“Magi from the east appeared in Jerusalem.” Matthew 2:1
Was it on January 4th that the Magi appeared at the gates of Jerusalem? The various translations speak of them coming or arriving. A more interesting translation is that they “appeared” or made a public appearance. Later, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness of Judea. (Matthew 3:1) In Luke 12:51 Jesus asks, “Do you suppose I appeared to establish peace on earth?”
There is something of the mysterious connected to the word “appear.” If we have invited someone to come to our house or are expecting Fed Ex to drop off a package, when they arrive, we say, “Ah, it’s here” or to a guest, “Come in, come in.” But if someone shows up at our door unexpectedly, we wonder, “Who’s that?” “What do they want?” “Where did they come from?” We are suspicious.
True, the magi have arrived at the end of a long journey. Based on their information came to Jerusalem. But to the Jerusalemites, they “appeared.” They appeared asking a strange question. “Where is the King of the Jews who has been born?” They’ve been following a star, probably for two years, and they want pay to homage or reverence the new king. The Greek word falls just short of worship. God has invited them to the party, but they don’t quite know what it’s all about.
When word of their sudden appearance gets back to Herod he is “troubled.” When Herod is troubled everyone in Jerusalem is troubled. He sends for the religious experts; the chief priests and the scribes or Jewish scholars, wanting to know when the Christ was to be born. Matthew does not include information about how the magi’s request about a recently born heir to the throne becomes a search for the Messiah.
The magi appeared soon set Jerusalem scrambling for answers. The lives and wellbeing of the Jewish leaders depended on it. Herod was not a benevolent ruler. Moreover, their lives and wellbeing before God depended on finding the answer. Unfortunately, we have no record of them going to Bethlehem to even pay homage to the King of the Jews, much less worshipping the Messiah. Only the magi went and after them Herod’s soldiers.