Matthew 2:1-12 – The King, Kings, and the King of Kings

A Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 26 Dec 2010


2:1. Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King, behold, magi from the East came along into Jerusalem, 2. saying, “Where is the One born king of the Jews? For we saw His star in the East and came to worship Him.”

3. Now, after hearing [this], Herod the King was agitated – and all Jerusalem with him,
4. and, gathering together all the people’s high priests and scribes, he was inquiring of them where the Christ is to be born.

5. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet, 6. ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least in the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come One who leads, who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7. Then after Herod privately called for the magi, he examined them concerning the timing of the star’s appearing. 8. Then he sent them into Bethlehem saying,
“After you are gone, start searching out exactly [the details] concerning the child,
and whenever you happen to make a finding, send a message out to me
          so that I might also come worship Him myself.”

9. So after their audience with the king, they went,
and behold, the star which they saw in the East was leading them forward
          until it came and stood above where the child was.

10. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced vigorously – great joy!

11. And when they had come into the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother,
and when they had dropped [to the ground], they worshipped Him,
and when they had opened their packs, they brought to Him gifts:
          gold and frankincense and myrrh.

12. And when they had been given information by a night-vision not to double back up to Herod, they withdrew into their country by another route.


There once were three grown sons who wanted to honor their mother at Christmas by giving her a special gift:

o       The first one built a big house for her.

o       The second son sent her a Mercedes.

o       The third remembered how his mom enjoyed reading the Bible, and noted that she couldn’t see very well anymore. So he sent her a remarkable parrot that had been trained to recite the entire Bible. It took elders in the church 12 years to teach him. You could just name the chapter and verse, and that parrot would recite it.


Soon thereafter, Mom sent out her letters of thanks:

o       "Dear Milton," she wrote the first son, "The house you built is too huge. I live in only one room, but I have to keep the whole house clean!"

o       "Dear Gerald," she wrote to another, "I am too old to travel. I stay at home most of the time, so I rarely use the Mercedes."

o       "Dearest Donald," she wrote to her third son, "You have the good sense to know what your Mother likes. The chicken was Dee-licious!"


o       In Matthew 1 we saw that Jesus’ earthly father was a descendant of the royal line of Israelite kings and that Joseph, although initially skeptical, was convinced by powerful proofs that Jesus was legitimate, so he took Mary as his wife and adopted Jesus as his son.

o       Now we see another testimony concerning the kingship of Jesus – the visit of the magi.

o       “The main purpose is to show the reception given by the world to the newborn Messianic King. Homage from afar, hostility at home; foreshadowing the fortunes of the new faith” (Bruce)

o       Verses 1-2 introduce 3 main characters: Jesus, King Herod, and Magi

King Herod: vs. 3-7

Who he was – RWP p.15 & 17

“We know from Matthew that Jesus was born while Herod was king, the Herod sometimes called Herod the Great… He was first Governor of Galilee, but had been king of Judaea since b.c. 40 (by Antony and Octavius). I call him “Herod the Great Pervert”... He was great in sin and in cruelty and had won the favour of the Emperor… Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus…”

o       Herod was an Edomite who worked hard to gain his political power. It took him a few tries to finally get the Roman emperor to make him king over Judea.

o       He worked hard to be worthy of the title of King of the Jews, rebuilding the temple, designing a new seaport in Caearea, and doing other magnificent building projects in Israel.

o       He stationed his palace right over the temple and kept a tight control over the Jewish religious leaders.

o       He had began his reign with a massacre of the Jewish Sanhedrin which consisted of 72 priests, scribes, and lay elders.

o       He did not allow high priests to stay in power very long, so he regularly replaced them. This accounts for there being a plurality of high priests in v. 4 when he calls them together – the high priest in office would have been convened along with previous high priests who were still alive. (JFB)


Herod’s response to the birth of Jesus

o       Agitated/troubled/disturbed (v.3)

o       Researches the details of Jesus’ birth in order to eliminate the threat of a usurper (vs. 4-8)

o       Tells a lie (v.8) – “I may worship Him also!”

o       Later we see him slaughtering all the toddlers in the region in an attempt to kill Jesus.

Magi: vs. 1-12

      Who they were –

o       East – perhaps Persia, Babylon, or Arabia

o       “Wycliffe renders kings. and there is a Roman Catholic tradition that this is the fulfillment of Psalm 72:10  that “the kings of Tarshish, of the Islands, and of Sheba would offer gifts to the Lord. (Calvin in his typical adversarial tone says that this is a “most ridiculous contrivance.”)

o       A priestly caste among the Persians and Medes, which occupied itself principally with the secrets of nature, astrology, and medicine. Daniel became president of such an order in Babylon (Dan_2:48). ~Vin.

o       Because three gifts are mentioned, tradition has it that there were three of these men, but Chrysostom, who lived in the second century wrote that there were 14.

o       The magi were known in history to predict the lives of great men through the arrangement of the stars:

o       Ruth Beechik in her book, Adam and His Kin, suggests that certain constellations were known in the ancient world to represent certain countries, and thus a new star or supernova occurring in the constellation of the lion would have indicated to the magi the coming into being of a great person in the country of Israel.

o       If this were true, we who believe in the eternal kingship of Jesus would have to say that special events on earth are not caused by the arrangement of the stars but rather than the same God who arranges events on earth also arranges the events of the heavens and can make them coincide if He wants to communicate important information in that way.

o       Although there are some scholars who have natural explanations rooted in the movements of stars, most commentators agree that whatever the phenomenon was, it was probably not something we can scientifically figure out. Some suggest that a meteorite streaked through the heavens and burned out right over the right house or that God made a light that only the magi could see.

      Their response to the birth of Jesus

o        Followed the star in faith (v.2&9) – got up and went!

“The scribes show… the way, and point out the place where he was born; but they allow [the magi] to depart alone: not one moves a step. They were afraid, perhaps, of Herod's cruelty: but it displayed wicked ingratitude that, for the sake of the salvation which had been offered to them, they were unwilling to undergo any risk, and cared less about the grace of God than about the frown of a tyrant. The whole nation… was so degenerate, that they chose rather to be oppressed with the yoke of tyranny, than to submit to any inconvenience arising from a change. If God had not fortified the minds of the Magi by his Spirit, they might have been discouraged by this state of things. But the ardor of their zeal is unabated; they set out without a guide. And yet the means of confirming their faith are not wanting; for they hear that the King, who had been pointed out to them by a star, was long ago described, in glowing language, by divine predictions… Christ was so far from having aught of royalty surrounding him, that he was in a meaner and more despised condition than any peasant child. But they are convinced that he is divinely appointed to be a King. This thought alone, deeply rooted in their minds, procures their reverence. They contemplate in the purpose of God his exalted rank, which is still concealed from outward view. Holding it for certain, that he will one day be different from what he now appears, they are not at all ashamed to render to him the honors of royalty.” ~Calvin

o       “Rejoiced vigorously” (v.10) – Joy is the result of faith confirmed (same with shepherds in Luke 2) Not just a casual happiness but a vigorous, wild extremity of partying!

o       Dropped to the ground and worshipped (v.11)
– this was not just “civil homage” but spiritual worship of one recognized as God (JFB).
– Feroze, a descendant of these people, confirmed that Parsees don’t bow to people,
    only to God.

o       Offered gifts (v.11)
– “Frequently used in the OT of the oblations presented to God, and in the NT exclusively of religious… offerings to God.” (JFB)
– Offering the best of their native country’s goods = by metonymy submitting the whole to Him. (Calvin)

o       Dialogued with God (v.12) – Not merely “warned” but “answered” (Wycliffe, Vincent) after prayer or “transacted business” (ATR) as in a covenantal relationship in which information was requested and “given” by God.

      The meaning of their gifts

o       Gold = money, royal prerogative of wealth

o       Frankencinse = only found in Arabia, God required import of it to go with burnt offerings in worship, act of worship and supply for One who will be a sacrifice and priest.

o       Myrrh = bitter embalming agent. Death as part of His mission, but preservation through death.


      Born “king of the Jews” v.2 – what Herod had to work for, Jesus owned by right.

      Fulfillment of prophecy: leader and shepherd of Israel (v.6)

o       The Jewish people – or at least their priests – knew the prophecy o Micah 5:1-3 which gave the location of the Messiah’s birth – Bethleham, the city where King David had been born.  – the very city to which Joseph had travelled (Luke 2) on account of the Roman census which had required him to move to his ancestral homeland.

o       Matthew here quotes the Jewish religious leaders as giving a loose translation of the Hebrew text of Micah – not quoting the Septuagint – and just taking bits and pieces of it as excerpts.

o       This prophecy, given some 300 years after David and some 700 years before Jesus, predicted the rise of a leader who would distinguish the town of Bethlehem again.

o       The Greek word translated “leader/ruler/prince” is the one we get the English word “hegemony” from – it has to do with authority to govern.

o       Micah prophecied that this leader/ruler would shepherd God’s people. “The whole office of the shepherd included - guiding, guarding, folding, as well as feeding…
- Homer calls kings “the shepherds of the people.”
- Jesus called Himself the good shepherd (Joh_10:11).
- Peter calls him the Shepherd of Souls (1Pe_2:25), and the Chief Shepherd (1Pe_5:4);
- in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb_13:20), He is styled the great Shepherd of the sheep.
- In Rev. “the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall be their shepherd (Rev_7:17).” (Vincent)

o       King of Kings who receives homage from gentiles v.11

o       v.12 supplanter of Herod  - Another King is obeyed instead of Herod. Jesus receives immunity from Herod’s command to expose Him.


Matthew’s purpose in writing this story is to call us to treat the kingship of Jesus seriously


Herod and magi took Him seriously; not to do so is a mistake.


What does it mean to treat Jesus seriously as King?


Let us follow the example of the magi, fellow-Gentiles who were the first to worship Jesus: