God Guides Those Who Seek Him

Posted: June 19, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 2:1-12, “God Guides Those Who Seek Him”

We call them the “Three Kings,” but in reality we neither know that they were kings, nor that there were even 3 of them.  Their names are found only in legend (Melchior, Caspar, Balthasar), but there is no Scripture that identifies them at all.  The only book of the Bible that mentions them at all is Matthew where they are labeled as “magi/wise men” & describes them as coming from the East in order to worship the already born Christ child. They didn’t even come at Christmas…at the earliest, they would have begun their journey around the time Jesus was born.  By the time they got there, they were looking for a 1-2 year-old Child; not a babe in a manger (that was the sign to the shepherds).  So much for all of our Nativity scenes! J  (By the way, this is one reason to be careful of traditions – they sometimes claim to know more than the Bible!)

For all our misconceptions about the wise men, there’s an essential part of this history that we miss: God blesses those who diligently seek Him.  The magi seem to be a virtual illustration of what the author of Hebrews was referring to in 11:6.  Hebrews 11:6, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." []  The magi seemed to have faith as of a mustard seed, and God used it to guide them directly to the feet of Jesus.  The Lord Jesus would later teach that no one comes to Him unless the Father draws them (Jn 6:44), and that’s exactly what we see happening with the wise men.  God guides them through their own ignorance – Scripture – even the enemies of God – but in the end, He brings them to the truth of Christ.

There’s one other overriding theme that’s shown here – and it’s the contrast we see with Ch 1.  In Ch 1, we received the genealogy of Christ – showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of both the covenant promises made to Abraham & to David & demonstrating how Jesus had the legal right to inherit the throne of David as the promised Messiah.  Ch 1 went on to describe how God used Joseph to adopt & care of Christ (even before He was born) & declared Jesus not only to be the Son of David, but the Son of God.  All of it underscored the promises God made to the Jews regarding the coming Savior.

Yet as Ch 2 begins we see not Jews, but Gentiles seeking the Christ.  Ch 1 shows that Jesus is the King & Savior of the Jews; the magi show that Jesus is King & Savior of the entire world.  The gospel of salvation is first given to the Jews, but it doesn’t stay with them – it’s proclaimed to every corner of the earth that Jesus is the Son of God, given to provide salvation for everyone who humbly comes to God in faith.

Matthew 2:1–12 (NKJV)
1 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,

  1. Introduction & basic context.  When did all of this take place? “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”  Again, this is no babe-in-the-manger crèche; this is an event that takes place when Jesus was a toddler in the household of Joseph and Mary.
  2. Herod = Herod the Great.  “Great” is more of a description of the abundance of his accomplishments; not his character. (AT Robinson calls him “Herod the Great Pervert,” due to his cruelty.)  He was a ruthless man who killed his own sons when he deemed them to be a threat to his throne.  Herod died in 4BC, which tells us that our western calendar dating is a bit off regarding Jesus’ birth.  It seems possible that Jesus was born at latest in 6-7BC, with Herod’s persecution & death following a few years later.  Scholars differ greatly on the date, but there’s no doubt there are at minimum several months (if not years) separating Jesus’ birth from the visit of the wise men.
  3. Wise men = magi. (Gk: μάγος) Again, there is no indication whatsoever that these were kings (the label probably developed from prophecies about kings bowing to the Messiah – that prophecy will be true with or without the Magi!).  The magi were usually royal astrologers used by a nation’s king to interpret dreams & visions & events.  Apparently Daniel had been made the chief of Babylon’s magi class by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 5:11).  [Perhaps some of Daniel’s writings were used by God to prompt the magi of Jesus’ day to look for Him?]  Undoubtedly their practice was at best a mix of science & paganism – coming from the East (perhaps Persia), their religious beliefs were likely rooted in Zoroastrianism. [monotheistic dualism once prevalent in Iran & India – eventually overrun by Islam]
    1. Question: Can God use the pagan beliefs of people to bring them to the truth of Christ?  Undoubtedly, yes.  That’s not to say that pagan beliefs are ever recommended by the Bible – but God can use anything He so desires to bring someone to the knowledge of the truth.  We may be limited, but God is not.  Paul rejoiced when the gospel was preached, whether from good motives or selfish ones (Phil 1:18), the good thing was simply that the gospel was preached.  Likewise, we can rejoice whenever someone comes to Christ – even if it’s through perhaps an unorthodox method or unlikely teacher.

2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

  1. As astrologers, the magi watched the stars on a nightly basis – apparently they had seen a distinct event in the skies & attributed it to a birth announcement for the king of Israel.  There’s been much speculation as to what the event actually was.  Some astronomers believe it was a combination of planets coming together – others believe it may have been a comet – some scholars believe it simply was a supernatural event, not unlike the pillar of fire that led the Hebrews through the wilderness.  Whether it was purely supernatural, or a divine manipulation of a natural event, there’s no way to know – what we DO know is that God miraculously intervened to grab the attention of these magi & lead them to Christ.
  2. Whether or not they realized it – what they saw was a fulfillment of the ancient prophecy given to the pagan mercenary prophet Balaam when he had been hired to curse Israel.  God would not allow Balaam to curse Israel; only to bless them – and when he blessed them, God also gave him a vision of the coming Messiah: Numbers 24:17, "I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult." []  A star absolutely did come out of Jacob – and though in His 1st coming Jesus destroyed only death, in His 2nd coming the Lord Jesus will judge all of those who rejected Him & rule over all the earth.
  3. Note that the star was the announcement of a king – a ruler (per the ‘scepter’).  The pagan wise men recognized that a king had been born.  What the nation of Israel was ignorant of was recognized by the Gentile astrologers: a child was born who was “King of the Jews.”  The very event for which the Jewish scholars had been waiting for, for centuries was revealed to a group of Gentile pseudo-scientists. Yet that wasn’t all – they also realized that this Child wasn’t simply an ordinary king; they understood that He is worthy of worship.  So worthy, in fact, that they traveled great distances simply to come to the feet of a Child, whose birth went by virtually unnoticed by the so-called “great” men of Judea.
    1. How important this is for people today!  Many people try to relegate Jesus to the role of a teacher – a philosopher – a guru – a prophet – or a legend.  They all miss the point.  Jesus is worthy of our submission because He is the King & Jesus is worthy of our worship because He is God.  He is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Lord = Almighty God; Christ = Anointed one of God (the King)…
    2. If you haven’t yet recognized Jesus as God & King, then you haven’t yet recognized Jesus at all…

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

  1. If this Child truly was the King of the Jews, then Herod had a competitor to his throne, so it makes sense why he was troubled.  Yet why all the rest of Jerusalem?  One would think that they would rejoice to hear of the birth of the promised Messiah.  Some scholars suggest it was because they knew Herod.  This was a guy who had three of his own sons killed when he thought they threatened his rule – they were rightly afraid of his insane rage because they simply didn’t know what he would do.

4 And 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.

  1. What’s so interesting about Herod is that although he obviously was not a believer, he knew exactly where to go to find the answers about God’s Messiah: the Bible.  Herod didn’t call for spies or for sorcerers – he turned to the theologians of the day (the very group that would later call for Jesus’ crucifixion).  Herod certainly rebelled against the prophecy, but he knew that the word of God would be accurate.
  2. Just because someone knows the Scripture doesn’t mean that they’re a Christian.  Some cult groups can quote the Bible better than some born-again believers – but people who are deceived in a cult are no more saved than an atheist shaking his/her fist at God.  Keep in mind that Satan knows the Scripture (he was quoting it to Jesus in the wilderness), but Satan certainly isn’t saved. … Amen to knowing our Bible – amen to the fact that God often uses Scripture to bring someone to Christ (faith comes by hearing & hearing by the word of God) – but being theologically astute isn’t the same thing as being born-again.  There are loads of scholars with multiple PhD’s in theology that have zero faith in Christ – be careful not to be caught up with them.  Knowing the written word of God is different than knowing the Living Word of God – we need to know Christ & be known by Him!

5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

  1. The chief priests & scribes knew exactly what the Scripture had to say on the matter – they were well-versed in the Messianic prophesies (which gives them zero excuse for rejecting Christ when they had the opportunity).  Basically quoted Micah 5 back to the king (though it’s not a direct quote of either the Hebrew OT or the LXX – it’s more of a paraphrase of what it said).  Micah 5:2, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting." [] Obviously a Messianic prophecy – even when it was originally written by Micah.  Bethlehem (“house of bread”) was primarily known for being the birthplace of David, but this is certainly not a prophecy regarding David (written multiple generations after he died – in the days of Hezekiah).  The idea was that there was another great ruler of Israel that was to come out of Bethlehem: a pastor for the Lord’s sheep – a ruler for the Lord’s people – the Bread of Life from the house of bread.
    1. Interestingly enough the prophecy both speak of the birth & the eternality of Christ.  Notice the original OT quote: “Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”  The obvious interpretation of the prophecy was regarding a birth of the Lord’s Messiah, but the Messiah is far older than His birthday.  As Jesus later taught, Abraham rejoiced to see His day (Jn 8:56) because Jesus is far older than David & far older than Abraham – far older than even Adam.  The Son of God became an incarnate man when He was born in Bethlehem, but His “goings forth” are from eternity – He is the eternal God who willingly humbled Himself to coming in human flesh.
  2. The prophecy in Micah was one in a long series of prophecies regarding the birth & bloodline of the Messiah – one that placed an address through time to show exactly where the Messiah was supposed to be.  He was to be of the seed of the woman (virgin birth – Gen 3:15) – of the line of Abraham (Gen 12:3) – of the line of Isaac (Gen 17:19) – of the line of Jacob (Gen 25:23) – of the line of Judah (Gen 49:10) – of the line of David (2 Sam 7:12) – born in the city of Bethlehem (Mic 5:2) – and much more.  Just like an address distinguishes one particular house from every other house in town, so does God’s prophetic address for the Messiah distinguish Jesus from every other pretender to the title.  God left no room for error when it came to Christ!
    1. How did God use this address? To guide the wise men directly to Christ.  The Scriptures may have been searched out by an evil pagan king, but that didn’t stop God from using it for His purposes. …

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.

  1. Why secretly?  He apparently didn’t want anyone else knowing of his lies to the magi – he was already plotting against the true King of Israel. … This is the way Satan works as well.  Insanely jealous that God is God & he is not, the Devil attempts to divide & conquer.  If he can pull people away from the rest of the body & whisper lies into their ears, it’s all the easier to actually deceive them. …
  2. Why would Herod need to know the exact time the star appeared?  It would give the approximate age of the Child – which Herod will put to evil use after the wise men decide not to return to him.

8 And 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.”

  1. This is an obvious lie from Herod – his motives are made clear later in Ch 2 when he cruelly decides to murder all of the male children 2 years old & younger.
  2. Again – just like not everyone who reads the Bible is a born-again Christian, neither is everyone who claims to worship Christ an actual worshipper of Jesus. …

9 When they heard the king, they 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. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

  1. Vs. 9 makes it clear that even if there was a natural event that stood out in the night sky to draw the magi to Judea, this was still a supernatural occurrence.  Neither shooting stars nor planetary movements can come right overhead a single person on earth – they are much too far away to point to someone.  Yet apparently, that’s exactly what this star did.  Without doubt, God was miraculously involved here.  God was guiding the wise men through creation, yet still through a miracle.  This was God’s sovereign manipulation of natural events.
  2. When the wise men saw how God brought everything together here, they rejoiced – and apparently not just a little bit.  “They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy!”  We can almost imagine them throwing a party and praising God in the middle of the streets of Bethlehem, waking everyone up in the middle of the night!  Question: did they rejoice because of the star?  No – they were rejoicing because of Christ.  The star was certainly a miracle, but the miracle was used for a distinct purpose: to bring the wise men to Jesus.  ALL of God’s miracles are used for the same purpose!  True miracles are always used to glorify God, and draw people to Him.  (When they don’t, perhaps it’s an indication that the supposed “miracle” isn’t from God!)
  3. Some skeptics doubt the historicity of this story on the basis of the miracle alone, in that it sounds too incredible to be true.  Yet why would we doubt supernatural events when it comes to the subject of GOD?  By definition, God is supernatural (above nature).  God is the One who created nature, thus God is the One who can deal with nature as He so pleases.  Whether that’s seen in the creation of the universe in 6 days – or parting the Red Sea – or causing a star of some sort to shine down perfectly on Christ – or even raising Jesus from the dead – none of this is a problem for Almighty God.  We’d be right to doubt a supernatural event that came from a person (people don’t have that kind of power, though demons can apparently perform lying signs & wonders).  Yet when God tells us of what He can do through the pages of Scripture, there’s no reason to doubt even the most incredible supernatural experience in the Bible.  Why?  Because it’s GOD who’s the One doing it.  Jeremiah 32:27, "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?" []  Contextually, God was speaking to Jeremiah about the eventual return of the Jews to the land of Israel, even after their captivity (something normally seen as impossible regarding other nations).  Yet for God, nothing is impossible – nothing is too hard.  He is GOD.
    1. If God is powerful enough to cause a singular star or supernatural light to point wise men to Christ – if God is powerful enough to create the universe – if God is powerful enough to raise Jesus from the dead (and gracious enough to forgive you your sin) – what could possibly be happening in your life that you cannot entrust to Him?  He’s GOD – and if you’re in Christ, He’s your Father…He loves you!  We can entrust to Him everything that seems to be humanly impossible, because with God all things ARE possible.

11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

  1. Finding themselves before the young Jesus, the wise men did exactly what they came to do: worship Christ as King & God.  Keep in mind that this didn’t take place in a grand palace with lots of pomp & circumstance – this was in a very humble dwelling in Bethlehem.  Joseph was not a wealthy man…he only had enough funds to offer two turtledoves in sacrifice at the time of Jesus’ circumcision (Lk 2:24).  Imagine this company of royal advisors with all of their trappings (which must have been large enough to attract the attention of King Herod in Jerusalem), coming into this little house in this little town, and then bowing before a little Child who was not even recognized by His neighbors as anyone special.  Visually, this would have appeared to be exactly the opposite of how things were supposed to work – yet spiritually it was absolutely correct.  The humble Child was the grandest Being in all the universe & absolutely worthy of the worship He received from the visitors.
    1. Mary is honored in that she is mentioned here in the text – but note her position: she’s listed behind Christ.  The Bible never holds her up in place of Jesus, nor does the Bible ever show her receiving worship – all of the attention is placed upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. What did they bring?  3 types of gifts (which is why many assume that there were 3 magi who came).  Although the wise men would likely never have thought of the significance of their gifts, there’s quite a bit of symbolism that’s involved in what they brought to Jesus.
    1. Gold: Obvious gift to offer to a king – but even more than that, gold is used throughout Scripture to point to the royal majesty of God.  Both the tabernacle & original temple were covered in gold – the ark of the covenant & mercy seat were overlaid with gold – the streets & materials of the New Jerusalem will be comprised of the finest gold creation has ever known…all of it pointing to the glory of God.  To bring gold to the Christ child was to acknowledge His divine royal right to receive it.
    2. Frankincense: This was a spice often used in priestly service – used (among others) at the altar of incense to symbolize prayers rising to God.  Jesus came as the Lord God, but He also came as our great High Priest.  He is the One who is our mediator between us & God – He is the One who offers His own life as the perfect sacrifice for our sin.
    3. Myrrh: This is another spice, but one often used in burial ceremonies.  The Jews (among other ancient people) would often wrap bodies in spices prior to burial, in order to help keep the stench of the rotting flesh down.  Thus myrrh might appear to be an unusual gift offered to a toddler.  Yet it symbolized one other aspect of Jesus’ purpose: He was born expressly to die for us.
    4. Even in the gifts, the gospel is proclaimed: God the King came to serve as our Great High Priest & die for our sins…
  3. BTW – the gifts are one more indication that the wise men did not come on the night of Jesus’ birth.  If these extravagant gifts had been in Joseph’s care, there’s no way he would have still offered two turtledoves 8 days later for Jesus’ circumcision.  These presents made the small family extremely wealthy (which apparently would be greatly needed during as they were about to become refugees fleeing from Herod).

12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

  1. Just as Joseph had been given instruction in a dream regarding Mary’s pregnancy, so did the magi receive a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod.  Perhaps they had been suspicious of Herod the entire time – perhaps not…we don’t know.  What we do know is that God was involved.  They were “divinely warned.”  Through special revelation, God not only kept the wise men from harm, but God continued to provide protection for Jesus, Mary, & Joseph to give them enough time to get a head-start on Herod.
  2. Although we don’t know exactly where “home” for them was (likely in the land of the Medes & Persians – but we can’t say for sure), we do know they went home.  Can you imagine the conversations they had with people when they returned to their own country?  This had been a life-changing pilgrimage for them: supernaturally guided & protected by God until they had seen God in the flesh with their own eyes.  No doubt they had quite the testimony to share with their friends & family back in the East! 

Conclusion:
History doesn’t tell us anything more about the wise men.  Various legends exist about them, but considering we’re not even told their names in Scripture, it’s impossible to know of any of the legends are even remotely true.  They appear only in one of the 4 gospel accounts, travel great distances, and seem to have more “face-time” with Herod than with Jesus.  Yet to this day, they are remembered every year as carols are sung about them & they appear in countless nativity scenes around the world.  What is it about them that captures our attention so much?  Simply this: they were guided by God to the feet of Jesus Christ.

  1. God guided them in their ignorance.  It’s doubtful that the Magi had any clue what they were looking for the night God caught their attention in the heavens through the use of a special star.  They had been astrologers much more steeped in paganism than in theology.  Yet even what little they did know was used by God to start them on a journey to be brought to Christ.
  2. God guided them through the Scripture.  Once they arrived in Jerusalem, the top theological scholars were able to take them to the exact prophecies that spoke of Jesus’ birthplace.  Granted, Herod had an evil desire to use it against God, but God still used the sharing of Scripture to bring those who were seeking Christ to His very doorstep.
  3. God guided them through supernatural revelation.  Whether it was through the supernatural guiding of the star prior to meeting Jesus, or the divine warning in the dream after they met Christ, God was personally involved in leading them along the way.

A star may not be shining for us, but God still works in similar ways for those whose hearts have been stirred to seek Him.  (1) God will guide us even through our ignorance.  I thank God that no one has to be a theological scholar in order to know the salvation of Christ!  Obviously, education is a wonderful thing & God wants us to worship Him with our minds – but there are many people who might be deceived from those who preach Christ for personal gain, yet they still hear the gospel.  Other people are raised up in churches that perhaps teach false doctrine, yet still God grabs hold of them.  Still others are raised in societies that keep them ignorant of the things of God altogether, yet God can still reach a person for Christ.  Praise God that our ignorance is not an obstacle for Almighty God!

(2) God will guide us through the Scripture. The prophecies in the Bible are meant to bring us to the feet of Christ, and that’s exactly how God uses them.  Even the OT Law is our tutor that shows us our need for salvation & brings us to the instruction of the Savior.  God uses the Scripture to pierce us to our heart & awaken in us the knowledge of our need for Christ.  Thus we ought never be ashamed to share Scripture with people when we’re sharing with them about Jesus.  That’s part of the very reason God gave us the Bible in the 1st place!

(3) God will guide us through personal interaction.  Granted, we may not have a divine dream or a star leading overhead – but every single believer in Christ has God the Holy Spirit indwelling him/her.  GOD lives in His children…what an utterly amazing thought!  Those who are the children of God can trust we’re being guided by our Heavenly Father as we continually live our lives in submission to Him.

The question for you is: are you seeking God?  The question is the same for both Christians & non-Christians.  Christians sometimes forget their need to continually seek God after they come to Christ – somehow expecting to live the life God has called us to on “autopilot.”  It doesn’t work that way, nor does it need to.  We’ve been given access to the Living God – why wouldn’t we continually seek His face? 

Theologically, we know that no one comes to Christ unless the Father draws them, but if God is drawing you, have you responded?  If today you’ve been convicted of the fact that Jesus is indeed God in the flesh who provide the sacrifice needed for your sin – you can be assured that God is calling you right now.  Respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit! 

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