Matthew – Fulfilled
It is so like me to put something of value in a “special place” so I can find it later when I need it. Then I promptly forget where that special place is until I stop, think and retrace my thoughts and steps back to that place. It seems we spend a lifetime losing and finding, don’t we? What is sadder is losing and never finding.
In second chapter, Matthew tells the story of the Magi, magicians who studied the stars and have learned their craft well enough to be well paid and honored in their country. These people were Gentiles to be sure, from Persia. They see an extraordinary star in the sky, unlike any of the other stars they have studied and assume it is in honor of the birth of a new king.
The scholars of astrology are compelled to search the place where this star hovers. They calculate the trip to take many days, even months. This must have involved a lot of tedious planning. Funds to pay for the journey are gathered. Servants are summoned to prepare food, water, clothing and other needed provisions for this great band of people and animals. Special, valued gifts produced by their country are decided on and packed carefully. These gifts will be given to pay homage and gain favor of the new King. This will be a good “public relations” move on their part.
Everything is packed. There is no GPS, only the star to guide them.
Who will lead the camels? Who will be in charge? What path will they take? All these decisions are made and the search for the king begins. They are focused and ready.
Matthew 2, The Message
Scholars from the East
1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”
3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5-6 They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:
It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”
7-8 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”
9-10 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!
11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.
12 In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.
What do we learn?
This passage reminds us that we must preach the gospel to all people because we cannot always predict who will hear the message and who will not. Those we least expect to honor Jesus may worship him, and those we least expect to oppose him may seek his death. Mm.
This passage confronts us to contrast the main characters. The Magi seek to worship Jesus; Herod seeks his death; Jerusalem’s religious elite take Jesus for granted. We must identify with the pagan Magi rather than with Herod or Jerusalem’s religious elite, and are compelled to recognize God’s interest in the mission to the Gentiles. The God who sought servants like the Roman centurion (8:5-13) from the pagan west also sought previously pagan servants from the east like the Magi. Wow!
Without condoning astrology, Matthew’s narrative challenges our prejudice against outsiders to our faith: even the most pagan of pagans may respond to Jesus if given the opportunity. What a resounding call for the church today to pursue a culturally sensitive yet uncompromising commitment to missions!
The search is almost complete. Yet even supernatural guidance like the star can take the astrologers only so far; for more specific direction they must ask the leaders in Jerusalem where the king is to be born (2:2). That is, their celestial revelation was only partial; they must finally submit to God’s revelation in the Scriptures, preserved by the Jewish people.
Another central character in this narrative is Herod (2:3, 7-8). That Herod is dismayed by the Magi’s announcement is not surprising (2:3); in this period most Greeks, Romans and even Jews respected astrological predictions. Further, a cosmic signal of another ruler would necessarily indicate the end of the current ruler’s reign. Herod, reigning over God’s people, becomes the enemy to Christ, God’s agenda.
When we side with the politically powerful to seek human help against common foes, we could actually find ourselves fighting God’s agendas. Jesus came and served among the weakest, depending solely on God’s vindication. Mm, something to think about.
Dear Heavenly Father, When we think and meditate on Your Story of You come down from heaven, we are in awe of the details You arranged. We still only scratch the surface of Your ways and means of accomplishing Your mission to save the world. Thank you for shedding light on the dark places and helping us understand your greater truth. Help us to live what we are learning from You.
In Jesus Name, Amen