Noticing (Matthew 2:9-10)

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Matthew’s story now shifts back to the Magi, who had traveled from their homeland in the east, following the star. On arriving in Jerusalem they stopped and asked Herod – who was king of the Jews by Roman decree – where the new king would be born. After he consulted others, Herod told them, expecting them to later return and report what they’d found. Armed with the missing piece of information (that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem), they left to narrow down their search. 

“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”

Understanding the background to the above verse, it occurs to the reader that the arriving Magi must earlier have come to a point or place where they either couldn’t discern exactly when they were directly under the star, or where they couldn’t find it in the sky any longer at all. Why else would they have even thought to ask Herod for directions? But after that interaction they go back on their way, and the star again appears. This, more than any other fact, leads one to conclude that the star was not a convergence of planets (as some have suggested) or some other kind of natural but infrequent phenomenon. It was a supernatural sign, appearing, disappearing and moving according to the will of God, entirely for His purposes. 

Those purposes included motivating the Magi in the first place, leading them to Herod to ask a heart-proving question, overwhelming them with joy and guiding them to the exact place Jesus was. That is a lot to ask of a simple star. But it is not too much to ask of God’s personal leading. 

God is always faithful to lead those who want to see Him to Himself. Along the way, He will use all manner of circumstance and signs – be a dream or an overheard phrase or a bizarre set of coincidences or even a supernatural star in the sky – to do so. And all along the way, He uses the faith of those He is leading – however small and incomplete it may be – to accomplish things for His glory. 

Some of those things are wonderful and elusive – like looking up and seeing the star  or hearing/noticing something in His Word we never noticed before. Some are confusing – like suddenly not seeing the star, and some – like speaking to a foreign king – are fraught with danger. All of them require action on the part of the believer, be it starting a journey or asking an authority for direction. But this we have to know: whenever we ask for God’s leading and then take action as He leads, it always ends in our joy, for such action always lead to worship of Him

Many say they can’t get God’s guidance, when they really mean they wish He would show them an easier way.

Winkie Pratney

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

How has God lead you in the past? How do you expect Him to lead you today? Thank Him for the many ways He does lead.

Selfishness (Matthew 2:7-8)

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Selfishness takes many forms. One of the most destructive of those forms is the passive-aggressive manipulation of others. On the scale most live their lives, we excuse that as mere office politics. It’s true of course that we are not all political animals, and we can do our level best to avoid such manipulative mind games. Yet by nature of life in society, we will experience them. We all live in a fallen world, and when rulers and those in authority play ‘office politics’, it is no longer a game. Lives and livelihoods are at stake. 

Herod had met the Magi searching for the new king of the Jews. He had consulted with the chief priests and teachers of the Jewish law, and found that Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “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.”   

Here we see Herod’s true character revealed. He calls them secretly, for he does not trust even his closest advisors. He collects their knowledge – the exact time the star appeared – so he can plan accordingly. He gives them what they are seeking (the location of Messiah’s birth), but with a caveat topped with a lie. A most offensive lie, for its subject is not another person or even a political figure. Herod looks to deceive God Himself! 

This is classic fallen human behaviour – a passive aggressive play with unwitting strangers under the guise of the purest of motives. Herod opens his mouth and lies pour forth. No doubt can remain as to who is Herod’s god. But while Herod is revealed as a disciple of hell in these verses, we can also see God’s character revealed. 

For his part, Herod thought to outsmart the ‘wise men of the east’, and to do so by himself. He called a secret meeting, and issued his secret order. How characteristic of his inflated ego! At the same time, God was outsmarting Herod in a grand way. God had his servants follow a very public star in a very public sky, and had the Magi publicly enter the palace to make a public request. What men do in private so no one can see, God does in public without anyone knowing. 

The funny thing is that all the while, Herod had only his own ego preventing him from encountering the Lord. The occasion of meeting the Magi should have been seen as an invitation to bring him into the presence of God. It would’ve allowed him to personally see the extent of God’s great love for all people. But instead, his own sin cuts him off from God and his fallen nature is put out on display for everyone to know. 

Herod thought to play the Magi to the advantage of his own twisted thinking. Instead, God providentially orchestrated all, to the advantage of His own glory.

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”

Jesus (Luke 12:2-3)

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Today, take time to not just hear, but truly listen to those God sends to you. How can you impart something of His grace to them?

Significance (Matthew 2:6)

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In telling us how they replied to King Herod’s question about where Jesus would be   born, Matthew quotes the chief priests and teachers of the law (Matt 2:5-6). The chief priests and teachers themselves are quoting Micah, who is himself quoting the Lord, “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.’”

What Micah actually said is a bit more comprehensive in it’s entirety; “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.” 

Knowing the fuller context of what Micah said is key to understanding the full impact of what is happening in Matthew’s account. The King of the Jews to be born will not be a regular king. Micah is announcing that this king will appear after a time of apparent abandonment (and at the time of Matthew’s day, there had not been a prophet in Israel with God’s words for some four hundred years) – a king who will gather the rest of Israel (that is, the dispersion) back, and will then rule not only Israel, but the whole world. 

Of course, that’s all a revelation to Herod, and quite likely to most who read Matthew’s account. It was always there, but anyone who didn’t know all that God had said would’ve thought that Bethlehem was a small town with no real significance. Anyone who did know what God had said would’ve understood that this small place would become the birthplace of the King of Kings. That’s a widely different viewpoint – a viewpoint that can only seen with God’s words in mind.  

People sometimes think their lives are meaningless and small. But we are made in His image, and He did not design us for an eternity of small things. What we do is significant, because who we are is significant. The very fact that we are made in His image is testimony to that. 

We might not think we are significant at the present moment, because we have not yet understood all that God has spoken over us or about us. But such things will be revealed in His good time. Just as God once said to a young man named Jeremiah, “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born.”  If we know Him, we can know that He likewise chose us, for “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“There is no one who is insignificant in the purpose of God.”

Alistar Begg


Spend some time in quiet worship of Him.

Negligence (Matthew 2:4-6)

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Looking back through the years, one can see that there are certain seasons in life when one spiritually grew significantly as a person. There is a commonality to all such seasons.  They are always times when one realizes the huge delta between knowing what one believes and actually acting according to said belief. Times when we restructure our habits and/or lifestyle and/or finances to match what we say we stand for. 

Unfortunately, those times are rare, not normative. It is the human condition to say one thing and do another, to believe one thing and act different to said belief. It has been so since Adam fell, and it remains so even today. Unrealized hypocrisy is common to every fallen human being. It is not a surprise then to know that it was also common to the learned men of God’s Word in Herod’s day. For though they knew exactly where Messiah was to be born, they were not looking for him, or for signs of his coming.  

“When he [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “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.’” 

The chief priests and teachers of the law evidently had something that the Magi did not – they had access to the book of Micah. Micah had prophesied that Bethlehem – and not the Bethlehem in the north (Zebulun) but the Bethlehem of Judah, the city of David’s line – would be the birthplace of Messiah. Just how common was that knowledge at the time in Israel is unknown, but it had been seven hundred years since Micah was written, so one expects that most every worshipping Jew had heard it, even if such news had not reached the far east where the Magi originated. 

The fact is that the spiritual authorities knew this and yet evidently had neither understood the prophesy of the star as a sign of His appearing (Numbers 24:17), nor looked up during the night sky (things that the Magi must have done, even though they were Gentiles). That tells us that they were not looking for Messiah at all – let alone searching for His coming in Bethlehem! Truly, it is a sad state of affairs when spiritual leaders are not putting their faith into practice, and when those who do not have access to the whole of Scripture sacrifice more time and energy into searching out God and His Kingdom than the people of God do! 

It is all a stunning indictment of their spiritual negligence, and it makes Jesus’ later condemnation of Israels’ spiritual leadership all the more striking. For here at His birth is God’s indictment, but His judgment is put off for at thirty years until Jesus starts ministering in the flesh. That meant that Israel’s spiritual leadership had three full decades to realize how they missed the greatest event in all of human history. They had literally all of their careers to repent.

They did not. 

It is no wonder Jesus would be so harsh with them. 

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?  I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.

Jeremiah 17:9-10

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Have you been putting off something the Lord been speaking to you about? 

Do so no longer.

Pride (Matthew 2:2-5)

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The blessing of reading and looking deeply at God’s Word is a blessing precisely because it allows us to draw close to God Himself, who is the source of all blessing. We should then understand that the blessing ought not to be our focus – it is the only the consequence of drawing close to God – the ‘collateral restoration’ of being near to Him. 

Of course, there is nothing wrong with drawing near to Him because we recognize our need for a blessing – just that doing so is not the highest or best motive for seeking Him. That we operate largely out of wrong motives is an unfortunate reality for all of us – we are fallen people living in a fallen world. Fear not, God is gracious and well knows our frame! Yet there are some who would look at God’s Word not to gain a blessing from God, but to gain a selfish advantage over other people. Such people are not acting from mere foolishness, but from an intent that must be recognized as pure evil.  

The Magi had come to king Herod, asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” But Herod was not happy when he found that a rival to his title (King of the Jews) had been born. “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.”  

Certainly, one might first think that perhaps he wanted to know where Christ was born to answer the Magi’s question. But remember that Herod was anything but a fool. Moreover, Herod’s father was a Antipater II – an Edomite Semite – which meant that Herod was raised as a Jew. Though he is disturbed by what he’s heard so far, his mental state is not such that he is unable to think or remember how he was raised with respect for the Scripture. Herod well knows that the answer to the question must be within God’s Word. Yet he deliberately chooses not look at Scripture himself. Instead, he calls those he knows do have a knowledge of it – the Jewish chief priests and the teachers of Jewish law – and tasks them with finding out the answer.  

Obviously there was no email, television or clear method of mass communication, but we can know that this not a matter of expediency all the same. For the text says, “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law.”  It would’ve taken some time to pull everyone together – to call the scribes, dictate the place and time of the meeting, send out messengers to all and then wait for them to respond. All of that taking time that could have been instead used to study God’s Word himself. Or at least with those already in the palace. But such an effort would only gain him the knowledge of where Christ was to be born in to answer the Magi’s question, and in reality that’s not the answer Herod actually sought. He thought it better to focus on how the evil intent of his heart might be satiated.

The attitude with which we approach God’s Holy Word is the lens through which we will read it. So when we turn to the Scripture, we ought to first search out our intentions. Why we are doing that? Ideally, it is because our heart is looking for Him. Less ideally, it is in search of His blessing. But to be avoided at all costs is prideful intention. 

God’s Word is a mirror. A plain reading by the thoughtful disciple reflects matters of the soul that we might repent. To see God through it, we first have to finish repenting. Only then we can look for Him with any serious expectation of catching something of His holiness and glory.

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION: Intentionality

How do you ready your heart to come to God’s Word? 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”- James 1:22-25 

The Nature of Herod (Matthew 2:2-3)

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Herod’s father was a Jewish man named Antipater II. He was an Edomite Semite who gained influence under Rome and was influential in Herod’s appointment to powerful positions over Galilee. According to the historian Josephus, in the year of the consulship of Calvinus and Pollio (40BCE), Herod was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate. This gave him the license needed to wage war against the ruler of Jersualem. Three years later, Herod and the Romans overtook the city, and Herod assumed the title of King. He reigned in Jerusalem for 34 more years.  

Herod was raised as a Jew, Antipater having converted to Judasim some time prior.  But the fact that Herod was a descendant of Esau and not of David was more than a slight to those he ruled over in Judea. For these reasons Herod – who was fond of huge building projects – chose to rebuild the Jewish temple. The result was what many refer to as “Herod’s Temple” and is the reason he earned the nickname, ‘Herod the Great’.”  But “great” doesn’t necessarily mean “good”! Herod was great because of his building projects. But anyone who looks into the history of the time can know that Herod was a tyrannical despot, given to heavy taxation and lavish spending and not a small degree of narcissism. Every Christian would recognize him as an evil man, even though he built ‘great’ things. 

Scripture bears testimony to this. In Matthew 2, we read of Magi from the east coming to Herod and asking him, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  The next statement tells us all we need to know about Herod’s character, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”  

If we follow Josephus’s timeline, we can know that this would’ve been late in Herod’s reign, for it is well established that he died in 4BCE (this is also how we know that Jesus was born earlier than the commonly understood 1BCE). So when the Magi arrived, Herod had already survived for over 30 years in power. Unfortunately, he did not last so long through just and fair rule. He had many enemies and had good reason to be paranoid, so the announcement of someone else with his title was a cause of great concern. Not only to him, but to the populace under him. The whole city was disturbed because everyone knew that when Herod was disturbed, they would suffer whatever action he chose to take to satisfy his paranoia.

A greater contrast to the Magi could not be made! 

To the Magi, news of Messiah’s birth was cause for worship. They saw the sacrifice of their time in travel and the costly gifts they brought as most worthwhile – Christ’s birth being good news for the whole world. But to Herod, the very same news was the realization of his own worst fear, and he would soon spend whatever he needed to keep himself and his own personal kingdom from a rival. 

Good news is only good to those who recognize it as good because of the witness of their souls. It is flat out offensive to those who have set their souls to work for the opposing king.

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION: Intentionality

What are you rejoicing over?  What are you troubled about?  

Is your satisfaction in worship of God or in self-protection?

The Magi (Matthew 2:1-2)

Adoration of the Magi by Peter Paul Rubens

Matthew records, “…during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  Who were these Magi?  One commentator notes, “The word ‘Magi’ was originally applied exclusively to members of a priestly caste of the Medes and Persian who had esoteric skills in interpreting dreams. However, the use of the word broadened to embrace various categories of persons who were marked out by their superior knowledge and ability, including astrologers, soothsayers, and even oriental sages.”

That the Magi were effectively interpreting the stars does not necessarily mean they were astrologers. They may well have had copies of the Jewish Scriptures – and certainly if they were ‘wise men’ (as the Greek term may be translated), then they would’ve been readers of said Scripture, including Balaam’s prophesy of Numbers 24:17, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” Another commentator notes, “We don’t know exactly what they saw in the sky. Scholars have guessed a comet or a nova or a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. Not everyone saw it. In fact, the star is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. The Magi saw it because they were constantly scanning the sky. They had prepared themselves to perceive what others could not see.”

The scepter spoken of in Balaam’s prophesy means to speak of a rising King, and Balaam’s oracle goes on to make it very clear that this particular king will defeat all Israel’s enemies – he will be not just a king, but Messiah.    

This would be the same Messiah David spoke of in Psalm 2, ““Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Moreover, as Solomon prophesied in Psalm 72, “The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.”

So that wise men subsequently come to worship him (to “Kiss the Son”) is fitting, and also a fulfillment of prophesy. Indeed, all who are wise will worship Him, for He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.

The Apostle John (Revelation 19:11-16)

APPLICATION: Worship, Generosity

One day all will bow to Christ!  The wise recognize this early, and so worship Him with what they have.  What gift can you bring to Him today? 

The Star (Matthew 2:1-2)

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That Jesus the Messiah was born in Bethlehem is a well known fact, celebrated all over the world. Hardly celebrated at all is that His line includes a member of Israel’s enemies, Ruth the Moabitess. Also hardly considered at all is that God used a man who was a hated tax collector (Matthew) to write a Gospel to His chosen people. And hardly known at all is that He used a reckless prophet to prophesy the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. 

Just as Luke tells us details about Christ’s birth that Matthew doesn’t, so also Matthew tells us things the other Gospel accounts leave out. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”” The Herod mentioned here is noted as King, meaning Herod the Great (a different Herod – the tetrarch – will be on the scene later). 

Matthew is the only Gospel writer to tell us that while Herod was king, a very unusual phenomenon occurred. For during this time, a very bright star appeared in the sky. This would’ve been observed by people all over the middle east as that which Numbers 24:17 spoke of, “A star will come out of Jacob;” heralding the rise of Messiah. Thus, that Jesus was born in the time of Herod is also fulfillment of prophesy.  

But that prophesy in Numbers is not from Moses. Actually, it is part of Balaam’s fourth oracle. Balaam was the man hired by Balak to curse the nation of Israel (Balak was the crown prince of Moab – for that reason he is referred to as Balak son of Zippor.  Zippor was king of Moab, see Num 22:4). This is one and the same Balaam who was rebuked by a donkey (Num 22:21-41) for his reckless ways before the Lord. Taken by Balak to view the camps of Israel from various vantage points so as to curse them from afar, Balaam is caused to prophesy blessing on them, the very opposite thing Balak had asked. Balak was is driven to frustration, at which point Balaam says, “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:  “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” 

It is this last sentence, “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel,” that the wise men of the east would’ve noted as a sign of the coming of the Jewish King. For sure, it is a prophesy given by a reckless prophet to a pagan king (Balak), and perhaps from that perspective it should’ve been long forgotten. But it was not just the rantings of a reckless individual. It was God’s Word, given to a prophet of God that the nations of the earth might know that He is God and that He watches over His people. So instead of being forgotten in the annals of history, it became a prophesy listened to by Gentiles half a world away, thousands of years later. A prophesy whose fulfillment is now celebrated every year, world over.

Thousands of years ago, the Magi came looking for Jesus because they were watching the night sky for His sign. But today Jesus asks us, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION: Intentionality

God’s word never goes unfulfilled, no matter who He uses to speak or write it. 

How are you preparing to meet Him on that fateful day He returns?