As we consider this familiar passage, I’d like us to view this as the story of kings and their worship. I’m not referring to the “We three kings of Orient are…” rather, just to the two kings––King Herod and King Jesus. The magi appear with the announcement that the King of the Jews has been born, and they have come in order to worship him. So who is the king and who gets the worship? We observe three responses to this worship for the king by the wise men, the Jewish religious leaders, and King Herod.
Ironic King of the Jews (vs. 1-3)
Mathew draws our attention to Herod being the king so we need to know what kind of king he was. By the time Jesus is born Herod has been ruling in Judea for around 40 years. He first came to power when Marc Antony (of the Cleopatra fame) made him the tetrach of the region and was then appointed “the King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. The chronology of Herod’s life reads like the biography of a mob boss with regular hit jobs for rivals mingled with lavish checks to the neighborhood charities. So when Herod, the King of the Jews, hears the report of a new born “King of the Jews,” all his well sharpened survival instincts kick in.
The Magi and the Star (vs. 2)
Who are these men that cause a ruckus for Herod and Jerusalem? Matthew describes them as wise men or magi from the East. Before they became associated with the nativity scene, magi would have been associated with kings and the ruling class. “Magi” was the Babylonian or Persian title given to priests, astrologers physicians, sorcerers who various kings in the ancient world consulted for their skill in interpreting omens, signs, and the stars.
Once the magi arrive in Jerusalem they start asking around, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East…” Perhaps the star is a reference to Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17, “I see Him, but not now: I behold him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A scepter shall rise out of Israel, and bater the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult.” And so these pagan magi from foreign nations follow the star in order to worship the King of the Jews.
Indifferent Priests and Scribes (vs. 4-6)
Herod the King is trouble and so assembles all the chief priests and scribes together and asks, “Where the Christ was to be born?” Did you get that? Not just the King of the Jews, but the Christ. They respond, “Bethlehem” while pointing to Micah’s prophecy (Micah 5:2). The Christ, the long expected Messiah, the promised deliver will be born about six miles down the road from Jerusalem. The Magi have travelled for hundreds, if not thousands of miles, and Jewish religious leaders can’t be bothered to go less than ten miles to find their Christ.
Do we not find ourselves following the easy option of the scribes and the priests? We too know the Bible answers about the Christmas story. We’ve heard it, read it, sung it hundreds of times. But are we hesitant to worship? Perhaps we think it’s all too inconvenient. Perhaps we fear being reported by the palace’s holiday tolerance division. And so we remain comfortable and safe in our religious shelters.
The magi follow the directions and the miraculous star leads them to Jesus. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (vs. 10). This the biblical language for jumping up in the air with high fives, fist pumps, sobbing tears and laughter. The magi bow down and worship the Christ child, the greatest gift God could give and has given. And from this worship they become like God and give their treasures. Here Jesus and Magi at the beginning picture what will happen at the end––all nations will come and bow down before Jesus Christ the King.
Christmas Reveals your Worship
Christmas reveals your worship. The question is not whether you will worship, but who will you worship? The options in this story were King Herod or King Jesus. But this new story presents itself as the Kingdom of Jesus continues to increase.
So here are the days we live in––Jesus has been born as the King of the Jews and the Messiah for the World. How ought you to respond? Don’t be like the scribes and chief priests. Don’t be content knowing all the facts about Christmas but indifferent to Jesus Christ. Don’t be like Herod who attempted to destroy King Jesus and his increasing kingdom. Those like Herod still actively seek to make Christmas Christ-less. Be like the wise men and worship. Celebrate your discovery that you have found the King. Bow before him and delight in the gift of the Son. Imitate the Father and offer him the treasures of your life. Splurge. Celebrate Christmas in such a way that makes Christ-less kings worry. Let your battle cry ring of “Merry Christmas.”