The Visit of the Kings
Is God visible or invisible in our lives and world?
Matthew 2:1-12: 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 shepherd 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 search carefully 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 worshiped 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.
Adoration of the Kings, by Hendrik ter Brugghen (1619)
The richly garbed kings are full of reverence as they offer their gifts with the young toddler, Jesus, grasping at the gifts as all babies do. Brugghen suggests the wise men or kings knew the importance of the birth of Jesus. Jesus will be the savior of all nations and people!
Martin Luther: In his 1522 sermon for Epiphany, Luther used the example of the Magi to emphasize that the priests and educated of Israel knew the Scriptures but failed to understand and assimilate them. Instead they allowed a foreign king, Herod, to cultivate their fear and dismiss this as fake news. Luther ponders that even if they believed God’s Word on the prophecy of a savior as truth, they frustrated it.
Instead, the Magi were prepared to leave their homes and possessions and search for the birthplace of Jesus Christ. They studied the Scriptures and recognized the star. When they arrived in Jerusalem they did not ask for Annas or Caiaphas, priests, or an address. They asked where they would find the King of the Jews! Luther concluded that God works in opposites, He appears in unlikely places, with ordinary people, and hidden from what we might expect. (Robert Kolb. Luther and the Stories of God, p. 129)
“From this we can easily conclude why Christ had to die and rise again in order to rule spiritually to all eternity. For though the passage here proves that He had to become a true natural man, it yet follows that He had to change this bodily life into a spiritual invisible life, as it was impossible for Him to rule bodily as widely and as long as the prophet indicates.
Micah continues and says: “Therefore will he give them up until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the residue of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he shall stand and shall feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God: and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.”
From these words it is clear that Christ’s kingdom should be extended to the ends of the earth by preaching and suffering, of which the prophet says that in the majesty of the name of Jehovah He would preach and feed his flock, showing also that He would be persecuted on account of his preaching. Therefore the prophet also says that they should be given a respite as to their temporal existence and government until a new people had been born. The woman in travail represents the little flock of the apostles which during the sufferings of Christ was in the agony of the birth of a new spiritual people for this ruler of Israel, as Christ Himself foretells, John 16:2. “Then Herod privately called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship Him.”
From this text we learn that the wise men were not kings nor princes, but common, honest people, like the learned and the clergy. Herod does not treat them as belonging to royalty, but sends them to Bethlehem, tells them to attend to their mission, and, as if they were his subjects, commands them to bring him word again. He would not have done this if they had been kings or lords; he would have invited them to his palace, accompanied them on their journey, and treated them with great honor. For all historians agree that Herod was a pompous man, who knew how to treat people royally after the way of the world, and wished to be admired by the people.
As, however, he calls the men privately and without display and parade they must have been of much lower rank than he was.
But why does he call them privately, since the land was his and in his full control? He did it for this reason. He knew quite well that the Jews were his sworn enemies and wished to be rid of him. He was afraid, therefore, that if he called the men publicly and the Jews became aware of it, they would go to the wise men and enjoin them not to acquaint Herod with the true state of affairs, so that the new king may live before his eyes.
When he asks them about the time of the star he does it out of the same anxiety. He was already resolved in his heart to slay the innocent children.
He reasoned thus: If the new king is born the Jews will rejoice, and will secrete him for a while until he is grown up, and then will espouse his cause, put him on the throne and banish me. I must forestall them, therefore, and carefully inquire into the time of His birth; and although He is hidden from me I shall still find Him amongst the people when I slay all the children, and their disguise will avail them nothing. He pursues this plan diligently so that the new king might be made known to him, commands the wise men to bring him word again, and puts on a pious and devout face as if he wished to worship the child also.”
Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens (1609-1611)