If the Son of God must be brought into the world, one might expect that He should be received with all the ceremony possible, however, this did not happen. He came into the world and the world did not know Him. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him. The first who humbled themselves before the Son of God after his birth were the shepherds (Luke 2:15), after that, Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:21-38). The adoration of Jesus by Simeon and Anna is followed by about two years of silence, and then the “three kings” from the East arrived in Jerusalem, seeking the newborn King.
Who were the magi (wise men/three kings)? How many were there? Why did they come to Jerusalem? Many absurd traditions and guesses respecting these visitors to Jerusalem have found their way into the celebration of the birth of the Son of God and into Christian art. Were the magi three kings from the east? Some claim the magi represent the descendants of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth and therefore one of them is pictured as an Ethiopian. Were their names, Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchoir? In Christian art, they are pictured kneeling at Jesus’ cradle in the manger.
Matthew’s introduction of the magi is very limited; all he tells us is the wise men came from the east. He does not tell us they were kings. He does not tell us their names. He does not tell us they went to the stable where Jesus was born. He does tell us the magi was led by a star to the place Jesus was and entering the house they saw Jesus and His mother Mary and fell to the ground and worshiped Jesus and gave Him gifts (Matthew 2:9-11).
When the magi arrived in Jerusalem they inquired of everyone they met, “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” (Matthew 2:2).
Visitors from the East
In their country, which was in the east, the wise men had seen an extraordinary star, such as they had not seen before; which they took to be an indication of an extraordinary person born in the land of Judea. It is important to note the magi did not say the star led them to Jerusalem; they said they saw the star in the east, in their own country. There are two important facts we cannot overlook, first, if you were looking for a newborn king where would you go? The most logical place would be Jerusalem. Second, we are not told how the magi knew about the prediction of the coming Messiah. The magi coming to Jerusalem is evidence they knew about the prediction.
When Herod heard the “three kings” were seeking a newborn king so that they might worship him Herod “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3)
We can understand why Herod was troubled. What is difficult to understand is why all Jerusalem, except the few waiting for the consolation of Israel, was troubled. All Jerusalem knew of the evil character of Herod. They knew that the birth of the newborn king would result in bloodshed and they want no part of it.
King Herod the “Great”
Herod and Jerusalem were troubled because of a mistaken notion that the kingdom of the Messiah would clash and interfere with the secular powers. The reason why the kings of the earth, and the people, oppose the kingdom of heaven is that they do not understand the nature of the kingdom of heaven.
Herod has a solution to the situation he and all Jerusalem is in, he calls all the chief priests and scribes together and asks them where the Messiah was to be born. The persons he consults are the teachers of the law, the chief priests, and the scribes, who made it their business to study the law. The priests and scribes all agree that the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem, the city of David here called Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from another city of the same name in the land of Zebulon (Joshua 19:15). The proof they produce is taken from Micah 5:2.
Herod needs one more piece of information to put into effect his solution to what is troubling him and all Jerusalem, the exact location of the newborn king. He meets with the wise men of the east and asks them the exact time of the appearance of the star and then he sends them to Bethlehem to find Jesus and then return and tell him where to find Jesus (Matthew 2:7-8). Why does Herod want to find Jesus, to worship Him as he claims, no his purpose is to kill Jesus.
Herod was now an old man, and had reigned thirty-five years; this king was but newly born and not likely to prove a threat to Herod for many years, yet Herod is jealous of him. Herod cannot endure the thought of successors, much less of rivals. Therefore, nothing less than the blood of this infant will satisfy him, What Herod does not realize, if this newborn child should be indeed the Messiah, in opposing him, or any attempt upon His life would be attacking God, something very dangerous.
Herod’s reason for wanting to know the time of the appearance of the star was so that he might act accordingly.
What can we learn from the appearance of the “three kings” in Jerusalem and their meeting with Herod? The greatest wickedness of men often conceals itself under a mask of religion. We see that in the United States, the Western World, and the Middle East.
The magi found Jesus by the same star that they had seen in their own country (Matthew 2:9-10). By the first appearance of the star, they were informed of the birth of Jesus, then it disappeared, and they were left to take the usual methods for traveling to Jerusalem. A lesson for this present age, extraordinary helps are not to be expected where ordinary means are to be had.
The magi have pursued the matter of finding the newborn king as far as they could; they knew the birthplace of the newborn king. The question that needs answering is how they will find Him when they come to the place of His birth. Here they were at a loss, at their wit’s end, but not at their faith’s end. The magi believed that God, who had brought them this far would not leave them there; nor did He; for, behold, “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” (Matthew 9).
Lesson for Us
A lesson for today; if we go on as far as we can God will direct and enable us to do that which of ourselves we cannot do. The star had left the wise men and now returns. They followed God in the dark, and now the light reserved for them leads them to Jesus. This star was the token of God’s presence with them, for he is light, and goes before His people as their Guide. If we by faith follow the Lord in all our ways, He will lead in the paths of righteousness.
Observe how joyfully they followed God’s direction (Matthew 2:10). Now they saw they were not deceived and had not taken this long journey in vain. Now they were sure that God was with them, and the tokens of His presence and favor fill them with joy unspeakable (more than happy). Now they could laugh at the Jews in Jerusalem, who, probably, had laughed at them for coming on a fool’s errand. Great joy filled the hearts of the magi when they entered the house where they found “the Child and His mother Mary.”
We should find great joy in everything that will show us the way to Christ. God sent this star to guide the wise men of the east into the presence of the King of kings, the Lord of lords. God often sends tokens of his love to encourage us in difficult times.
In the presence of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the “three kings” fell on the ground and worshiped Him. We do not read that they gave such honor to Herod, but to this Child, they gave this honor, not only as to a king but also as to a God and they gave Him gifts.
Lessons for today, like the magi we must give up all that we have to Jesus Christ. We must be sincere in the surrender of ourselves to Him; we must not give our gifts unless we first present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices.
The gifts the magi gave Jesus were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were the products of their own country. Some think they gave Jesus gold, as a king, paying him tribute; frankincense, as God, for they honored God with the smoke of incense; and myrrh, as a Man that should die, for myrrh was used in embalming dead bodies.
In verse 12, God warned the magi not to return to Herod and they left for their country another way.