13 December 2018

Matthew 2

Matthew 2 begins with the story of the wise men, or, more correctly, the Magi (pronounced may-jī). They were likely from Persia (Iraq) and possibly descendants of the wise men – the magicians and sorcerers – of Daniel’s day. They were stargazers, and believed the stars could be signs of significant earthly events. Some scholars see them as astrologer-priests. They were more than astrologers as they studied the stars – ancient astronomers. If they were distant descendants of the wise men of Daniel’s day that would explain how they knew a Jewish king would one day come to Israel.

Matthew tells us that these wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him’ (Matthew 2:2 CSB). This troubled Herod, who could brook no rivals and even killed one of his wives and three sons on the suspicion they were plotting against him. He asked the chief priests and scribes where the Christ would be born. ‘In Bethlehem’, they replied. Herod then sent the Magi to search for the child and return to tell him where the child was so he could worship Him. His intention though was to kill this rival king.

The star reappeared and led the Magi to the child. ‘Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route’ (Matthew 2:11-12).

This is a remarkable story. Besides His parents, Simeon and Anna in the temple to whom the Lord revealed Jesus’ identity, and later Peter, the Jews did not recognise Jesus as king (cf. John 1:11); instead they finally killed Him. Yet these pagan Gentiles travelled between 1200-2000 km to find Jesus! Not because of any explicit divine revelation but because they saw a star in the sky, which they identified as a sign that the King of the Jews had been born. They came to worship Him, bringing Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The symbolism of these gifts is contested but gold for a king and myrrh to embalm Him is likely. They alone in the Christmas stories worshiped Jesus.

This story is surely prophetic of things to come. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the majority of Jews rejected Him, and still do, but multitudes of Gentiles from Paul’s day to ours, have gladly embraced Jesus as their King and worshiped Him as their God. Do you?

The rest of the chapter tells us that Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt as Herod sought to kill Jesus. Jesus went to Africa! In the meantime, Herod killed all the boys under two in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas. Soon after, he died. Again an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph telling him to take Mary and the child back to the land of Israel. They went to live in Nazareth in Galilee, hence Jesus of Nazareth.

Prayer: Thank You, Father, for revealing Jesus to me as my Saviour, Lord and God. Give me Your Spirit that I too may bow down and worship Him. Amen.