After the scribes and chief priests had presented their case, Herod was convinced.
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)
Herod was of course disguising what he really wanted to do, so he could manipulate these well-meaning foreigners into doing his leg work for him.
The wise men believed him.
“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”
How were they able to follow a star? Matthew doesn’t tell us, but certainly God was in it, because He makes Himself known to the people who genuinely look for Him.
So let’s stop a minute and think about all the responses Matthew has recorded so far to God’s proclamation that His Son has been born.
What must it have been like, for this deeply religious city, God’s holy city, to receive this entourage of Gentiles looking for the newborn anointed of God, the root of Jesse, the true Messiah?
We might have expected mounting excitement, a stirring in the streets, curtains fluttering and news buzzing, the sound of scrolls being unfurled throughout the city’s synagogues as elders and scribes eagerly sought every scriptural substantiation for the word being passed from home to home–“Messiah has come!”
It was Passover time, already there was a sense of expectation in the air, already families were pouring in from all over the known world to worship in the magnificent, gold-plated temple, ablaze with the glow of menorahs. Everywhere there were caravans, herds of beautiful yearling sheep, ready for the sacrifices, homes were being freshened and cleansed for the festival, all extra beds were getting new sheets in anticipation of company coming.
Yet, among all these pilgrims, the Magi’s opulent and exoticly laden camels, their turbans and jewels, their royal purple robes, their leopard skins and strange accents, would have parted the crowds and drawn gasps of awe.
How did Jerusalem respond to the news of their God and King come down to dwell among them as the prophets had long foretold?
The people were bothered, vaguely worried, instead of excited and eager for their promised Messiah. Their ruler was a cruel and capricious king. They didn’t want anything to disturb him because that meant he would, in turn, take it out on them, people would get hurt, there would be upheaval and crackdowns.
Herod was insanely suspicious, always worried that someone was going to try and take away his power and wealth. For all his good qualities as a ruler, this one trait ruined every good thing he did. Instead of him controlling his life, and ruling his realm, this one trait controlled him and made him a tyrant of his realm.
Scribes and chief priest Religion was their work. These were the seminarians, ivory tower academics, deeply religious traditionalists, who considered themselves as perfectly keeping the law, above reproach; they knew it all and observed all the religious mores. Bethlehem was only five miles away, but they made no move to see if the Messiah had really been born there so they could worship Him.
As the teachers and law keepers, they didn’t feel the need to be taught anymore, the need to grow anymore; they considered themselves above all that, and above the people who still needed that.
It reminds me of the apostle John’s words, decades later,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.John 1:1-10 (NRSV)
[Wise Men | http://www.freebibleimages.org, LUMO Project]