6 January 2015

Matthew 2:1-12

“When they saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed by joy.” (v. 10)

Psalm: Psalm 72


Today is Epiphany, the date in the Church's calendar in which Christians remember the visit of the wise men from the East to present gifts to Jesus. The story is found in Matthew's Gospel and shows that this Jewish Messiah has universal significance - his birth, life, death and resurrection will affect those of distant lands as well as the people of Israel.

The story is well known, not least from the many Nativities that school children acted out in the weeks before Christmas (at my child's school, aliens were also involved!) The wise men - probably Persian astrologers - follow a star that comes to rest over the town of Bethlehem, signalling to them the location of the coming king. Such stargazing was common in the ancient world, even if the Jewish scriptures warned against it (Deuteronomy 4:19).

On their way to Bethlehem, the wise men visit Herod the Great, who ruled Judea from 37 BC to AD 4. Herod expresses a wish to pay homage to the new-born king (verse 2), and only later in the story do the wise men learn of Herod's real intentions in a dream (verse 12). On their arrival at Jesus' place of birth, the wise men present gifts from their treasure chests to Jesus. These 'foreigners' recognise the significance of this birth. Matthew's Gospel also notes that - through his birth in Bethlehem - Jesus fulfils Scriptures that identity the town as the birthplace of the coming Davidic king (with verse 6 combining a reference to Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2).

We see in this passage a clash of worldly power with the glory of a kingdom that begins with a humble baby's birth. Whereas Herod the Great sought to kill the infant Messiah, the wise men sought to worship him. The shepherd of Israel is the ruler of the world who reveals God to all, whether Jew or Gentile (non Jew).

To Ponder

  • How does Jesus' humble birth shape your understanding of his mission?
  • How might 'outsiders' to the community of faith recognise something of Jesus' identity today?
  • The wise men brought gifts to Jesus. In what ways do you express your thanks for all that Jesus has done?

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the Discipleship Development Officer for the Methodist Church and an Associate Lecturer at Cliff College. He lives in Derbyshire with his wife Ali and their two sons.