Today’s reading is Matthew 2.
From the beginning of his life Jesus was met with extreme mixed reactions. He was born in Bethlehem, a town famous for being the hometown of David but with nothing else admirable or prestigious about it. His parents did not live in Bethlehem, so he was born in very humble surroundings. Although his birthplace had been prophesied to be in Bethlehem (v. 6), nobody in Israel was expecting him to be born there when he was. With the exception of a handful of people, God’s chosen people were unprepared for the coming of Christ and unaware of his arrival.
Even though people in Israel were unprepared for and largely unaware of Christ’s birth, others outside of Israel were aware of it. Verse 1 told us that “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” That statement is not specific enough to identify what country these men came from, but they were definitely Gentiles, not Jewish men. Verse 2 told us that it was astrology that drew them to look for Christ for they said, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” The Old Testament condemns the use of astrology (see Deut 4:19 or Isaiah 47:13-14) and it is not one of God’s methods of revelation. But, just as God allowed the medium at Endor to conjure up a vision of Samuel from the dead for Saul (1 Sam 28), he used a star to draw these men to the birthplace of Jesus. And their attitude and reason for coming honored Jesus because they said, “We… have come to worship him” (v. 2).
Once Herod heard from the Magi, his reaction was extreme. He first desired to use the Magi to hunt down and kill Jesus (vv. 8, 12, 16a). When God warned the Magi not to tell Herod where Jesus was, he brutally murdered the baby boys in and around Bethlehem (v. 16). It is the identity of Jesus that draws out these extreme reactions in people. Because he is God in a human body, most people want nothing to do with him or to extinguish any memory of his existence. But those whom God has called and blessed with faith want to worship him. These reactions, obviously, exist to this day. God protected Jesus from all harm until the time came to harm him by crucifixion for our redemption.
This passage also shows us another theme that is true of Christ. In addition to sparking extreme, mixed reactions in those who meet him, those who accept and worship Jesus often come from unexpected backgrounds. It seems natural to expect that “the chief priests and teachers of the law” (v.4) that Herod consulted would be interested in seeing Jesus. But, although they knew where to look for him, they took no effort to come to his cradle. Foreigners who looked for signs in the stars came to worship Jesus but those who were experts in the prophesies about him couldn’t be bothered. This is the unexpected grace of God. God calls and saves people who seem unlikely to embrace Jesus while leaving religiously-oriented people in indifference and unbelief. This gives us a good reason to thank God who saved us in Christ when we were unlikely to be saved. It also reminds us not to decide for ourselves who would and would not be interested in Christ. If God has chosen him or her and is working in his or her heart, he might use you to save someone you’d never expect to trust him.