To continue the story of Christmas, the scene must shift to the book of Matthew. His telling started with the long genealogy to share the lineage of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, and give us the clear line from Abraham and Isaac. This retelling of the lineage confirms the prophecy regarding Jesus and the connection to David, but in the retelling I get caught up in the others in the lineage as well.
My memory pauses with the story of Jacob and Joseph and the turmoil in that family as well as how the Lord used Joseph to save the people of Israel. Two of my favorite stops as I read through the names are when I come to Rahab and Ruth. Here I see two women who were not themselves of the royal bloodline of the Jews. Rahab, a harlot, cooperates with God’s plan when the spies look for shelter and is given a place of honor in this royal line leading to Jesus.
Ruth, a Moabite, also is honored and “adopted” into the heritage when her hesed love causes her to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel after her husband has died. The beautiful story of Boaz and Ruth unfolds and I see God’s providence and provision for Ruth. I also see His reward to her for her faithfulness.
These stories remind me of my own grafting into His story as generation after generation of God’s own continues.
Matthew shifts the scene after this review of the genealogy by simply stating, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king”. He brings me into the throne room of Herod in Jerusalem by letting me see Herod has visitors from the east. Wise men.
These wise men or magi have arrived seeking Herod’s help to show them where “the king of the Jews” has been born as a result of seeing “his star when it rose”. They tell Herod they have come here to worship this new king. Initially, it seems the wise men do not know that this will definitely not please Herod.
Herod assembles all of his priests and scribes together to ask them what they know about this. They share with him the prophecy that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem and that He would shepherd the people of Israel, which confirms what the wise men already know.
This is clearly not good news to Herod who recognizes this will pose a threat to his leadership and that of all Rome perhaps. He hopes to thwart that possibility of a plan he cunningly shares with the wise men.
He calls them secretly together and asks them when the star appears and then sends them off to nearby Bethlehem asking them to find this child and then let him know so he can also come and worship this new King. He hopes this scheme will work and they will find this child, soon to be king, and bring back the information he seeks so he can kill Him and neutralize the threat rather than to worship Him as he has said.
I wonder if the wise men trust and believe Herod. At this point in the story there is no evidence to say they did not.
Who were these unnamed wise men?
Magi were a name originally used for priests and wise men among the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians. I would be looking at the modern day areas of Iraq, Iran, portions of Turkey, and Armenia. Later, the name was presented to the Greeks as a foreign system of divination and the religion of a foe the Greeks had conquered.
By the time we get to the place in our story in the New Testament the magi or wise men were likely seen as astronomers and astrologers. This would fit for me if the line were traced back to the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians.
It was not the first time that God used these cultures and peoples in connection with His chosen people. Nebuchadnezzar quickly comes to mind.
What a paradox! God brings lowly shepherds and magi of another culture and faith to testify to and acknowledge the Son of God, Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords has been born to bring good tidings of great joy!
Truly, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!