Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,…
I. HEROD AND JESUS. The king and the Babe; earthly might and spiritual power. This contrast comes continually in view throughout the life of Christ, but never more strikingly than here. Depict the apparent helplessness of the young Child when confronted with the relentless and crafty hostility of Herod. The restless, suspicious jealousy of the old king, and the guileless, unconscious innocence of the Child. The selfish cruelty of the despot, and his ever-increasing misery, contrast with the self-sacrificing love and the calm peace of the spiritual King. The results of Herod's reign, and the results of Christ's reign. And yet how difficult to see the harvest in the seed! how difficult to discern between apparent and real glory! and how hard, even when we have some understanding of the difference, to choose for ourselves the glory which is attained by self-sacrifice and which makes no appeal to worldly ambition!
II. HEROD AND THE MAGI.
1. Two classes of inquirers after Christ - the well-intentioned, who seek him that they may do him homage; the evilly disposed, who strive to acquaint themselves sufficiently with his history to direct their assaults upon him. Two classes of critics of the Gospels - the malevolent and the divinely led; the jealous and the frankly admiring; the destructive and the reverent. Christ excites curiosity and inquiry in all. His life stirs ceaseless controversy. Two currents-of hope and of hatred - set towards him without intermission. He is the great Test of men, "set for the fall and rising again of many." By their thoughts of him, their judgments passed upon him, their bearing towards him, men reveal their own nature. By their conduct towards Christ, their acceptance or refusal of him, men show whether their tastes are spiritual or earthly.
2. Means by which inquirers are led. The astrology of these Magi was probably not sound from the point of view of science; indeed, it is almost impossible for us even to understand their calculations regarding the star. But God used their ideas, fanciful, mistaken, or partly well grounded, to lead them to the truth. "Instead of making tirades against the imperfect, he speaks to us in the language we understand, even if it express his meaning very imperfectly, and guides us thereby to the perfect truth. Just as he used astrology to lead the world to astronomy, and alchemy to conduct it to chemistry, and as the revival of learning preceded the Reformation, so he used the knowledge of these men, which was half falsehood and superstition, to lead them to the Light of the world" (Stalker's 'Life of Christ,' p. 16). Where a true heart is earnestly longing for light, it is dealt with according to its capacity, and led by that which it will attend to. Notice might here be directed to the appearance of this law in the method of revelation - the law of accommodation, which requires that regard should be had to the condition of those to whom a revelation is to be made. An American writer alludes to it in the following terms: "The faults of the Old Testament are, as Herder says, the faults of the pupil, not of the teacher. They are the necessary incidents of a course of moral education; they are the unavoidable limitations of a partial and progressive revelation. If God chooses to enter upon an historic course of revelation, then that revelation must be accommodated to the necessities, and limited by the capacities, mental and moral, of each successive age. Otherwise revelation would be a wild, destructive power; a flood, sweeping everything away, and not the river of life. We cannot suppose that the Almighty can pour the Mississippi river into the banks of a mountain brook. He can begin, however, with the springs and the brooks, and make in time the broad Mississippi river."
III. HOMAGE OF THE MAGI. They are Gentiles and sages; they are aliens, and belong to a school of experts in science; but they use their knowledge to glorify Jesus. They offer gifts symbolic of his royalty, and they themselves represent the attraction felt by all races towards the Christ. This King has blessings for all; and from the first he is claimed by those afar off.
IV. RETIREMENT IN EGYPT. "The flight into Egypt was no mere expedient of rescue, but is, on the contrary, a moulding factor of continuous influence in Christ's life, giving to the subsequent stream of his fortunes a quite novel character and direction" (W. G. Elmslie, in the Expositor, 6:401). It formed the necessary break between the miraculous birth, with its accompaniment of homage, and the quiet boyhood and youth, in which Jesus could grow up as other boys and youths did. After this flight we hear no more of angelic announcements, prophetic songs, signs in the heavens, or the homage of mysterious strangers; but the life of the Boy falls into the ordinary course, and runs on unnoticed and unknown. Had it not been so, he could not have shared the ordinary human lot. Had he still and throughout been recognized as superhuman, the object of his life would, so far, have been rendered impracticable. But the danger to which he was exposed by Herod's jealousy, the warning which his parents thus received, and the obscurity in which they consequently kept their great Charge, secured the conditions necessary for our Lord becoming in all points like his brethren. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,