrh was used to embalm bodies to point to his death. The king. The perfect high priest the supreme savior.
Who is he to you today? How far will you go? What will you give up? Are you hostile, indifferent, or full of joy and coming to worship? Herod. Confronted with the gospel and hates it. Nothing but loathing for a crucified savior. Others like the religious leaders are indifferent – worried more about their own skin then the truth of their prophecies which they know backward and forward. They are just too comfortable and just don’t care. And the Magi which travel a great distance. To worship. To bow down. Who are you today.
Let us repent of our indifference and leave our lives behind to seek out this king. The one born king of the Jews! May we be filled with joy this day and bow down in worship of our king, bringing him our gifts, our lives, our everything.