Faithful Seekers of the King - Matthew 2:1-12
Today’s text examines noteworthy gift givers of history. We can get some tips about giving - especially giving to God- from them. Herod the Great was the first Roman puppet king of Judea. Although ruler of the Jews, Herod was of arabic and Idumean descent. While Herod professed a commitment to Judaism, his racial background, wildly excessive lifestyle, and absolute loyalty to Rome led many Jews to question his true beliefs.
Herod is perhaps most famous for his massive public building projects, including a renovation and expansion of the Jerusalem temple complex. Herod maintained a large personal bodyguard who also functioned as a secret police. Through this force Herod eliminated enemies real and perceived and otherwise squelched dissent. It is in such a setting of paranoia that the events of today’s lesson take place.
Herod served as a tool of the oppressive Roman government. He himself acted outrageously, Jesus as “God with us” came into a dangerous, fearful, and oppressive political environment. We cannot turn Christmas into a sentimental, sugar-coated event. Jesus came into a dark world where children died, wise men had to sneak out of town, and his family had to become refugees and then relocate because of political danger.
In what ways do you find yourself in conflict between your faith and the expectations of society and/or the government?
Making the Effort - ,
Making the Effort - ,
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
Bethlehem, a country village some six miles south of Jerusalem, is well known as the hometown of the great king David. The designation Bethlehem in Judea distinguishes this town from a different Bethlehem in . Matthew clarifies the location not for the sake of geographical precision, however, but to stress the connection between Jesus and his ancestor David, who had been promised that his descendants would reign forever.
One day near the end of Herod’s reign, certain Magi show up in the capital city. They are not like the sleight-of-hand magicians of today, but are of a caste of mysterious holy men. They are experts in astrology, medicine, history, and politics. They serve as counselors in royal courts and are revered as experts on the unseen worlds of mature and the gods.
The fact that these men come from the east indicates that they are not emissaries of the Roman Empire, since Rome is located to the west. Because Magi - called “wise men” in other versions of the Bible - are often attached to royal courts, it is reasonable to assume that they have been sent as a delegation to welcome the birth of a new Jewish king; this theory may explain their lavish gifts, noted below.
Since the Magi are seeking the one who has been born king of the Jews, they naturally come looking in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish faith and culture. Exactly how and why his star has directed the quest is something of a mystery. The Magi seek to worship the new king.
What steps can we take to be ready when the unchurched ask questions about Jesus? Regarding hospitality preparedness; regarding preparedness to give biblical answers; regarding awareness of their life situation.
Probing for Information -
Probing for Information -
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
As the Magi naturally look for the new “king of the Jews” in the city of the current king, little can they know the effect their visit will have on that paranoid ruler and all Jerusalem with him. People who have vested interests in maintaining the status quo do not want that status quo disturbed.
Verse 4 reveals that Herod’s logic in consulting the religious leaders of the Jews is unclear. Does Herod make the association between these strange visitors and ancient prophecies of a coming Christ himself? If so, does he really believe he can undermine God’s plan? Perhaps he doubts the integrity of the Magi, believing that they are in league with rebels who seek to foment insurrection by stirring up the religious sentiments of the masses; or, more likely, he fears that the sensation created by the appearance of the wise ment may be capitalized on by his political enemies, real or imagined.
In verse 5 & 6, the priests and teachers of the law refer Herod to . This passage predicts the appearance of a ruler of Israel who will come from Bethlehem. Although Micah prophesied more than seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, first-century Jews still hold the prophecy dear. The prevailing interpretation of and other prophecies is that the Messiah will take the lead in purging the land of foreign influences and restore devotion to Israel’s God.
What steps should you take to gain greater understanding of Scripture, not just greater knowledge of it?
In verse 7 we see the possible political implications of the Magi’s disturbing report, paranoid Herod begins his own search for the Messiah. His inquiry regarding the exact time the star had appeared is an issue of year and month, not time of day. Knowledge is power, and with knowledge of the location and age of the Messiah, Herod will have the upper hand, or so he must think.
There is no indication that the Magi fail to answer Herod’s question in the previous verse truthfully; the unrecorded answer to the query about the time of the star’s appearance leads Herod to conclude that the person the wise men seek is a child. The Magi apparently see no reason to doubt Herod’s motives in his questioning and his declared intent to go and worship him also.
But all of this must be evaluated in light of Herod’s political cunning, his murderous track record, and his paranoia. Herod’s murderous character is in overdrive. He decides to let the Magi locate the child for him.
Worshiping the King -
Worshiping the King -
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Here Matthew seems to imply that as the Magi depart Jerusalem they suddenly see the same star they had earlier seen in their eastern homeland, the one that had led them to travel to Israel. God continues to lead the wise men in their long journey to find the true king of the Jews.
Verse 10 begins to reveal that the Magi maybe had begun to doubt whether they have correctly interpreted the signs, wondering if their long journey is at a dead end. The sudden reappearance of the star renews their hopes.
In verse 11 the Magi are with the shepherds who come after the angel announces the birth to them. But the Matthew indicates that the Magi meet Mary in a house, with no reference to the manger. Then the Magi took expensive gifts to the young child Jesus. These gifts reflect Jesus’ title as King.
Herod proceeds to massacre all the male children in Bethlehem age two years and under. Herod, the king of Jews, is now on the alert to a possible rival, and the Jewish priests and scribes cannot be bothered to travel from Jerusalem to see their new Messiah, their new Christ.
What questions could we ask ourselves to help ensure that generosity accompanies worship? Regarding what links generosity with worship; regarding what drives a wedge between generosity and worship.
The gifts the Magi brought to the king of the Jews show that such giving is a tradition of long standing. The difference in this case is that the king they came to honor was the God of Heaven in human form, who gives the blessing of salvation to all who worship him.
What gifts do you bring to him this season?
The wise men seem the least likely category of people to play a part in the story of Jesus’ birth. Yet their willingness to follow God’s lead in the face of great peril made them spectators to the greatest event in history; the entry of the Son of God into the world. God knows hearts, and he perceived that these men would seek him faithfully despite danger if given opportunity. They did. Do you?
We thank you, O God, that you call to us where we are. We thank you that you can sustain our faith even in the midst of a dark world. We ask that you give us generous hearts that give joyously to those in need; in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.