The Gospel of Matthew is a presentation to the reader that Jesus is the king we need to save us from our sins and bring us near to God. God wants to live with his people. In Matthew 1:23 we see that in Jesus God is now living with us. New life and new hope is available because God has not abandoned his desire to be with his people. Rather, the king has come to make it so that we can be with him. This brings us to Matthew 2 where we are given a picture of our need to worship the king.
The Hidden King (2:1-4)
We begin in Matthew’s account by jumping to after the birth of Jesus. Wise men from the east come to Jerusalem seeking the one who has been born the king of the Jews. These wise men are going around Jerusalem asking people where the king is because they saw his star appear and have come to worship him. Now we need to consider who these people are. These “wise men” or “magi,” depending on your translation, would be a priestly caste of magicians and astrologers who were considered wise in interpreting the stars. Coming from the east indicates that these would have come from Babylon or Persia or Arabia. So these are ancient astrologers are Gentiles coming from the east because they saw the king’s star. There is no reason to think that there would only be three of them. This would likely be a large entourage because of the great distance that is being travel to come from the Babylon/Persian/Arabian area to Judea. They are traveling hundreds of miles to find the king. Through this star, God is leading these astrologers to find the king and worship him. God is using their modern science to show the need to worship him.
But notice the response of Israel in verse 3. Herod and all of Jerusalem are troubled when they heard this. This should be shocking to read. The wise men declare the king of the Jews has been born and are looking to worship him. The response of the people of Jerusalem and the leaders is not excitement that the king has finally come for his people. No, they are troubled and disturbed. They are alarmed by this news and are not joyful. Further, Herod must assemble the chief priests and the scribes to find out where the Christ was to be born. The king has come and Jerusalem is not ready for him. In fact, they are upset by the news of his arrival.
The Message of the King (2:5-8)
So the chief priests of Jerusalem respond that the king was supposed to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. This comes from the prophecy found in Micah 5. In Matthew 2:6 they quote the relevant passage about the coming of the Christ. Out of Bethlehem will come a ruler who will shepherd the people of Israel. Upon consulting the scriptures, we find out that Bethlehem is the place where the king is supposed to be born. But the quotation from Micah’s prophecy should have generated even more excitement. The context of the prophecy is about how God was going to give up his nations until the birth of this child in Bethlehem (Micah 5:3). When the child is born, then the rest will return to the people of Israel. “He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God” (Micah 5:4). Not only this, but listen to the result. “And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:4-5). The people will be delivered from world powers (5:6), the remnant will be blessed and restored (5:7-9), and sins will be purged (5:10-15). This quotation should fill everyone with hope and joy all the more. Not only has the king come, but the meaning of the birth of this king should be overwhelming. He is going to bring the people back and shepherd his people in the strength of the Lord. He is going to bring security and peace to his people as he rules in greatness over the whole earth.
Now Herod makes it look like that he is also interested in worshiping the king just like these wise men. Herod tells the wise men to go find the child. When you find him, report the location back to me so that I can go and worship him also.
The Worship of the King (2:9-12)
So the wise men go on their way to find the king. God sends a star for these wise men to follow until it rests over the house where the child was. Notice the contrast of the rest of Jerusalem. When they saw the star, these wise men were overwhelmed with joy. Jerusalem and Herod were not overwhelmed with joy but were disturbed. But they did not even see this star. They do not see and they do not seek.
In fact, they do not seek even now. Even though these wise men declare that they have seen the star of the king and the chief priests have confirmed that the king was to be born in Bethlehem, none of Jerusalem go with these men. Herod does not. The religious leaders do not. Israel does not. Only these Gentile astrologers will go to great length to pursue and worship the king. They come to the house and see Mary and the child. Please notice the words. These wise men fell down and worshiped him. They worshiped him and presented him with gifts because the king has come. They giving their gifts to the king as representatives of the Gentile nations. But the representatives of the Jewish nation are not.
But what I want us to see in this text that is presented for us is that there are three responses to the arrival of the king. The first response is found in Herod. We are told in verse 12 that the wise men were told in a dream not to go back to Herod. Herod is about to begin his search. But his search is not to worship the child, but to destroy the child (2:13). The first response to Jesus is hostility. Jesus brings out hostility. It is interesting that people think of Christmas time as joy and peace. But the whole of Matthew 2 is about a hostility that exists over Jesus’ arrival. Why is there hostility?
To simplify the problem, it boils down to a loss of power and control. For Herod, he is the king over Judea and cannot have a rival king to his throne. To put this another way, he is not going to submit to this king. He will kill him so that he can maintain his power and control. This is the ultimate reason for hostility against Jesus. We do not want to submit to a king. We want to be the king over our own lives. We want to be in charge. We do not want to be told what to do. We do not want to be told what is right and what is wrong. We will not yield to anyone. No right, no wrong, no rules for me, because I am free. We will be hostile to anyone who tells us otherwise. This is the message of Psalm 2. Nations and peoples are going to rage against God and his anointed. The hostility will spill over to those who are seeking Jesus. Even the wise men have to go back another way and not come back to Herod. The birth of Jesus is showing us that hostility is going to be the primary response to his arrival.
The second response to the arrival of Jesus is found in the chief priests and scribes. They are indifferent. They know the scriptures. They know the prophecy. They are able to understand what the scriptures were talking about. But the scriptures did nothing to their hearts. They did not have joy at the news of Jesus’ arrival. They did not determine to follow the wise men until they found Jesus. They did not search themselves to find the new king. There is no action. This is also a common response. We can hear the news, we can know the scriptures, but there is nothing that happens. This is the character of many religious people. They do things that make themselves look like they are spiritual, but there is no fruit. There is no life transformation. There is not a devotion to God. At the end of the day, it really is that Jesus is just a mild interest. We are not going to devote ourselves. We are not going to give ourselves. We are not going to hostile against Jesus and his followers. But we are not going to do much for Jesus either.
The third response to the arrival of Jesus is seen in the wise men. They travel a great distance, sacrificing much to seek Jesus. They will not be stopped until they find Jesus. Once they find Jesus, they worship Jesus with costly gifts. We are supposed to see that this is the essence of worship. Worship is not indifference. Worship does not say that this is not important to us. Worship is about declaring someone or something as the primary life value so that you will give everything and devote your life to that person or thing. If you do not care about it, you do not worship it. If you are indifferent to it, then you do not worship it. If it does not move you and change you, then you do not worship it.
But I want to zero in on one very important aspect about worship. True worship is voluntary because it comes from joy. Authorities and powers can make people do external acts that appear like worship, like bowing or kissing the hand or something like that. But real worship is joyfully voluntary. We see this with these wise men. Notice the emphasis of verse 10. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” It was joy upon joy so that they found the child, bowed down, and worshiped him. Worshiping the king means that we want to make any sacrifice for him. Worshiping the king means we are joyfully seeking him. Worshiping the king means we want to bring our gifts to him. Worshiping the king means we desire to give our lives to him and submit ourselves to him. Worship is offering our gifts to him joyfully.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. (Romans 12:1 CSB)
So what is your response to the arrival of Jesus? Jesus has come to be with us, reversing our condition, forgiving our sins, removing the wrath we deserve, and making peace with us. Will we be hostile to him and his message, indifferent to him and his message, or worship him for his glorious message?