Last week, we looked at the supernatural circumstances surrounding Jesus' birth. Today, we continue through the gospel of Matthew, beginning with chapter two.
This is typically included in people's celebration of Christmas, although verse one tells us that the Magi arrived in Jerusalem after Jesus was born.
What are Magi? They are not "kings of Orient who traversed afar." The Greek word is "MAG-os," which was the name given by many of the eastern cultures like the Babylonians, Chaldeans, Medes, and Persians, to their wise men. It included such varied job descriptions as teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, and sorcerers.
The Magi were asking around Jerusalem,
Matt. 2:2 "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east...."
"We saw His star," they said. How did they know that the King of the Jews would have a star? No doubt they were familiar with Balaam's prophecy, which we reviewed in our first study of Matthew:
Num. 24:17 "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel..."
"Shall come forth" is the Hebrew word, "daw-RAK," which means "to tread, walk, go out, make linear movement." In the Magi's history, it seems they'd been taught to look for a star rising out of Jacob in linear movement over an exact position on the horizon - towards Jerusalem.
They saw this star appear and believed it announced the birth of the King of Jews - the first one since the Babylonian Captivity in the days of Daniel about 600 years earlier.
Many of us have the idea that the Magi went straight to Herod and said, "Where is the newborn king?" In fact, the Magi were asking around town where he was, and word of this came to Herod. As we read the next few verses, we see that it was only after Herod had a meeting with the Scribes and Chief Priests did he talk with the Magi.
Why was Herod troubled at what the Magi were asking? Because he himself had been given the title "King of the Jews" from Augustus Caesar. The Magi were asking,
Matt. 2:2 "Where is He who has been BORN King of the Jews?..."
Herod took this as a personal attack, and knew that one born with the right to be King of the Jews would mean political upheaval.
Herod had known that the Jews believed the Messiah was coming. Now that he's heard the Messiah may have been born, he has a plan. Being in Jerusalem, he had access to the most Biblically knowledgable people on the earth. And so he gathered the scribes and chief priests together, asking them where this competitor was supposed to be born. They quoted Micah's prophecy to him:
Mic. 5:2 "But as for you, Bethlehem Ef-RAW-thaw, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity."
The ruler in Israel was to come from Bethlehem in Judah.
Having already formulated his plan of action, Herod secretly called the Magi. "Secretly" is "LATH-rah," meaning that it was done in a way that was hidden, to keep others ignorant of what he was doing. Herod knew that nothing positive could be accomplished having all of Jerusalem knowing that he was meeting with the Magi!
He determined from them exactly when the star had appeared. "Ak-ree-BO-o" means to be "strictly exact, precisely and rigorously careful." Herod wanted to know as precisely as possible when that star appeared.
He told them that his intention was to worship the Child, but his plan was murder.
Notice that it was Herod who sent the Magi to Bethlehem - they didn't know where else but Jerusalem to look.
Now the star which they had seen in their home country appears again. And it stood over the location they were looking for - it was in a fixed position above the place Jesus was.
In verses 8, 9, and 11, Jesus is called "the Child." This is not the same word Luke used to describe the Baby who was just hours old (BREF-os: "an unborn or newborn baby"). Matthew instead uses "pahee-DEE-on," which is "a young person, normally below the age of puberty."
In other words, by the time the Magi arrived, Jesus was no longer a newborn baby. It had taken time to recognize the star, set out on their journey, travel many miles, inquire in Jerusalem, meet with Herod, and travel to Bethlehem. The family was no longer in the stables with the Baby in a manger, but was in a house with a toddler.
This is why each Christmas, our family's tradition is to display the wise men on the opposite side of the house from the nativity scene.
One of the firmest proofs for the Magi arriving at the very least a month and a half later is that...
Luke 2:22-24 ...when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.
The Law of God said that the time of purification for a woman who'd borne a son was 33 days (Lev. 12:4). And so a month after Jesus was born, Mary offered two birds as a sacrifice. This is proof that the Magi had not arrived with their expensive gifts. You see, the Law stated,
Lev. 12:8 But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering...
Mary didn't offer a lamb because they couldn't afford it. The Magi did not come at Christmas. In fact, they were much later than even a month - it was closer to two years, which we will see in verse 16.
Three gifts were given to Jesus - this is where the legend that there were three Magi came about. There is no historical evidence to suggest just how many there were. There could have been two, or two hundred.
The gifts they gave to Jesus were both expensive and expressive.
In the Bible, gold is the material of kingly crowns and treasures of kingdoms. This gift was given to symbolize Jesus' rule and reign as king.
Frankincense was the incense that the priests burned in the temple (Luke 1:9-10) when praying prayers of intercession for the people. This gift symbolized Jesus' ministry as priest and mediator.
Myrrh is used to anoint dead bodies (John 19:39) and was used in the embalming process. This gift symbolized the future death of Jesus. He would become both a king and a priest, but He would also die.
Another thing to notice is that when the Magi entered the house and saw Mary and Jesus, they only worshipped Jesus. Mary was not the object of worship, as she has been made by many.
The Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod. Then Joseph also had a dream, where an angel told him to take the family down to Egypt. Matthew tells us again of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, quoting Hosea 11:1.
The time Herod had determined from the Magi was two years. When he realized he'd been tricked and would not know which child was believed to be the Messiah, he simply had them all killed.
This was also a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, with Matthew telling us that Jeremiah 31:15 came true on that day.
The angel had told Joseph,
Matt. 2:13 ..."flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you..."
Now Joseph is told: it's time to go back to Israel. But the angel doesn't tell him where in Israel to go. Herod's sons Archelaus was ruling in Judea, and Joseph decided that it might be dangerous to live there. He moved the family up north into Galilee instead, settling in the city of Nazareth.
Again, this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But I want you to notice Joseph's predicament in this situation: His life had to follow a certain path: he had to go to Bethlehem, for Jesus must be born there. He had to go to Egypt, for Jesus had to be called out of Egypt. He had to go to Nazareth, for Jesus had to be called a Nazarene. How did all this happen, especially considering that Joseph had no idea? After all, he was simply living his life.
He had no choice about the trip to Bethlehem. It was a governmental mandate that he return to his hometown for the census. He was supernaturally told to go to Egypt and later to return to Israel by the angel in the dreams. His journey to Nazareth was simply one of common sense, avoiding possible trouble.
God's hand was in every turn, in every decision. Sometimes we find ourselves with no choice. The Air Force gives you orders to the Middle East - now you know God's will. Sometimes God will intervene supernaturally to tell you which way to go, which decision to make - now you know God's will. And sometimes, in the course of your Christian walk, you make your best guess at doing what is right - and now you know God's will.
If you're facing decisions today, at a fork in the road, at a possible turning point, simply pray and seek the Lord. If He knows you're going to make the right decision, He'll let you make it. If He needs to intervene supernaturally, He will. And if He needs to give you no choice in the matter, He'll do that as well.