Most of us are familiar with the birthplace of Christ.
“O little town of Bethlehem, / How still we see thee lie! / Above thy deep and dreamless sleep / The silent stars go by.”
“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant! / O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!”
“Joyful, all ye nations, rise, / join the triumph of the skies; / with th’angelic hosts proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’”
Indeed, He is. And we see the significance of this location in our passage this week.
Matthew 2:1-12 introduces us to the wise men. Your nativity probably has three. The Bible doesn’t tell us how many. But they do bring three gifts to Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (v. 11).
It’s also important to realize who these men are. They’re Gentile pagans. Astrologers. Men mesmerized with something like sorcery. But they desire to see Jesus. Meanwhile, the Jewish leaders don’t seem as interested.
Let’s take a look.
“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, 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.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “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”’” (vv. 1-6 ESV).
The Jews quote the words of the prophet Micah who prophesies between B.C. 750 and 700. Nearly 700 years before the birth of Christ, God reveals where His Son is to be born. Matthew even adds a glimpse of 2 Samuel 5:2 where God calls king David shepherd of His people Israel.
As D.A. Carson writes, “Matthew adds the shepherd language of 2 Samuel 5:2, making it plain that the ruler in Micah 5:2 is none other than the one who fulfills the promises to David.”
So, the Jewish leaders inform Herod of what the Old Testament says. And Herod directs the wise men to Bethlehem.
“Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 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.’ 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (vv. 7-10 ESV).
There’s joy in Bethlehem. But there’s deception in Herod’s heart.
The wise men follow the star and make it to Bethlehem where Christ is born. Just as the prophet had said. But most of the Jews miss the beauty of it all. After all, the Jewish leaders eventually put Him to death. And Herod is about to lead a genocide of baby boys.
The wise men avoid the king on their way home (v. 12). And the ensuing events fulfill Old Testament prophecies. It might seem like chaos, but God is sovereign through it all.
Christ is born in Bethlehem. But He doesn’t stay there. And we’ll look at that next week.