Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Matthew 2:1-12 - "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea . . ."

Traditional Christmas lore celebrates the three wise men (you know, "We Three Kings of Orient Are" and all that), yet this passage never specifies how many wise men came seeking the Christ child. Maybe there were three, maybe there were more. What interests me about these guys is that they were Gentiles. They came "from the east" to Jerusalem, and after they had paid homage to the child they "departed to their own country." They are portrayed as being far more in touch with the Messiah's birth than the Jewish people or their leaders. They show up in Jerusalem assuming the news must already be widespread. They go around asking, "So . . . where do we go to sign up for the next tour group to the Messiah's birth site?" And everyone goes, "Huh? What birth?"

So the wise men, in making their innocent inquiries, end up being heralds of the newborn Jewish king. I'm not sure why all Jerusalem would be "troubled" by their news (v. 3). Perhaps they feared King Herod's wrath when he learned that a rival king had been born among their people. Maybe that fear is what hindered most of the Jewish people from embracing this news as wholeheartedly as these Gentile strangers did.

King Herod gets to work. He learns from the chief priests and scribes how the prophets foretold of the Christ child being born in Bethlehem. Then he summons the wise men to find out when they think this birth might have occurred. Except Herod makes the mistake of trusting the wise men, probably because they were Gentiles. He sends them on a mission to report back to him about the location of the child, making some baloney excuse about also wanting to "come and worship him."

But I have a feeling the wise men didn't buy it. They were wise men after all. They take off from Herod's place to go look for the star--which, oddly enough, runs on ahead of them and stops over the house where Mary and the child were staying (very un-star-like behavior). They enter, worship the child, present him with gifts, then take off in the other direction. A dream had warned them against returning to Herod back the way they came. The consequences of that betrayal would be dreadful, as our next passage will tell.

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