Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matthew 2:1–3)
The Old Testament prepared Israel to expect the coming of a king who would reign forever. Nathan prophesied that from David’s lineage, a “throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Over and over again, Scripture foretold of a future ruler who would set all things right. Israel was to look expectantly towards the empty throne of David, waiting for the appearance of David’s son, yet David’s Lord (Mark 12:35–36). They waited for a human king, but more than a human king — one who would not fail them like former kings had, one who would reign forever in righteousness.
What Did Heaven Think?
We might wonder, then, what the angels made of earth’s reception of her long-awaited King. As they peered over the edge of heaven, what might they have thought of the spectacle of the Son of God becoming flesh and dwelling among men (1 Peter 1:12)?
The Holy, Holy, Holy they lived to adore was heading to earth. They heard Gabriel announce to Mary that “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” upon which the sun would never set (Luke 1:31–33). News of it would be great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10–11). The armies of heaven fixed their gaze intently on the dark world below, anticipating nothing less than monumental merriment at his arrival.
“When the wise men saw the star, they did what all awakened by God do.”
But what did they see in the early chapters of their Savior’s earthly advent? When the Gentile “wise men” came and inquired of the child, “Herod the king heard this, [and] he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:1–3).
After fourteen generations from Abraham to David, and fourteen more from David to the Babylonian exile, and still fourteen more from exile to the Messiah’s birth — Jesus Christ, “the Son of David” (Matthew 1:1) arrived to this? The world sat in sin and error — yes — but not so much pining.
Four different reactions attended the arrival of the Messiah in the early chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. Reactions to King Jesus that can still be seen today as we await his second arrival.
1. Threatened King
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled. (Matthew 2:3)
When king Herod heard the wise men inquire of a king to be born, he was disturbed. Was he not the King of the Jews, appointed so by Rome? His throne and scepter stood in jeopardy. Herod sought to destroy the child and did so serving as an agent of Satan’s fury: “When the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child” (Revelation 12:13). Satan tried to ensure that the throne of David remained empty by slaughtering all the male children under two years old in Bethlehem.
In Herod we see the power-hungry and political patsies who will not relinquish power willingly to Christ. We also see ourselves prior to conversion, who, with less visibility and less casualties, hated when our thrones were threatened.
2. Troubled Masses
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matthew 2:3)
The people for whom Christ came to bring eternal peace and prosperity were troubled by his arrival. “He came to his own and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Why was Israel troubled? They sang great Psalms of David foretelling the Messiah’s reign to come (especially Psalms 2 and 110). Why did they now chafe at his advent?
“Apart from being born of God, we would never choose to be saved.”
Can we not surmise, from knowledge of our own hearts, that Christ found these troubled ones of Jerusalem in love with the world? This Christ had not yet spoken words to make them grab for stones. They simply were comfortable with the way of things, most content with how things stood. Why shake things up? They were cozy in a fallen world. They wanted to live their lives, be good people, and show up to synagogue on holidays — and didn’t need a new king for that.
What a bleak picture of the human heart, that apart from being born of God, we would never choose to be saved. Instead of crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:15), we would have been among the crowd shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:13–21).
3. Apathetic Leaders
This group might be the most perplexing. The magi went to the spiritual leaders of Israel for the location of the child, a task they handled well. They unraveled their scrolls to Micah 5:2, where we can hear them read the seven-centuries-old prophesy:
You, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. (Matthew 2:6)
And then they went along with their day. They carried on with business as usual. They did not leave with the magi to worship him. They told the pagan priests where to find their Messiah, their Christ, their King, and then went back to their study of the very Scriptures that promised,
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:7)
“In Herod, we see ourselves prior to conversion, who hated when our thrones were threatened.”
They had no room in the inns of their religious systems. The magicians came from distant lands because they saw God’s writing in the stars, but the shepherds of Israel would not be bothered to travel six miles down the road when staring at the prophecies in Scripture. Their apathy would show its true colors thirty years later when Pilate contested their request to crucify him, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
4. Traveling Worshipers
Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. (Matthew 2:3)
When the wise men saw the star, they did what all awakened by God do: they rejoiced exceedingly, went to the Christ, fell down, and worshiped him. He was a King to be worshiped, a King worthy of their treasures (Matthew 2:10–11), for he was their Treasure.
They saw what the others could not: a king born without a crown, a throne standing as tall as a manger, a kingdom with farm animals standing guard. They saw who had come: the King of kings. These join the glorious, and unlikely, ranks of believers in the New Testament who would come to worship him.
Weary World Rejoices
Towards the end of every Gospel, Jesus is asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” In every case, he replies, “You have said so.”
Leading up to this, we see all kinds of people bowing to Jesus and entering this kingdom. Blind men, hopeless criminals, no-name fishermen, the sinful, the shamed, the paralyzed, the social lepers, the women of ill repute, the demon-oppressed, the misfit, the out-of-place, the unlikely, routinely came to worship him — while the comfortable, the at-home, the well-to-do, the religious but apathetic stayed away.
The sick and sinners who went to him knew they must go. To whom else would they go? All of history, all of Scripture, all truth and beauty and goodness — all need — led them to him. He was, and is, the joy of all those weary of their sin, weary of this fallen world, weary of being apart from him. Jesus, the King we could never imagine — Jesus, the King worthy of all of our worship — came. Anointed of God, needed by man, his reign is still life and peace for all who trust in him and wait for his return. Come, let us adore him!