Matthew 2:1-12

Setting and Overview
As we enter Matthew 2, we see that Matthew and Luke continue to complement each other by covering different times and events around Jesus’ birth and infancy. Matthew doesn’t even cover the birth itself, but rather just refers to it in the last verse of chapter 1 and the first verse of chapter 2. Chapter 2 then picks up the story some time after Jesus’ birth, possibly as much as two years later.
Matthew tells us that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, which would be recognized by those familiar with the Old Testament as where Jacob buried Rachel (Genesis 35:19), where Ruth met Boaz (Ruth 1-2), and where David was born and raised. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the area is ultimately under Roman control, but immediately ruled by a powerful and cruel ruler named Herod with a history of murdering any threat to his power. We further see that wise men from the East are traveling to see Jesus. Although they are often referred to popularly as being kings (a tradition that dates back centuries and was tied to Psalm 72:11) and three in number (stemming from the three gifts), neither is likely accurate. These wise men would have likely influential scholars and advisors in their land and would have probably been somewhat familiar with the Old Testament and Jewish traditions. When they come to Herod looking for the one whom the recognize to be king of the Jews, Herod is alarmed and calls experts in the law to come tell him where the prophesied Messiah was supposed to be born. The experts quote a prophecy from Micah 5:2, which indicates the birth was to be in Bethlehem.
Herod pretends that he also wants to go worship the child, and then tries to trick the wise men into finding the child and then coming back to him. The wise men depart on their journey being guided by a star toward Bethlehem. Eventually the star takes them either to the actual location or at least close enough that they can find the family, and so they come to Mary and Jesus. While they did not have a full understanding of who Jesus was, they nonetheless worship Him, and even in their ignorance they reflect a proper response to His divinity. The gifts that they gave Jesus would have been appropriate and fairly common to give someone of great honor and importance. Gold was universally valued and commonly traded as it could be used for jewelry, ornaments, utensils, and much more. Frankincense was a gummy resin from a tree that had a sweet smell when burned and was used in perfumes and in worship by many religions (including Judaism.) Myrrh was a sappy substance similar to frankincense and often used with it. Among its uses was to prepare bodies for burial. After the wise men leave the family, they are warned through a dream not to return to Herod, and so they bypass him on their return home.
Examination and Application
Although some Jewish people do respond to the birth of Jesus in worship (Luke 1-2), Matthew purposefully emphasizes the visit and subsequent worship by the wise men, who were not Jews. The fact that the experts in the law were summoned by Herod and were able to answer that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem makes it even more remarkable that we are given no record here of any of them traveling to see Jesus or indicating any interest in doing so. Whether they had fallen into syncretistic practices that led them to reject much of the Old Testament (Samaritans), become so enamored with earthly power that they had little interest in the Messiah (Sadducees), become so legalistic and self-righteous that they couldn’t recognize the Messiah (Pharisees), or isolated themselves from society (Essenes), or any number of other reasons, Matthew is making his point clear. At a time when the Jewish people should have been rejoicing and celebrating together, gentiles from a far away land are instead coming to worship Jesus, Israel’s promised Messiah.  
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