Monday, May 18, 2015

Visit of the Magi

Matthew 2:1-18

He stood rigid, hands clasped behind his back with his jaw slightly clenched, a subtle motion but one those closest to him understood clearly and sent his servants scurrying for hiding places. Herod was a ruthless man. Perhaps it was a trait necessary to keep his tenuous position as the Roman appointed King of Judea. Enemies lurked everywhere and he trusted no one: not his in-laws, blood relatives, or even his wife and sons*. He dispatched them accordingly as he felt their keen interest in his crown.

Now he looked out over his kingdom, squinting into the night, trying to discern what form the next threat would take. Danger was looming, he could feel it like the tap, tap, tapping of a woodpecker searching for vulnerable prey. But he was cunning and had his own ways of discovering the weakness in others and eliminating his adversaries before they could reach him. It was a deadly skill that served him well.

He reviewed the day’s events, especially pondering an earlier conversation. A contingent of prestigious visitors from the East, Magi, had appeared before his court respectfully requesting information. They were searching for a baby heir of the Jewish people. Ancient prophecies within the Jewish community foretold the birth of a king, a great leader that would save their people from all enemies. Herod was well aware of the stories as Jerusalem and the Jewish nation were under his jurisdiction. He was their King. And though he knew the Jewish baby’s birth jeopardized his kingdom, he kept his anger in check and cordially encouraged the Magi’s search offering whatever assistance they required.

The information he gleaned in return was helpful. The Jewish king’s birth was foretold by a star that appeared in the heavens and the Magi traveled a great distance following the luminous guide. It brought them to his domain. He immediately summoned all the Jewish leaders and inquired where they believed the Jewish king, the “Christ,” would be born.  They appeared nervous by the question and he hoped the Magi would not notice their distress. The Jews answered: “In Bethlehem in Judea,…for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel’” (Matthew 2:5-6).

He pleasantly thanked and dismissed them so he could have an opportunity to speak with the Magi alone. He asked the precise time and appearance of the star. Then he sent the Magi on their way to Bethlehem, blessing their journey with a final, humble request, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him” (v. 8). As soon as the Magi left his presence he turned, his lower lip raised in a slight, almost imperceptible curve as he began preparations to murder the infant.

The Magi did not return. After an appropriate period of waiting he realized their betrayal and was enraged. But he knew the city of the Jewish king’s birth, and he knew his approximate age, so he sent out an order “to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi” (v. 16). He applauded his own ingenuity. Another threat thwarted.

…But Jesus was no longer in Bethlehem.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.’ This is what the LORD says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,’ declares the LORD. ‘They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,’ declares the LORD. ‘Your children will return to their own land’” (Jeremiah 31:15-17).

*The NIV Study Bible.  Ed. Kenneth Barker et al. 10th ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.  1437 (notes).

Part I of a new devotional project, "Matthew: Back to the Beginning"

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