We generally don’t do royalty in the United States (apart from a certain fascination with the British Royals). In order to understand the point of Matthew 2:1–12, appreciate that much of the world for much of the time has been ruled by kings—some good, others evil. Matthew introduces your King and challenges you to as where he is—where he is in relation to your daily life.
Thank God for the star that led the Magi to the Messiah. God sent a star to point to the birth of his Son. Matthew quotes the Magi’s reference to seeing his star. We are not given an explanation of just how this appeared, or what it was like. It was an astronomical event that drew them to Jerusalem. God ordains the heavens to proclaim what he has done on earth. Somehow the Magi knew that the star signified the birth of the King of the Jews. Could they have known of Daniel’s prophecies? Was there some historical record of what Balaam, that prophet from the east, had said about a star coming from Judah (Numbers 24:17)? “[W]hat really led the magi to the feet of Jesus was not astrological calculation, but the prophecies of God’s Word—the prophecies which spread abroad throughout the East the expectation of a Messianic king.” (J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, pp. 227–228).
Acknowledge the ruler who came. The Magi (number unknown, no indication that they were kings) seek a newborn king. The mention of “the King of the Jews” foreshadows the title over his head on the cross, Matthew 27:37. They come with the purpose of offering homage. The prophecy of Micah, somewhat loosely quoted here, describes this ruler as being from eternity, Micah 5:2; and as ruling in strength, Micah 5;4. King Herod, the Idumean (or Edomite) appointed as king over the Jews, is troubled, and “when Herod trembles, all Jerusalem shakes.” He assembles the leading priests and experts in the law. They promptly identify the location of the birth of the messianic king. In doing this they merely select one of the many prophecies of the Messiah. His coming had been promised since Genesis 3:15, with Isaiah and others giving details regarding his coming and work. Matthew emphasizes the recognition of Christ by Gentiles at the beginning of the book. Even here the stage is being set for the Great Commission.
Believe what God says. Your Ruler was born in Bethlehem. This is Matthew’s first mention of the location of Jesus’ birth. It was not essential to the narrative in chapter 1, but is important for the events here. Bethlehem is a sign of humility. The Magi naturally come to Jerusalem seeking the King. But he is unknown there. Micah 5:2 reads, “small among the clans of Judah…” It was a tiny, unimportant neighboring town to Jerusalem. Yet Bethlehem has royal ties. Matthew’s loose quote, “by no means least among the rulers of Judah…” may sound like a contradiction of the Hebrew, but it is not. The town was unimportant. What gave it significance was that it was the home town of King David. Micah’s prophecy and the promise to David (2 Samuel 5:2) had given rise to an expectation that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, John 7:42.
Respond to God’s Word. Appreciate the multi-faceted references to Old Testament Scriptures. Foreign dignitaries bringing gifts would bring to the mind of those who had heard the Scriptures read in the synagogues, the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon (1 Kings 10:10), as well as messianic prophecies on Psalm 72:10–11 and Isaiah 60:5–6), all in addition to the location in Bethlehem. Matthew is underlining for you who this Baby is. “The story of the homage of the magi is thus not only a demonstration of the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of Mic 5:2 but also a multilayered study of the fulfillment of scriptural models in the coming of Jesus, with royal, messianic motifs at the heart of these models.” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 64). The leaders of Israel ignored the prophecy of Christ’s birth. They maintained neutrality. They could swiftly quote the prophecies detailing the place of his birth, but were unwilling to travel less than the distance from Newberg to Sherwood to investigate the report of his birth. Much of the world will ignore any significant interaction with the Messiah. It may be nice to hear of the Baby in a manger, but that is as far as it goes. The unbelief of the leaders sets the stage for their rejection of the Messiah later in the Gospel. But Matthew calls you to respond in faith.
Serve the newborn King, protected by a dream. This ruler is the shepherd of his people. This ruler serves as shepherd in God’s strength, Micah 5:4. He does his work in the majesty of the name of the Lord, for he is God himself. He is the Good Shepherd of his people. The reference to the shepherd picks up a theme of the old Testament Scriptures: 2 Samuel 7:7; Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 40:11. The work of shepherd carried out by the Lord in the Old Testament comes to its fulfillment in the One who identifies himself as the Good Shepherd, John 10:27ff. He is the true Shepherd-King. The care and concern of the shepherd contrasts with the brutal administration of King Herod. This Shepherd, the true Shepherd, is your peace, Micah 5:5. The entire messianic work is involved in him serving as shepherd for his people. God uses a dream to protect the newborn King from the hatred of the world. The conflict between the kingdom of God and the world is very real. God reveals himself in a dream, this time not to Joseph, but to the Magi, warning them not to return to Herod. The dream comes to foreigners from the East.
Worship the King. Herod rejected the Christ. He was the king of the Jews, and he was about to brook no competitors. Some who come to know something of the Christ react the same way. They openly reject him. Matthew makes clear that the subject of his Gospel is indeed the Messianic King. You cannot remain neutral about him. Join the Magi in worshiping the King. Matthew emphasizes the joy they experienced when the star stopped, showing them where the King was. Christ, rejected by his own, is worshiped by the Gentiles. Present to him, not just your gifts, but yourselves, as living sacrifices to his glory. “The scribes had more and better information than the Magi did, but the Magi acted on what they knew. They traveled to see the baby king…. They brought the most expensive gifts they could find. When they arrived, they worshiped, then gave gifts. They knew little, but they acted on what little they knew.” (Daniel M. Doriani, Matthew, Vol. 1, p. 34). Matthew has given you more information about the King than the scribes had, more than the Magi had. He expects you to commit yourself to worship and serve this King.
The star points you to the newborn King. The prophecy tells you of his work of ruling and shepherding. Acknowledge him and serve him as your King, as your Savior.