Now 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 have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-2).
This account of the coming of the wise men from the East is precious to us because of the significance it has for our own Gentile roots. We are thrilled to see how the Holy Spirit led these Gentiles to come and worship our Redeemer King so early in His life. We are thrilled with how clearly this spells out the intent of God that this Gospel of God’s love and forgiveness was intended for the people of all nations, and not for the Jews alone.
We learn from the wise men a proper response to the Gospel. They joyfully went to great lengths to find the One who had been born King of the Jews, simply to worship Him. Consider how important it was to them that they come and worship the Child Jesus. Consider how these prestigious men willingly and even gladly humbled themselves before this Child who was surely living in modest circumstances with working-class parents. Their God-given faith did not falter as they worshiped Jesus, nor did they hesitate to present to their spiritual King precious gifts, offerings from believing hearts.
But these men were not the only ones to respond to this news of the birth of the King of the Jews. King Herod, who was in fact not Jewish but an Edomite, also responded. His response to the news was as powerful and determined as the response of the wise men, but diametrically opposite in its spiritual nature and intent. The same good news of the promised Son of David being born into the world that filled the hearts of the wise men with joy and gladness filled Herod’s heart with malevolent hatred and deceit. How can this be? The Apostle Paul wrote of these contrary effects of the Gospel in his ministry, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). So it was that King Herod on the one hand
was repulsed by news of the birth of our King, and the wise men on the other hand were drawn to Christ by the Holy Spirit through that same Gospel of Christ.
So it is in this world. There are many who listen to this “story” and may find it charming, judging it to be mere folklore associated with the holidays. Others may even go so far as to mock and seek to discredit the whole account of Jesus’ divine nature and the salvation found in His name. What prevents us from being among that number? How is it that we are rejoicing once again this Epiphany season that this Jesus was born to be our Savior also? How is it that we also, through eyes of faith, have seen His star and been drawn to follow it to Bethlehem so that we might worship this One who was born King of Jews as our Redeemer and our Lord? Why do we earnestly desire to present our gifts to Him? It is the gift of faith, bestowed by the Spirit, that allows us to come to the Savior, that Babe of Bethlehem, the One who was born to be our King.
Then Let Your Word within me • Shine as the fairest star;
Keep sin and all false doctrine • Forever from me far.
Help me confess You truly • And with all Christendom
Here hail You King and Savior • And in the world to come.” (Worship Supplement 2000, #718:5)
Theodore Barthels is pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Austin, Minnesota.