December 12 – Matthew 2:1-12

The Visit of the Wise Men, or Magi, is unique to Matthew’s Gospel, which of the four gospels focuses most on Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matt. 2:1-12 is slammed with things pointing to Jesus as the Messianic, Davidic King; here we see the prediction of a shepherd ruler being born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2), the promised star of Jacob (Num. 24:17), and a ton of other Old Testament imagery, including gifts given to a Jewish king (1 Kings 10:22), homage paid by foreigners (Ps. 72:10; Isa. 60:3), and even the specific gifts of gold and frankincense (Isa. 60:6). Especially to a Jewish audience, this passage is practically screaming, “The Promised One is here!”

Which is really interesting, because the wise men who sought out Jesus’ birth weren’t Jewish. They were magi, a Persian term used for folks who practiced astrology, magic, and obscure philosophies. They didn’t necessarily worship the Jewish God, and they most certainly didn’t abide by the Mosaic Law. So what in the world are they doing in this passage? And why in the world would God speak directly to these outsiders through astrology and dreams?

This was in part to fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah would be visited and worshipped by foreigners. This points backwards in time by recalling the image of foreigners monarchs paying homage to Jewish kings (1 Kings 10:22), and it points forward in time, echoing when Gentiles would be fully welcomed into the family of God (Acts 15:14; cf. Mic. 4:2). This was also in part to pronounce judgement on Israel, considering foreigners recognized their king when they didn’t. This calls to mind prophecy from Isaiah 28:11, “For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people.” In this we can see a comparison between the surprising faithfulness of these foreigners—who traveled for months just because they saw some stars acting strangely—and the faithlessness of Herod and Jewish leadership.

This Herod is Herod I, or Herod the Great; the Herod who ruled later in Jesus’ life was his son, Herod Antipas (Matt. 14). Next week we’ll see just how brutal of a ruler Herod I was, but even here we see his paranoia and shrewdness (also as an example, later in his rule he executed his wife over a murder plot that was totally fabricated). As a Roman ruler of an occupied nation, he must’ve known just how tenuous his hold on power was, and at the mention of a rightful king of Israel he was troubled at the threat it could pose him, coming up with the ploy to send the wise men ahead of him to ferret out this new heir.

This tension in the passage highlights the disruptive nature of Jesus and his kingdom. Just his arrival upsets the equilibrium, and paranoid Herod will slaughter a whole generation of children in Bethlehem because of the perceived threat to his power. As horrific as his reaction was, after some reflection we might feel more in common with Herod than we’d like to admit. Where submitting to King Jesus feels like losing a crown, we may find our every inclination is to resist his rule. And this resistance can only come at our expense or the expense of others. In this season of Advent, it’s helpful for us to reflect on how we can grow in our worship. All of us hold something back from Jesus, some corner of our life. This is a process worked out as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, in which we give ourselves over to him completely. Jesus is worthy of our entire lives, and with every square inch of our life given over to him, we profess his worth to ourselves and to others.

Questions for Discussion

• Would someone read Matthew 2:1-12 for us?

• What stood out to you in this passage?

• Why do you think God involved these wise men in the birth of his son?

• Why do you think Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled?

• Do you think their reactions here reflect a common sort of reaction to Jesus? In what way?

• How does this passage help us understand Jesus’ kingly nature?

• How can this passage help you think through your own reactions to Jesus’ kingliness?

• How can this passage help us worship Jesus this Advent?