Matthew chapter 2, verses 1-12 begin with quite a stir in the city.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)
In other words, a great company of exotic foreigners had arrived in Jerusalem, from the east, along with all their retinue. The traditional number is three Magi, because they presented three gifts to the Christ child. But there were probably many more than just three.
These were important people, most likely Gentiles who had come from Chaldea with a large caravan of camels loaded to the gills, and a full complement of servants and guards. They made their way to the largest Ritz Carlton in town, got checked in, then immediately headed over to the palace to find out where the new king of the Jews had been born.
The Magi asked “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
Which apparently provoked all Jerusalem to vexed arousal.
Matthew was continuing to show how the Jews had completely missed recognizing Jesus’ credentials as the Messiah. God had established His people thousands of years before to cherish and keep His word, to love, worship, and obey Him, and to wait expectantly for the Messiah Who would free them from bondage.
All the rest of the world was also waiting for this big event. Even the Roman historian Tacitus in the days of Caesar wrote about the expectation of a ruler being born near the province of Judea.
But, what actually happened, is that when the real king, the one the rest of the world had been waiting for, was born in the one place only a real king could be born in, during the days of the pretend king who was falsely ruling over God’s people, wise men, bringing God’s wisdom, came from far away to God’s holy and royal city where there didn’t seem to be any wise people at all.
Originally, God had made humankind in His own image, making us to fit Him in a perfect way, filling us with His own breath. God had created humankind to be in eternal fellowship with Himself. God loves His people deeply, in ways we can hardly imagine, having designed us to be His intimate companion, just as He designed Eve and Adam to correspond to each other. God intends for us to be made one with Him in a profound intimacy. This is a person’s greatest purpose and blessing, and it was Messiah Who would provide the way for eternal fellowship with God.
So God’s people were supposed to be alert, watching for the signs.
In Genesis 1:14 God had said,
“Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens…let them be for signs…”
Before there were satellites and other sophisticated technologies, the stars and planets were used for navigation, clocking the seasons, measuring large distances on the earth for map-making purposes, and so on.
Then in Numbers 24:17 God said a specific sign would come,
“A star shall come out of Jacob…”
King David himself had written
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork,” (Psalm 19:1)
Ancient people understood this to mean that God would literally reveal signs of what lay in the immediate, and far future in the sky, in the alignment of the stars and planets, so they made a close study of the patterns in the night sky.
But only these wise men from the east, astronomers who recorded the movement of stars, comets, and planets, and scholars who were familiar with the Hebrew scriptures, had taken God’s word seriously. There was evidently an unusual phenomenon in the sky that these men recognized as being directly connected with the prophecy concerning Messiah. About a dozen or so other ancient historians, representing cultures and religions from the entire region, had also recorded this very same phenomenon.
God’s people were supposed to be mindful of the prophecies, so they could be ready when their Messiah came. There were specific prophecies, a baby boy, begotten by God, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, Who will be heralded by a star coming out of the house of Jacob. In order, those prophecies were delivered by some heavy hitters: King David, Isaiah, Micah, and Moses. Not only that, the prophet Daniel had predicted a particular point in history when this Messiah would be born, so the whole known world was breathless with anticipation.
Nevertheless, it seems the Jews were caught by surprise.
“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”
So Herod got together all his seminary people.
“When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.”
First were the chief priests, who came from the religious aristocracy, they were the CEO’s of Judaism, Bible experts. Next were the scribes, what we would call lawyers today, men who had taken their studies in Old Testament law, along with all the law commentaries.
The scribes and chief priests had a lot of work to do, pouring over their manuscripts, conferencing together, trying to figure out what was going on, trying to get the right information to a very agitated and upset Herod, who was known for his viciousness and cruelty whenever he felt someone was threatening his crown. They finally narrowed in on a prophecy written six hundred years before Jesus was born.
“’In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’”
And the prophet Micah had finished that verse with the words
“His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
This is the first of four fulfillments of prophecy in this chapter and is a continuation of Matthew’s catalogue of Christ’s credentials. He was born a human baby, Son of Man, but He was also Son of God, from the “days of eternity.”
He was born in the hamlet of Bethlehem, an inconsequential dot on the map, but it was the birthplace of Kings, the very root and stump of Jesse, and from it now sprang this young shoot, the ruler who would sit on the throne of Judah forever.
[Magi | James Tissot, Wikimedia, Public Domain]