As we have been taking a closer look at the Christmas story, we finished examining the dedication of baby Jesus at the Jerusalem Temple eight days after his birth. We will now fast-forward two years later and discuss the Magi and God’s plan to protect His newborn Son.
Matthew 2 details how Jesus received kingly guests to bless Him. But not everyone wanted Jesus to survive. King Herod was too paranoid to let Jesus live. God used His divine abilities to keep Jesus safe. Let’s take a closer look at how God protected Jesus from His enemies.
Who knows how long the Magi and those who came before them watched the skies for this special event? A special star lit up in the sky and began directing them to a certain place. The Babylonians watched the astrological signs for many years.
It was one of the strengths of the Babylonian culture. We don’t know for sure exactly where from the East the Magi hailed. Some scholars believe Daniel prophesied about the Messiah while he lived in Babylon and Persia.
If that’s true, the Babylonians and Persians were watching for a sign that the Messiah had been born. They understood Him to be a King and worthy of gifts. After all, that is what royalty gives to new royalty. They wanted to bless this new King of the Jews.
This might be the only way we can explain how the Magi knew about King Jesus. Why did they start following a star in the sky? How did they know that Jesus was the Messiah, a worthy King? The Daniel theory does a nice job of explaining this. Whether or not they heard Daniel’s prophecies, we find these strange visitors looking for the recently born King of the Jews.
From the time they saw the star in the sky and began to follow it, the star takes them to the place where Jesus lives. We know this was two years after Jesus’ birth because the Magi tell King Herod when the star appeared (Matthew 2:7).
He seeks to kill every male child in Bethlehem from two years old and under (Matthew 2:16). This gives us the length of time it took the Magi to follow the star to where Jesus was. So the Magi traveled for two years from the Babylonian or Persian East.
But they surprise King Herod with the visit because there were no royal children born when they arrived. Herod scrambled to discover everything he needed to know to eliminate this new threat.
Herod must ascertain both the time and place to find this dangerous King. After consulting with the chief priests and scribes of the law they informed him of a prophecy that gave him the place of the Messiah’s birth (Matthew 2:4)..
The chief priests and scribes of the law are the most informed in Israel of the Scriptures. The Messiah was seen as a political figure and Herod could not have that. So he found out from the people who know these things where the Messiah will be born.
The Messiah was one of the most hopeful figures in the prophecies. He would come and set all things right for Israel once again. Some people saw Him as a military leader who could win Israel’s freedom on the battlefield.
Others saw Him as the ultimate King who could restore Israel politically and militarily. And others saw in the prophecies the Messiah as a high priest, someone who would restore Israel’s religious and moral framework.
What they didn’t see is that the Messiah is all three of these and more. When Jesus came to us it was to be our King, to rule in our hearts and spread His kingdom through us. Jesus’ kingdom and Kingship are nothing like what this world expects. That’s why Herod fell short of his goal to eliminate this Messiah.
The chief priests and scribes pointed to the prophecy in Micah 5:2 to show where the Christ, the Messiah, will be born. Micah prophesied He would be born in Bethlehem of Judah. Now Herod had the place. And he spoke to the Magi to find out the time.
King Herod did not keep his throne by being straightforward and honest. Now that he knew the time and place of this usurper King to his throne he had to protect his own throne.
Herod did everything he could politically to survive. This included killing most of his family members. It was a preemptive strike to make sure they didn’t kill him to take power.
Herod was ruthless. If he was willing to kill family members, his own sons, to maintain his rule and thrown he had no problem killing anyone else. But before he moved to strike any challenger he deceptively spoke to these visiting kings.
After finding out the time of the Messiah’s arrival into the world Herod told the Magi he wanted to worship this new King also. But he had no intention of worshiping Jesus. He only wanted them to give him the exact location in Bethlehem of this threatening King.
He used deception to try to get what he wanted. But God thwarted his efforts. Herod had no understanding of who Jesus really was and the kind of kingdom He came to inaugurate. He was only concerned for his own power. But selfish kings don’t succeed against the King of Kings.
The Magi Meet Jesus
The Magi leave Herod to search for King Jesus. They are still following the star then proclaimed to them the birth of a great King. They followed it right to the place Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were living at the time.
Many people include in nativity scenes and Christmas pageants the Magi and their visit to Jesus. But there was a span of two years between Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Magi. I think most people want to include this part of the story because they bring Him kingly gifts.
Unlike King Herod the Magi were generally in search of the Messiah to bless and worship Him. They understood His significance. When they saw the star they were exceedingly grateful and overjoyed.
They had followed the star all this time and were grateful to see it was still there. God does not stop guiding us in the ways He desires for us. He makes a way for you to know exactly what He expects and how to please Him.
The Magi followed the star and arrived at Jesus’ house in Bethlehem. They ran inside and found Jesus with Mary and Joseph. Finally the culmination of two years of travel and careful insight into the astrological sign of the special star paid off. They bent their knees, bowed their heads, and worshiped Jesus, the true King.
Overjoyed to meet this King they presented the gifts they trudged through the deserts of the East and Middle East to bring to Him. Jesus was born in a stable, in a feeding trough. The shepherds, the profession of kingmakers, visited Jesus.
But finally Jesus received gifts worthy of a King. They presented three gifts, but there were probably more than three Magi. It’s more likely they traveled in a large caravan.
The gift of gold given to this King symbolized the wealth and prosperity of great Kings. Frankincense was an aromatic ingredient in making incense. Christian tradition says that frankincense represented Jesus’ divinity. It had multiple uses including medicinal healing. Jesus is the Great Physician who heals all your diseases. Frankincense was used to burn incense in worship.
Myrrh could either be used as incense or made into a fragrant liquid oil. It was one of the ingredients to make anointing oil, perhaps pointing to Jesus’ Spirit-filled ministry. It was used in burial practices. Nicodemus used myrrh to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39). So it was a symbol of preparation for Jesus’ death.
These three gifts prepare Jesus for the life and journey of a King. They provided prosperity, worshipful incense, and preparation for burial. All of these things Jesus would be and do His life and ministry.
Throughout our lives we make decisions that can put us in danger. The Magi didn’t know Herod’s treachery. They figured he was an honorable king. But he was not.
This is why God intervened to keep them and His Son safe. He has been using dreams throughout the Christmas story. Joseph received His direction through a dream with an angelic visit.
The Magi would have unknowingly told Herod where Jesus was so he could come in worship the Messiah with them. But God knew Herod’s intentions. And he protected the Magi from this dishonorable king.
Got used a dream to tell the Magi to return to their home by a different route. They must avoid getting involved with King Herod. He would put their lives at risk to get what he wanted. God protected the Magi from great danger.
But He wasn’t finished protecting. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were in grave danger as well. Herod had enough information to find them. Even without the help of the Magi to locate Him Herod had the time and place.
It may be ironic that Joseph was informed by God in dreams like his namesake, Joseph from the story of the patriarchs in Genesis. Just as Joseph ended up in Egypt and received dreams that guided his life, so also Joseph received instruction and warning through dreams.
God warned Joseph once again, guiding his life and path, that Herod was coming for Jesus. His ruthlessness cannot be underestimated. God told Joseph to take Jesus to Egypt to be safe, away from Herod’s jurisdiction.
They packed up right away and left Bethlehem before Herod could attack them and foil God’s plans for Jesus. Herod sent his henchmen soldiers to Bethlehem with orders to kill every child two years and under. God gave Joseph direction just in time.
God is never late in His plans for you. He protects and guides you. He leads you into His goodness. He sees the road ahead of you and when you are obedient like Joseph you become part of God’s great plans for this world and its people.
Fleeing to Egypt
So Joseph, Mary, and Jesus traveled to Egypt. Only Matthew records them fleeing to Egypt for safety from King Herod. The angel was specific in his dream. He told Joseph to flee to Egypt with his family and remain there until the angel told him it was safe.
I’m uncertain as to how long they stayed in Egypt. But Matthew tells us Joseph stay there until King Herod was dead. He made sure there was no threat to Jesus before he made his next move. Joseph is the image of a good earthly father.
Joseph was obedient to everything the Lord told him to do. He was in tune with God through dreams that led him and his family. Because he was obedient God protected his family and the Messiah. We must never forget how dangerous it was for Jesus not only in the beginning of His life throughout His ministry until His death.
Returning to Nazareth
Matthew mentions a prophecy, “Out of Egypt I called my son” for the time that Joseph and his family returned to their homeland. This is from Hosea 11:1. But it has much more significance. It refers to Israel leaving Egypt the Exodus and going through the wilderness until they came to the Promised Land.
Unlike Israel wandering around of the wilderness for 40 years Jesus simply traveled from Egypt to His homeland in Israel. Matthew has a motif of Jesus being the obedient son that Israel was not. Where Israel failed Jesus succeeds.
Another example of this motif in Matthew is Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days and nights (Matthew 4:1-11). Where Israel failed to remain true to God when tempted by other nations and idols Jesus succeeded in His three temptations to remain faithful to God.
When Herod died it was safe to return to Israel. But Joseph knew this not because he read the Egyptian newspaper that told him Herod died. The Egyptians probably didn’t care about Herod at all. The angel returned to him in a dream and told him it was safe to return (Matthew 2:19)..
Joseph is warned in yet another dream it’s not safe to return to Bethlehem. He finds out that one of Herod’s sons is now ruling in his place. Joseph discerns it’s not safe to return to Bethlehem.
So he settles in the region of Galilee in the same Nazareth they left to go to Bethlehem and register together. Nazareth was outside Herod son, Archelaus’ reach in Judah. They would be safe there.
Matthew mentions one more prophecy that was fulfilled when Jesus settled in Nazareth. He says the prophets spoke about the Messiah and said he would be called a Nazarene. But scholars can’t find a solid prophecy to quote this from Matthew.
The closest we can come to understanding Matthew’s reference comes from Isaiah 11:1 in speaking of the Ministry of the Messiah, Isaiah calls Him a Branch. In Hebrew, the word for branch is nezer, sounding very close to Nazarene.
The Meaning of Christmas
We once again see Joseph’s obedience that protects Jesus from the dangers King Herod wishes to bring down on His head. God can only use obedient servants to fulfill His will for those around you. Be open to His leading.
God guides you when you surrender to His will. You must not only hear His voice but be obedient to what He says. He will keep you from danger. God never leads you astray. Follow His voice and you will always be in the center of His will.
Thank You for Reading!
It’s been a joy to look at the Christmas story anew with you this Christmas season. I hope you picked up on some things you may have missed in previous years. May you enjoy this Christmas season and remember the meaning of Christmas, that Jesus came God’s way just for you.