Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east came to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1)
In the first verse of our text we are introduced to the three main characters who will occupy our exposition: Jesus, Herod, and the Magi. Herod and the Magi represent the two kinds of people who come to Jesus: The Magi in adoration and faith, and Herod in murder and rebellion. Herod exemplifies what human nature has become because of sin. The Magi model what a sinner may become through grace. Although Arab by decent, Herod was raised as Jew, in fact he even claimed the title, “king of the Jews,” whereas the Magi were outsiders both in race and profession – they were Gentile astrologers. The irony of the Christmas account is that it is the outsiders, the Magi, who seek, find and worship Israel’s Messiah, while the insider’s leadership, Herod, seeks to kill his people’s most sought-after king. It was the Magi and not the “king of the Jews” who God invited to witness the coming of the Jewish Messiah into the world.
However sincere the Magi may have been, the root of their search was most likely based on idolatrous superstition. The book of Isaiah chapter 47 is one long indictment of Babylonian Magi. In first-Century Israel, Magi were not exactly considered, “wise men.” One thing their presence in the Christmas story does is demonstrate that God’s grace triumphs over all racial and moral barriers. God in great kindness even leads astrologers, of all people, to Himself. This demonstrates that there is no one so wicked, so lost, so steeped in false religion, that God cannot draw to Himself, if He wishes. The Gospel of Matthew, which ends with a Great Commission to go to all nations, begins in the Christmas story with an invitation of the nations, even those who were considered that nations’ worst element.
It may be surprising that God’s initial means of revelation to these Magi was their very idol – the stars. But the Creator of the stars did not leave their search to end with a star. While the star led them to Jerusalem, it was their search of the Scripture that brought them to Jesus. Here we see an illustration of the doctrine of revelation. Revelation through creation can bring human beings only part of the way in their spiritual journey. But Scriptural revelation has the power to bring us to saving faith in Jesus Christ. God is that author of both creation and Scripture, and He uses both to save His elect.