The plan of God was to announce in Israel and elsewhere the birth of the King of the Jews and to protect Him and His family and provide for them. None of that could be thwarted by the schemes of evil Herod—or by any other power in the universe.
If I were to ask, “How many wise men visited Jesus in Bethlehem?” most people would answer, “Three.” If I asked when they arrived, most people would say, “Well, they came to the stable to worship the baby Jesus right after He was born.”
What if I told you that neither one of those answers is true? Let us look at what the Gospel accounts actually tell us about what happened next.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that sometime after Jesus’ birth and the family’s appearance at the temple forty days later, Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth in Galilee. Luke writes in chapter 2, and verse 40, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”
These words summarize the childhood of Jesus. But Matthew chapter 2 fills in some details prior to His growing up in Nazareth. Matthew writes in verses 1-2:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
These “wise men,” or magi, are from Persia. The magi were the university professors of the sciences, languages, and mathematics. They were also associated with pagan astrology and magic—magi and magic come from the same word. These men tutored the royal sons—in fact no one could ascend the throne without receiving the blessing of the magi. They were the kingmakers of Persia.
Matthew tells us they come looking for the newborn “king of the Jews.” They have seen “his star” and followed it to Jerusalem, before evidently losing sight of it.
The word here for “star” (astēr) can be translated “brightness.” This was no ordinary star—and I realize saying that is going to ruin a lot of Christmas cards. This was a brilliant light in the sky that was obviously supernatural.
This was the same light that had guided the people of Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness (Exodus 13:21). This was the light that made the face of Moses glow after he had met with God (Exodus 34:30). This was the brilliant light that knocked Saul to the ground on the Damascus road in Acts 9.
This “star” was none other than the shekinah glory of God. And that, by the way, explains how it appeared and then disappeared when the magi arrived in Jerusalem, forcing them to ask Herod for directions.
We are not told exactly how the wise men connected this brilliant light with the birth of Israel’s Royal Messiah. But we do know that five hundred years earlier the leading wise man in Babylon and Persia did not practice magic. He was a Jewish man named Daniel. He and the other exiles had the Old Testament Scriptures available to them.
I can imagine Daniel holding a Bible study for his fellow magi and taking them to messianic prophecies like the one in Numbers 24:17, written centuries earlier: “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” In other words, the royal King, the Messiah, will be like a star rising in the land of Israel.
Daniel would have studied the prophecy of Isaiah 60, where we read, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (verse 3); and “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and . . . the praises of the Lord” (verse 6).
The King will be like the brilliance of a rising star. In Revelation 22:16, Jesus Christ is referred to as “the bright morning star.”
Beloved, these particular magi are spiritual descendants of Daniel, part of generations of believers who have been looking for the sign of the Messiah. And now they have seen it—the rising of the star over the land of Israel.
As you can imagine, Herod is “troubled” by these magi and their announcement of this newborn King of the Jews (Matthew 2:3). He is not about to share his throne with anybody.
In fact, we are told that “all Jerusalem [was troubled] with him.” This is front-page news. Herod asks the Jewish leaders where the Messiah was to be born, and they know. They quote the prophet Micah, who names Bethlehem as the place where Israel’s ruler and shepherd would be born (Micah 5:2). So, Herod sends them on to Bethlehem to find the Child and report back to him, claiming he wants to worship Him as well.
As the magi set out for Bethlehem, just a few miles away, the star—this shining light—reappears. Matthew writes that the star “went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was” (verse 9).
Was that place a stable and a manger? No. Matthew writes, “Going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother” (verse 11). The typical word for a baby is brephos, but Matthew uses the word paidion, the word for a young child—a toddler.
The wise men then present to Jesus three kinds of gifts. This does not necessarily mean there were only three wise men. We are never given the exact number. I believe there could have been a sizeable number of wise men, with plenty of Persian soldiers to guard them and the treasures they brought.
Gold was a gift for a king, frankincense was used by the priests in temple worship, and myrrh was often mixed with water and used in preparing the bodies of the deceased for burial. Beloved, the gift of gold pointed to the fact that Jesus is a King, frankincense pointed to the fact that He is our High Priest, and myrrh pointed to the fact that He came to die for us.
We read in verse 12 that the magi are “warned in a dream not to return to Herod.” We are also told in verse 13 that an angel appears to Joseph in a dream instructing him to get up and pack up his family immediately and “flee to Egypt . . . for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Joseph and Mary safely make it to Egypt with their little boy. And verse 15 explains that this will fulfill the messianic declaration of the prophet Hosea centuries earlier, “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). God the Father’s plan all along was to call His Son out of Egypt, alive and well. And let me tell you, no power in the universe can alter God’s plan—including a paranoid, little king named Herod.
And what about all that gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Well, that is going to cover all of Joseph’s expenses in taking care of his family while hiding out from Herod in Egypt.
Then we read this in verses 19-20:
When Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.”
Verse 23 records Joseph’s response:
He went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Every detail was planned. Nothing was left unattended by the Lord. Beloved, you have no reason to believe that God cares any less about you. The truth is, He loves you just as much as He loves His Son. The apostle Paul says in Ephesians 2:4 that God is rich in mercy because of the great love He has for us.
So, no matter what your circumstances might be today—difficult, dangerous, discouraging—you can trust the Lord’s care for you and His attention to details. Even if it seems like He is taking you to Egypt and back, you will be safely kept in the palm of His almighty hand.