It is always fitting to mention the birth of Christ during Advent, for that is what it is about. But did you know that Jesus’ birth carries far more weight and meaning to it than can be found in 1st century Bethlehem alone? His birth was the culmination of promise after promise after promise made by God to His people. This means that to properly understand the birth of Jesus one must understand that the birth of Jesus is not beginning of the story. You see, Jesus’ birth has roots and like a plant’s roots usually must go deep underground before the plant grows tall, there are prophetic gospel roots all throughout the Old Testament. In fact the whole of the Old Testament exists to prepare the way for the King of Kings hundreds and even thousands of years before He arrives on the scene. It is no small thing when the Author of the play walks on stage, and in the birth of Christ we have such an event.
For the next while I’ll be blogging through Matthew 2:1-12. It is the famous story of the Wise Men who came to see Jesus. Throughout this you’ll see why this passage is found within Matthew’s gospel rather than Mark, Luke, or John. Why is this so? Out of all 4 gospels it’s Matthew that uses the Old Testament most in describing how it all began.
Our text today following last week is Matthew 2:1-12. It easily divides into three sections, and I’ll walk through one at a time, hear the Word of God:
Matthew 2:1-2 says, “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 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.”
Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem of Judea while King Herod was ruling over Jerusalem. Immediately Matthew tells us of the famous wise men, or “magi” in the original Greek. He doesn’t tell us how many wise men there are (most people say there are 3 because there are 3 gifts) nor does Matthew tell us exactly where they came from. All we know from the account in Matthew is that there is a group of wise men coming from the East. Why did they come? Verse 2 tells they came asking a question: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” Why did they ask this question? Verse 2 continues with their reason, “For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”
Now, in order to understand this question and the reasoning behind it we have to look deeper into who the wise men were. Here’s what we know. When Jesus was born they saw a star rise in the East. Like today, not very many people in ancient times normally and habitually watched and noted the behavior and pattern of the stars. People notice them, and maybe even talk about them a little bit. But it was the Astrologers who studied and noted their individual and collective movements in ancient times. It is from this that most throughout history have concluded that the wise men were in fact learned Astrologers: watching, studying, noting, and learning from the patterns displayed in the heavens. Now, think about it. What large, affluent, urban city was east of Jerusalem at that time in history? Every map of this time will lead you to one answer, Babylon. It was large enough and affluent enough to have men within it that could devote their lives to the scholarly occupation of Astronomy. Therefore, I conclude that the wise men were learned Babylonian Astrologers who knew the heavens like the back of their hand, and when they saw something abnormal occur in the sky, like a star rising over Jerusalem, they not only noticed it, but ran toward it! This is no small thing. It was near 800 miles between Babylon and Jerusalem. It not only would have taken them a long time to travel that distance, but they would have needed a large group carrying a large number of supplies, and most of all, they would have needed a very good reason for being willing to travel such a distance. So why go? Remember, they were learned men who would have been familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. They knew what was going on, remember they said, “We saw HIS star rising, and have come to worship Him.”
For them, the star rising indicated a Person worthy of their worship had come. What led them to believe this? They knew the prophecy written down around 1600 years earlier found in Numbers 24:17 which says, “I see Him, but not now. I behold Him, but not near. A star shall come out of Jacob, a scepter shall come out of Israel.” You see it? A star will rise? A scepter shall come out of Israel? They saw the star, they knew that only a King could hold a scepter, and they knew He had finally come.
So off they went.