Kurt Jacobson
5 min readJan 7, 2024

--

“The Story of Two Kings”

January 7, 2024

Matthew 2:1–11

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

This is a story of two kings.

The first lived in a lavish palace, surrounded by advisors, servants, multiple wives and a cadre of kids. His domain was always growing, covering large expanses of geography from Palestine to parts of modern-day Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. He built great coliseums, giant fortresses, waterways, and palaces. The people in his kingdom called him “Herod the Great,” but the Roman authorities elsewhere in the empire simply called him the “King of the Jews.”

The second king lived in a small hill-town not far away. His birth in a manger drew shepherds from their flocks and angels from heaven. His family called him Jesus, but the angel Gabriel, upon appearing to Mary, his mother, had called him the “King of the Jews.”

This is the story of two kings: one ruled by fear, and the other by love. One who embodied tyranny, and the other compassion. One whose leadership was based in the authority of empire, the other in the authority of God Almighty.

This is the story of two kings.

The Day of the Epiphany, which the Christian church marked yesterday has a number of interpretations. Epiphany, the word means “reveal” is tied to the appearance of the wise men.

This story has been adapted throughout history. Matthew says the wise men are from the East and that there is more than one.

When a new star appears they begin to move. Like the shepherds in the field, they are watchers and with their eyes glued to the horizon they begin a long journey. Their first stop was Jerusalem to learn from Herod where to find the new “King of the Jews.”

The wise men knew the prophecy: “there shall come a Star out of Jacob.” (Number 24:17) They asked Herod, “where is the child who has been born ‘King of the Jews’”? We saw the star. We know he has come.

Herod was terrified.

The ancient world celebrated power much in the same way that we do today. Herod’s kingship, his political authority was confirmed and accepted not only by the Roman state but also by his own subjects. His influence was a worldly one, and both of the names that he was given “Herod the Great” and “King of the Jews” illustrate how truly powerful he was. He was rich. Smart, subservient people surrounded him. He was a celebrity, a person to know. It was not only socially expected to worship Herod, but it was also an issue of life or death. Remember, this is the same king who beheaded John the Baptist and also murdered one wife, her two sons, her brother, her grandfather, and her mother.[i]

Herod was a tyrant and he was the very type of king that Jesus would warn about in his ministry. He is a symbol of the principalities and powers that the coming Reign of God is meant to subvert and destroy. He is the type of King that Mary sings about in the Magnificat, praising God for the work he has done in creating Jesus: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”

The powerful in their thrones and the lowly: Herod and Jesus.

Herod is a villain of the Bible and also a villain of history. We know of his brutality, his bloodthirsty vengeance, his pride. But he is the type of villain that history repeats — the dictator, the warmonger, the perpetrator of genocide. He is also a representation of the villains that our spirits battle — the sin that rivals Jesus for kingship in our lives.

Herod quickly devises a plot to kill Jesus, asking the wise men to find the young King of the Jews and then return and report his location “so that I may also go and pay him homage.” Lies, all lies. Herod is going to go to any length to keep the title himself.

Ultimately, the wise men had a choice to make, a choice between two kings. The pressure to submit to Herod’s authority must have been incredible, especially when the other King of the Jews turned out to be a baby born to poor parents in an occupied region of Judea.

But here is where Matthew gives us what I think is one of the most profound verses in this entire passage. After the Magi worship the child Jesus and present him with their gifts, we are told that, “they left for their own country by another road.”

They left for their own country by another road. Rather than go back to king Herod whose power was affirmed by empire and exercised by dominance, fear and threat, they quietly chose another route, another direction for their lives.

But not far away, in the hill country, another king waits yet in childhood. His kingship will become known as an antidote to the tyranny of Herod. His kingship is one that is offered freely, lovingly, and compassionately. His reign does not control, it liberates.

Think of how our lives are populated by competing kings as well as alluring principalities and powers. All try to control us, to gain our attention and allegiance while subverting our faithfulness to the One whose power is always for good.

Every day we are like the wise men, standing at a crossroad, deciding which route to take, which king to worship, how to get home.

Images: 1) “The Three Kings Christmas Art” Jane Tattersfield 2)krausekorner.wordpress.com

[i] www.britannica.com/biography/Mariamne-wife-of-Herod-I

--

--

Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.