The Christ of Christmas is a ruler who would shepherd Israel (see Isaiah 40:11). But he would also appeal to faithful seekers from all over the world. The Bible cites many reasons why Jesus came—to save the lost (Luke 19:10), to serve and die as a ransom (Mark 10:45), to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and to give life (John 10:10) to name just a few. But one of the most important reasons Jesus came was to make good on God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). The Magi had a front row seat during the fulfillment of that promise.
The Gospel of Matthew is about the King and the kingdom. Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). The story of the Magi (wise men) is part of Matthew’s way of tying Jesus’ earliest days to Israel and her great King.
The Journey Retraces Abraham’s Steps
Matthew 2:1, 2
Abraham moved from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran of Mesopotamia and then down to the land of Israel. Geographically speaking, the journey was like a big bell curve since going straight across the desert was no one’s idea of a good time. While the Magi also traveled a long distance in their search for the Christ child, all we know is that they came from the east.
Jesus was born around 4 BC during Herod’s reign (Matthew 1:25). This was Herod the Great who sold out to Rome, was a master builder, and ruled Judah with a strong arm and a twisted psyche. (Herod is actually mentioned in each section of the lesson text. He clearly played a major role in the story.) The text presents the Magi in the best light. But we really know very little about them. The word used to describe them could mean anything from astrologers to counselors (see Acts 8:9; Daniel 1:20; 2:2, 10, 27; 4:7; 5:7). Perhaps they read about the star that signaled the king’s birth from the Jewish literature left from the Babylonian captivity (Numbers 24:17). At any rate, they sought to find and worship this king, and stopping in Jerusalem to ask where he was made perfect sense. After all, it is a bit challenging to follow a star.
The Place Connects the Dots to David
Being the paranoid leader that Herod was, the news of a child king was very disturbing (frightening, terrifying, or troubling). His anxiety stirred up everyone else in Jerusalem. He called on his religious experts for advice and then devised a plan to eliminate any threat to his throne (see Revelation 12:7).
The apathy of the religious elite (both Sadducean and Pharisaic) was remarkable. If messianic expectation was high at this time (see Galatians 4:4), one would think they might have walked the six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to check out the claim that a Messiah had been born. But it seems they gave a first-class yawn to the whole affair. They were able to quote Micah 5:2 for Herod. The bread of life would be born in the town whose name means “house of bread.” But more to the point is that this was King David’s town. David was Israel’s ruler and shepherd. The Son of David would be the same.
Herod began to do the math. If it took some good time for the Magi to make their Abrahamic journey, Herod calculated that this infant could now be a toddler. (Jesus is called a “child” three times in the text.) He gave the Magi the place and feigned his own desire to worship the Christ child.
The Worship Was Fitting for a King
Perhaps the Magi already smelled a rat in how Herod answered their question. Nonetheless they were glad to be on their way. Their joy was unmatched when they saw the star again. It is possible that the star only moved (led or proceeded) six miles (from Jerusalem to Bethlehem). They had originally seen the star from the east. Now the star actually led them to the house.
Once at the house, the Magi bowed down and worshiped him. This is what one does in the presence of royalty. Worship is a key term in the Gospel. It is often what people did at the feet of Jesus. The genuineness of their worship was expressed in gifts, all of which were fitting for a king. The providence in dream narratives continued (Matthew 1:18-25), and the Magi returned home without passing through Jerusalem. Jesus can still be found by faithful seekers.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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