On the night of Jesus’ birth, it would seem a new “star” was seen in the night sky. Astrologers (or magi) from the East saw this phenomenon and concluded that this signified the birth of someone special. They then travelled from the East to find this child who had been born.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 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. ‘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”’” (Matthew 2:1-6 NIV).
Notice that these magi (or wise men) did not visit the manger the night Jesus was born – they did not get to Jerusalem until after this had happened. They were confident that what they had seen indicated that the king of the Jews had been born. Although this troubled Herod and the rulers, the only king they could think of would be the Messiah – and he was to be born in Bethlehem in Judah.
Herod privately spoke to these men to find out when the star had appeared. It would seem that when these men saw the star they packed up and headed toward Judea. It is thought that they could have been from Babylon, as this was where many magi were located. If so, it would take many months for them to make the journey to Jerusalem and even more time as they looked for this baby.
It would have seemed logical to them to go the ruler’s house – so they went to see Herod (this would have been the one we know as Herod the Great). Can you imagine their surprise when Herod knew nothing about a new king being born?
When they finally found Joseph, Mary and Jesus, they had long left the place of his birth and were now living in a house in Bethlehem (see verse 11). In fact, Jesus is no longer referred to as a baby but as a child (verse 9). When they found him, they gave gifts from their treasures: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Although there were three gifts given, this says nothing about their number. Chances are there were many more than the three we hear about each December, as they would need to have a good size entourage to protect the treasures they were carrying.
When they were warned in a dream not to report to Herod before they returned to their own land, Herod issued an order to kill all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. Why two years? This was according to the time the wise men first saw the star, which tells us that Jesus was probably between one and two years old when the wise men visited.
Fortunately, Joseph had also been warned by an angel of the Lord – as the magi left for the East, Joseph took his young family and headed south, to Egypt.
Just as these wise men sought out our Lord when he was born, those who are wise today also seek to follow him. The magi realised something extraordinary had happened. We know the rest of the story – that the baby did grow up and was the one who died so that we can be forgiven. Those who are wise continue to seek and follow the Messiah who is the only one who can provide freedom from sin and eternal life.
Readings for next week:
11 January – Matthew 6
12 January – Matthew 7
13 January – Matthew 8
14 January – Matthew 9
15 January – Matthew 10