The wise men, king Herod, and the holy family all come together
under "the star".


 

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of
Herod the king, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? We have seen
His star in the East and have come to worship him."

When Herod heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with
him. When he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the
people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be
born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem, for it is written by the
prophet: 'You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least
among the rulers of Judah; out of you shall come a Ruler who will
shepherd My people Israel.'"

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined
from them what time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem
and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when
you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and
worship Him also."

The wise men departed and behold, the star which they had seen
in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where
the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with
exceedingly great joy. When they had come into the house, they
saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and
worshiped Him.

When they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to
Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then being divinely warned
in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed
for their own country another way.

                                                     Matthew 2:1-12 NKJV, condensed



              Three Wise Men Plus One Not So Wise

After it was over, it wasn't over yet!  Luke completed his narrative about
Jesus' birth, but Matthew continued on, and that's why we go broke at
Christmastime! Over the horizon come those seekers from afar, possibly
astronomers, acting on some curious bits of information regarding the
brightest star they had ever seen. In their search, they found exceedingly
great joy plus something else, an exceedingly angry ruler named Herod
the Great.

The arrival of the wise men has become a familiar part of the Christmas
pageant, but there's something odd about their story. The people of
Judea had not had a king for many, many centuries. Not since the days
of David and Solomon had they been a political power. Yet onto the
landscape came these educated men from the East, asking to see the
king of the Jews!

What was their history and background? To the East were Syria,
Babylon (Iraq), and Persia (Iran). These were all places where Jewish
people had been taken as spoils of war centuries before. Some of these
exiles, like Daniel, had lived out their entire lives in the East. Now, the
wise men could have been Gentiles, but why would a Gentile go to such
lengths to find a Jewish king? More likely, they were descendents of
those displaced Jews, still living on foreign soil.

We asume there were three of them, though it doesn't really say. Only
three who followed the beckoning star they had observed over the land
of their forefathers. The star was a phenomenon to be pondered,
reminding them of ancient stories about Jerusalem, its temple, the law
of Moses and the prophets. A star so bright could mean only one thing--
the coming of their Messiah.

How true to life that visitors must inform the locals what is happening
in their heartland! The shepherds had been the first to spread similar
news and Anna at the temple was telling people. But like us, the
residents of Jerusalem needed to be told many times before it would
sink in.

Herod took special note this time. After all, he ruled Judea. Feeling
strangely threatened by whatever might have occurred, he wanted to
be sure to control it. Scripture says all Jerusalem was on edge. When
Herod got troubled, everyone became nervous.

Herod was also devious, so he pretended to be a man of good intentions.
He went to the experts to find out from their sacred writings where the
Messiah was to be born. The answer: Bethlehem. OK, now he knew
where. But when would the Messiah be born? Herod needed the wise
men and their star to solve this mystery. Answer: Within the last two
years. Scripture alone didn't convince king Herod, but combined with
the spectacular star it did prove credible.

So Herod lied and began his plot to destroy the little pretender to his
throne. Being crafty, he will use the wise men to find Jesus. They are
to send him word so he can come and worship the infant king, too!
The big, bad wolf was dressed in royal clothing.

The star that had led these Eastern travelers to Jerusalem, went
before them into Bethlehem. The thrill of anticipation intensified; their
joy rising to the heavens. At long last their search was being rewarded.
They found the house and there before them was the young child with
his mother. Humbly they knelt to worship and offer him their treasures.
Gold for a king; frankincense for a priest; myrrh for one who would die.

Their mission had been clear--to find Jesus, pay him homage, and
present him with gifts. Having accomplished these three things, it was
time to go home. Guided by a dream, they did not return to Herod and
instead took a different route out of the country. They would not stick
around for the firestorm about to erupt.

The birth of Jesus meant exceeding joy for the wise men. For Herod
it meant exceeding rage. The former had eyes wide open for the
possibilities of God; the latter was blinded by his own insecurity and
ambitions.

 

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker: If you were casting the characters to play this movie scene,   
                      who would you pick for the wise men? Herod? Mary? The Child?

                      What performers do you think would fit these parts?

 

Think in terms of time, money, hardships, job security, family life, etc.
            What do you imagine this trip cost the wise men?
            Do you reckon they gained more than they spent?
            Would you ever go on a trip like that?    Why or why not?

 

They followed a star, asked directions, found their King, worshiped him,
gave gifts of value and disobeyed the local ruler--that's the story of these
travelers from the East.
            Why do we call them wise men?
            What does their story add to the other accounts of Jesus' birth?
            What do you suppose happened to the gold, frankincense and myrrh?

 

The shepherds and Anna had spread the word about Jesus' birth.
But not until the wise men began asking about the Messiah/King, did it
get Herod's attention.
            What does this tell you about those first evangelists and Herod?
            When does scuttlebutt become newsworthy information?
            How important is the messenger in relaying the gospel of Jesus?

 

The joy of the wise men is contrasted with the anger of Herod.
            Make two lists, one for joy and one for anger.
            In the columns, write words which you associate with joy and anger.
If you could select which attitude toward life you would prefer, the choice
should be easy. Yet some people choose anger over joy.
            Why is that?

 

Jesus seemed very small and vulnerable compared to the angry Herod.
Bethlehem appeared insignificant compared to Jerusalem.
            What is the message in all of this?

 

The holy family was living in a house now, and still in Bethlehem. Jesus is
believed to be under two years of age. Joseph is overlooked and not even
mentioned.   Why might that be and where do you think he was?

 

Sometimes it takes an exaggerated case of envy, such as Herod's, to call
attention to the green-eyed monster inside each one of us. Envy is as old
as Cain and Abel, and known to everyone.
            When do you feel envious, jealous or resentful?
            What are some things that you envy in other people?
"When I excel, others become envious of me. When they excel, I envy them."
            Is this true even in our churches?

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