The Worshipping Wise Men

Little Jesus – Big Worship

Matthew 2:1-12

 

Introduction

 

In Jesus’ later life he asked the disciples “who do men say that I am”? (Matt 16). The replies ranged from John the Baptist, to Elijah, to Jeremiah, to a prophet.” Finally Peter confessed, “You are the Christ.” With that in mind, let’s look at Matt 2:1-12.

The whole purpose of Matthew’s narrative of the magi visit to the babe in Bethlehem seems to be to demonstrate this truth – Jesus is the Messiah; the promised Redeemer, Savior, and King! Yet the Jews, those to whom Matthew writes, rejected Jesus and in fact killed him. So Matthew points to the events surrounding Jesus’ birth to show that Gentiles recognized what the Jews overlooked. He does this by showing the outright worship of Jesus by several Babylonian magi and thereby implies that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and as such is worthy of worship. The details of the account tell us the same – we too must worship Him.

Chapter 1 establishes in detail that Jesus rightly deserves honor as royalty and that he was miraculously conceived. Yet it ends with the simple statement that Mary “gave birth to a son and he (Joseph) called his name Jesus (v25).” No details. He moves immediately to the worship of Jesus!

 

Didactic 1: Worship is primary. Apparently, for Matthew, worshipping Jesus more important than recording all the details of his birth. We would do well to think the same way.

 

Mysterious magi came willingly and enthusiastically, yet providentially, to worship Jesus 2:1-2

 

The magi were Gentile astronomers who could be called “wise men”

They were not magicians, sorcerers, soothsayers, astrologists, or kings

There is no indication that there were only 3 of them. The idea of 3 is mere tradition. We don’t know their names contrary to the tradition (Catholic) of Melchior, Bathasar, Caspar. Their bones are not buried in France.

Incredibly, these who play a key role in the birth account are relatively unknown. Of course that is not surprising in that the focus is on Jesus.

The magi came to Jerusalem as a product of divine providence

They came from Babylon. “From the east” probably refers to Babylon, a land were astronomy was seriously studied for centuries. Most credit the Babylonians with the current calendar and the planetary system.

They undoubtedly knew of the prediction of Jesus birth because of the influence of Daniel 600 years earlier. Daniel was “chief perfect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dan 2:48). Didactic 2 – You never know what influence you may have on succeeding generations, so live well!In fact, the wise men as a group held Daniel in high regard because he interpreted the kings dream for them and thereby spared them from the violent wrath of the king (Dan 2:26-27).

Probably these wise men clung to Messianic hope not only because of their knowledge of Daniel but also because there still was a Jewish influence in the eastern regions of the Roman Empire. Undoubted they were God fearing Gentiles similar to Cornelius (Acts 10).

 

They came at precisely the right time. Not before but “after” Jesus was born. “They came” (main verb) “after Jesus having been born” (aorist participle). The little family was now living in a house and had probably already presented him at the temple in Jerusalem (Lk 2:21-24). Thus, probably the wise men arrived in Jerusalem several months after the birth night. Didactic 3: God’s providence encompasses every detail no matter the size or seeming significance. 

 

They came searching for Jesus

Their inquiry was urgent

Notice that NAU/ESV have “saying” at the end of v 1 rather than beginning v 2 as other versions. This is done to emphasize the connection to the “came or arrived” in Jerusalem (v1). So sense is that their inquiry begin immediately upon their arrival (“saying” is present participle). The came for one purpose and thus didn’t waste time.

The idea is also that they went everywhere asking. They were probably shocked that nobody knew what they were talking about! It is ironic that these foreigners took seriously the Messianic promises yet the Jews didn’t.

Their inquiry was based on knowledge

Gleaned from historical information

“King of the Jews” is an OT Messianic title of which they probably were aware.

They also may have been aware of Num. 24:17 and believed it to refer to the coming Messiah. NAU Numbers 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, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth.

Babylonian astronomical tablets gave them this information also. The formula was something like, “when this or that occurs, a great king will arise in the west….” Therefore they came to the Jewish capital to find out where he was.

There was also a general belief in the Roman Empire that a great ruler would emerge soon. The Romans called this the expected golden age. In fact, Julius Caesar was sometimes referred to as the “Savoir of the World.” Perhaps the Babylonian magi were aware of this.

Confirmed by the miraculous star

“We saw his star”. What is this?

Many liberal scholars suggest that the star is a comet or two or three planets converging together to form a bright light, or a meteor.

But the text clearly says “star.” It also says that the star appeared (2,7) and after apparently vanishing it then reappeared (9,10). We are also told the star moved ahead of the magi and then stopped above the house where the babe was (9).

Thus, one of two conclusions seem to be in order. First, the star was a miracle. Verse 7 seems to indicate that the star was not shinning in Jerusalem when the magi arrived. So it probably did not lead them to Jerusalem. They came there a the logical place to go. But it then reappeared and lead them to Bethlehem. A star that moved and appeared high on the horizon at first then low when it stopped over the house, was just for the magi, and was a sign, could hardly be just a normal physical star. Or if a normal star it was miraculously manipulated by God. More likely it was a special star created by God just for this purpose. Or second, the star could have been the glory of the Lord; the Shekinah of the OT as may have been the case with the announcement to the shepherds in NAU Luke 2:9And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. However, I prefer the view that this was a miraculous star.

 

They came to worship Jesus

An interesting comparison of “come” v 1 with “come” v 2. In v 1, Matthew reports the fact that the magi were standing in Jerusalem (παραγίνομαι) to become alongside. In v 2 the magi saying they have travelled from somewhere and had arrived (ἔρχομαι).

We may not be sure of the details regarding the star and the magi, but one thing we can be sure of is that they came to worship the Babe. This is the entire focus. The magic proclaim that they have come for the express purpose of worshipping the Baby (aorist “come” plus aorist infinitive “worship” = purpose). This much is clear: Matthew reports the important stuff which is worship. So we are again reminded of our first didactic – Worship is primary!

The term “worship” is vivid. It means to prostrate oneself as humble servants.And that they did when they got to the house where Jesus was (v 11).

Whereas the magi purposed to worship Jesus, Herod purposed to eliminate Him 3-8 

 

Herod reacted in panic to the magi’s search for Jesus 3

When the magi arrived in the city they immediately began an intensive and very public inquiry – “who can tell us where to find the King of the Jews is?” Furthermore, because of their prestigious position in Babylon, they probably travelled with a part of soldiers and servants. One can only imagine how the insecure local Roman ruler might react to this group who were looking for a king and were accompanied by soldiers and other trappings of royalty. He felt threatened.

Herod was constantly opposed by Jewish zealots who wanted to overthrow him; and now the existence of another king!

Thus v 3 says he was “troubled” at this turn of events (ταράσσω). He was inwardly shaken and agitated. The term means to stir up or throw into confusion.

And if the Roman ruler was agitated so were the citizens of Jerusalem. Why? They feared the violent measures Herod might employ to stop any threat to his rule. And, for good reason! Herod was a bloodthirsty tyrant with absolutely no conscience. For instance, he had 10 wives. One of them, Marianne was a Jewess. He murdered her, her brother, here grandfather, her father, her mother, his two children borne by her, and another son just prior to his own death.

 

In spite of his panic, Herod concocted a ruthless plan calculated to eliminate this competing king 4-8

 

The first piece of the puzzle – information from the Sanhedrin 4-6

Herod was afraid the magi might be right so he called together the Sanhedrin to get some answers about what the Scriptures might say about this. The Sanhedrin was composed of 70 religious and legislative officials who were experts in the OT Scriptures (scribes, elders, family of the high priest, and various temple officers). Sadly, this body was becoming corrupted from within.

Herod wanted to know what the Scriptures said so that he could use that information for his own wicked purpose and thereby thwart the Scriptures.

So, his question to them was, “where was the Messiah to be born? ( v 4)”

This was an easy question for them. They knew that the prophet Micah had predicted 700 years previously that the Messiah would be born in a small village 5 miles south of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. NAU Micah 5:2"But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 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." Hence they told Herod that the place is Bethlehem (v5) and substantiated their answer with an expanded allusion to Micah (v 6). Didactic 4 – Knowledge of Scripture by itself has little value. These religious scholars knew the Scripturesthoroughly but showed no interest in joining the magi in pursuit of finding and worshipping Him.

 

The second piece of the puzzle – cooperation from the magi 7-8 

Whereas the meeting with the Sanhedrin was public, Herod convened a private meeting with magi so as not to stir unnecessary insurrection among the citizens (“secretly” v 7).

Herod has determined where the competing king was born; now he wants to know when. He correctly assumes that the magi can provide that information. So he asks about the “exact time the star appeared” (v 7). He was careful not to give away his true purpose, so he didn’t ask directly how old the child was at this time. He assumed that the star appeared either in conjunction with the conception or the birth of Jesus. Evidently, he got the answer he was looking for from the magi because he used this information to hatch the dastardly plan to slaughter all male children age 2 and under (v 16).

Herod was satisfied with knowing the town in which Jesus was born and his approximate age. He also wanted to know the exact location. So, feigned rellgious interest and lied to the magi, NAU Matthew 2:8And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him."

 

The magi enjoyed the pure delight of worshipping Jesus 9-12 

 

The prospect worshipping Jesus propelled them down the road with a sense of eagerness 9a

The idea is that when they found out from Herod that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem they immediately hit the road; that very night

 

They were overcome with joy at the prospect of worshipping Jesus 9b-10 

Soon after embarking, the star they saw in Babylon reappeared and led them to the exact place where Jesus was.

The NAU unfortunately leaves out “behold” in v 9 in connection with the star appearing. Thus fails to convey their utter amazement. Their anticipation was only heightened. It is difficult to imagine this scene.

Verse 10 is a wonderful summary of their reaction. The NAU/ESV have it, Matthew 2:10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Whereas the KJV/NKJ has it, Matthew 2:10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joySo, was what they did (rejoiced) done exceedingly or was the object of their rejoicing (joy) and exceeding and great joy? Well it may not ultimately make a difference; however “exceedingly” is an adverb so it modifies verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. Whereas great is an adjective and thus must modify a noun or a pronoun thus it describes the noun “joy”. However, the adverb “exceedingly” could modify either the adjective “great” (KJV) or the verb “rejoiced” (ESV/NAU). So, it is a tie. I tend to favor the KJV – their rejoicing was with (supplied) joy that was exceedingly great. But regardless, don’t miss the real point – joy is wild! It is everywhere. It won’t stop. It pervades their entire being. This is a wow!

And it is passive - they were caused to rejoice (passive) joy. God is at work here. He caused them to rejoice! He gave them joy.

You may be familiar with the little song, “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, you can’t have one without the other.” That prompts Didactic 5 - Worship and joy; you can’t have one without the other. I am not talking about giddiness. Rather I mean that even if the worship experience exposes you before the holy God it is ultimately accompanied by genuine and lasting peace and contentment of soul.

 

The magi’s engaged in genuine worship of Jesus 11-12

There are several hallmarks distinguishing marks of true that can be gleaned from Matthew’s description of what happened when they entered the house. I’m sure there are others, but I see at least four.

They worshipped the Son of God alone 11a

After entering the house the immediately saw the child and Mary. Perhaps he was in her arms or she was standing next to the cradle? At any rate, Matthew is crystal clear about the fact that they worshipped the child and not Mary. They acted as if they were in the presence of God; and they were!

Look folks, there is no other acceptable object of worship other than the God of the Bible. NAU 1 Timothy 2:5For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, NAU Acts 4:12"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." 

 

They worshipped humbly 11a

So they entered the house and saw Jesus. Matthew then explains that, “after falling down (before him)(aorist participle ), they worshipped him. Not only does the word worshipped mean to prostrate it is paired with “fall down.” So they bowed both their physical bodies and their hearts! Worship was all consuming. They were nobody in the presence of the King who is over all and the Author of eternal life.

 

They worshipped with gratitude 11b

They opened their bags and presented Him with gifts. They had carefully thought this through before they left Babylon!! No scrambling at the last minute.

In their mind, giving gifts was an element of worship. I think of NAU Psalm 96:8Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name; Bring an offering and come into His courts. They gave what they could and in this case the gifts were fittingly representative of their view of who Jesus was.

“Gold” – suggesting that they knew that the child was King.

“Frankincense” – an aromatic resinous gum perhaps from a tree burnt on altars representing the child as God

“Myrrh” – an ointment often used for embalming suggesting that the child is the Savior.

 

They worshipped obediently 12 

After reading this account of the magi’s journey, we must conclude that their journey, every last detail of it, was directed by divine providence.

And so it is at the end. God communicated to them by means of a dream to not return to Jerusalem. Rather, they were to head to Jericho, cross the Jordan and escape Herod’s murderous scheming. Of course this would be difficult considering the proximity of Jerusalem and the size of their party.

But what did they do? Object? Offer alternate plans? Complain that they had just arrived? No, they simply obeyed.

Off they go. We wonder, “Who were these guys?” Perhaps we will never know. But then again, perhaps one day we will see them because these magi might be closer to the Kingdom than we may have initially thought!