Matthew 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
When the King of kings came into the world as a baby, it was a joyous and glorious occasion for many people, but not for all. We'll see that again and again through our study in Matthew. Many were thrilled that the Christ had come, they recognized Him as the Messiah, they were excited, joyous. But at the same time, we see the opposite. We see many whose lives were upended. They were fearful, troubled, unhappy about Christ's coming.
Everyone's life is effected by the life of Christ. Some don't know that, but their lives are. For many, the coming of Christ was a time of fear and anxiety. In our text this morning we're going to see opposites. We'll see wise men from the east who worshiped Him, they were joyful, excited, and at the same time, in the same text, we see King Herod, who was greatly troubled by the arrival of Jesus Christ. One person – Jesus Christ – but vastly different reactions to His coming.
In our day we see the very same thing. Around us we see worshipers of Jesus Christ, those who have been changed by Him, and we continue to see many who reject Him.
Matthew 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
In these verses we see some important characters. We see King Herod mentioned first, and then also the wise men. King Herod was appointed to rule over the Jews. In fact, in 40 B.C. Herod was named by Octavian and Antony to be the king of the Jews. He was declared to be "King of the Jews." He then invaded Palestine and established his kingdom. He was not a Jew, so in a wise move he married a Jew in order to try and gain credibility and cooperation from the Jews that he ruled. Herod was a brutal ruler and yet at times also a benevolent ruler. He was skilled at both, and he used those skills in whatever way would best serve his selfish purpose.
Herod was brutal in the way he put down any Jewish uprisings against him. Killing was easy for him. He killed many family members including, eventually, his wife. He also killed, as we will see later in this chapter, all the male children in Bethlehem two years old and under in an effort to kill Jesus. He was brutal for sure, and yet he at times appeared to be benevolent. During economic hard times he lowered the taxes on those he ruled, to help them. He sold gold trinkets to buy food for the poor, built theaters and other things for the people to enjoy. He beautified many towns, and made the whole region a fine place to live.
All of Herod's actions had their purposes. Herod's life purpose was to remain in power, and if being outwardly kind achieved that, then okay, but if brutality was more efficient and effective, then he would go there. Herod was a man who loved Herod, and he spent his life trying to make his name great in the land.
That is Herod, now what about the wise men? With all the songs about the wise men that have been written and all the nativity scenes that include them and all the traditions we may read concerning them, you would think we really know who these guys were. But the reality is we don’t know a whole lot about them. We don’t know exactly where they came from except from the east. We don’t know how many of them there were. Because they brought three gifts many assume there were three, but we don’t know that. Some even claim to know their names, but again that is only speculation.
We know from history that there were some called “wise” men or “magi.” These were scholarly people who were skilled in astronomy and astrology, we also know that many of them were involved in the occult including sorcery, and were known also for the ability to interpret dreams. They were somewhat religious and offered sacrifices to a single God. They were also scientists, mathematicians, and historians. They were known as really smart guys with a bent toward mysticism.
Since they were always studying the stars it was no wonder they noticed a bright light in the sky and knew that it represented something. But it was more than that: somehow God communicated to them what this star represented. The Bible said they were given a sign of His (the King's) star in the east. It is very awesome that God told them this. And knowing this, they set out to find the new king.
Now as they got to Jerusalem, they began asking everyone where the new king was. It is important to know that during this time, there was a certain expectancy regarding the coming of the Messiah. By the fact that they were asking everyone where the new king was, they seemed to expect that everyone would know whom they were talking about. But apparently not many knew that Jesus had been born and that He was truly the Messiah. And so here they come into town, probably with an entourage of people to aid in their travel, and they probably cause a bit of a stir with their entrance and ask the question, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
If their entrance did not cause a great stir, then their question did. In fact, their question was such an important one that it got the attention of Herod, the pronounced king of the Jews. You can immediately see the problem. There was already a king, King Herod, and they ask, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" Herod was not born king of the Jews, he was declared that by others. But now one had been born king. This got Herod’s attention, to say the least. We first get a glimpse into the mind of Herod in verse 3:
Matthew 2:3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him
Troubled in English may not very well express the degree with which Herod processed what he had heard. In the Greek this word means: "to cause acute emotional distress or turbulence—‘to cause great mental distress.’" Being troubled, he begins to gather information that would help him plot his course, plot his next move, to reach a goal that he revered. What was his goal? To keep what he had: power, wealth, prestige.
Matthew 2:3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
Herod was a man of action and he immediately went to work.
This was an intense situation for a man who was capable of cruel murder. He could lose what he loved most. Herod loved his power, and he has already proven to what lengths he would go to protect his power.
But Herod was a seasoned politician. By now he was likely around 70 years old, he had dealt with all kinds of problems, issues, and enemies, and had successfully navigated through it all. He was polished and had the wisdom of the world. He quickly came up with a plan to solve this and you know what it was: he would put on his benevolent face, his kindly posture, and appear to be like the wise men wanting to find this new king, pretending to want to worship Him as well. And so he gave them specific instructions:
Matthew 2:7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
And there is the lie, there is the deceit. "Find him and tell me where he is." That was his request. The wise men found him.
Matthew 2:9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
They found Jesus, they worshiped Him, they gave Him gifts, and being warned in a dream they departed without letting Herod know where Jesus was.
The King of kings, the Redeemer of man, the Savior of the world, God Himself in flesh entered into the world. The one who is our only hope of eternal life and peace had come. He came with a message of repentance and grace. He healed, He comforted, He spoke truth always, He confronted sinners, He discipled, He willingly died and rose again. He was and is the ultimate good news for sinners such as you and me, and all who will ever live.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
This is the Christ, the Savior. And yet from our text, Herod despised Him, and plotted against Him, and the wise men worshiped Him. Both had an agenda. Herod was all about himself, a man bent on doing whatever it would take to get what he wanted. Herod would choose earthly treasure, pleasure, and power over eternal bliss and happiness. We would say, "How foolish!" But we are mistaken if we think that Herod was an extreme case. He was not. He represents all of us. We are more accurate if we look into our own hearts and admit that, but for the grace of God, we are just like him.
In the coming weeks we will see more of Herod and we will be appalled by the choices he made. He was an evil man. But we need to know that when Christ came, He came to save the lost and to transform hearts and minds. If you have any desire for Christ, if you are walking with Him at all, then please know that it is His work in you. You are not following Christ, none of us are following Christ because we're great, or smart, or better than anyone else – including Herod. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast." If you are a follower of Christ, then stop and praise Him, thank Him, give Him full credit for the work He has done in you. Any of us could have been Herod, or worse. But thank God that He transforms lives.
That is Herod – he was troubled by the news of Christ, in emotional turbulence and distress. He was anti-Christ, he loved only himself. The wise men on the other hand, they "rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” They “fell down and worshiped him.” What a contrast, what a difference! The wise men, they were not special really, they were not necessarily any better than Herod. Yet they worshiped Christ, they rejoiced in His coming. What had happened? God had visited them. God had revealed truth to them. God let them in on what was happening and who this baby Jesus truly was.
The confession is that they saw His star. It had been revealed to them that the star was Jesus' star, the Messiah’s star, the King of the Jews' star. And believing, what did they do? They worshiped with exceeding joy. What a contrast!
What is our response to the truth of who Jesus is? Do we worship Him as the one worthy of our worship, or do we just move along working to make something of ourselves and our little world? Do we recognize Jesus daily and rejoice with exceeding joy, or do we search for some other source of joy and happiness? Are we infatuated with power, prestige, and pleasure, or do we stand in awe of our Lord who hold all power in His hands and promises eternal gifts to His people? Are we more like Herod or the wise men?
If we are honest, we can all find days and times when we seem more like Herod. None of us are strangers to selfishness. But here is the thing: Christ won’t leave us there. He moves us on, one way or another. He is committed to our growth to be more like Him. If you are struggling to worship, to have joy in daily, ongoing worship, then He is near to help you. Cry out to Him, seek Him, believe Him, ask Him for help, to change your desires. He is faithful to His people, He has promised to be faithful!
The Christ has come. That is good news, awesome news! And He alone is worthy of our worship. Who or what will you worship?