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The wise men, king Herod, and the holy family all come together under "the star".
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship him."
When Herod heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem, for it is written by the prophet: 'You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'"
Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also."
The wise men departed and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. When they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.
When they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. Matthew 2:1-12 NKJV, condensed
Three Wise Men Plus One Not So Wise
After it was over, it wasn't over yet! Luke completed his narrative about Jesus' birth, but Matthew continued on, and that's why we go broke at Christmastime! Over the horizon come those seekers from afar, possibly astronomers, acting on some curious bits of information regarding the brightest star they had ever seen. In their search, they found exceedingly great joy plus something else, an exceedingly angry ruler named Herod the Great.
The arrival of the wise men has become a familiar part of the Christmas pageant, but there's something odd about their story. The people of Judea had not had a king for many, many centuries. Not since the days of David and Solomon had they been a political power. Yet onto the landscape came these educated men from the East, asking to see the king of the Jews!
What was their history and background? To the East were Syria, Babylon (Iraq), and Persia (Iran). These were all places where Jewish people had been taken as spoils of war centuries before. Some of these exiles, like Daniel, had lived out their entire lives in the East. Now, the wise men could have been Gentiles, but why would a Gentile go to such lengths to find a Jewish king? More likely, they were descendents of those displaced Jews, still living on foreign soil.
We asume there were three of them, though it doesn't really say. Only three who followed the beckoning star they had observed over the land of their forefathers. The star was a phenomenon to be pondered, reminding them of ancient stories about Jerusalem, its temple, the law of Moses and the prophets. A star so bright could mean only one thing--the coming of their Messiah.
How true to life that visitors must inform the locals what is happening in their heartland! The shepherds had been the first to spread similar news and Anna at the temple was telling people. But like us, the residents of Jerusalem needed to be told many times before it would sink in.
Herod took special note this time. After all, he ruled Judea. Feeling strangely threatened by whatever might have occurred, he wanted to be sure to control it. Scripture says all Jerusalem was on edge. When Herod got troubled, everyone became nervous.
Herod was also devious, so he pretended to be a man of good intentions. He went to the experts to find out from their sacred writings where the Messiah was to be born. The answer: Bethlehem. OK, now he knew where. But when would the Messiah be born? Herod needed the wise men and their star to solve this mystery. Answer: Within the last two years. Scripture alone didn't convince king Herod, but combined with the spectacular star it did prove credible.
So Herod lied and began his plot to destroy the little pretender to his throne. Being crafty, he will use the wise men to find Jesus. They are to send him word so he can come and worship the infant king, too! The big, bad wolf was dressed in royal clothing.
The star that had led these Eastern travelers to Jerusalem, went before them into Bethlehem. The thrill of anticipation intensified; their joy rising to the heavens. At long last their search was being rewarded. They found the house and there before them was the young child with his mother. Humbly they knelt to worship and offer him their treasures. Gold for a king; frankincense for a priest; myrrh for one who would die.
Their mission had been clear--to find Jesus, pay him homage, and present him with gifts. Having accomplished these three things, it was time to go home. Guided by a dream, they did not return to Herod and instead took a different route out of the country. They would not stick around for the firestorm about to erupt.
The birth of Jesus meant exceeding joy for the wise men. For Herod it meant exceeding rage. The former had eyes wide open for the possibilities of God; the latter was blinded by his own insecurity and ambitions.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: If you were casting the characters to play this movie scene, who would you pick for the wise men? Herod? Mary? The Child?
What performers do you think would fit these parts?
Think in terms of time, money, hardships, job security, family life, etc. What do you imagine this trip cost the wise men? Do you reckon they gained more than they spent? Would you ever go on a trip like that? Why or why not?
They followed a star, asked directions, found their King, worshiped him, gave gifts of value and disobeyed the local ruler--that's the story of these travelers from the East. Why do we call them wise men? What does their story add to the other accounts of Jesus' birth? What do you suppose happened to the gold, frankincense and myrrh?
The shepherds and Anna had spread the word about Jesus' birth. But not until the wise men began asking about the Messiah/King, did it get Herod's attention. What does this tell you about those first evangelists and Herod? When does scuttlebutt become newsworthy information? How important is the messenger in relaying the gospel of Jesus?
The joy of the wise men is contrasted with the anger of Herod. Make two lists, one for joy and one for anger. In the columns, write words which you associate with joy and anger. If you could select which attitude toward life you would prefer, the choice should be easy. Yet some people choose anger over joy. Why is that?
Jesus seemed very small and vulnerable compared to the angry Herod. Bethlehem appeared insignificant compared to Jerusalem. What is the message in all of this?
The holy family was living in a house now, and still in Bethlehem. Jesus is believed to be under two years of age. Joseph is overlooked and not even mentioned. Why might that be and where do you think he was?
Sometimes it takes an exaggerated case of envy, such as Herod's, to call attention to the green-eyed monster inside each one of us. Envy is as old as Cain and Abel, and known to everyone. When do you feel envious, jealous or resentful? What are some things that you envy in other people? "When I excel, others become envious of me. When they excel, I envy them." Is this true even in our churches?