Matthew 2 Commentary
The Three Wisemen | Matthew 2:1-2
During one of Jesus’ many rebukes, Jesus said: “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times (Matthew 16:2-3)
The three magi coming out the east showed us how true Jesus’ words would be. Traveling a great distance to see Jesus, it was three Gentiles, not the religious elite in Jerusalem, who rightly discerned the times and sought after the long foretold King. The Jews, the protectors and custodians of the Word of God, failed to discern their own Scriptures. They were humbled by the simple question: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the eastand have come to worship him.” The authorities were unable to answer because they were not seeking to understand the times. The truth was hidden in their Scriptures and they could not see it.
“We have saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” shows us the goodness of the Gospel. The Jews would have the Morning Star first, but the Gentiles would ultimately seek it.
Herod’s Deceit | Matthew 2:3-8
Herod and his administration had reason to worry. The announcement of the Messiah in Judea would have undoubtedly kindled the fires of revolution and whipped up the Messianic fervor that was rising with each generation. Earlier in his reign, Herod had put to death 3,000 Pharisees in order to secure and establish his kingdom. But despite his best efforts to oppress the masses, revolution was constantly on the minds of the people.
Since it was widely held that the coming Messiah would be an unstoppable, revolutionary force backed by the full power of God himself, one can understand the alarm and political calculus that Herod employed. The announcement of Messiah would suddenly become a political flash point that threatened to ignite an uprising beyond control. Sending expensive resources to an insignificant outpost like Jerusalem to quell a rebellion would have angered Caesar and the Roman senate. And in this age, losing Rome’s favor could cost you not only your kingship but your life. In the event of an uprising, Herod faced a deadly dilemma on two fronts. If the people didn’t kill him, then Rome certainly could.
With the magi’s announcement, Herod had to act quickly without showing his hand. He immediately assembled the chief priests and teachers of the law to find out where the child was hidden and learning the location of the boy’s birth, he immediately arranged a secret meeting with the magi in order to learn the approximate time that Jesus had been born.
This secret meeting proved to be horrific to every family Bethlehem with small boy.
Herod’s deceit was “masterful” in two ways. First, his private meeting kept it quiet that he was endorsing the magi’s mission by proclaiming that the Messiah had come only to them. Second, he kept quiet the lie that the magi were on a special mission from the king himself.
In sending the magi off, Herod’s plan was now fully in motion. If the magi didn’t directly lead him to the boy, then a more ruthless and costly action would be needed to preserve his kingdom, and we soon learn that Herod had little reservation in deploying that ruthless tactic.
But the lesson to us is simple. It is not enough when leaders, even pastors, mouth that they are with you. Praises are always authenticated by action. In the case of King Herod, here was an unfaithful king who kept his friends close and his enemies even closer. Herod had completely disregarded the difficult journey of the magi to reach Jesus and he cared nothing for their quest. He cared nothing for (nor even believed) that the boy they sought was indeed the Messiah. Herod wanted only to keep and consolidate power and he was willing to do anything to keep his throne. So he feigned to join their cause. He gave the appearance of being noble and just, but instead was manipulative and cunning in an attempt to use any means to destroy his enemies, even if that meant destroying the innocent children in the process.
The Irresistible Star | Matthew 2:9-12
The magi had followed the star for months. They had seen it in the east and had followed it to Jerusalem to find the one it foretold. The irresistible star paints a picture for us. It tells something of how a sinful soul is led to Christ by the Gospel.
The star went ahead of the magi and it led them to stop over the exact spot where the boy king was staying. The Word of God leads the sinner to Jesus in the same way. It shines from afar at first to invite the sinner to follow and then it rests on the salvation that is found in him.
The supernatural light in the night sky was just as irresistible to these to star gazers as the light of the Gospel is to the saved soul when it first catches a glimpse of the beautiful truth that lies in the pages of Scripture. Bunyan captures this irresistible draw very well in his masterpiece, The Pilgrim’s Progress. In it he writes of the first encounter between a Christian (to be) who feared over the eternal destination of his soul and of the wise Evangelist who preached the Gospel to him:
“Then said Evangelist, Why not willing to die, since this life is attended with so many evils? The Man answered, Because I fear that this burden that is upon my back will sink me lower than the Grave, and I shall fall into Tophet. And, Sir, if I be not fit to go to Prison, I am not fit to go to Judgment, and from thence to Execution; and the thoughts of these things make me cry.
Then said Evangelist, If this be thy condition, why standest thou still? He answered, Because I know not whither to go. Then he gave him a Parchment-roll, and there was written within, Fly from the wrath to come. The Man therefore read it, and looking upon Evangelist very carefully, said, Whither must I fly? Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, Do you see yonder Wicket-gate? The Man said, No. Then said the other, Do you see yonder shining Light? He said, I think I do. Then said Evangelist, Keep that Light in your eye, and go up directly thereto: so shalt thou see the Gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.” – Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan
To the Christian, the Word of God is mesmerizing. It is irresistible. To the world, the words that lead us to Christ are boring repulsive and ugly.
Both the believer and unbeliever look on the Gospel, but only one sees its worth and pursues it, only the believer finds it irresistible and follows its instructions to find eternal life in Jesus.
When the magi found Jesus they found joy. The star had drawn them to the Eternal Star that gives new life to men. The Christian who finds release from the burden of his sin also finds Jesus. He finds the easy yoke and the light burden promised later by Matthew. Like the magi, the saved soul cannot help but worship. He cannot but help to be overjoyed that the irresistible draw by his merciful God led him to a better reward than even he imagined.
Out of Egypt | Matthew 2:13-15
Joseph’s flight to Egypt marked the third time that God had protected the boy through a dream. The magi already received their dream and instructions not to return to the deceitful and murderous Herod. Now Joseph is warned about Herod in a second dream to flee Herod’s jurisdiction by traveling to Egypt.
Joseph immediately responded. Having already believed and acted upon the first dream, he had no reason to doubt the second.
In taking his family to Egypt, God recreates for us Jacob taking refuge in Egypt from a severe famine that struck Palestine. Through the preparations that God had made through the first Joseph (who faithfully clung to God despite suffering years of unjust imprisonment and slavery in a foreign land) God preserved the promise that Abraham would give birth to a great nation. Here a second Joseph oversees the rescue of Israel in order to preserve the Great Hope of the world. Out of Egypt, God called his chosen people after 430 years of slavery, and this call ended centuries of oppression and moral darkness. But now again, out of Egypt God would call his Son who would end 430 years of God’s silence (the number of years between Malachi and Matthew) with a flood of revelation that proclaimed him to be the only means of escape from the oppression of sin, judgment and hell.
In Jesus, the light of salvation was revealed. Through him, God’s silence was not just broken with a whisper, but with a divine shout that echoed throughout the hallways of human history! Out of Egypt he came.
Herod’s Madness | Matthew 2:16-18
Herod’s order to kill the little boys in and around Bethlehem was consistent with the madness of earlier kings. Herod sensed an end to his reign and tried in vein to overcome God’s will through hi own strength. At the time of Moses’ birth, Pharaoh threatened God’s promises in a similar way. His cruelty that ordered every newborn male killed (Exodus 1:22) threatened to continue Israel’s bondage indefinitely. But like Herod, Pharaoh instead set in motion the rescue of Moses by Pharaoh’s own daughter. And this turn of events, enabled Moses to become the instrument through which Egypt would be crushed under the thumb of God.
But such madness of Herod and the Pharaohs is not unique to them. The once timid Saul now boldly chased David across the Judean countryside to retain his power. Despite all his efforts, Saul’s faithlessness only accelerated his ruin. Ahaz feared the prophecies surrounding his death, so much so that he tried to deceive God by disguising himself and hiding among his soldiers in battle (1 Kings 22:30). God was neither mocked or deceived by the faithless king, and he had him brought down by the stray arrow from a common archer.
Despite his madness, Herod’s murderous decisions only enhanced God’s plan. Unwittingly, he fulfilled yet another Messianic prophecy. Unplanned he advanced God’s plan. Herod is but another example of how evil always finds away to destroy itself through the wisdom of God.
Joseph’s Dreams | Matthew 2:19-23
Spending a significant amount of time in Egypt, Joseph’s third dream was welcome news. Finally, the young family could return home. But Jerusalem and its surrounding towns would not serve as home to Jesus and his family. Archelaus had now assumed his father’s throne, also assumed his reputation. He was equally as cruel as Herod and equally ambitious. Had Archelaus learned that he had a chance to correct his father’s mistake, he would have just as likely sought to destroy the boy himself. Joseph’s dream warned of the potential danger of moving to near Jerusalem and the Spirit guided the family north to Galilee.
Like the first Joseph, the second also received dreams. Both received dreams of promise and warnings in order to ensure that God’s plan to rescue his people were achieved. And both Josephs acted faithfully towards the merciful God who revealed his will to them. Both were custodians over the rescue of Israel. But instead of watching over grain to save his family (and the promise to Abraham that Israel would rise), this Joseph watched over a little boy who would one day rescue Israel from spiritual starvation that comes from the famine of sin.
Unknown to Joseph at the time, was that Jesus would one day offer himself as the Bread of Life to every tribe, tongue and nation. And Joseph had also become the unsuspecting, yet no less wise administrator of God’s plan – fearing and heeding his Word on account of his unwavering faith.