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Gospel of Matthew 2: 1-12 (NIV)
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be shepherd of my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Here we put aside conjecture as to whether the Magi were anything other than astrologers (kings or wise men, for example), whether they were three in number (assumed by some because three “treasures” were mentioned) or whether they were from Sheba, Persia or elsewhere. We concentrate instead on the two kingships directly referred to in the text: that of “King Herod” and that of “king of the Jews”.
King Herod, understood to be Herod the Great who died in 4 BC, was not a Jew but an Idumaean who was placed by Rome in a position of kingship over the Jews. He was known for his cruelty; the subsequent slaughter of the infants referred to in Matthew 2: 13-18 is indicative of this.
The other “king” is Jesus, born in Bethlehem in Judea to be a ruler over God’s people Israel as was “written” by the prophet Micah (5: 2). He had not come to rule harshly or cruelly but to shepherd God’s people and to give his life in order to reconcile all people with God. Amazingly, he was to be, and remains, “God with us”, “Immanuel” (Matthew 1: 23).
Today the proliferation of “Herods” in positions of political, corporate and criminal leadership can lead ordinary people to despair. The person who trusts in Jesus, however, knows hope rather than despair. “God with us” is not merely a statement of physical presence. Importantly it confirms what has been written by the Apostle Paul: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8: 31).
We thank God that he “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 16).