“Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”
– Matthew 2:20 (ESV)
We do not know much about the Magi, where they were from, or how many of them came to Judea. Some have suggested that these were magicians, astrologers, or scholars. There is also debate on whether or not these people were pagans or if they were Jewish remnants from the time when Daniel was in Babylon during the exile. Whoever these people were, they recognized a phenomenon in the sky and attributed it to the birth of a new king. They followed the sign they had seen in the sky to Jerusalem in search of this king.
In , the Magi ask an interesting question. They ask, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” They were not looking for just a birth – they were not looking for just a king. They were looking for the one who has been born a king! Jesus did not need a coronation – he did not need to wait for another king to die – he was born a king and a ruler. These Magi recognized that and came to worship him.
Herod was a ruthless ruler in Judea. He murdered many of his family members, including his wife and three of his sons, out of suspicion that they might try to overthrow him. You can see why Herod would be troubled by the news of a new king. Herod shows complete foolishness in how he reacts to this news. When he asks the chief priests and scribes where the Christ, the Messiah, is to be born, he has the intent to kill this child. It is interesting that such a man does not understand the power of God in fulfilling prophecy and protecting the one who is to redeem Israel. Herod’s desire to kill Jesus is not just and act of foolishness, it is also a deliberate attempt to thwart God’s plans. Scripture tells us that it is impossible to thwart the plans of God ().
When the Magi reached the house where Jesus and his parents were, they worshiped him and presented their gifts. At this point, Jesus would have probably been about two years old (). He was no longer in the stable, but now in a house. These Magi came from a distant land to worship this child who they knew was the one born a king. Whether they were pagans or not, we can learn from their dedication and effort to come and worship the king! Do we worship Christ in the same way?
Herod’s attempt to thwart God’s plan fails. Joseph is told to flee to Egypt so that Jesus can be protected from the murderous hands of Herod. Here we see God’s hand of protection over his son. God divinely intervened, not by stopping the evil plans of Herod, but by protecting Jesus from death. I can imagine that Joseph and Mary may have been confused as to why God would move them to a completely new country instead of just moving them to another part of Israel. We see that there is a dual purpose for sending them to Egypt. Not only does it protect Jesus from Herod, but it also fulfills the prophecy from . Jesus, in a way, relived the exodus from Egypt that the Israelites experienced in the Old Testament. It further identifies Christ with the Jewish people.
Unfortunately, Herod’s plans did result in tragedy. Dozens of boys in Bethlehem died at the hands of Herod when he decreed that all the boys in that area under two years old be killed (). Again, such a tragedy is the fulfillment of prophecy given in . It is hard to explain why innocent people suffer and even harder to comfort those who mourn the loss of innocent lives. One of the ways we can support others in suffering is by entering into their suffering with them. Grieve as they grieve – mourn as they mourn. We have the tendency (even if it is unconsciously) to want to move people past their suffering. Instead, we should allow them to grieve and mourn as long as is needed and be a support for them during that time. Each person deals with suffering in a different manner – it is subjective. Let us show compassion and care to those who suffer.
After Herod had died, Joseph is instructed in a dream to return to Israel (). The words that the angel spoke are very insightful: “for those who sought the child’s life are dead” (v. 20b). Herod, the one who was trying to kill Jesus, had physically died and was no longer seeking to kill him. It also speaks to those who would later send Jesus to the cross and those who try to “kill off” Jesus today. These people, the one’s who seek to kill Jesus, are spiritually dead and their plans have been thwarted. Their desire to seek an end to Christ will never be complete. As we know, Christ triumphed over the attempt to kill him when he rose from the dead. Those who seek to kill Jesus today in our society will never win. The beast who is to come will not triumph over Christ. These people stand already dead and condemned! We need not fear those who try to kill off Jesus – they have been conquered!