Magistrates From the East

There is a way of experiencing God in our heads without ever walking with him by faith. This is the danger faced by those who set themselves to the study of God’s word. This is a good pursuit. God’s word is living and active and sharper than any double edged sword. It is useful for teaching, correction, instruction and rebuking. We should seek to understand it and rightly apply it. But we need to be careful to understand that we are not sent out to “teach everything Jesus commanded.” We are sent out to teach “to obey everything Jesus commanded.” When we hear and believe Jesus’ words “blessed are [we] if [we] do them.”

Mat 2:1-12 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.

In this passage are three types of leadership. We have King Herod, Magi from the East, and the spiritual leadership of Israel. Herod was thought to be of Edomite descent and he ruled on behalf of the Roman empire. He was proud, cunning, and ruthless. Herod had a desire for grand architectural works and much of the ruins in Israel can be dated back to his rule and reign. He spent decades renovating the temple of God in Jerusalem. He did not do this from any love for the Lord, but from the pride of his own labor. God did not play much of a role in his life’s decisions at all.

By contrast there were an unnumbered group of Magi who came from the East. Tradition numbers them by the number of gifts they brought, but we are not told much about them. We know they were from the East, probably Babylon or Persia. The name Magi refers to their role as magistrates in that land. In Israel’s history they had been taken captive in these lands and God protected them there. He even raised up young men to serve as wise men and magistrates. Chief among them was Daniel. Daniel is well known for his faithful obedience to God and he prophesied of the coming Messiah. It is likely his influence that has led these men, so many years later to look to the sky and seek to follow the star they saw there to Israel.

When they arrived they began to ask those they met specifically where they might find the king who had come. Their assumption is that these people must have been waiting and anticipating the coming of this king. Indeed they have been. The Magistrates assume they know where to expect their king to be. Indeed they did know where to look. This brings us to the third group of leaders.

The chief priests and scribes of the people were called in to examine the scriptures and reveal where the Messiah was to come. The spiritual leaders of Israel had the knowledge. They knew God would send a king to shepherd his people and that this king would be born in Bethlehem. They had been eagerly anticipating his coming. But all of this knowledge lies dead in their heads without faith to move them to go with the magistrates from the east and worship the messiah themselves. They are not filled with excitement. They are frozen.

Herod, who does not consider God, now moves in jealousy to protect his throne with murderous intent. He would not bow before the true king. The religious leaders, in their apathy, would fail to bow before the true king. But the Magi went to the house, led by the star. This could not be a naturally occurring astronomical event to lead them so directly to the house Jesus was in with his mother. The Magi entered the house and presented their gifts of royalty, of worship, or embalming. And they worshipped him.

Here is a great grace. Those who were far off have been brought near by faith in Jesus. This is a great hope to the nations of the world. Through this offspring all the nations would be blessed. But there is also a warning here. Let us not merely interact with God through Jesus theoretically or theologically in our heads and fail to look to him by faith that flows out towards obedience. We who hear his words will be blessed if we do them.