Matthew 2:  The Two Responses To Hearing About Jesus Christ: The Magi Verses Herod


                                                            Jim Bomkamp                      

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Matthew 2 (NASB95)
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. 13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” 16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, Because they were no more.” 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”



2.                  I have always been intrigued as well as stunned at the two polar opposite responses to hearing of Jesus Christ that we read about in Matthew chapter 2.


2.1.            Magi.


2.1.1.      Here we find three men who have traveled great distance being, being led by a star, to find the baby Jesus, who are called “Magi” (often mistakenly referred to as kings), meaning “wise men”.  There may have been more three men, but only three are mentioned specifically.  These three men are mentioned specifically because of the unique gift that each brought to the baby Jesus, and tradition has even passed down the alleged names of these men (a tradition that is highly unlikely to be based on truth).  Their name suggests they may have been men who studied astronomy and astrology, and being from the east suggests that they were probably from the area of ancient Babylon (modern day Iraq).


2.2.            Herod.


2.2.1.      Then, we also have the wicked king Herod (Herod the Great, the man from whom the other Herod’s whom scripture tell us ruled, descended ) who ruled as Rome’s head over the land of Israel, a man who had no belief in the God of the Bible nor any real appreciation of the Jews over which he ruled. 


The Bible Exposition Commentary states the following: 


“The magi were seeking the King, but Herod was afraid of the King and wanted to destroy Him. This was Herod the Great, called king by the Roman senate because of the influence of Mark Antony. Herod was a cruel and crafty man who permitted no one, not even his own family, to interfere with his rule or prevent the satisfying of his evil desires. A ruthless murderer, he had his own wife and her two brothers slain because he suspected them of treason. He was married at least nine times in order to fulfill his lusts and strengthen his political ties.

It is no surprise that Herod tried to kill Jesus, for Herod alone wanted to bear the title “King of the Jews.” But there was another reason. Herod was not a full-blooded Jew; he was actually an Idumaean, a descendant of Esau. This is a picture of the old struggle between Esau and Jacob that began even before the boys were born (Gen. 25:19–34). It is the spiritual versus the carnal, the godly versus the worldly.”


The Bible Knowledge Commentary has this chart of the Herod’s:


Herod the Great is known not only as the man who wanted to kill baby Jesus and had all of the baby boys in the area of Bethlehem murdered hoping to accomplish this, he also erected many colossal buildings in Jerusalem, including even rebuilding their temple. 


He was a man who wanted to be liked by the Jews yet really more than anything liked the power and affluence that being a king yielded him.  His goal when he heard that men had come from the east looking for a child who was born to become king of the Jews was singular, he wanted to kill this child because he didn’t want his power and affluence to be interrupted by anyone or anything.  He would stop at nothing and step on anyone, even if that meant murder, to achieve his goal.


3.                  My goal in this message is to contrast these two responses, the Magi and Herod, and show that they typify the responses of all people, and that when a person hears of Jesus Christ, this will elicit one or the other of these two responses to Jesus Christ.


4.                 Seven Contrasts Between The Magi And Herod:


4.1.         Contrast #1:        


4.1.1.  The Magi had heard about Jesus Christ coming to earth.                  We can only speculate how-since they came from the east perhaps they had heard about the things Daniel had written about the coming Messiah.


4.1.2.  Herod had heard about Jesus Christ coming to earth.                  He heard that the Magi were searching for Jesus Christ and then interviewed them about the child to be born.  Later, he summoned the Jewish scholars to search the scriptures and tell him what they said about who the Messiah to come would be and where he would be born.


4.2.         Contrast #2:


4.2.1.  The Magi want to search Him out.                  These men traveled from the east a great distance and at great cost of time and substance because they longed to see the one who prophesied to come and be the King of kings and Lord of lords, and rule over God’s kingdom.  It is obvious that such a trip had to have great planning and preparation, and they willingly did these things because more than anything in life they wanted to see and worship this baby born to be king.                  It is true that no one finds the Lord on their own, the Lord finds them.  But, some people respond to the searching for them by the Lord, while others do everything in their power to push the Lord and the light of His truth out of their heart, mind, and life .


4.2.2.  Herod let others search Jesus Christ out for him.                  He seems to act as though as a religious skeptic that he really thought that the Messianic prophesies were just myths passed down and embellished from generation to generation.  He really thought that all this fanatical talk would soon pass away and soon no one would be talking about the Messiah to be born.                  He tells the Magi to come and report to him after they go and search for this child, and he was probably plotting that if they had a report of finding this child that he would force them to take him and a battalion to this place and kill the child and his parents, and then probably even kill the Magi themselves to cover up the story.


4.3.          Contrast #3.


4.3.1.  The Magi want to come and worship the king.                  The Magi are not just curiosity seekers nor are they thinking only about what they can get from this baby, if they should find him.  No, they are convinced that he is or has been born and their goal is to come and bow down before him in adoration and worship, and to present presents fit for a king.                  The Magi seem to understand that this child shall be “Emmanuel” or “God with us”, the creator and sustainer God of the universe in human form.  Thus, they know that He is worthy of all of their worship for now and for all of eternity.


4.3.2.  Herod was threatened by a baby born to be king because he wanted to continue to rule as king.                  When Herod thought of a divine baby born to be king of the Jews, all he could think of was what he would lose.  He had come to love the absolute power and authority he had as king, as well as the great pomp and wealth that was his.  He would do whatever it took to assure that his reign as king continued uninterrupted.  Perhaps he once thought of be a just representative for his people, but now his heart was corrupted and he just used the people to get what he wanted for himself.                  Many people would seek out or believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior as long as He didn’t want to also become their Lord or king.  But, Jesus Christ when He comes into a person’s life, He comes in as their Lord to sit upon the throne of control of their life.  He comes when a person yields the control of their life completely to Him.  And, the saying is true, “He is not Lord at all if He is not Lord of all!”


4.4.         Contrast #4.


4.4.1.  The Magi placed God and His Messiah in the center of their heart, life and world, and their goals were to worship and serve their king.                  Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “…If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me  One must receive Jesus Christ as Lord and place Him in the center of their life and heart, yielding to Him in everything.


4.4.2.         Herod was selfish and self-serving and saw himself as the center of everything in this world and life.


4.5.         Contrast #5.


4.5.1.  The Magi were willing to give sacrificially to the king.                  We can see that this is true based upon what they brought as gifts to the king, as well as the great cost to them of simply making this trip.                  Their “gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” were gifts fit for a king and had been obtained at great expense to them.  Perhaps they had sold all that they had to be able to purchase such costly gifts for baby Jesus.  But to them, their was no cost nor gift too great for this king.                  Can their be any sincere saving faith in a person who is not willing to give back to the Lord?  I don’t think so…Though God doesn’t force any to give because He wants giving to be from the heart, certainly giving of ourselves and our substance to Him (through the vehicle He has established of us church) is an undeniable evidence of God’s work in our lives.


4.5.2.  Herod was threatened about what this king will take away from him.                  When Herod thought this baby born to be king, all he could think about is what he would have to give up for this king.  He knew that he would have many possessions that he would end up losing because of this king, and thinking of worshipping this king was out of the question because of the cost to him.  Gifts he was not willing to part with, especially those of the costly kind, and he knew that a divine king would deserve great gifts of substance and service to him, something he was not willing to do.


4.6.         Contrast #6.


4.6.1.  The Magi were willing to give their very lives to serve this king.                  We can surmise this through their travel to Him, their bowing before Him, their expensive gifts given to Him, and their worship of Him, even as an infant.


4.6.2.  Herod just wanted to kill this king.


4.7.         Contrast #7.


4.7.1.  We can guess that the Magi gave their lives to sharing with others the good news about this king.


4.7.2.  Herod ended up treacherously killing and taking advantage of innocent people in hopes of squashing this king.


5.                 I would point out one further contrast between the Magi and Herod, and this regards their end.  God protected the Magi from harm warning them in a dream not to return to Herod because he would kill them.  Joseph and Mary traveled with baby Jesus to Egypt after they too were warned by God in a dream about Herod’s murderous intentions.  But, Herod himself died shortly after this.  Wikipedia tells us that doctors reviewing his history have determined that he had chronic kidney disease complicated by Fournier's gangrene that led to his death in 1BC (some say it was 4BC).





Heard about Jesus Christ

Heard about Jesus Christ

Want to search Him out

Let others search Him out for him

Want to come and worship the king

Threatened because he wanted to be king

God and His Messiah were at the center of their heart and life

He was selfish and self-serving and saw himself at the center of everything

Willing to give sacrificially to the King

Threatened about what this King will take away from him

Willing to give their lives to serve the king

Just want to kill this King

We can guess they gave their life to sharing with others the good news about this king

He ended up treacherously killing and taking advantage of innocent people in hopes of squashing this king




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