Jesus is born in Bethlehem and the visit of the wise men – Matthew 2:1-12 – 12/23/2015
This is a series in the Gospel of Matthew which looks to visit the text from the Gospel of Matthew on a line by line and verse by verse teaching and Lord willing we will get through the full book of Matthew, this is part of a New Testament bible study series that you can read all other studies in this section on this link.
Matthew 2:1 (ESV) Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Matthew spares little detail about the birth (for a more in depth coverage of that then see the gospel of Luke chapter 2) and goes straight to how the world received the news of the Messiahs birth. I find it remarkable that the people who bring such gifts came from so far away and the very people who had confessed with their mouths that they needed a messiah were to treat Jesus with such hostility.
V1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
We have it confirmed that Jesus, as the prophecy has stated would be born in the ancestral home of King David, a little city to the south of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. It states clearly which Bethlehem that it was in the land of Judea and Matthew goes into such great detail as to even tell us who was ruling at the time in that land. This dates Jesus birth before the date of the death of Herod the Great and gives great insight into the time period mentioned.
The men read the scriptures, studied the stars and went where they believed the new king would be they were guided into the area by a star that shone brightly for this purpose to declare where Jesus was born. They came to the capital city Jerusalem and made haste to go to the Royal palace where they expected the new king to be born. They were guided by a star and their own understanding and you can understand why they went there in the first place. Interestingly there is a prophecy in the book of numbers about a star…
Numbers 24:17 (ESV) I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
We could interpret this in many different ways but here are the plain facts regarding the homage that these wise men who came from the east direct from the scripture:
• They sought the “King of the Jews” – The first thing that I am in awe of in this passage is that they would come so far to pay homage to a nation that is occupied and politically oppressed at that time where the monarchy of the nation really only had tax raising powers and all the real power came from Rome due to the Roman occupation. Secondly I am bowled over that they used the very name that would be nailed above his head when he was crucified. From his birth Christ’s mission was being confirmed even now as an infant.
• They followed “His Star” – It was His star, no-one else’s! It was bright enough and noticeable enough that men from a great distance were able to track it, follow it and have it bring them to the area (remember Jerusalem is less than 10 miles from Bethlehem) of the birth. It does make me wonder about the chief priests, scribes and other religious men who were looking for a messiah. Did they not see the star? Why were they not on their face worshipping him?
• They came to “worship Him” – These men were almost certainly not Jewish coming from so far east, but they came so far to worship the baby that was the messiah for a people that they had no connection with. Were they still thinking of an earthly throne at this point or were they aware that this was a much better king?
V3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Of course the guy on the throne doesn’t like this idea of a new king! Herod was not a nice guy, he was a tremendous builder, he was great at collecting taxes and worked well with the Romans and the religious people to keep the peace in his land and so he manage to broker deals on all sides to keep himself in that sliver of power that he still had and had some so much wrong to preserve this. He had a lot to be scared of as he was feared rather than served and was not serving the people well as a true king should.
This is a guy who is attributed to have killed members of his own family and rivals due to perceived threats on his reign and in some cases paranoia that people were plotting against him. He was troubled by the news of a “new king” and especially one with religious connotations because as stated previously his rule was finely balanced based on keeping all sides happy, if this “new king” would have the backing of the religious people then he saw his power slipping.
It states that “All Jerusalem with him” and that tells you that if the king was unhappy and paranoid then heads may literally roll. This is based on both the scripture and what history records about the man himself. And that if Herod did not get his way of what he was plotting then who would be the collateral damage of the king’s wrath?
He goes to the religious people because no-one in his house had birthed a son and they quoted him from the prophet Micah chapter 5 verse 2. This tells me that the king was not proficient in the scriptures and such words about the character of Herod are backed up with the fact he didn’t know basic prophecy regarding the expectant messiah of Israel. What is tragic here is that the religious people knew the scriptures and did not immediately head for Bethlehem and honor who they are waiting for, even if they were not sure at least send someone to find out if it is him!
V7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
Herod questions the men and realizes that this infant king would be less than two years old. They had travelled a long way so Herod wanted to know exactly how old this threat was to him. Being the coward he was he wanted to make sure that if this was a danger that it was dealt with while the victim could not fight back. Herod heard the word of God but did not allow it to permeate his heart and even although he heard it from a man who was well educated in scripture he did not accept it into his heart.
He then “says the right things” by stating that he wanted word brought back to him that he “may worship also” and despite saying the right things he was far from wanting to worship him in his heart. We see in later verses that he wanted to kill him and Matthew does not record that they agreed to come back and merely that they did not respond.
V9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
And they left the king and went back to following the star, what a supernatural occurrence for that start to still be shining so brightly after so many months of weary travelling, they were extremely happy at finding the star again after their encounter with Herod. They were about to find out how different these two kings were. The star came to rest literally shining to the head of Jesus
V11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
They went into the house, I would note that at this point, the popular nativity scene where they are all bumping around in the stable that Jesus was born in is in most probability not actually accurate as Jesus would have been between 1-2 years old at this point due to when the wise men originally saw the star, assuming they left right away and journeyed as quickly as they could in difficult terrain. We see three facts that back this up:
• Scripture says they “went into the house” – It is not a stable, it is a house and it would be incredible to think that they could go such a length of time in a city that Joseph would have known people without finding better lodgings than an animal shelter behind an inn.
• They saw Mary his mother – There is no mention of Joseph being at the visit of the wise men, he could have been a multitude of places such as work, running errands and who could say for certain, but Joseph for whatever reason was not mentioned as being there.
• They worshipped him and offered him gifts fit for a king – Knowing who they had seen before (Herod) and the character of the man, do you not think that Herod was man when he saw the lavishness of the gifts that were being offered to someone who were not him? This may have not been the surroundings that they were expecting to see the King of Kings but they certainly came prepared to worship him. It is convicting in my heart and I do wonder if I do likewise and always come prepared to worship him? You will notice that the gifts were offered (and rightly so) to Jesus and not Mary.
Shepherds or Kings?
This account is often confused with an account in the book of Luke chapter 2:
Luke 2:8 (ESV) And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
There are a few things I would like to bring forward to state these were separate visitations…
• These men came from the same region – Jesus was presented to the Jew first and then the Gentile
• This happened on the night of Jesus birth, not a great journey later
• They were told they would find a baby, in a manger whapped in swaddling clothes
• They had it confirmed by a multitude of angelic witnesses
• They left right away to Bethlehem
• They found Mary and Joseph and the baby still in the manger
• They knew that God was the one to be praised
And that is just looking at the text on its own, I felt compelled by the Lord to give that explanation because I am keen to remove any obstacles from someone believing in Jesus. This was he who so many had prophesied about, this was the one sent by God, who was as much God as he was man, he is the only way to heaven and the only one that was capable of saving the world from their sins and even today the only one that can reconcile you to God and save you from your sins. By faith in him alone is the key to eternal life and He alone is worthy of all honor and praise, he is Name above all names, Alpha and Omega, King of Kings and Lord of Lords and at his name every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that he alone is Lord! My prayer for you is that confession is a confession of joy and not of despair.
V12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
The wise men continued their worship of Jesus in their obedience to the supernatural dream and elected to not be an informant that would cause harm to the baby. They wanted no part in Herod’s plans to “worship” the child.
God bless and I pray this was a blessing and please feel free to like, share or comment on here or whatever social media platforms you use as the Lord leads you to