Matthew 2 (NASB)
1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
No specification of how long after they arrived … no mention of when they left home … no mention of where in the east they were from … no mention of how many magi. Apparently that information was not important to the story, or it was assumed Matthew’s readers would know. Most likely, it was unimportant. How easy to get caught up in the details of the story and what is not told. How hard to allow the big picture to sink in.
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.
Wouldn’t you be too? Someone has just arrived and asks where the newborn king of the Jews is. If you’re Herod, with no new heir … wouldn’t this trouble you too? If you’re a member of the royal court … a new king would likely clean out the old administration, that would mean you job … or your life. If you’re a common person … is there a war/battle coming? Rome wouldn’t change the leader for nothing … what could this mean?
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.”
At least the religious leaders here seem to be aware of the prophecy. Of course, Herod takes this as an opportunity to gather information he would need to protect himself from this Messiah, as if he could fight God’s Messiah and win … even when He was a child. How old is this child? He wants an idea about the age range of this contender who might claim the throne Herod calls his own. Or is he worried that this upstart might cause Rome to replace Herod with someone who wouldn’t allow such uprisings. His lie made it sound like he wanted to worship, but clearly we know better.
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.
Wait … the star led them right to the correct house?! Have you ever wondered why the star led them to Jerusalem first, and then the correct house in Bethlehem? Never heard a sermon about that! Perhaps the star went to Bethlehem right away, and the magi simply came with preconceived notions that Jerusalem was the capital, and therefore the place to go. Bethlehem is only a few miles from Jerusalem, maybe they simply didn’t get a good reading the first time? But they could tell exactly the right place once they were in Bethlehem, so maybe God had reasons to allow Herod to be alerted, and the slaughter that followed. Maybe there is so little talk of this because Matthew doesn’t give us any hint that he much cared about this odd detail.
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 a short, terse story about the visit. They worshiped, they left their (strange) gifts, so full of meaning. They leave. There must have been some delay, for they are given a dream in which they are warned to go back a different way. Maybe the dream occurred on the way to Bethlehem as they camped between the cities. Maybe they spent the night with the child. Whatever the situation, we don’t know how long they may have stayed, or even what became of the gifts! Think about it … in mere days (you would guess) the family is running to Egypt. Did they take the gifts, or did they use them to survive the journey and set up home in Egypt? Matthew seems not to care. What does seem important is that these men were looking for a sign, and saw it. They worshiped because they were looking for the Messiah, while Herod murdered, because he was protecting his own position.
13Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”
14So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.
15He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.”
16Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.
17Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:
18“A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”
19But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said,
20“Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.”
21So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee,
23and came and lived in a city called Nazareth This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
Wow. Joseph again listens obediently to the odd instructions of the messenger from God, and leaves all behind and goes to a foreign land. Herod goes crazy, and much sadness envelopes Bethlehem to be sure. Certainly, we might ask why God would allow this needless chaos. We will never know on earth, but we must trust that God sees a bigger picture, and allows people to make poor choices. Herod here had the chance to be one of the first to worship … but chooses instead to try to protect his interests, rather than worship. Joseph and his family hide out until the coast is clear, somewhat. Herod’s son is chosen to succeed him, so Joseph is warned again to travel to Nazareth. Later we hear a disciple ask if anything good can come from there. What better place to lay low, and raise this special son. No one would look for the future Messiah there.
Do we have places that we would be surprised to see anything good come from? Perhaps God is growing someone there as well, and we should be careful to write off people for where they are from.
Also, notice that while in Egypt, we would today have called Joseph, Mary, and Jesus refugees. When we feel out of place, out of our comfort zone, away from our family, etc., we can know that the Messiah went through this too. He has been displaced, uprooted, etc. He has traveled far, had to make new friends, get used to new neighbors, and all as a child. I believe that He not only was tempted like us … He experienced much of the emotions we have. He had many opportunities for fear, uncertainty, etc., even as a child. Praise God that in Jesus, He experience life, in all its uncomfortable, inconvenient reality.