1 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, 2 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.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
day of Epiphany
When I say epiphany, I’m not referring to a sudden insight into something. I’m referring to January 6th (12 days after Christmas; yes, there is a reason for the song having 12 days) the day we celebrate the appearance of Christ to the wise men; The day of Epiphany.
What’s so significant about this day?
The word epiphany means “to show, make known, or reveal”. In general, the day of Epiphany celebrates the reveal of God in human form. The significance behind the visit of the wise men is that their visit and long journey was all done to expose this baby as the Christ child, as the Lord and King.
We don’t know much about these three men, but tradition says they were men of high position from Parthia, near the site of ancient Babylon. That makes them Gentiles (a person who is not Jewish), not a Jew like Jesus. The Gentiles were all but enemies of the Jews. So it’s a little odd that Gentiles, the wise men, were the ones who first publicly recognized Jesus as Lord and King.
It would have made a whole lot more sense if the wise men were Jews, since the Jews were the ones waiting for this Messiah to come. Yet here we see, God telling us that Jesus wasn’t just for the Jews, but for all people. So, for many Christians, Epiphany isn’t just the reveal of God as flesh, but a reminder of God’s unlimited love and mercy for all people.
There are three things that I ponder on when I read this story.
1. King Herod was greatly disturbed
Who is this joker? They called him Herod the Great! Great is not the word I would use for him. He was ruthless and an evil man. He was so ruthless that he even murdered many in his own family.
He thought he was big stuff because he was king over the land of Israel. The land of Israel was basically divided into four political districts under Rome’s control; Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and Idumea. King Herod was king over all four of these districts. Bethlehem and Jerusalem were in Judea, about 5 miles apart. That’s where this story happens.
The part that strikes me the most about Herod is that when the wise men entered Jerusalem asking where the newborn king of the Jews was, King Herod was greatly disturbed. He was jealous that someone called someone else a king. You know what? He had every reason to be disturbed because he was not a rightful heir to the throne of David. Scripture says that God promised the coming Messiah (the King) would be a descant of David. Herod would have known this because he’s ruling in a Jewish area. Also, He had many enemies so if Jesus really was an heir, he felt trouble was sure to arise. Jesus was perceived as a threat to his seat in power.
The text tells us that not only was Herod disturbed, but so was everyone else in Jerusalem. You’d think knowing the Messiah was born would bring you comfort and joy. This was who you have been waiting you’re whole life for as well as many generations before you. But the scriptures say they were deeply disturbed. I don’t think they were disturbed necessarily in the same way Herod was. Like most of us, we don’t always like to admit our mistakes and take ownership of them, and neither did they. Things have not changed much. Jesus does still disturb people today.
- If God entered our world today, would you do anything different in your lives?
- Would you try to hurry up and make things right in our life?
- Would you do nothing, thinking that it’s too late to change?
- Would you just make excuses for your actions?
- Would you acknowledge Jesus as the rightful King of your life, acknowledge your wrong doings and then just move towards him?
2. The Wise Men and the star
A couple things stand out to me about the wise men. We don’t know much at all about them. We know that they were probably upstanding men of high position from Parthia, near Babylon where the Israelites were held in captivity for 70 years.
We don’t actually hear from the wise men themselves. It’s believed that Mary gave the accounts to the authors of the two gospels that tell of Jesus’ birth. So she would have told her side of the story and all that she knew. In her story, she tells of how the wise men said they saw Jesus’ star. Numbers 24:17 says: “A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel.”
But how did they know this was the right star to be following?
Some say this star was extra bright because it may have been a conjunction of three planets, and others offer other explanations, but either way God, who created the heavens, could certainly have created a special star to signal the arrival of his Son in any way he wanted to.
But how did they know what they would find after following this star?
There are a couple of reasons to consider…
- They could have been descents of Jews who remained in Babylon after the exile and would have known the OT predictions of the Messiah’s coming. So they followed the clues….there are a hundred + prophesies in the OT.
- Or they may have been eastern astrologers who studied ancient manuscripts from around the world. Because of the Jewish exile centuries earlier, they would have had copies of the OT in their land.
- Or they may have had a special message from God directing them to the Messiah, like the shepherds, Mary and Joseph all had. Nothing is impossible with God. We just don’t know because we don’t hear the account from the wise men themselves.
Either way, we know the wise men followed a star traveling thousands of miles to see the king of the Jews, and Herod knew this which is why he was so deeply disturbed as well as the others.
3. Priests and teachers: Why didn’t they know it was time
It’s likely that the wise men knew of the OT prophesies, but the leading priests and teachers of religious law absolutely did. Yet it was the wise men who were the ones who told Herod about them! Matthew repeatedly highlights the priests’ and teachers’ knowledge of the OT prophecies; yet they were not the ones who went and worshiped this newborn king!
Ironically, these same religious leaders became Jesus’ greatest enemies later on.
Can you image how the wise men felt when they actually found him?
According to our scripture today, the wise men didn’t know the specifics of where in Bethlehem to find Jesus. But yet they came confidently, asking where the child is.
In that day, traveling hundreds of miles would not of been easy or very safe. It would have taken months to accomplish, maybe even up to two years.
And to be honest with you, no matter how many manuscripts gave you clues as to when it would be or how bright a star would shine, it’s still a little absurd to follow a star for hundreds of miles just to see a newborn child, unless something deeper is calling you, and you believe.
What these wise men did is the essence of true worship – honoring Christ for who he is and being willing to give him what is valuable to you. Going way out of your way, bringing gifts of great worth and worshiping Jesus for who he is.
Please worship God because he is the perfect, just, and almighty Creator of the universe, worthy of the best we have to give. Many times we expect God to come looking for us, to explain himself, prove who He is, and give US gifts. But those who are wise, seek Him and worship Him, not for what they can get, but for who God is, for who Jesus is.