Matthew 2:1-12 tells the tale of the three wise men, also known as the magi. They came to Jerusalem, asking where the king of Jews was born because they saw His star in the sky and had come to worship Him. However, when King Herod heard this news, he was worried and assembled the chief priests and scribes, asking where Christ was to be born. They told him He would be born in Bethlehem, as the prophet wrote it.
Herod secretly summoned the wise men, asking when the star appeared. Then, he sent them to Bethlehem, asking them to find the child and bring back word when they did so he could worship him as well. After listening to Herod, the wise men went on their way, and the star they saw rose again until it rested over the place where the child was born. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great joy.
Who was the first person to worship Jesus?
When the three wise men got to Bethlehem, they saw baby Jesus with His mother, Mary, and they fell and worshipped Him. Then, they offered Him gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Once they worshipped Him and gave their gifts, the three wise men were warned not to go back to Herod, and they returned to their country another way. So, from this passage, we can assume that the three wise men were the first people to worship Jesus. Skeptics doubt that a star with supernatural origins could lead anyone to Jesus, dismissing the story as legend and citing comparison to pagan myths where stars guided heroes to their destinies.
In ancient literature, astrological phenomena were associated with the death or birth of notable kings, including the death of Julius Caesar and the birth of Augustus Caesar. Therefore, skeptics propose that Matthew made this episode up or adapted a legend. If Matthew’s sources lead him on, he was betrayed. However, if he fabricated this episode, then he was a deceiver, but why would Matthew make up a story of worshipping astrologers for a primarily Jewish audience? Similar to gambling in today’s society, astrology was a plague denounced by ethicists and prophets. However, if God chose to assemble the Gentiles by speaking their language, then Matthew could use that information since it matched his themes.
Who were the three wise men?
Wise men or “magi” were royal counselors. At their best, they were prudent and educated, but at their worst, they were brutes, charlatans, or sycophants. Whatever their character, there was a thin line between astronomy and astrology because stargazing was considered respectable. The Bible mocks and prohibits astrology, but God reversed expectations and spoke to stargazers in a language they understood, calling Gentiles to Jesus. Popular Christian images of the magi don’t match Matthew’s report. The magi were counselors, not kings, and while they brought three gifts, their number was large enough to cause a stir in Jerusalem. Contrary to popular nativity scenes, the three wise men found Jesus in a house, not a manger.
The birth of Jesus Christ.
Matthew stresses God’s mission to the Gentiles, starting with the men who traveled far, at significant cost and risk, to pay homage to the “born king of the Jews.” They assume they’ll find the future king in a palace. However, no son has been born to Herod, so he takes the announcement of a newborn king as a threat and is afraid, which fits Herod’s character. As a ruler, Herod was strong and talented but also violent and suspicious enough to kill several of his sons and his favorite wife. His desire to kill Jesus matches his pattern of eliminating all threats. If Herod, violent and cruel as he was, was troubled, it’s no surprise that Jerusalem was afraid too, although one might have hoped for more of a town awaiting its Messiah.
Herod consults adversary groups of experts and inquires as he asks where Christ would be born, questioning them repeatedly. Given that the scribes were typically Pharisees and conservative teachers, while the chief priests were Sadducees who worked with Rome, we see that Herod chooses to consult antagonistic groups regarding Jesus’ birth. When everyone agrees, Herod knows he can trust them and their answers. In Micah 5:2, they say that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. So they know the answer with no more than a five-mile journey, but reading Matthew, we read that none of them travel to see Jesus.
Once Herod knows where Jesus will be born, he starts planning his murder. He questions the three wise men, gains their confidence, and assumes a desire to join them in worship after they find the child. The three wise men believe him, but God’s plan overtakes Herod’s. One can recognize Herod’s fear. The belief in astrological signs is rampant, so he reacts to the magi. Besides, Herod is an Idumean and not a proper Jew. Because he’s both a tyrant and usurper, he knows he doesn’t have a lot of friends. Still, like many fears, Herod’s is also irrational. If Jesus was the God-ordained ruler of Israel, why would Herod dream that he would kill Him? If the three wise men were wrong, why would he try to kill a child? Herod is clever, but his sin makes him foolish.
As the Jews stay home, the Gentiles make their way to Bethlehem, and the star eventually rests over the place where Jesus was born. They find the house, see Jesus with His mother, Mary, and fall and worship Him. We see that the three wise men worship Him, not them, as in not the holy family or Mary and Jesus. Mary isn’t, as some say, a member of the “Christian pantheon,” but does the magi fully understand who Jesus is? Do they worship before the one they know to be God in the flesh?
Cultural norms require reciprocal gifts, so the magi, as representatives of the nations, go home empty-handed, but Jesus repays them a thousand times over in the end. As they depart, God warns them not to return to Herod, and they leave for their country in another way. The three wise men came a long way to see the Son of God, but they were the first ones to worship, falling to their knees and bringing gifts. Herod was brewing an evil plan, but God’s plan supersedes all.