Tuesday, November 9, 2021
Scholars from the East
2 1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory—during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”
3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religious scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5-6 They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:
It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”
-Matthew 2:1-6 The Message
The Visit of the Magi
2 Verse 1: Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod, the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
Verse 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.”
Verse 1 study: Bethlehem is a small town five miles south of Jerusalem. It sits over 2,000 feet above sea level on a high ridge. Details can be found in the Gospel of Luke. Also, Luke explains why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, rather than their hometown of Nazareth. The land of Israel was divided into four political districts and lesser territories. Judea was to the South, Samaria in the middle, Galilee to the north, and Idumea to the southeast. Bethlehem of Judea (also called Judea 2:6) was prophesied as the Messiah’s birthplace (Micah 5:2). Judea was in Jerusalem, and Herod the Great was the seat of the government in all four political districts. After his death, the districts went to three separate rulers (2:19-22). Herod was evil, a person who murdered a lot in his own family. He supervised renovations of the temple to have it more extensive and beautiful. That made him popular with many Jews. Jesus visited Jerusalem because the tremendous Jewish festivals were held there.
Verses 1-2 study: There is not much on the Magi, traditionally called the wise men. Nobody knew where they came from or how many there were. Tradition says they were high in position from Parthia, near the site of ancient Babylon. So how did they know the star represented the Messiah?
- Possibly could have been the Jews who remained in Babylon after the Exile and knew the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah’s coming.
- They may have been studying the ancient manuscripts from around the world. Because of the Jewish Exile centuries earlier, they would have had copies of the Old Testament in their land.
- They could have had a special message from God leading them to the Messiah.
Scholars say the magi were from a different land, representing the entire world bowing before Jesus. These men recognized Jesus as the Messiah when God’s chosen people in Israel did not. Matthew is putting it into perspective as Jesus the King over the world and not Judea; Magi traveled thousands of miles to see the king of the Jews. After finding him, they worship, give joy and gifts. This is a different approach people would take today. We expect God to look for us, explain himself, prove who he is and give us gits. Wise people still seek and worship Jesus today, not for what they can get, but for who he is.
Verse 2 study: The Magi said they saw Jesus’ star, Balaam referred to a coming star…from Jacob (Numbers 24:17). Some believe that the star conjunct Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars in 6 B.C., and others also explain. Something to think about is what God can do. Couldn’t God, who created the heavens, make an impressive star to signal the arrival of his Son? God has his purpose in the star; nobody knows the purpose, but the Magi traveled thousands of miles searching for a king and found him.
Verse 3: When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Verse 3 study: Herod was confused as to why the Magi asked about a newborn king of the Jews because:
- Herod was not the rightful heir to the throne of David; many Jews hated him as a usurper. Trouble would come if Jesus was their heir.
- Herod was suspicious because he was ruthless and had many enemies, so he thought someone would overthrow him.
- Herod didn’t want to unite around religious figures from the Jews or a religious person.
- If the Magi were of Jewish descent and from Parthia, they welcomed a Jewish king who could swing the balance of power away from Rome. The land of Israel would have been easy for a nation trying to gain control.
Verse 4: And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
Verse 4 study: The chief priest and scribes were aware of Micah 5:2 and the other prophecies about the Messiah. What troubled Herod was the Magi’s news because he knew the Jewish people expected the Messiah to be a great military and political deliver. Case to that point, Alexander the Great. Herod’s counselors would have advised him of that. So it is to be seen why he wanted the order of all the baby boys in Bethlehem killed (2:16), making him even more ruthless and evil.
Verse 5: They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
Verse 6: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For from you will come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.'”
Verses 5-6 studies: Matthew took a habit to quote Old Testament prophets. The prophecy he paraphrased in Micah 5:2 had been delivered seven centuries earlier.
Verse 6 study: Many religious leaders believed in the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. They thought that the Messiah was born in Bethlehem. But when Jesus was born, the same religious leaders became the greatest enemies. Ironic, isn’t it? After all that waiting, religious leaders didn’t recognize him.
Father, it is a lot to unpack in these first 6 verses of the Magi’s visit and Jesus’ birth. But, it’s a good old fashion history study and learning more about your Son, who you made sure sacrificed our sins for us. Thank you for letting us as followers be a part of that history and understanding, Jesus. The Magi is a good lesson for all of us to know who Jesus is, listening to what Jesus has to say, and following up with it. Let us continue to learn about all the sacrifices Jesus made for us and turn it into wisdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen!