Click here for the reading: Matthew 2:1-12.
The world of Matthew 2 is like the womb of Rebecca with two struggling against each other. The Christ Child has come according to God’s promise through the prophet Micah, and like the town of His birth, His reign will not be according to appearances. Throughout His life, ministry, and death, His reign will be known through attending to prophets and through receiving the little ones sent in His name. Like His father, David the king (Mt. 1:6), Jesus’s reign begins inauspiciously in an obscure town of Judah. David began to reign in Hebron and came at last to Jerusalem. Jesus begins His reign in Bethlehem and will come at last to Jerusalem.
His kingship is divine, far surpassing Herod’s. Jesus’s kingship depends on God’s Word, Herod’s on the good pleasure of the Romans. The Magi recognize the firm foundation of Jesus’s kingdom and come to worship Him, knowing His divine office as King but not knowing His divinely given name as Savior of His people from their sins. The conviction drawn likely at least in part from Holy Scripture pushed the Magi from an undescribed eastern location to follow the divine light to the vicinity of Jerusalem. From there the star takes them directly to the Child.
Their gifts are according to a tradition dating back to Irenaeus in the 2nd century AD symbolic of Jesus’s offices as a God, a man who must die, and a king. This is quaint but unsure. The gifts denote neither specifically the number of the Magi nor their intuitions or beliefs about who Jesus truly is. Rather, all three gifts and the bringing of gifts from a foreign land to the King of the Jews are evidence of things unseen in Israel since the glory of Solomon. Now again the nations will come to worship the King of Israel. Now again the glory of the nations will be brought to Jerusalem. Now again Israel has a divinely ordained Son of David reigning over the nation unsullied by idolatry or illegitimacy of any kind.
Herod’s convictions are discovered for him by scribes who consult the Bible he does not know. They discover what the Scriptures have always said about the birth of the Messiah. His convictions drive him to deception because though he knows the Scripture, he does not know its power. Like so many to follow in Matthew’s gospel, Herod’s religion is dependent upon the scribes, not upon the Scriptures and the Messiah Whom they proclaim.
Thus the two kings have two ways. The way of the true King of the Jews is known through Scripture and creates great boldness and conviction and sacrifice in His followers. The way of the false King of the Jews is known through political consultations and creates fear and deceit in him and in his hangers-on. Epiphany is a time of clear revelation and a time of clear division between belief and unbelief, between the true King and all false ones.