Setting The Stage


This is the only place in the Bible where the visit of these foreign star-gazers is recorded. Contrary to the lyrics of the popular Christmas carol, this passage presents a different picture than we have of ‘We Three Kings’ visiting the baby Jesus. There is nothing in the text to suggest these visitors were kings, and we don’t even know for sure that there were actually three of them. Perhaps that has been deduced from the value of the gifts they brought and the fact that three gifts are mentioned—gold, incense and myrrh. Legend has even gone so far as to have given names to these three ‘kings’—Casper, Melchior, and Balthasar. You could call them Larry, Moe and Curly if you like—nothing more is known of them.

While I’m wrecking all sorts of holiday pictures for you, note that the Biblical record is even at odds with familiar holiday manger scenes. The wise-men don’t arrive at a manger to worship Him. Instead, they find Jesus in a house. A house! Historians and Biblical Scholars have concluded that Joseph must have found temporary shelter for his young family in a house sometime shortly after Jesus was born. They didn’t all sit around a stable cooing at the baby in a manger until the wise men arrived. Armed with this knowledge, you can go and correct all your friends with it next holiday season. That little scene, those sculpted figurines, shepherds, animals, and those three kings … Not how it happened! Pass the egg-nog, please?

But here’s something to consider: With far less information at their disposal than the Jewish religious leaders of the day, these pagan star-watchers took what revelation they did have and they acted on it. They said: We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.

The wise men could not have known the symbolic value of their journey and the gifts they brought. Long ago, again, part of that ancient story, a prophet named Isaiah used the word but himself in speaking of just such a scene: See darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over all the people, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Where that was recorded inIsaiah chapter 60, it went on to speak of seekers from other nations coming to God’s light, and specifically mentions their bringing gifts of gold and incense. Even the arrival of these seekers seems to have been fit perfectly in place, lending still more credibility to Jesus’ identity for Matthew’s original hearers.

Matthew concludes the record of these visitors and their journey by telling us of Herod’s devious plan to locate—and kill—Jesus. He had hoped to use them to locate this newborn king. God, we’re told, intervened. The star watchers returned home using a different route.

Herod concocted a new plan to exterminate Jesus. Matthew tells us that God directed Joseph to move his family. They escaped to Egypt where they remained until Herod died. Once more, because this book was written for a primarily Jewish audience, Matthew goes to great lengths to connect the dots between the ancient story and the birth of Jesus. He continually points out that all of these details were fulfilling ancient promises.