“Born? in Bethlehem; Back to Burn Incense”

Worship or Wandering?

Matthew 2:1-12

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER, WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”  Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him.” And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.”

I hesitate to bring Luke’s account into this because I want to show Matthew’s aspirations to his audience, not Luke’s. However, they tell different aspects of the same story and are both synoptic gospels. That is to say they show the story of Jesus through​ a very similar lens. Nevertheless, concerning the birth of Jesus, they​ each focus in on different facets. Knowing Luke’s account will amplify Matthew’s. So let’s do this–highlights at least.

Luke 2:1+3-4, “Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth…And all were proceeding to register for the census, everyone to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.”

Now we have some background. Returning to Matthew; “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…” I am sorry, but it is time for a grammar lesson.  I take after my aunt, who wished me a “happy birthday” after my birthday after she saw me. We both enjoy correcting people’s grammar after they​ make a mistake. Whether or not this statement is true is irrelevant, it’s the grammar I want us to see. I used the word after, four times. I used it as an adverb, a preposition and as a conjunction. But I am sure you all picked up on that. I know what you’re thinking, “Get to the point, Russell!” Notice the word “after” in Matthew 2:1; what part of speech is it? Does it modify a verb? Is it followed by a noun? In this particular case, the word, after, is used as a conjunction. Conjunction, what’s your function? The Greek word used is fairly generic, it could be translated as, then, after, or moreover. The conjunction ties the passage to what we have read previously. The point is that the events are continuous, but that time has elapsed. For example; this happened then that happened.  The statements are linked but separated. Why waste time on one little word? (If I can’t teach the Bible, I will teach grammar.) The author’s aspirations to his audience is to understand that while the story continues, time has elapsed. We are not told how much, however, we can make an educated guess based on the context. A conjunction is used in the text so that the reader understands Jesus has already been born. He is alive and well and dwelling on the earth.

After Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph were still in Judea and we will soon see why. Matthew is literature, it’s a historical story and history is about people–enter Herod the King. The only problem is that Herod wasn’t really a king, but a puppet king of Rome and Augustus pulled his strings. We see this in Luke 2. Nevertheless, we’ll see in the context that he considered himself king of the Jews. Jesus was born during the days of Herod and was dwelling in Judea for a period of time after he was born. This is very important–keep it in mind, we will see it unfold as we continue.

Enter more characters, the magi. How many magi were there? We are not told. We recall lines from songs, such as, “we three kings of orient are…” However, that is a song and not the gospel. They weren’t kings, they probably weren’t from oriental territory, and we are not told the number of them. What we are told is the following: “magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.’”

In an attempt to briefly translate the word, “magi,” the King James version was the first to call them, “wise men,” and this translation stuck. It’s not a terrible translation because they were a curious cast of scholars who studied stars amongst other activities. Also, they did seek out the Messiah and we would find that to be wise. Yet they also practiced magic, in fact, the word comes from”magi.” They were men of study, yet also men of practices that would be considered “unclean” by the Mosaic Law. We can also assume that they were uncircumcised. This will become important as we roll along.

The magi saw the star and came to worship the King of the Jews. This caused quite a stir, notice the context; “and when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” All Jerusalem was troubled over three magi arriving in Jerusalem looking for a newborn king? I’m sorry, I believe there had to be more than three. Why were they troubled over a newborn king? Did Herod feel threatened by a baby? He did, most megalomania sufferers lean towards a persecution complex and insecurities. But why was Jerusalem troubled? The Greek word translated as, “troubled,” in the NASB, literally means, “to shake.” The people were, stirred up, agitated or troubled at the magi’s quest. One can only speculate why, but I have my opinions. It will be the same for us, they weren’t ready. But for Herod, the context clearly presents his dismay, he felt threatened by a baby boy. Which is ironic because we read last time that Jesus came to save his people from sin. I guess Herod wasn’t one of his people. The immediate context confirms. He gathered “together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born.” He knew of the religion but wasn’t much of a participant, although he did refurbish and expand the temple. Nevertheless, he had his answer.

“And they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER, WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’” This is incredible and incredibly horrible. First, as we recall Luke’s account, Joseph and Mary were in Nazareth, However, according to the prophecy, Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem. That’s a big problem. Actually, for God it wasn’t. It was not a problem at all. Mary and Joseph were in the wrong city. They needed to be in Bethlehem. But God, who easily could have sent another angel to instruct Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem, uses the emperor of the known world to get them there. That’s the incredible part. The incredibly horrible part is that after being stirred up and asked where the Messiah was to be born, the priests and scribes don’t go and see. Notice, the unclean, uncircumcised magi seek the Messiah, while the priests do not. The non-jews go searching while the Jews who are perpetually seeking the Messiah stay put, they’re completely disinterested.

They answer where the Christ is going to be born, by quoting Micah 5:2, but not the entire context. Notice: “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​. Therefore, He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth. And this One will be our peace.” Did they return, or was it the unclean, uncircumcised magi that sought out the Messiah? Look at the prophecy, Jesus is; the shepherd, great, existed from eternity, and yet the priests went on about their business. It’s almost as if they couldn’t be bothered.

Exit the priests and scribes; then Herod asked the magi when they saw the star. Then he sent them the five miles to Bethlehem to search for the child. That’s right, the Messiah was 5 miles away and no one but the unclean, uncircumcised magi went to find him. One hour of walking and they would be with the long-awaited Messiah. Do you see what I see? Remembering my Revelation rants, the people were too busy with their religion and their world to follow after the Lamb. “Where is the Messiah to be born, these men from the East have seen his star?” “Bethlehem…Well, back to the temple.” It’s the difference between the “come and see” and the “go and tell.” We’ll get back to this. In case you missed it, THEIR MESSIAH WAS FIVE MILES AWAY! No one went but the magi. Herod asked them to tell him where the Messiah was so that he could go worship him. But that’s a big fat lie. If he truly desired to truly worship he would have got up and gone. His evil intent is also laid out for us further on in the context.

This is fairly speculative on my part but based on the context and the apparent aspirations to the audience, I believe that Herod was jealous of the baby boy and the priests held an opposite approach. After all, how can a baby shepherd? I can’t help but see the church, and myself in them. They knew the answer to the question based on Scripture–Bethlehem. But if they focused for more than two seconds on the context they would know that God was among them. Rather than be with God, they went to the temple, doing all their priestly duties.

But the dirty, uncircumcised, foreigners went to be with the Messiah. Matthew doesn’t quote this, but I will; “Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, And a nation which knows you not will run to you, Because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; For He has glorified you.” Isaiah 55:5, and there are many others. So many that I believe Matthew intended for the reader to understand.

The foreigners went and found the Messiah, following the star. Don’t get bogged down with the stupid star! There, I said it. With all we’ve seen, someone will still always wonder about the star. Search the scripture for all it’s worth, you will not find an explanation of how the star worked. God got Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem through a decree from Caesar Augustus, A.K.A, “Emperor of Emperors, Son of God the Majestic, and we worry about a star.?Don’t lose sleep over it, it’s one of God’s unexplained mysteries. With that said, shy away from those who claim insight into the star. However, do notice the exceedingly great joy of which the magi displayed. As the star led them to the place where the Messiah was, they rejoiced. When is the last time you rejoiced with exceedingly great joy, or great joy, or joy? If you have read my missives on Revelation, you have seen two cities. Those with the mark of the Lamb and those with the mark of the beast–heavenly and earthly. Which mark do the magi display? Which mark do the priests display? So joyful were the magi that they gave the Lord gifts of Gold, frankincense and myrrh. Again, don’t get bogged down with the gifts. Don’t base your Christmas on gift giving. Base your Christmas on the incredible fore-sight of the Lord. Base it on the context and celebrate every day. Is there significance in the gifts? Probably and it was probably clear to the first century audience, but everything I have read in modern times is completely dubious and frankly unfruitful. Honestly ask yourself, why do the gifts matter other than the expression of the magi of worship? There is no command there, no request for our gold. It is a historical event. We need to focus on what truly matters, the exceedingly great rejoicing, the going, and the following. The star and the gifts are nouns, we need to focus on the verbs, mostly. We do need to see that the magi were led to a house. Not a barn, stable, cave, manger or a tent, but a house. That is a more permanent dwelling. This was clearly after the birth of Jesus. More insight into the timing will be seen soon.

After all these things, the magi were warned by God to not go home by way of Jerusalem. And once more, the unclean, uncircumcised, foreign magi, followed God, not the best route.

…To be continued and confirmed…