Royal Visit of the Magi to King Jesus Matt. 2:1-12
May 18, 2014 Series: The Gospel of Matthew
Topic: Sunday AM Passage: Matthew 2:1–1:12
Matt. 2:1-12 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”7Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
What an obscure little story. It reads like fiction. None of the other Synoptic gospels mention it. Why is it here?
"Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old." Mt. 13:52
This is Matthew's method. He looks into his treasure and chooses the perfect item to build his story ever towards his intended purpose. Nothing is here by accident.
And Matthew's purpose, ever and always, is to present Jesus, the Anointed King, Son of God, who has authority to reign over everyone, both in this world, and the world to come.
Jesus, King, Authority, Son of God. That's Matthew's theme. So how does this little story fit? What is it's purpose?
I hope we can unfold this together so that when you read it in the future, you'll see it in a beautiful light that perhaps you'd never seen before.
First let's re-visit the traditional Hallmark Christmas card version of the story.
There are 3. That's the traditional number, because there were 3 distinct gifts. We three kings of Orient are. Balthasar, Gaspar, Melchior. They came from Arabia, Persia, and India, although moderns prefer that one of them came from Ethiopia and thus many of the renderings has one who is black. They show up on the same night as the shepherds. They rode on camels. Their heads bob up and down in non unison as they travel along, quite comicly.
Oops, that's the cartoon version, not the Hallmark . . .That's the worlds version, and no part of what I just stated can be substantiated . . at all.
So who were they, really, and why did they come? How does the story fit? How many were there?
Matthew's really killing a couple of birds with one stone with this story.
First of all, around Judea in 33 A.D. if you mentioned Jesus, you more than likely might say; Jesus of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ? Right? Matthew's going to nip that one in the bud right here.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, just like Micah prophesied. This story forever sets that record straight.
But much more important is the fact that God sent His son, His annointed King into the world to be worshipped, and the people of God, Israel, could not give him the time of day. Nothing. Zip.
Turn with me for a moment to Luke chapter 19 and I want to read a passage that Jesus spoke, that sets the stage for this passage 33 years earlier. Luke 19, and starting in vs. 39. And we're at the "triumphal entry" here, for context.
Lk. 19:39-44 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” 40 But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” 41When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, 42saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43 “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
The first thing I want you to see is that God WILL have worship for His Son. Jesus, the creator of the worlds, the universes, is worthy of worship from everything He created.
If the stones have to cry out, they will. The Lord Jesus WILL be worshipped.
You will remember that Jesus told the woman at the well in John chapter 4; 23“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
God seeks worshippers. Jesus, even as a tiny infant, is worthy of worship.
The second thing I want you to see from Luke's narrative at the triumphal entry is that Israel was out to lunch.
Devastation and desolation are coming because "you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
Years ago, a British mathematician started crunching numbers taking everything into account, ie. 360 day years, and other things like that, and he calculated from Daniels 9:24-27 prophecy that 483 years were completed at the very day and moment when Jesus wept over Jerusalem. If you had known in this day
They should have known. There was no excuse that Messiah the Prince was born, and the "chosen people" missed it. They should have known. God holds us responsible to revealed truth.
Messiah came, and no one stirred a single blade of grass over Him. Nothing.
As we go through the gospels, the first to recognize the annointed King will be the demons. Then the gentiles will see and believe. Israel is out to lunch.
I'm reminded of the story of the Centurion, a Roman citizen, who had a servant that he loved who was ailing. He comes for Jesus, and Jesus starts to follow him to his home, and the centurion says; “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9“For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” 10Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. 11“I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; 12but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Mt. 8
Mt. 21:43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.
So Messiah the Annointed Prince has arrived in the land of Israel, and Israel can't be bothered. Where will worship come from? And that sets the stage for our passage this morning.
The rocks won't cry out this day, but something nearly as bizarre will take their place. And worship will happen.
1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
Who ARE these guys? This is a fascinating study.
Picture the land of Israel in your mind as a thin strip of land between two great seas. Seas of peoples. The west, Rome on one side, and the east, Persia on the other. Sometimes the waves spill in from one side, and sometimes the waves spill in from the other.
Most of our story is western, and indeed, we are western people here in the United States. Our history and culture has much more to do with the Romans than it does with eastern culture.
But Israel at the time Jesus was born, was right in the middle, and in fact there was an almost continuous challenge from the east at the far reaching tentacle of Rome. It seems 20 years could hardly go by without some kind of challenge. An uprising where the East would challenge Rome and try to regain this strip of land along the far eastern edges of the Mediterannean.
In Persia, the megistanes, the magi, were a tribal group similar to the tribe of the Levi's. They were a tribe of religious political power brokers. No king in Persia was ever king until this group placed him king. They were the king makers.
I hate to say it, and I'm going to get myself in trouble, but if you want a picture in your mind of this, look no further than the images of the Vatican in Rome picking who would be the new pope.
There's a connection between the greek and latin words megistane, and magisterium. The image is complete right down to the pointy hats.
Persian history tells us when the megistane would travel, like we see here in this passage, they would be accompanied by an armed cavalry of 1000 soldiers.
So here's the picture, let me set the stage for a little drama. Rome had driven out the Persians some time around 60 - 55 BC and installed Antipater as ruler. He was the father of Herod the great, who we have here.
Herod was driven out around 40BC and actually went to Rome and bought for himself the title, King of the Jews. He was re-installed and the Persians were driven out around 37 BC.
And that's how it went. This constant back and forth between east and west and a rather tenuous hold on Israel by the Romans. And as far as the Jews were concerned, whoever would give them more autonomy to practice their Judaism would be their choice, so their affections were fickle at best. It wouldn't take much to get the jews to follow an uprising of the Persians if they thought the Persians would grant them more autonomy than the Romans.
So that's the historic stage for this story. Or at least part of it.
Imagine a small army of Persians with maybe between 40 and 70 megistane (magi) from Persia entering Jerusalem and asking, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?
So we've answered some of our questions perhaps. Matthew just really doesn't give us much to work with does he? Matthews purpose is the irony of the God of the universe coming to His own people, and having to have magi from Persia in order to have worshippers.
For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
Here's what we know with some help from history. Perhaps what we're trying to dig up from the history books would have been so commonplace to Matthew's readers that no further mention is necessary. Common knowledge, lost for the most part, to us.
Here though the story takes a twist that cannot be explained apart from some direct revelation to these men from God.
The greek word for 'star' is aster. (asteer) and I was researching that word when I came to this verse. Revelation 22:16. We talked about this verse in our evening Bible study about Revelation, the final time we met. It is a signature, Jesus signing His signature on the final page of the revelation of God.
"I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
Could it be, that it was Jesus, the bright and morning star, that leads these men to worhip . . himself? I have no problem with that. A shining. A shekinah glory similar to the one that led Israel out of Egypt. No problem at all, for me.
Go back 600 years to Persia. Babylon in fact. King Nebachadnezzar has had a dream, and he calls in the magi to interpret it. Same group. Same magi.
And you'll recall that they came in and said, No problem, king, tell us the dream and we'll tell you the interpretation. But, one small problem, the king can't remember the dream, and his edict goes forth, tell me the dream and it's interpretation OR all of the magi will be executed!
Daniel at this point wasn't in the upper echelon of the magi, but he was definitely included in the group that would be executed.
So he gets motivated! He goes before the king and wisely asks for time. Then he gets 3 of his friends praying like mad over the matter. And you remember the story, God tells Daniel the matter in a night vision. And Daniel tells the king.
Nothing else in the world like this incident, ever! The result, as you'll recall, is that Daniel is made the Rab-Mag. He is chief of the magi.
This is the one time also, when the bad influence of the worlds false religion didn't dillute the real, the real, the truth of God, wins over the false. Daniel has free reign to teach these magi about the God of heaven who has just saved their very necks.
What does that have to do with our story? Consider one prophecy of Daniels, that the magi would have had in their books from this time period.
Daniel 9:24“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most Holy. 25“So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
The math is simple enough. 490 years from a decree given by Cyrus. If a man's generation is 40 years, you'll begin to look for this king perhaps 450 years into this. Exactly! 450 years from the decree and a shekinah, a shining appears, and these magi are primed. Ready to go!
The language is direct. A prince of princes will be born. A King of all kings. Messiah the Prince. The anointed Most Holy One.
The irony is profound! The jews should have known! They should have known! The pesians come looking. The jews could care less.
There's a verse in Hosea that should make our hearts miss a beat! It should make the hair stand up on the back of our necks.
Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
People, we are responsible to know and act according to the revelation of God.
This lesson of the Jews missing the very incarnation of the Messiah is for US!!
Pew Research did a study where they asked 32 Bible questions. American evangelicals averaged 15.8 out of 32. Atheists averaged 21 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Do you think that doesn't mean us?? Israel missed their messiah.
God would have worshippers at His son's incarnation. He bypasses Israel, and brings magi from Persia. That's not only heartbreaking, it should strike terror in us.
Well at least one person was terrified. And he isn't a jew. He's an Idumaean. Herod was an Edomite. A son of Esau. And when these king makers from Persia show up with a small army and want to know where the one who is King of the Jews, the very title he had from Rome, is born the word that is translated "troubled", it really means Panicked.
And to add further historic color, Herod's roman legions were out of the country dealing with some other skirmish, and Herod is largely at his most vulnerable ever.
Vs. 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Jerusalem is troubled because Herod is a nut case. He's so insecure and unstable that he had his own sons and his favorite wife executed because he was afraid they were plotting an overthrow. He's so wretched that he decreed on the day of his death, that a large group of important men be executed, and the reason is; no one will weep at my loss, and I want weeping when I die.
You need only read ahead to next weeks study to see that this man is about as unstable and vile as a human can be.
Nothing worse than a mad man, except a mad man with power. That's Herod. A very tenuous hold on Judea, his people hate and fear him, his armie's out of the country, and a small army of Persians shows up and asks Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? Ouch!
And you have to sort of hand it to the old fox. He plays this hand very very cool.
Vs. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
That's an excellent question magi! Tell you what, we'll get to the bottom of this, and he has a religious colloquium. A helpless old King, buying time.
The chief priests and scribes are the jewish version of the magi. They are the heavy hitters. Leading experts on religious and societal matters. Experts in the Law of God. So we've got the jewish 'wise men', and the Persian 'wise men'.
Good thing his army is out of the country, or this might have gone differently.
Vs. 5,6 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”
They correctly reference Micah 5:2. Messiah will come forth from Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is a little town about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. I was there in 1970. Most of you weren't born. Never mind that. It's situated kind of in a saddle between hills and there isn't a level lot in the whole place. The byzantine era Church of the Nativity is there. It sits over a cave that is traditionally the place of Jesus birth.
We should chuckle at God's choice of places to do His greatest work. Tonopah has more in common with Bethlehem than not. Little. Sits on a hilltop in a saddle. Unimportant. No greatness. Podunk little place no one thinks or worries about.
Those are the kind of places God chooses to do His mighty works. He is glorified, when the insignificant become uber-significant . . . because of His power.
”7Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”
Herod could get an oscar for this performance. He's so happy these folks have come. And he enjoys the colloquium of all the local religious experts. He helps solve the mystery for all of his new found friends. And he's so interested in all this.
He meets with them secretly. This is all part of playing out this hand. The religious jews would not be convinced of Herod's new found interest in messianic knowledge. So he has a secret meeting with the magi. The megistanes. When did you first see the star? Exactly? Wow, that is SO cool.
My, how he wishes he could go with them on their search, but for the sake of immediacy he'd better stay in Jerusalem and attend to business, but please, please when you find Him, tell me so I can go and worship Him too.
What's worse than an ordinary lie? A religious lie, where you invoke God and worship into your lie. We could build a biblical case that hell is hotter for religious pretenders.
9After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.
This is the verse that leads me to believe the asteer, the shining, is not a star a million miles away, but a shining like the shekinah glory of Israel was. It leads them to Bethlehem and stands still over the very house where Jesus is at.
Note that Jesus is not in a stable now. He's in a house. From Herod's act in the following verses, murdering all the male children 2 years and under, we can't help but surmise that baby Jesus is probably between 6 months and 18 months old at the time of the visit of the magi.
Vss, 10,11a . 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him.
I want to reflect here for a moment, from my own experience. True worship, for me, has always been times of exceeding joy. Such joy that the only way to describe it is, a longing for heaven. My moments of greatest worship are moments of such indescribable joy, you just want the roof to come off and go up to heaven. It's always a longing for more. More of you Lord!
These magi are true worshippers. They prostrate themselves in humility before the King of all kings. What a scene! Pure irony! Gentiles from Persia, prostrated before the Jewish Annointed Holy One. King of kings.
We'll meet these gentlemen in glory.
In Matthews account of God With Us, besides Joseph and Mary, these magi are the first of many believers. The kingmakers, bowing to the King of kings.
Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Gifts for a King. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. All of these were benchmarks of value. The best things the fallen creation could give.
And then they're gone. Vs. 12And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
In obedience to God, they take the long way home.
What is the lesson here for us?
That God will have worship, even if He has to have stones cry out.
That the people most secure in their religiosity, not only missed out, they went to judgement.
That God requires of us to KNOW the truth He has so graciously revealed, and to act on it.
That Jesus is the King of kings, and we must, like the magi, prostrate ourselves before Him in worship.
That if we Won't do that, God will go find people from the far reaches of the earth, who will. Or stones. No shortage of stones in Tonopah.
More in The Gospel of Matthew
March 26, 2017The Authority and Commission of Jesus Mt. 28:16 - 20
March 19, 2017Jesus IS Alive! The Tomb is Empty Mt. 28: 1 - 15
March 12, 2017The Burial of Jesus Mt. 27:55 - 66 pt. 2