In the Bible, the following story is told only in the gospel of Matthew. It is powerful. It is unique. It is also as puzzling as it is captivating. If we let it, this story is not only beautiful but also as relevant today as the morning news.
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 when it rose and have come to worship him."
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 Messiah 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 shepherd my people Israel.'"
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 search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route (Matthew 2:1-12)
Matthew's simple story proclaims such a profound truth!
The Magi from the east who came in search of the baby Jesus were Persians, Iranians from years ago. These Magi came looking for a small child born the King of the Jews. They did not come to capture or destroy him. They came to worship him as the King of the Jews and the hope of the world. They risked everything to do it. They risked their time, their money, their lives, and their dignity to come in search of this newborn King of the Jews.
Like our Father Abraham, and their father Abraham, the Magi set out on a journey with no set destination other than the promise of God and the hope of finding true life.
Why take such a long, hard, and dangerous journey?
Why bring such costly gifts and worship such a young child?
Matthew's simple story proclaims a profound truth!
We live in some of the harshest of times for vulnerable people caught in the worst of places and who desperately need a reason for hope. People are still looking. Jesus wants us to shine our light and reflect His light so that others can find their way to Him!
Ironically, Matthew is the most Jewish of the gospels. He repeatedly talks about Jesus fulfilling the words of the prophets.[Fulfill] Jesus' ministry is primarily to the Jewish people, "the lost sheep of the house of Israel".[LostSheep] This gospel includes a Jewish genealogy.[Genealogy] Matthew emphasizes Jesus in the synagogue as Rabbi and teacher.[Rabbi] In Matthew, Jesus is presented as the promised teacher like Moses[Moses] who gives five blocks of teaching like Moses had five books of the Torah.[Five]
However, Matthew fills his "Jewish" gospel with recurring reminders that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, also the Son of God sent for the whole world.
- In his genealogy, Matthew includes women, two of whom are Gentiles of great faith, Rahab and Ruth.[Women]
- Matthew alone among the gospels gives us the story of the Magi, who come to worship Jesus and give him gifts as King of the Jews>.[Magi]
- Matthew gives us the story of the Centurion, who had greater faith than any in Israel. His faith led Jesus to heal his beloved servant.[Centurion]
- Then there is Jesus' clear statement about being sent to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel", and we also meet a Canaanite woman of exemplary faith. Instead of being put off by Jesus' focus, she gives a clever and precious answer to the Lord by saying, "[E]ven the puppy dogs under the table get to eat the crumbs the children drop to the floor".[PuppyDogs]
- At the end of Matthew's gospel, we are given Jesus' universal mission, the Great Commission, to his disciples to go to all peoples and baptize them and teach them to obey. When they do this, the Lord's presence is never apart from them.[Commission]
For Matthew, Jesus is never just the Messiah and hope of insiders. He is never the hope of those who choose to play it safe and not risk for the Kingdom of heaven.[Safe]
The story of the Magi reminds us as Jesus' disciples that we are to go and find others in need of hope, even if the journey to reach them is long and hard and dangerous. Why? Because God still wants to send:
The Father sent the Son so that we can each find him, Jesus, our child of heaven in a manger. And when finding Jesus, we bring him our life as a gift and bow down and worship him.
God sends us His grace in the harshest of times, to the most unexpected places, to the most unlikely people searching for hope...
And if they will follow Matthew and the Magi to the manger, they will find the hope for our troubled and divided world in the Christ, the son of God, who chose the manger as his crib and this world as his place of grace.
[Fulfill] Two key word groups are just a portion of this emphasis in Matthew's gospel: fulfill (Matthew1:22; Matthew 2:15-23 [3X]; Matthew 3:15; Matthew 4:14; Matthew 5:17; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 12:17; Matthew 13:14; Matthew 13:35; Matthew 21:4; Matthew 26:54-56 [2X]; Matthew 27:9) and written (nine times — Matthew 2:5; Matthew 4:4-10 [4X]; Matthew 11:10; Matthew 21:13; Matthew 26:24-31 [2X]).[RETURN]
[Sheep]Matthew uses this phrase with the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:24) and also gives his disciples what is sometimes called the "limited commission" (Matthew 10:5-6).[RETURN]
[Genealogy]Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17).[RETURN]
[Rabbi] Rabbi referring to Jesus (Matthew 26:25; Matthew 26:49) and teacher (Matthew 19:16; Matthew 22:16; Matthew 22:24; Matthew 22:36; Matthew 23:8; Matthew 26:18) are found in Matthew. However, these titles were almost all used by outsiders. Insiders called Jesus Lord, probably in recognition of his connection with YAHWEH in the Old Testament designated in the LXX (The Greek Old Testament) which used the term LORD for YAHWEH. However, Jesus' ministry involved much teaching (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 5:19 [2x]; Matthew 7:28-29 [2x]; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 11:1; Matthew 15:9; Matthew 16:12; Matthew 21:23; Matthew 22:16; Matthew 22:33; Matthew 26:35; Matthew 28:20). The Jewish Synagogue was very important to Jesus in both his ministry and in his personal life (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 6:2-5 [2x]; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 10:17; Matthew 12:9; Matthew 13:54; Matthew 23:6; Matthew 23:24).[RETURN]
[Moses]Jesus is presented as the "new" Moses promised to Israel (Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37; Deuteronomy 18:15-20).[RETURN]
[Five]These five sections all begin with Jesus calling his disciples to him and then concludes with words about Jesus having finished his teaching. These help us clearly define the five sections (Section One: Matthew 5:1-48 & Matthew 6:1-34 & Matthew 7:1-29; Section Two: Matthew 10:1-42 & Matthew 11:1; Section Three: Matthew 13:1-53; Section Four: Matthew 18:1-35 & Matthew 19:1-2; Section Five: Matthew 24:3-51 & Matthew 25:1-46; & Matthew 26:1).[RETURN]
[Women] Matthew uses his genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17) to indicate to Jewish genealogical students as being very important (each section has 14 generations [2 x 7] indicating that this is a perfect genealogy for his message). The list contains Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah's wife (Bathsheba), and of course, Mary. At least two of these were Gentiles (Rahab and Ruth) and one was formerly married to a Gentile (Bathsheba).[RETURN]
[Magi] The genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17) and the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) at the beginning of his gospel along with the Great Commission at the end of his gospel (Matthew 28:18-20) help frame the gospel of Matthew with a focus on reaching Gentiles.[RETURN]
[Centurion] Jesus could say of the Centurion, "Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith" (Matthew 8:5-12). This was both a compliment to the Centurion and a rebuke of those in Israel who wouldn't receive Jesus as Messiah.[RETURN]
[Puppy] The translation here is mine, emphasizing the diminutive kunaria which often meant the affectionate attitude to a puppy. The interplay between Jesus and the Canaanite woman shows her faith as well as her dedication to her daughter and Jesus' grace to heal her (Matthew 15:21-28).[RETURN]
[Commission] "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age'” (Matthew 28:18-20).[RETURN]
[Safe] We often forget that the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) ultimately is a condemnation of those who fear a strict God trying to trip people up on details, so they play it safe (Matthew 25:24-30).[RETURN]