1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi [a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 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.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 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. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 ” ‘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.’ [b]“
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 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.”
9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route (TNIV).
In the last passage, we saw that Jesus was the Messiah that Israel has been waiting for. Yet those who should have been expecting the Messiah, Herod and all of Jerusalem, are afraid; instead it is the foreign dignitaries, the magi, who seek out and pay homage to the Jewish king.
The magi come to speak with the local religious leaders in Jerusalem in order to find out more about the exact location of the Messiah’s birthplace (cf. Micah 5.2; 2 Sam 5.2). Herod, Israel’s ruler at the time, pays close attention to the Magi’s investigation. Although he leads on as if he desires to worship this child, he of course has ulterior motives—he’ll do whatever it takes to stop this newborn King from usurping his throne. How ironic that Herod the Great, the man who could erect many majestic buildings and projects with his wealth was afraid of a mere baby. His paranoia matches what we find in other historical sources that speak of his personality and reign.
By way of a star, God guides the magi to the home where Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The magi bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (2.11), all of which would be reserved for royalty. Thus, we find further irony in that these foreign dignitaries of great wealth have come to visit and worship the baby of a poor family in Bethlehem.
This passage exemplifies the backwards order of God’s Kingdom, the great reversal of the world’s values. In this text we find foreigners, i.e., those thought to be outside of God’s favor, worshipping the Messiah. We also find a king of great wealth being replaced by a child of humble beginnings. Something entirely new and remarkable is happening with the birth of this baby Jesus, who is worthy of worship.